Second Time’s a Charm

4 minutes


Updated June 8, 2022

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As you and your peers begin to prepare and write these tests, it is easy to be bogged into a mindset where you constantly compare yourself with others. She got 335 on her practice test, why am I not able to? However, she might not have had to stay up late every night to finish her final semester project. She might not be spending hours as the head of the rotary club. Be kind to yourself. No one else is wearing your shoes, except you.

Your only competitor should be the past version of yourself.

This isn’t me preaching. I’m talking from past experience.

storyIt was February 12, 2016. I remember my heart beating fast, and loudly, inside my head, as I clicked the final button before my score popped in front of my screen. 321. 166. 155. 5. I stared at it for a few minutes before it finally sunk in. Somehow, I had managed to score 10 points less than the scores obtained in all the mock tests taken just days before. I walked in with a goal of 330, and a perfect quant score, but ended up quite far off from it. I was extremely disappointed with myself. I walked out to face my father, waiting in expectation. I muttered it under my breath and walked away. I remember spending that day in my bed, tossing and turning as I thought about the money I wasted. One thing was clear though, I had to take the test again.

I spent the next two months away from anything remotely related to GRE, since I needed some time away to focus on all the activities that I could not due to the exam. I figured I would begin my preparation over the summer again. I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the month of May for my summer internship through the S.N. Bose Scholarship program. In addition to spending a blissful three months in a new country and working on a challenging project, I also pushed myself to slowly begin preparing by the month of July. It wasn’t until mid-August that I took it up seriously again. Fast-forward two months and I was clicking submit once again, with my heart beating fast and loudly. I closed my eyes and whispered a silent prayer. I opened them to four numbers: 328, 170, 158, and 5. I was relieved. I still wished I could have done better, but it was a sizable improvement, so I knew it was time to call it a day.

Know that some things are just out of your control. It is excruciating to accept that, but you will feel a lot lighter when you do. You can certainly improve the probability to ace your exam with intense practice. However, there is always that tiny, yet real, possibility that you encounter new words, sit next to a noisy air conditioner, or just have a bad day.

It’s OK. If you feel you can do better, try again.

It is important to set goals for yourself.

However, it is more important to know when you’ve done enough and call it a day.

Not because you realize you can’t reach the goal, but because you decide that the effort required to reach there is not worth the destination.

I could have tried a third time, and maybe crossed 330. In exchange, though, I had to spend another $200 and possibly dozens of hours going over the material again. I hope you won’t be in a situation where you need to make that call. However, if you have to, just know that if I can do it, so can you.

Student Testimonials

I made complete use of the official material by ETS: from their books to sample questions to the mock tests. Aside from that, I used the Manhattan 5 lb. book and two mobile apps—Quizlet and Magoosh—for building my vocabulary. Finally, I also read The New York Times and other fiction novels I liked.

The bulk of my preparation was during my third-year summer internship, where I prepared one section every morning, alternating between quant and verbal. I timed my sessions and tracked my accuracy. I spent more time on the questions I didn’t get right, detecting patterns and improving one cluster at a time. I realized I was struggling with reading comprehension, so I practiced more of it from the Manhattan 5 lb. book. For AWA, I only practiced the questions specified on the ETS website and timed myself every time I wrote an essay.

I simulated the exam environment and took six mock tests to ensure that my body was used to sitting down and thinking for 4 hours. Apart from the ones provided by ETS, I also took other free tests from the Princeton review, Kaplan, and Magoosh.

—Anirudh Swaminathan, University of California, San Diego

If you want to take the TOEFL, it is very important to first get familiar with the TOEFL format. An excellent resource to familiarize yourself with the exam is Magoosh. The video lessons and practice tests helped me devise strategies, particularly for the writing and speaking sections of the exam. Here, a person’s performance greatly benefits from having a good idea of the exam structure and various expectations, in addition to being generally good with the language.

Specifically, in the writing section, Magoosh helped me avoid wrong answer traps and the numerous practice tests honed my approach towards the tasks. I had ample time to complete the listening and reading sections. The reading section tests our comprehension skills and critical thinking. To do our best on test day, it’s a good idea to familiarize ourselves with these types of questions so that we can decide more quickly what information to look at and how to interpret it.

—Sidhaarth V, Virginia Tech

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