GRE tips by Aruni Roy Chowdhury

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The New GRE format is both tougher and manageable from different perspectives. My scores were 165 verbal, 165 quant and 4.5 in the Analytical Writing.  Time management I feel was at the crux of getting a decent score. This is how I went about preparing:
Applying for Computer Science meant that the quantitative score is for the utmost importance. It is absolutely essential to forget the usual ego that most engineering students have (‘oh this is class 6 stuff’ etc.). The first step was to solve the *entire* ETS Official Guide to the Revised GRE. I went through each and every sum in that book. The Math Review was also quite helpful. Would recommend working through every problem in the exercises that follow each review section in that book. Special emphasis should be given to probability, combinatorics (permutation, combination) and statistics – the trickier questions usually are from here.
Along with doing the Math Review from the ETS book, I started solving Kaplan’s Math Workbook. The strategy I adopted was simple. I calculated the time I should be taking to complete one question — around 1.5 minutes if memory serves. The Kaplan Math Workbook had timed math Problem Sets. I would do those under very strict timed conditions. Now the ones I couldn’t solve/ran out of time with – I would go back and solve the Math Review of that chapter. Or do that chapter from the Math Workbook itself. All this in tandem with plodding through all the exercises in the Workbook. The level of this book is not very high – but its pointless solving too many tough sums from every book one can lay one’s hand on, I personally feel. If one has ample time, or has started practice beforehand, the NOVA Math book has quite a few nice, tricky problems.
 I ended up solving ETS and Kaplan twice – after I finished once I went over the thing again.
Having a decent reading habit since childhood, also being not that essential for a CS applicant, I did not go overboard with this. I made a combined word-list out of Barrons, Kaplans Verbal Workbook etc. Out of this, I made a much smaller list of the words whose meanings were not at my fingertips (being brutally honest, no case of ‘I knew this but cannot remember at this moment’). After each iteration, I would make a new word-list from the words whose meanings I had trouble recalling instantly – would test myself by covering the meanings and just looking at the words.
Then I solved ETS Official Guide verbal sections, Kaplan verbal. The Reading Comprehension parts were the most challenging. Again, the trick is to do those questions under timed conditions. Figure out how much time on average is to be spent in that sections. Then allocate time accordingly. There is not much to say here other than loads and loads of practice. Barrons came in handy, along with Kaplans and ETS book.
Just looked through the sample essays given in ETS book. Can’t say much about this other than it is best to try to be as logical as possible.
Finally, I did the PowerPrep and the online Mock Tests that come with buying a Kaplan book.
Aruni Roy Chowdhury
From India
GRE Score 330/340 (Year 2012)
First year MS/PhD student, School of Computer Science, UMass AMherst

GMAT tips by Shipra Sharma

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The current GMAT pattern, as of June 2012, has an additional part known as ‘Integrated Reasoning’. Still, the main exam out of 800 points remains the same. Details explained below.


The OLD pattern:
Part 1) Analytical writing assessment
Analysis of an argument  – 30 mins
Analysis of an issue         – 30 mins
Part 2) Quantitative Section – 37 questions – 75 mins
Problem Solving
Data Sufficiency
Part 3) Verbal Section – 41 quesitions – 75 mins
Critical Reasoning
Reading Comprehension
Sentence Correction

The NEW pattern is exactly the same except Part 1:
Analytical writing assessment
a) Analysis of an argument  – 30 mins
b) Integrated Reasoning – 12 questions – 30 mins

The Part 1 is graded on a 6.0 scale. A score of 6 is not uncommon.
Part 2 and Part 3 are each graded on a scale of 50 and the marks are granted from a total of 800.

You may already know all this so just a few pointers.

  • Based on the answer of your question the next question will be tougher or easier but it is always a waste of time trying to gauge yourself based on this. Still, I remember thinking the same during my exam so, I guess, human nature cannot change. Just try not to obsess over it.
  • Unlike some sites or blogs say, the initial questions are not more crucial than others. Every question matters.
  • Time yourself. It pays off to spend more time on initial questions as your brain takes some time to come to the calculative mode. Still, don’t worry if you get a question wrong as not completing the section has a greater penalty.

My Preparation:

  1. Finalize your course material : I started by looking out for materials that cover the entire syllabus and finalized ‘Veritas Prep’ and ‘Kaplan’. Veritas material consists of numerous booklets focusing on every type of question and Kaplan is one book that has a vast set of questions with explanations.
  2. Identify your weakness : After completion of the course once or n number of times, when you feel comfortable, take a demo test. By now you will have a good idea about the area/s you are weak in. In my case I was really weak in Sentence Correction. thus I bought the Sentence Correction book from Manhattan GMAT.
  3. Take as many tests as possible : Once gone through the entire syllabus start a marathon of test taking. The initial tests could be very disheartening, don’t worry about it. Sometimes I was not able to complete the test in the allotted time and even when I did manage to complete it the scores were bad. Just remember to be true to the test and yourself only then you can improve. I used the following resources for my tests:

– We get two free GMAT Prep tests from Remember its quant section is less difficult than the actual test. Also, the essays (or one essay for the new format) will not be graded.
– I bought 6 tests from These tests cannot be retaken as once exhausted you will see the same questions, maybe in a different sequence but they are worth the money.
– I also bought some Manhattan GMAT tests. The quant section of these testes is tougher than the actual test. It helps to register on this site and there is a challenge for the week where you get to solve a math problem and get points to get the answer right. By accumulating those points you could use them to buy books etc from the site.
– Registering to Beat the GMAT also helps and they send one math problem every day, thus helps your mind to wake up every morning 🙂
– When taking tests, take it in its entirety with similar breaks as in the final exam. This helps your body and brain to adjust to the long sitting and working hours.
– Make sure you do take the breaks and if possible do some stretching, eat some sugar rich snacks and sip an energy drink during that time. Sounds like you are running a marathon. It is one 🙂
– You should have taken so many tests before the final exam that you should hardly spend any time reading the instructions.

The last book I bought was the Official GMAT Prep book. The problems in this book are in increasing complexity but are much easier to solve, specially after your preparation. Thus I will advise you to start from the last problem. Also keep any two practice tests untouched for the final shot. Take those tests at least a week before the final exam. Irrespective of the result, if you feel you are ready then you are ready. Do not take any new tests and do not change your way of approaching a problem in the last week.

Two days prior to your exam stop studying. I re-emphasize do not plan any study. You could just go through the formulas or solve a problem for fun but don’t study or read too much. As it is your brain will not be able to sit quite and not follow the same rigorous routine you must have put yourself through. Listening to music helped me.

Finally, throughout the preparation be true to yourself. All the Best !!

Shipra Sharma
From India
GMAT Score 720 (Year 2011)
MBA Candidate at University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Class of 2014


TOEFL tips by Shipra Sharma

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If you are taking the TOEFL exam after the GMAT, it is a cake walk. Still, the format is different from GMAT thus it does need some training and practice.

This test is required for all international students trying to get admission in a US school. I took the TOEFL iBT (internet based test) but there is an option to take the paper based test in areas where iBT is not available.


Reading – 3 to 4 passeges
Listening – 6 to 9 passages
Speaking – 6 questions
Writing – 2 questions


The Official Guide TOEFL iBT book is the winner all hands down. I think going through this book in its entirety is enough to get through the exam with flying colors.

I strongly advise practicing the speaking section by speaking out loud and recording your voice. Later listen to your answer and repeat until perfect. For the speaking practice, I used a trial version of ‘Audacity’ software.

Remember that unlike the GMAT exam, during the TOEFL test there will be a lot of noise as other test takers might be in the speaking section before or after you. I kept my headphones on throughout the test to help in some noise cancelling.

All the Best !!

Shipra Sharma
From India
TOEFL Score 114/120 (Year 2011)
MBA Candidate at University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Class of 2014


GMAT tips by Natacha Hardy

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natacha hardy

Start preparing for the GMAT once you really know you are applying for an MBA, otherwise the process will be painful. Your motivation to get accepted into the MBA program is a great part of what actually got me excited when I was preparing. Yes, it requires work and discipline but many of us ended up enjoying it.

First of all, you need to understand what the best study method is for you. Not everyone likes self-study with a book. I bought a book because I prefer setting my own pace and having that flexibility. Chances are, you already know how you learn best. Once you start preparing, do not give up. It takes practice and often the difficulty does not lie in the content itself, but in the wording. Knowing what is being tested and how the parts are structured is essential and will allow building up speed.

Another great piece of advice I had received, as an international, was to identify potential difficulties due to different metric systems for example (understanding distances in feet, weights in ounces versus the meters and kilograms) but also some regularly used vocabulary.

I had two different books, in order to have different approaches which contributes to mastering parts of the GMAT. Also, I did not take any test up front, though some people prefer to. I wanted to limit any form of stress (‘I’ll never figure this out’ type of interior voice) so just took the parts one by one, working through the theory, getting to the practice exercises. I did not want to waste the full tests that were available so did few when I was 2/3 way but did most of them when reaching the end of the book.

I prepared for 2-3 months, mainly on weekends and wanted to obtain a score above 650. I believe the GMAT is only one part of the application. During the entire process, I stayed away from any forums or any discussions that were talking about ‘you need such a score to enter here or here’. Sorry, no time to waste on that, the application process was long enough like that. I would do my best the first time round, and if my score was under 650, I would take it again. My results were higher so I did not. Fight to do your best that first time. Never go in thinking you can take it again.

Also, on the day of, I brought earplugs which really helps for concentration and a granola bar/water. It helps to relax. Just make sure you know how the examination is organized in terms of day-of logistics and it makes the process much smoother and limits the anxiety. Do not pay attention to any comments/conversations people around you may have before the GMAT starts.

Smile and enjoy the experience! You’ll actually realize that you ended up developing a routine and had fun figuring out some of the GMAT questions. It’s a love/hate relationship. If you think I am crazy, let’s talk about it when you’ve taken it.

Natacha Hardy
From France
MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, Class of 2013

GMAT tips by Alex Anton

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I studied alone for the GMAT. First I bought the official guide and took the diagnosis test, which was helpful in pointing out how much I would have to (re-) learn. This was pretty scary at first.  I then spent about a week revisiting all the basics of secondary level math and English grammar.

After being refreshed on the main key concepts I jumped right into mock tests, which I find crucial for those studying independently. Specifically, I used Manhattan GMAT, purchasing the package with 6 mock tests. These tests were very helpful because they highlighted the areas I needed to improve, so I knew where to focus.

What I also loved about them is that they give you an objective measure of your performance, showing a score which closely corresponds to your actual performance in the real test. I also used flashcards to speed up my mathematical and critical thinking skills.

Alex Anton
From Brazil
GMAT score 730 (taken once).
MBA from Harvard Business School, Class of 2013
Founder of Admissions Consulting Firm TopMBA

GMAT tips by Akhil Garg

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The strategy to excel at GMAT will differ from person to person depending on individual’s strengths and weaknesses. At beginning of the preparation, a candidate should carefully evaluate his strong and weak areas by taking official GMAT Prep test.  Upon identifying the weak areas, candidates should make targeted efforts to work on the weak areas. I found below resources to be good while doing my preparation for GMAT:

Quantitative section:

Questions in The Official Guide for GMAT Review and Manhattan test series cover the types of questions usually asked in GMAT. One of the common problems that I have noticed with my engineering background friends is that they become overconfident in this section and sometimes spend more than 10 minutes over a single question, and miss answering last few questions. Remember that GMAT penalizes you a lot for unanswered questions. You should make it a point not to spend more than 3-4 minutes over a problem if you are stuck. Many times you will find that you can easily discard 2-3 wrong choices, and as per the law of probability you stand a good chance of hitting correct answer.

Verbal section:

Sentence Correction – Many of the non-native English speakers find sentence correction section particularly challenging. But the good part is GMAT doesn’t test the whole gamut of Grammar rules. If you master few frequently tested rules, then you should be all set. Manhattan GMAT verbal guide has explained these frequently tested rules well. For practice, I found Official GMAT Guide, Manhattan test series and Kaplan GMAT 800: Advanced Prep for Advanced Students (Perfect Score Series) useful. It is also very much important that you read the explanations even if you get the questions correct. Many times an incorrect choice has more than one error. You may not be able to identify all the errors while solving the question, so reading explanations helps a lot.

Critical Reasoning – In the theory portion, Kaplan 800 has clearly explained different type of critical reasoning questions. For practice, Kaplan 800, Official GMAT Guide and Manhattan test series questions are good.

Reading Comprehension – I think practice from Official GMAT Guide and Manhattan test series questions should be sufficient.

Another good source of learning is Manhattan GMAT forum. Instructor Ron Purewal has explained few concepts very well in the discussion.

After all the preparation, the next hurdle is to convert the hard work into a good score. Try to write 5-10 GMAT tests. One of the challenges is to find good GMAT like tests. I found Manhattan GMAT tests are good proxy for GMAT tests.  Remember not to skip AWA section as it prepares you to slog for around 4 hours.

Good luck!

Akhil Garg
From India
GMAT Score 750 (Year 2010)
MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management, Class of 2013

Anita Satyajit’s Story

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My life as a H4 wife 

When I first moved to the US in 2002, I was a newly-wed full of ideas and hopes. But professionally, I had also been a journalist for over 3 years with a journalism degree and nearly 100 clips to moot. But my hopes of working in the US were soon dashed. People would respond with enthusiasm to my job application, discover I was there on a dependent visa and reply in the negative.

I spent a couple of months moping and cribbing about stringent US visa rules. But I was never the kind who could sit doing nothing and began to look for opportunities to volunteer in the Bay area. Even back in India, I was already a volunteer for an online NPO, CharityFocus (now Service Space) which was founded by Bay-area based folks and had be-friend-ed many of them. These friends became a huge source of inspiration and support. Though I volunteered for some events with them, I had a lot of time on my hands.

I lived close-by to the California School for the Blind and decided to enquire there if they needed volunteers. Their response was positive! I learnt Braille and assisted the teacher in classes such as Math, time-telling, etc. The Teacher who had severe visual impairment herself stunned me with her knowledge, skill and confidence. She lived and travelled independently, taught the children with unending patience and was a story-teller who mesmerized the writer in me. This experience is among the most valuable experiences of my life. I volunteered with them for over 4 months during which I saw for myself the possibilities for transformation in the life of a person with disability if they were given the right environment to enhance their lives. I learnt about perseverance, about teaching and living in the moment from these kids who could not see and most of whom had other severe health complications.

Soon after my work with the California School for the Blind ended, I found the opportunity to use my media and communication skills for an NPO, Power of Love which worked with AIDS afflicted families in sub-Saharan Africa. The work involved preparing communications material for the organization as well as helping them with their fund-raising efforts. During this time I discovered an organization in San Fransisco which offered free training on fund-raising and proposal writing. I attended both the courses. Volunteering for them made me push the boundaries of my knowledge and skills by making me apply what I knew in a completely different sector. It also connected me with some of the most compassionate and determined individuals I have ever known. What I learnt then proved invaluable and in some ways changed my life, for I began to work as a communications specialist in the development sector once I returned to India.

But it was not these volunteering activities alone that occupied my time. The County library too was within walking distance of my home and I took it upon me to read much as I could during this time. While I was a voracious reader even back in India, that stay in the US opened my eyes to world literature and Indian Writing in English. I also got fascinated with DIY arts during my stay there and taught a couple of little Indian girls in my apartment, who I had befriended, DIY arts and crafts. We also traveled whenever we could to different National Parks across the country.

A year-and-half later we returned to India. Though I had not earned a penny while I was there, I had learned and received immensely during my time there.  I brought back, new skills, new friends and a satisfaction about stretching my boundaries and discovering a new world.

Anita Satyajit
Writer, Photographer, Healer