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Scoring a Perfect GRE Score
An exclusive interview with GRE coaching expert Mr. Nirav Rawell, Business Head, IMS Bangalore on scoring a perfect 340 GRE Score! An excerpt of the interview is given below.
About IMS: IMS Learning Resources Pvt Ltd. is one of India’s oldest and most reputed training institutions which prepares students for entrance examinations and professional courses. Founded in 1977 by Professor Nagesh Rane, the institute has grown tremendously with 75 centers spread across 44 cities in India. The institute believes in mentoring, motivating, guiding and accompanying student to achieve their dream of crossing the threshold of entrance exams and studying in one of the top management institutes in India or abroad.
Nirav Rawell, Business Head, IMS Bangalore: Mr. Nirav Rawell, Business Head, IMS Bangalore, has 8+ years of experience across Technology, Infrastructure, and Education sectors. He holds a BE degree from RV College of Engineering (Bangalore) and an MBA degree from Indian School of Business (Hyderabad). He has been associated with IMS Bangalore for the last 4 years mentoring students in Study Abroad options for BS/MS/MBA programs. To date, he has mentored more than 1,000 students and helped them achieve their study or career goals.
Who should take up the GRE exam?
GRE is an exam that is meant for students who are looking for a Masters or a PhD program. Typically, students who go for it are either in their pre-final or final year of their colleges and people who have 2-5 years of professional experience. In case of PhD programs, candidates usually have 10+ years of experience. There is a whole gamut of people who can go for the GRE exam. Nowadays, there are a lot of B-Schools who accept GRE scores.
How is GRE score different than GMAT?
To be honest, scores don’t matter much, but rather it is the skills that matter most. Earlier GRE was for 1600, out of which 800 was for the Verbal section and 800 for the Quantitative section. Sometime back they reversed it and now each section is of 170 marks. Actually 170 can be a little misleading, as core score ranges from 130-170. Even if a student gets all answers wrong they still get a bare minimum of 130 score in each section (total 260).
The absolute value of a score is not important but the band that matters. Obviously, any exam you take – a higher score is always better. If you are an Indian student looking for a Computer Science program in some of the top colleges, since it is very competitive filed – it is ideal to score 320-325 out of 340.
On the other hand, humanities students and people who are looking for Masters in Architecture, even if they score 310, it would be good enough to get into some of the top colleges or institutes. It actually depends on which stream a student is applying, even within Engineering if he or she is looking for non-computer science courses like Civil or Mechanical (a non-mechanical course), you do not need 325-330, and even 315-320 would be good enough. For example, a Civil Engineering student who scored a 320 got into Stanford University.
If you see GMAT, a bare minimum score of 700 (out of 800) is a must to get into any top colleges, otherwise it will be very difficult. The majority of students who make it into the best colleges, such as Harvard University, Kellogg School of Management, Walton College of Business, London Business School (LBS), are the ones who scores 730-780, but there are exceptions, as people with 680 and 700 score have also been accepted, but it is not because of the socre, but rather the profile of the student.
What suggestions would you like to give to students who are gearing up for GRE (all sections)?
The whole idea of GRE is to be taken by students who are looking for an MS program. The analytical aspect is there, but it is not as much in focus as in GMAT. There are a lot of rigors that students should be really prepared to give in to the hours and efforts required for the GRE.
It is always best to start with the Verbal section, as it is the tougher of the two sections, at least for the Indian students. It has 40 questions across two sections, 50% for vocabulary-related questions and the remaining 50% for passage-related questions. For the vocabulary part, people generally suggest 3,500-4,000 words that they need to prepare to write, which should be a satisfactory level of writing.
You don’t have to memorize everything by heart, as it is more context-related questions, but you still do need to have a very good vocabulary to do well. Students need to spend a huge amount of time by going through the words and understanding the context – where to use the words or to settle differences. As you do better and better, you probably will use words whose popular meaning is very well-known but whose secondary meaning is not all that well-known. And the question would be asking for the secondary meaning.
For the Verbal section, I would say that you need to spend a lot of time improving your vocabulary and that’s not possible by memorizing the words. Understanding the context and the scenarios in which the words are used is critical. For the passage-based section, it’s more about trying to understand the main idea of the passage, to get the big picture and get the flow of the passage.
In the Quantitative section, you have two types of questions – you have the direct problem solving questions which are pretty straightforward and it should not be very difficult to do. There are also a healthy dose of questions that require you to compare – where your job is to tell whether the first one or the second one is more or both are equal or similar determinants.
Actually that type of question is quite low in comparison to problem solving questions where easily 80-90% accuracy level is possible. Data suggests that Indian students are not very good at comparison type because these are more analytical. You just need to evaluate all possible scenarios to complete the comparison. Special focus should be given to these type of questions because that can make the difference between 160 or 168 score in the Quantitative section.
340 is a perfect GRE score. What is above average score in GRE?
It depends on the stream but I would say 320+ is a good score which can get you in any of the top colleges. For example, if a Computer Science student wants to get into Stanford University a 330-335 score is required, but if you are a Mechanical or Civil student 320 -325 score is also good enough to get in any top colleges.
In addition, these top colleges have a set number of students they want to take from different regions in order to maintain diversity. When you are competing, you are competing with candidates from different countries and fellow Indian applicants as well.
Since the majority of the students are from these Computer Science and Electronics kind of fields, they would be looking at a Masters in that field itself. Therefore, even if you get 320-325, your co-applicants from India must have scored around 330+ plus score, that’s why its lot more competitive in Computer Science related field and less in the others.
If two students score the same in GRE, on what basis they would be selected?
The GRE score alone will not gain admission and what’s important is something called as SOP (Statement of Purpose) that every student must provide. It is a written statement about you, your profile, background, list of achievements, and career aspirations – what you intend to do in your future, and how an MS from XYZ college can help you achieve that. The SOP and the Letter of Recommendations that you provide really go a long way in deciding whether you will get the admission or not.
Letters of Recommendation are mandatory (not optional). The majority of the students must have done some sort of internship and they can get one letter of recommendation from their Mentors (who is not a professor from the college, but someone from the corporate world). Most of the universities will ask for 3 letters of recommendation, out of those three, a student can get one from someone who is working in a corporate setting, the other two can come from professors who have taught two subjects (preferably those subjects which you are looking to do masters in). The ideal case would be if a student can get one letter of recommendation from someone working in Corporate and two others from their college.
A common mistake a lot of Indian students do in providing Letters of Recommendation is that they get it from their relatives if any of them are working in a senior role in a corporate set up. Most of the time, students would not have worked under them which shows in the letter of recommendation. It is advisable to get letter of recommendation from someone under whose supervision the students have worked.
In the case of a professional with 2-3 years of experience, they can get two letter of recommendation from their workplace and one from college preferably from a Professor or HOD (Principal, not recommended because they hardly take any classes).
In addition to a good GRE score, what else top International institutes look for in a potential student for business programs and MS programs?
If we are looking at an MS program, I would prefer (if I am one from the Admission Committee) and really want to see how passionate and interested the student is in a particular course. Now what the vast majority of Indian students do is, they have attended the subject in college and they really liked it and also have done a project in a semester and so the student is very motivated. Now attending a subject and doing a project is part of the curriculum but that doesn’t really show passion.
If you are really passionate about it, you would have probably presented a few papers on that topic, you would have done some extra projects on your own, participated in an intercollegiate competition in state and national level, presented few papers in that particular field and won a few prizes. I would be rather interested in knowing the level of interest of the candidate in the subject.
Students should prove their level of interest through their actions rather than talking. It is very easy to talk and very difficult to walk the talk. I would have checked, these extra activities in an MS student, to gauge their level of interests in the subject. When it comes to business, the requirements are slightly different, they really want to see – if the person is multi-dimensional, if they are good at one thing and not capable of doing other things probably not a best fit for a manager.
At the end of the day, the role of a manager is to multi-task or handle different things, leadership abilities, taken few initiatives at college or at work or even outside. Do they organized college debates what was their role in that, maybe involved in social work outside their college or work? Candidates need to showcase different aspects of one’s personality which actually show a well-rounded personality and show that they have more than just one thing in them, which is what business programs look at.
One interesting things have come up, a lot of Indian students who have 3-4 years of experience, they are looking at roles which have a technical component and which also have a business related role, as a result there are few colleges in the US that have come up with a very unique program called Masters in Engineering Management.
What this does is that it takes 50% of the credits from the MS program and other 50% of the credits comes from the MBA program. Therefore, the roles that students get after completing these programs are techno-managerial – there is a lot of technology but at the end of the day you are a manager as well. Some of the colleges that are offering these are some of the best colleges e.g. MIT, Stanford, Cornell University offers this program.
Masters of Engineering Management is something that students should look for it if they have few years of experience and looking at techno-managerial role. This role is best for someone who has technical education and experience and who is looking forward to leverage both his technical skill and at the same time move into managerial role. As it is a niche program, the number of students’ intake is very low 50-60 maximum.
It is competitive program, but the roles a student gets after this is a very meaningful role e.g. if you have done an MS and seek employment in Google, it will hire you for pure technical role – you will be doing coding, feature management etc.
When you do MBA, the role will be more sales driven, how to increase clients and more, but if you have done MEM (Masters in Engineering Management), Google will still hire you for a Program or Product Manager, let’s take the example that Google is coming up with a new feature. Recently, they have come up with ‘Inbox’ so the MEM person will be probably a manager of that product where he needs to understand what technology is going to go in that particular product but also he needs to understand the business implications. Therefore, steps need to be included in the product to push for those features. All three MEM, MS and MBA programs, they have well defined roles and responsibilities – MBA is more business-oriented, MS is more technical and MEM is a blend of both.
How to score a perfect 340?
My suggestion would be, you need to strategize well and play your strengths first. You need to focus on Math and ensure to get a 170 (minimum). Usually, lots of Indian students score 170. The Verbal part is always going to be a grey area so the best you can do in the Verbal section is devote enough time to the tougher questions as well be very good with your vocabulary.
Be very awesome with Vocabulary, otherwise you won’t get a 340! However, that doesn’t mean by memorizing the meaning of words, knowing the synonyms for whatever it is. Understanding the context is super important, GRE doesn’t have antonyms and synonyms questions anymore, where you just need to look at the words and guess the opposite. There will be fill in the blanks, so ability to understand the context is very critical and there is no substitute for hard work – definitely a lot of words of hard work.
There is one major difference between GMAT and GRE, GMAT is more analytical exam you really don’t need to prepare all that much 2-3 months of preparation along with work would be sufficient.
In GRE, you need to prepare a lot and put in efforts, to get a good score. Ensure that you at least get 170 in math and push as much as you can in the Verbal section. Even if Indian students are good in Math, people tend to get 160-165 and they are happy with that as it is a good score. Anything less than 170 means you are under selling yourself because the math section is easy.
For the Verbal section, refer to multiple sources, nowadays there are a lot of free apps are available online that students can download and practice words every day. At the same time focus on passage based questions, in that you have few critical reasoning questions that are logic driven (they are not standard reading comprehension). Understand how to tackle those.
Learn different techniques in the vocabulary part e.g. the common techniques are word association techniques where you learn a bunch of words which have similar meanings and using etymology (though long route to mastering English, but definitely very useful because English is derived from multiple languages if you know few rules in Greek and Latin you will immediately know about half a dozen words in English that comes from one single root). Practice more of context questions. There are a lot of helpful resources online. Students should read and refer multiple sources.
What GRE aspirants should avoid on the exam day?
There is no point of doing a lot of things in the last 2-3 days before the exam. Scout the venue in advance. Ensure that you carry your passport (as that is the only recognized photo identity card). Don’t stress yourself and be confident in your preparation. Reach the place well in advance, use the breaks well because you have enough breaks. As it is a long 4-hour exam, freshen up in between to keep yourself active.
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