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This IIT student cracked the perfect GRE score

October 24, 2019 12:03 IST
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Taher Poonawala, 20, a student of IIT-Madras from Mumbai recently scored 340/340 in the Graduate Record Examination.
He tells how he cracked the perfect score and secured 99 percentile.

Taher Poonawala scored 340 in the GRE in September 2019

IMAGE: Taher Poonawala is currently pursuing metallurgical and materials engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He secured the perfect GRE score in September 2019.  Photograph: Kind courtesy Taher Poonawala

I grew up in Mumbai where I attended the Bombay International School and PACE Junior Science College.

I am currently pursuing third year in metallurgical and materials engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

I am greatly interested in technology, how it impacts modern society and the power and potential it has to completely transform our way of life in the future.

I wanted to secure an international master’s degree in materials science. So I appeared for the GRE (the entrance examination for admission to international post graduate programmes) on September 24, 2019.

I had started preparing for the examination in the third week of July 2019, just as my summer vacations were coming to an end.

I did not take any coaching and opted for self study.

My seniors -- Hari Ramachandran, Akash Ramdas and Chandrahaas Vadali -- who studied in the metallurgical and materials engineering departments at the IIT Madras were of great help.

I consulted them before I started preparing.

They recommended some books and study material and guided me about the timelines for preparation and the score I should be aiming for.

I referred to GRE Prep book by Magoosh, the 5lb book by Manhattan and the official quantitative and verbal reasoning books by ETS.

I also took help of GRE Magoosh vocabulary flashcards to help me improve my vocabulary.

GRE consists of three parts -- the analytical writing section, the verbal section and the quantitative section.

The analytical writing section tests how well you can write about a topic on the spot.

In the essay they want to see how well you can explore all aspects of an obscure topic which you have probably never heard about.

Since the topics are so arbitrary I think they test your creativity and how you go about analysing something you have never seen before.

The quantitative section was the easiest.

The math section was akin to what I had studied in class 10, 11 and 12. The questions are basic and intended to test your conceptual understanding and presence of mind. They are rarely too theoretical or involved.

In the verbal section, GRE tests your vocabulary and your ability to interpret things in context.

Since I was already on track with the math asked in the quantitative section I didn’t really need to learn or study any new concepts.

To prepare for the quantitative section I solved all the problems in 5lb book by Manhattan. This book has individual chapters on all the topics that have to be covered, and has about 40 problems on each topic so that you get a thorough understanding.

To me, the Verbal section was more challenging. The words asked in the GRE are not words which one usually uses in one’s daily conversations.

I used GRE flashcards and solved the sentence equivalence and the text completion questions from the GRE prep book by Magoosh and the 5lb book by Manhattan.

Once I learned these strategies, I practiced them on the questions in the 5lb book.

Another area where I had trouble was the reading comprehension section, particularly in the long reading passages.

The long passages can be too dull and it's very easy to lose track of what the passage is about.

To help combat this I would write what the core theme of each paragraph was and make a note of any viewpoints mentioned in the paragraph. It really helped me keep track of important information.

The framing of questions is also intended to confuse students. So I would categorically paraphrase each question to be completely sure of what was being asked.

Another important strategy I followed was to ignore the answer choices.

Since we have to pick the correct answer from a set of choices the GRE purposely gives similar choices to confuse the test taker.

I would first formulate the answer myself and then match it with the given choices.

Frankly, after giving the IIT-JEE (joint entrance examination) I honestly feel that any exam is relatively easier.

Tips for GRE aspirants

Your mathematical concepts have to be clear and you need to work on your vocabulary and comprehension skills.

If you train yourself to focus throughout the four-hour long paper you can do well.

I feel the stream has great potential and applicability. It interests me and I would like to pursue it further

For students planning to appear for the GRE I would suggest that they mentally fix a date and then study for the exam, bit by bit every day, and not leave their preparation till the last minute.

I would also recommend doing a good number of practice test so that one gets in to the habit of writing a 4 hour exam.

If you do not practice this, you can lose focus in the middle and that will negatively impact your score.

 As told to Divya Nair/

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