Sunday, August 22, 2010

GRE Preparation

Q. How do I prepare for the GRE?

The GRE general test is a requirement for admission into almost all of the top US universities. It is conducted by ETS and you can find a lot of information about GRE on their website ( For an average college student, the quantitative section of GRE (that tests mathematical skills) should be relatively the easier to master. However, the time and effort required in mastering the the Verbal and the Analytical Writing (AWA) sections greatly differ from person to person, depending on one's current proficieny in English. In fact, for most proficient English speakers, the AWA section should not pose much of a problem. However, the Verbal section purely tests knowledge of vocabulary rather than fluency and thus ends up being a hurdle for almost all applicants, since even the most proficient speakers of English wouldn't use most of the "GRE words" in a normal conversation ever in their lifetimes. One usually needs to devote considerable time and effort in getting up to speed with GRE vocabulary. Books published by Barrons, Kaplan and Princeton Review are good resources. So is the web. There are lot of online resources for GRE preparation available these days and even useful discussion forums on social networking sites like Facebook, Orkut, etc. A helpful website for GRE verbal preparation is

I would highly advise taking a GRE "diagnostic test" - available on ETS website or in the CD that accompanies the Barrons book (or from some other source) at the earliest, typically by end of first year to get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses w.r.t. the different sections and different kind of questions asked in the GRE. You can then direct your preparation accordingly.

DISCLAIMER: This advice is based on what GRE used to be, at the time I gave it (2007). GRE has undergone format changes since then, but hopefully what I said here should still be applicable for the newer formats of the GRE as well.


  1. Hey..
    CV here.
    I just wanted to know whether any work experience from a reputed American software company carries any sort of additional weight age while applying for admissions..?

  2. @CV
    See section 3.7.3 of

  3. Hey! I just came across your blog.It's really informative and helpful. I'm writing my GRE in a month and I was wondering if you could let me know of any good resources for computer adaptive full length tests online? I've already got the ETS CD with 2 of them.

  4. Hmm... sadly, I can't be of much help there. The GRE has already changed its format once since I gave it (back in '07) and I've heard that it's soon going to change once again. So not really up to date with the latest resources for preparation. In my case, I used the CD that came with the Barrons "How to prepare for the GRE" book. That had some practice tests. Thankfully, someone else in my college hostel also had a similar series of mock tests from Princeton Review. So I was able to use that as well.

    For generic preparation, this site is good:, but I don't know any resources for mock test preparation online off the top of my head.

  5. Ah OK. Not related, I saw that you're from Ahmedabad in your profile. I went to NID (people from most other cities have never heard of it) for my undergrad and am applying for my masters right now. I was wondering if you would know of any courses which bridge the gap between design and tech? I am currently looking at a Interaction Design course.

  6. @Bandra
    Yes I definitely know NID :). I hope you had a great time there. But since your field is so far removed from computer science, I have very little clue about the kind of courses you are looking for.

    Could you send me a separate mail about this to my personal mail address (ktick AT cs DOT stanford DOT edu) and I can then forward it to a couple of my friends who may be better suited to answer your question.

  7. I am a mech engg student at IITM. I have a gpa of 8.69. My batch topper has a GPA of 9.5 ..Now what are my chances of getting into stan? Will a GPA of 9 be enough? HOw about other institutions like Berkeley( i think its tougher than stan), Michigan ann arbour, Cornell etc? I have strong interests in theoretical physics and applied math, i would like to work in these too.. Do u people get to work in fields different from ur chosen area of study?

  8. @അമീബ
    I can't say much about your overall chances in those universities just based on the GPA. But given the fact the you are an IIT student, a GPA of 9 should be enough for your profile to be looked at favorably by the committee. At any rate, it shouldn't get rejected simply on the grounds of "GPA not good enough".

    Most graduate programs in the US are pretty flexible w.r.t. working in fields and taking courses different from your main area of study. The worst case scenario would be for some of those courses to not get directly counted as units towards your degree program, so you may have to spend longer finishing your degree, but there are almost certainly no restrictions on venturing out and taking other courses (sometimes you may need to convince the instructor that you have the required pre-req knowledge). You should get more information about the program structure and the flexibility offered w.r.t. course selection on the university's website.

  9. @അമീബ
    Oh... and that was just regarding taking courses out of your main program of study. If you were interested in doing research with a professor (e.g. as a research assistant) outside your department, all you require is the concerned professor's consent. In other words, as long as you convince him/her that you can contribute to their work and have enough background knowledge in their field (despite what your "official department" or "program of study" is), you should be good to go.

  10. Hi karthik

    Your blog on 'Demystifying the American Graduate Admissions Process' was very informative and gave me a fair idea about the do and donts during the application process. But on one thing I would like to know your personal opinion as you are very much aware of the application process. I am a Graduate from India. I completed Mechanical engg. (B.Tech) this year from GBTU, India and have an aggregate 64 percent score. I don't know whether my percentage will get me accepted or not. What do you think, is it possible for me to get atleast through the screening process.

    On the other hand I have done a lot of project and research work in college (which probably is the reason behind me scoring low grades) that includes designing and Fabrication of all-terrain vehicles. I have recently got my research paper also published in SAE international as well. I am state level basket ball player. I have done ample of projects during my school days as well which includes some affiliated to NASA. right now I have this big question in mind is that if I get everything else good except for the grades, then what chances are of my selection. What weightage do the grades get as according to you.

    Your advice will be really valuable to me. Hope to hear from you.


    1. Hi Shantanu,

      I will send a more detailed reply to you in mail, so that we can discuss more about your situation in a private thread. But the short answer is yes, if you have a strong research background including publications, then you do have a good chance of getting admission in a lot of good colleges despite the lower grades. They may not necessarily be the top 10 ones, but still reputed colleges nevertheless.

    2. Well what exactly shows a strong background research. Is it the no. of publications. because I have just got one research published till now on which I have spent 2 years and I am also the lead Author. So what do you think, how many publications at the Graduation level are considered to be good for selection.

  11. hey karthik iv mailed you this query on your id you would have got it... and i would be really grateful if you could take some time out to repond to that mail.........


  12. I am a Gold medallist (CGPA=9.603) in Civil Engineering from NIT Srinagar. I had taken an in-campus placement with NTPC (National Thermal Power Corporation) Ltd (A reputed company in India) and I am currently posted at Nagpur as Executive Trainee (in the Structural Erection Department). I now intend to take up an MS-Ph.D course at some reputed university in the USA, fall 2013.
    i have a symposium conference publication as first author (IIT Roorkee), plus two more papers (which I am expecting to be published as conference papers, or one of them in a journal) are in pipeline.(first author). sir, however, i shall not be having very gr8 recommendations from IIT professors n all since i m myself from NIT.. and so all i shall be able to manage is a recommendation from my profs/ assoc prof at NIT itself... and maybe one from GM, NTPC. i am planning to appear for GRE this october.. i intend to apply for MIT, Stanford, berkely.. how good are my chances of getting into any of them.??
    plus sir.. i simply CANNOT afford anything more than 15 Lacs.. and so.. i m actually on the right track or maybe i need to do some recalculations?
    what score should i be looking at in the GRE to secure an admission .. ?
    your advice would be of tremendous help, as i am unsure of how i should be proceeding n all..
    warm regards,
    Ahmad Wani

  13. @Ahmad

    See my reply to your personal mail.

  14. Dear Karthik,

    Thank you for this wonderful and informative blog. I wanted to know how does one can showcase one's research capabilities out of academia. I completed my bachelors in 2012 and I did not do any research in my undergraduate years. Recently (from past 7 months) started researching on own (along with job in day time :|), reading papers in the area I am interested and trying to understand,if I can improve in some way.

    So how can I convince admissions committe that I have capabilities of doing research?

    I am asking with respect to MS by Thesis programmes. Thank you!

    1. I am happy that you found the blog informative.

      The most definitive way to showcase one's research and convince the committee about your research background is through publications. Maybe when you're doing independent research on your own without the guidance of a seasoned professor, it's tougher to conduct research of a quality that publishable in a top tier international conference or journal. But at least try to publish in a non-top tier international conference or a national one.

      Something else you can do is to enroll in online courses that have research-oriented projects and/or assignments. That would give you another avenue to showcase your research background.