Guest post by Mayank on How to study for GRE.

If you remember, Mayank wrote GRE and Salman Khan – Does Ek tha Tiger Contain Secret Messages?

Over the years that I have been working with students preparing for the GRE, I have come to firmly believe that your GRE prep is much more likely to bring better scores if you enjoy the preparations.

The more you enjoy your prep, the more likely you are to put in that extra mile, find that extra twenty minutes every day ( How to Create Time That You Don’t Have )

But if you are either a student with a lot of things already on your hand or a working professional with a tight time-table, your GRE-prep may not continue with the same level of enthusiasm throughout the months ahead.

GRE Prep Analogy : Main Course and Side Dish

Imagine your GRE Prep is the main course you are serving for dinner tonight.

Imagine there are guests coming over (the ETS guys!) who will judge how well you’ve prepared the main course. Even if the main course is something as basic as a cheese sandwich, you’d want to have some side dish that will help improve your ranking in the eyes of the guests.

The side-dish must contribute to the overall value to the main course and at the same time give you a lot of room for creativity – after all, a cheese sandwich is a cheese sandwich is a cheese sandwich.

The side-dish can prop you up a bit when you feel a little low or slow and and generally help you see the entire preparations in a new light. Of course you won’t spend as much time on the side dish as you would on the main course, but if the side dish brings delight and zest to your preparations, go for it.

Note – Side Dish is same as Appetizers.

How to Study for GRE with  Side Dish

Here are the four additional activities, activities that I like to call the ‘side dish’, that are both sure to bring some excitement in while you study for GRE and designed to add a little extra in your score.

I conduct these activities with my students in varied proportions and spread them over the entire preparations (four to six months, typically).

I encourage you to choose a la carte from these, rather than simply follow each of the side dish.

As in all great recipes, feel free to add a couple of ingredients or reduce one of them – in short, personalize it to suit your time and resources (I don’t do them all at once or with all students, so you’ll certainly want to tweak around them too.).

  1. The Rubik-cube
  2. Cross-training by Cross-reading
  3. Role-reversal
  4. On-the-Spur writing

In each activity you’ll find one or more element that works best while preparing in a group or preparing under a tutor, so if you are preparing all by yourself, you’ll have to do some figuring-out.

The Rubik-cube:

  • Objective: To learn a concept in totality rather than on a question-to-question basis.
  • Best Suited for: Quantitative Section

Here’s what to do:

No, I am not asking you to try solving the cube, though it might help.

When you solve a math question, think of it as a Rubik cube.

The Rubik-cube isn’t really sorted out if you sort out only one face; you need to sort out all the six faces.

Similarly, reaching the correct answer in a question is only part of the story. You must play around the entire data and put up what-if kind of data to find how the question could have been differently worded or differently asked.

Consider a simple question on Average (Arithmetic Mean), for instance. Say you are asked to find the average score Mary received across five tests, wherein her five scores reported are 48, 42, 62, 75 and 68. Of course nothing could be simpler, but after you reach the answer check if you could find a missing test-score if the average score and scores of four tests were known.

See if you can find the number of tests Mary took if the average and the total scores were known. See if you can add more generalized conditions (‘the average score is an integer’ instead of saying ‘the average score is 59’) and yet solve the question.

Basically play around the question so you can solve not only questions of this variety, but also of the entire topic – Average, in this case.

Cross-training by Cross-reading:

  • Objective: To widen your comprehension skills
  • Best suited for: Verbal and RC

Here’s what to do:

studying for greProbably you’ve been doing this. Sportspeople do cross-training all the time.

Assuming that you are a science or an engineering student, reading a technical passage should be easier for you (hopefully!) than reading a passage like Art during the Renaissance Age. Don’t say ‘I can read tech-based passages easily.’; say ‘I have trouble reading literature or fine-arts passages.’.

You’ll benefit more by reading Anita Desai or some piece of literary criticism rather than reading Robin Cook novels.

Cricketers improve their foot-work and reflexes by playing football or table-tennis and foot-ball players cross-train by swimming.

Basically, the idea is to prepare holistically cross-train. Here’s a list a student of mine shared me and the title is self-explanatory: 101 books to read this summer instead of reading 50 Shades of gray.

Also look at every reading from the point of view of incremental advantage.

If you are a John Grisham fan and have read 5 of his novels, the next book to read should be by Bill Bryson.

The 1st Bill Bryson book is going to bring you much more advantage than the 6th John Grisham book.


  • Objective: To convert your weak areas into your strength
  • Best suited for: Quants and some areas of Verbal Reasoning and Text Completion

Here’s what to do:

They say the best way to learn a topic is to teach it (I couldn’t agree more!). You are a student when it comes to GRE-prep right? Pick one or two topics you are weak at.

Now imagine you are a teacher, not a student, and attempt explaining the entire topic to your friend / prep-buddy.

While studying for GRE, start by covering the basics and go on till the final stage of doubt-solving. This activity is time-consuming but most students have found it is very rewarding.

Some of my students tweaked around it by choosing a topic they are most comfortable with. Their argument was that by doing so, they ensured that absolutely nothing under this topic will escape them in the test. I appreciate that angle too.

Teaching opens up questions or doubts which we would never have come up with ourselves and more the doubts to solve or questions to answer, the stronger your base. After all, teaching more and more students over time is what makes good teachers great!

On-the-Spur writing

  • Objective: To make your thinking skills more agile
  • Best suited for: Writing section

Here’s what to do:

Come up with a word or a phrase – any phrase will do. It could be the newspaper headlines today or a word randomly picked from your word-list or the first subject your parents broached last evening at the dinner table – anything.

Give yourself no more than one minute and get writing. Imagine you won’t be able to come back for grammatical corrections or spell-checks so make the writing good enough at the first go. Have your teacher, prep-buddy or cousin to evaluate it.

While I am a big-time fan of listing out points that you intend to cover in your essay, I also believe that when you try being correct the first time, you sharpen your thinking skills and get to spend more time on content and less on corrections.

Very much like the traditional elocution competitions during university fests wherein you get a topic only minutes before the competition and you speak virtually off-the-cuff!


Now, you know how to study for GRE test.

Try the above stuff.

Add more to this list and share it with others.

Keep your prep-days live, fun, varied and productive.

Best wishes to your GRE Test prep.


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