You’re reading an excerpt of Admitted by Soundarya Balasubramani. Written by an Ivy League graduate from India, this is the proven guide for students worldwide looking to pursue undergraduate or graduate study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Purchase for instant access to the guide and other exclusive resources—including sample SOPs, sample resumes, scholarship lists, and a private community with other readers.

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

Final Thoughts on Competitive Exams

Language is one of the most complex and essential of human inventions. Standardized tests like the GRE and TOEFL give you an opportunity to deepen your mastery of this invention. Think of these tests as invisible enablers that push you to prepare and help you acclimate to an English-speaking environment. In this chapter, we spoke specifically about the GRE and TOEFL, both administered by the non-profit ETS.

Before beginning your preparation, it’s important to know where you stand. Take a diagnostic test first. Use the various tables from the chapter, and more you can find online, to understand where you stand and set a goal for yourself. You have to begin with the end in mind. Once you do that, collect all the resources you need over the next few weeks or months to prepare. Don’t just stop with official text books. Take advantage of the free mobile apps out there that have pre-built materials.

We didn’t prescribe a day-by-day plan for you here because no two people are built the same. Rather, we want you to follow some best practices that will set you apart. First, practice every single day, even if it’s only for 20 minutes. Science has proven time and again that this is the key to mastery. Use mnemonic techniques to remember abstract facts and concepts. Correlate words with images. Combine similar sounding words together. Read scientific journals. Find ways to retain what you read using the proven technique of spaced repetition.

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