21-Day GRE Prep: Review of Magoosh and the Manhattan 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems

I will be taking the GRE revised General Test (GRE) in less than three weeks.  I started a 21-Day GRE Prep this past Monday (5 January).  Over the next few weeks I will be giving an extended review of my main GRE prep materials: Magoosh online GRE prep and the 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems.  I learned about Magoosh from a friend who gave a compelling review.  I learned about the 5 lb. Book from visiting message boards. I will give general commentary on my GRE test prep and test-taking experiences. Please note that while I did purchase the 5 lb. Book, all my other GRE prep books were checked out from my local public library.

Prior Preparation

I did some GRE prep this past summer that consisted of reading and working the sample exercises in the GRE® Verbal Workbook (Kaplan Test Prep) and the GRE® Math Workbook (Kaplan Test Prep). I’ve also reviewed all the vocabulary decks in the free Magoosh Vocabulary Flashcards at least once and some of the free Manhattan Vocabulary Flashcards.  Apart from sporadic vocabulary review, I didn’t keep up with GRE prep following the summer.  I wasn’t able to take the test over the summer, and I knew that I didn’t want to take the test during the past semester which was packed with classes, research, and attending my first scientific conferences.

The 21-Day Countdown!

The winter break seemed the perfect time to get in my GRE Prep and to take the test before the start of the 2015 spring semester.  I’ve had a few study sessions leading up to these final 21 days of preparation, but the bulk of my current GRE prep will occur over these few short weeks.  Additional materials for my 21-Day GRE Prep include the The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test, 2nd Edition, The New York Times (I’m a Sunday subscriber), online articles from newspapers and magazines, and my Encyclopedia of World History by William L. Langer.

My review posts will be divided into several categories. In the “Computer Practice” category I will discuss my Magoosh activities with further division for verbal and math. The “Book Practice” category will include discussion of my verbal and math practice from the 5 lb. Book. In the “Reading” category I will link to and comment on some of the articles I’ve read. The review posts may cover anywhere from 1 to 3 days of prep.


Magoosh (“Computer Practice”)

I am using the Magoosh 1-month study plan to organize my study and to guide the order in which I watch the videos as the order recommended in the study plan is not necessarily the order the videos appear on the site. For example, when I click “Lessons” from the menu at the top of the screen, the first videos listed in the Math section are the “Arithmetic and Fractions” videos. The 1-month study plan lists “Integer Properties” as the first videos to watch in the Math section. I’ll write more about this later in the “Computer Practice” Section.

The Magoosh 1-month study plan lists all the study components by week and day. For example, under “Week One, Day One” you will see all the recommended study materials for that day.  I wanted a quick visual for the separate categories, so I made separate index cards for math videos, verbal videos, practice questions (math and verbal), and other materials.  As you can see, my cards aren’t fancy.

My Magoosh verbal video check card.

My Magoosh verbal video check card.

For week 1, day 1 on my card “TC F3″ on the card refers to “Text Completion, First Three Videos”.  The letter L plus a number refers to the last videos of a section. An abbreviation followed by an asterisk means watch the rest of the videos in the section. Given that I only have three weeks, I wanted to be sure I stayed ahead of the pace set for the 1-month plan. I highlight the relevant task once it has been completed. If a helpful website or book is mentioned during a Magoosh lesson video, I write that source on the back of the index card for the relevant section, verbal or math.

I found the Magoosh console so easy to use that at first I didn’t think to write anything about it.  Once logged in you are taken to the Dashboard screen with buttons that are clearly labeled Math Practice and Verbal Practice. The results of the practice are displayed below in pie graph form with additional statistics below that listing your average pace answering questions along with the overall average pace of other users for comparison.  A menu along the top of the dashboard has links for “Lessons” (videos), “Practice” (another way of getting to/customizing practice questions), “Review” (a screen to customize the view of your results/stats), and “Resources” (study plans, flash cards, testimonials, etc.).  To the right of the menu list, you’ll find links to “Help” and “Account.” There is also a menu down the left side of the Dashboard with a list of suggested video lessons generated based on your activity.

Manhattan 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems (“Book Practice”)

To coordinate my two main study materials, I turned to the index of the 5 lb. Book and jotted a quick list matching the chapter topics to the Magoosh videos. The titles of many of the chapters matched the video titles closely. As I work problems, I don’t make any marking in the book.  I use looseleaf sheets that I label by chapter,  and I usually leave these stuffed in the book between the pages that correspond to problems, though I do have a binder.

My general scheme is that after watching Magoosh videos on a topic,  I work a set of problems from a corresponding chapter in the 5 lb. Book. I work the questions in sets of 20 for the most part, though I sometimes only pause between sets to check my answers.  I set a timer and jot the time I take to complete each set — when I don’t forget.

I sometimes work one set of problems in the 5 lb. Book before watching Magoosh videos to get a feel for how well I know that section and also to get an overview of my problem-solving strategies.  I compare my strategies to those recommended in the videos and I try to incorporate any improvements. I then work another set of 20 questions after watching a group of videos.

So far, I haven’t nailed down working this scheme consistently, but I’m getting there!

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Sonjiala Jackson-Hotchkiss

Sonjiala (SON-ja-la) is currently pursuing an MS degree in chemistry at UC San Diego. As a member of the Bridges to Baccalaureate Program at San Diego Mesa College, her research in organic chemistry includes the synthesis of fatty acid esters of vitamin C that will be tested for their ability to inhibit glycolytic enzymes. In an additional research project she uses analytical chemistry techniques to determine the composition of World War II era California pottery.

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