GRE: How to Start Preparing?

One of the most common questions asked by MS aspirants is that how should they start studying for the GRE. Like any other examination, GRE requires thorough preparations and familiarity with the question types you are going to be asked always helps. GRE generally requires two to three months of preparation time but it varies with individual cases. You can prepare even faster if you wish.

First thing before starting preparation is to get be familiar with the GRE pattern. [All About GRE provides details about everything you wanna know about the exam]. Go through the various sections and the question types tested during the examination. Take a mock test and analyze your score. You may have scored less but don't worry, you still have to start your preparations. If you get a good score in initial mocks, you still have to work hard for the final GRE.

Now, get into the exam mode. You have to start serious preparations. Start by taking a Barron's book. Go through the word lists. Take up 1-3 word-lists a day depending on the time you have. Revise each word-list of previous days, before proceeding with new ones. Mark the words you find difficult and pay special attention to them daily. Also, make flash cards of these words and keep them with you always. You can take out these flash cards multiple times a day. If you have about 3 months or more for the GRE, I would also suggest you to go through 'Word Power Made Easy' by Norman Lewis. Complete the sessions in the book as advised by the author.

The quantitative section of GRE is quite simple (especially, for engineers). For this section, Nova is a good book to start with. It gives a basic overview of all question types and topics to be covered. Do all the exercises of this book to get a basic brush up of the concepts. Then take any good aptitude book or practice questions online.

Do practice the analytical writing section for your GRE. Try using the new vocabulary you learned. Also, device strategies to complete the writing in specified time. Most of the GRE books provide some basic tips to go about this section. Follow any good strategy customized as per your preference.

In the end, practice is the most important step for your preparation. The more you practice, the more you score. Try to do as many mock tests as you can. You can find mock tests online or on the CDs provided with various books.

Best of Luck!

(The author of this post scored 1510 [Q:800, V:710, A:5.0] in the GRE. He has agreed to contribute more posts for individual sections of GRE and would be answering all your individual queries. Post your queries in the comments section.)
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Increase your Chances of Getting a Visa

Every visa official looks for certain factors, which you must satisfy to get a Visa. So, how do you convince him and increase your chances of Success? Here are a few points which you must keep in mind while going for your visa interview.

A. Legitimate Student:
Show that you have a coherent plan of study. e.g. B.A. English in undergrad in India then MS in Computer Science in US is not a coherent plan. B.E. Electronics & Communications then M S (Telecommunications) is very clearly coherent. Also, try linking the plan of study to India. There should be a connection between past study and future plan.

B: Reputation of School:
The better the ranking of the school that you finally choose, the higher your chances of getting a visa. Visa officials have actually been quoted saying that they never canceled the visa application of a Harvard or Stanford student (they don't even look at anything else if he has a Harvard offer). Of course, everybody doesn't get Harvard, but then if you choose an obscure university, your chances of a visa decrease correspondingly, as suspicion about your choice rises. The official thinks, "he's going there only to get to the US, there are better universities than this in India".

C: Exclusiveness of course:
If the course chosen is not offered in India, then it is a positive sign - as long as you can still show that it is logically related to your past studies. So you can't choose Evangelism after a BSc Chem. and then say, "it's not offered in India". Well, actually, you can but you have to show compelling reason why you want that subject.

D: Evidence of having researched all options:
Show all schools that you chose (say, printouts of web sites, Photostats of brochures), show clearly which ones you short listed and why, which ones you got offers from, which ones you chose and why. Basically, show yourself as a thorough student.

E: Proper documentation of previous study:
Have original copies of Board certificates, college degrees, diplomas, extra courses, etc. Also have original results of GRE, A-GRE TOEFL, TSE and other standardized tests handy.

F: Show proof of networking (if any) with professors:
If you have sent mails to(or written to) professors, have copies of the mails ready to show, to establish seriousness of intent to study and to show that you consider your education as an investment.

G: Multiple Offers:
If you have received offers from many universities, show that. Especially if you have a scholarship offer from a lower ranked university and are still going to a higher one, then attach proof of this with your application.

H: Be Systematic:
Carry a folder with the covering letter and all these papers in order, so that (a) you don't fumble around in front of the counter window looking for the right papers (b) you look systematic and thorough.

While going for your VISA, dress properly. Wear formals.

Best of Luck!
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American-ism: My 2 Cents

During your stay in USA you'll encounter many situations and sayings, which you won't be familiar with. These series on American-isms will introduce with some of the most common events/sayings in America.

"My 2 Cents" an American idiomatic expression used to preface the stating of one's opinion. By deprecating the opinion to follow — suggesting its value is only two cents, a very small amount — the user of the phrase hopes to lessen the impact of a possibly contentious statement, showing politeness and humility. However, it is also sometimes used with irony when expressing a strongly felt opinion. The phrase is also used out of habit to preface uncontentious opinions.

For example: "If I may put my two cents in, that hat doesn't do you any favors." (More polite way of saying, for example: That hat is ugly.) An example of the shortened version: "My two cents is that you should sell that stock now."

"Two cents" and its variations may also be used in place of the noun "opinion" or the verb phrase "state [subject's] opinion", e.g. "You had to put your two cents in, didn't you?" or "But thats just my two cents."

The phrase "If you don't put your two cents in, how can you get change?" encourages an expression of opinion. It makes a pun on the word "change". One meaning of change is an alteration — presumably to bring someone or something in agreement with an expressed opinion. Another meaning of change is the cash equivalent of an overpayment.

This expression is also often used at the end of a statement, e.g., "Just my two cents." In this usage, there are many variations that serve the same purpose, such as "Just my $0.02 worth" or "Just my 1/50th of a dollar."
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Visa Interview Questions & Answers

Here is a collection of the most commonly asked visa interview questions with their answers. Do go through them before your interview.

1. How many universities did you apply to?
This is a very basic question, but linked to this is the second question that is shot at you.

2. How many admits/ rejects?
As explained in the above question, both of these are interlinked. Now if you applied to 4, were accepted in 1 and got 3 don't have to be Mr. TRUTH. So put it as applied to 4, got 1, awaiting 2, 1 reject or applied to 4, got 1, awaiting 3.But then you have to state as in Question 3. that this was supposed to be your first choice anyhow, so even if you would have had the admit letters from any of the other 3, you would certainly have gone for this one. But if you are one of those type who offered to 1 and got just 1, don't go about saying that!!! Say you applied to 4 ,got 1, awaiting 3..put up the other univ's names;-) coz they think that someone who has applied to just one univ isn't really serious about his admissions and so isn't interested in educational purpose..which means a direct reject. If you applied to 11, got from just one..better say that you applied to just 4 or 5, and one reject, one admit and rest awaited. Many a times its better not to carry the reject letters, though some people advise so, but the thing is some univs reject on totally baseless matters.

3. What was your first choice?
The answer to this question also is dependant on the earlier one.

4. What is your GRE/TOEFL score?
As per your details. But always try to speak out the better score first. Like if you have a good TOEFL score ,say 630, and a GRE of 1750, speak out your TOEFL first and then GRE. Usually people think, they can go and lead them by answering long and sweet, like if asked for scores, the long answer might be : "Sir, I took my Computer based TOEFL and scored 270 at it, while I took the GRE and scored 800 in Quantitative, 710 in Analytical and 430 in Verbal". Well this can heat up the officer. He/She might feel you are taking him for ride ..even if you are not. So keep it short. So let the answer be : " TOEFL 270, GRE : 1940". Thats it!! much as he asked for. Makes his job easier and so he doesn't get pissed off at any of your leading behaviors.

5. What are your grades like?
Spell it out as it has been at your university. Say "Sir, We have a percentage system, and i scored xx% overall" IF your final year marks excel the other sems marks, spell that one out, coz usually in some universities, they look at the final year marks to grade the student in the Certificate.When later asked as to why u said XX% whereas the total marks of all your marksheets add up to XX-5/10% then clarify yourself...(They wont always go checking all your marksheets, but then you weren't lying)

6. Which was your undergraduate college?
As per your details.

7. What was your bachelor's degree in?
As per your details.

8. What is the purpose of your trip?
MS in CS/Telecommunications/EE...whatever or PhD in MEch/

9. Which university are you planning to go to?
The University of your choice and the univ you want the VISA for.

10.Who is planning to sponsor you?
As mentioned in your I-20. If you have a scholarship, say that. Else in case the I-20 says "Family funds" say that, and you may add that sir, my father and my mother are supporting me for my higher education.

11.Why do you plan to do MS?
Say that you felt that higher qualifications give a better place, a better standard in today's competitive world. You felt that you have a good know-how of your field, but a bit more technical knowledge in "the field you are going for MS in" will serve you greatly, when you come back here and join the industry of your choice

12.Why do you wish to study in the US and not in India?
The courses in the field I am interested in are not being offered (or very few institutions offer such courses). In addition to that the research going on is something I would like to be associated with. (Speak about the facilities as well). Talk about a few researches being conducted in that field. Technical words work out when other things don't.

13. Why did u select this University?
This question can be best answered when you do a bit of homework about you university. Browse the website of the University, visit the pages of the professors, go through their projects. Now remember some of the key words, like the project a professor X is working on. Mention something about the project if the officer is listening and is giving you time to explain. When you do such things, they think that you are pretty serious about your studies and are really into it. Well, some people believe in mentioning about the rank of the university, or the student to faculty ratio..well these all things don't affect how you are interested in it. You can say all these stuff such as rank and all, but you have to state what interested you and it should be something about research or academics. You can also show letters of correspondence with your University professors. If you don't have those, build some.

14. Your passbooks show that a large amount of money has recently been deposited. How would you explain that?
(NOBODY keeps huge sums of money in their savings account, so relax! If you have borrowed the money here is what you could do Its quite likely that in the past you may have received huge sums of money like selling of some property, retirement of parents etc so u could say something like) In year X we had received Rs. T and instead of depositing the amount in a bank at a low interest rate, we invested it in other sources which gave us high interest rates or we gave it to our needy friends. Now we have taken this money back to finance my education. (Of course its really dicey to answer this question, but if you are confident you shouldnt have a problem. If you have some proof of receiving a huge sum of money some years back, make sure you carry it)
You can also say that you had private FDs , i.e you invested in private firms coz they provide higher interest rates (say out figures like 16% per annum0 as compared to the mere 9% of banks. You can show a receipt and say that now you encashed that amount, coz you needed it for your educational purposes.

15. What does your father do? What if my dad has taken the VR?
Well this does have a specific reply, but then you can put it as "Sir, My father is working with a German collaborated company for the past 25 years as a Manager in XYZ department. The long reply helps over here. If your father has taken a voluntary retirement, dont mention that he has retired. Well there are two approaches to this. One, say that your father worked with this company for the last 30 years and now has his own consultancy dealing with(insert some financial or technical terms). Two, Say that your father worked as Asst Mgr./Mgr./GM with some company for the past 25 years, took a VR and now has a consultancy of his own. Never show him to be idle, coz that means your income has drastically reduced and works as a negative point. Stating about the VR often helps coz then you can assure him that most of the money you have shown is yours coz usually people get huge amounts on taking a VR. So that does help on the financial grounds.

16. Does any of your relative stay in the US?
The answers to this vary from person to person. The two basic replies being: Either "YES" or "NO". But I believe that you be truthful at this instance. I have seen many people who have been true and werent affected by that.
In fact at an USEFI seminar, addressed by the Consulate Officer.. it was said by the officer himself that," We know that most of the student will end up staying there after completing their studies, but atleast we can do our part of skimming them. We can atleast play the part of sieving across the deserving people and not every pedestrian."
This means that they evaluate you on the basis of your merits and not by what the person staying abroad is going to do for you. And the financial part is because they want to be assured that you can atleast go through your studies fully.
It just happens that many a times, they check your file..based on details provided in your passport, and if they do apprehend you lying, that might spell trouble. So, I think telling the truth is the best thing.
If your uncle or cousin or distant aunt stays there, you dont have to say "YES" coz that doesnt matter. All that matters is your immediate relatives ..i.e own brother, sister , father or mother.

17. Your brother/sister is studying there too. How will your parents support both of you?
Now, you have your chance of taking the officer for a ride here. Even if your brother/sister doesn't have an aid/scholarship, you can say he got a TA/RA there and so he need not be supported by the family any more for his educational expenses.

18.Why is your GRE score low ? (or any section score low)
This is the most preferred answer.I answered the first few questions incorrectly and I couldn't improve my score later even after performing well later. (Low = <1800 Otherwise you can say that you think your score is average and on the basis of that the university has given you the admission). You can also mention that "This score is considered to be ideal for the Engineers(if you are one)..or according to what you are. You can always build up a story , saying that the GRE Score interpretor sheet says that. Such as Engineers don't need to have an extra ordinary VERBAL Score, If the other sections complement it, you can show that the other sections are stressed upon by universities while selection for admission(Say this only when you think the situation is getting tense).
If you have a low VERBAL score, but a good TOEFL score, you can always say that "Please look at my TOEFL score Sir, I have done well at that". Besides GRE is just one of the many aspects that the universities look at for admission(Say this line only when you think you are drowning).

19. What are you plans after Graduation?
Be really well prepared for this question. This answer is not fool proof, but its you who can make it seem so. The basic things are:
Your field is what you will pursue
Your field is on a roll in INDIA
Your field has great opportunities
You get those opportunities even now
You get better opportunities once you do your MS
Show foreign companies coming to INDIA investing in your field
State some technical words expressing the advancements in your field
Make it seem, this field wont go ahead without guys like you ;)

20. Why are you changing your stream?
This generally occurs coz people having done their BE in Civil go on to pursue MS in CS. I am giving this reply specifically for transfer to CS stream, coz i dont think anyone from CS would be going to Mech ;).This is easy to get through. You can say either of the points:
Sir, during my third semester, when I was introduced to programming languages, I had a great exposure to computers. I gradually developed a liking for it and wished to deepen my knowledge in it.
I mastered a number of languages on my own, and am also into Web Designing and software debugging(push in technical words).
I always had it in my mind, that once I strengthen myself in my field, I will go on to enhance my skills in the field of Computers.
There were a vast number of options available, viz. CS, CN, CE but I chose CS as I had esteem interest in Software and its working
Always try to show that you have an interest for that subject. Never project that you are taking this up coz the market is strong. This is coz you are changing your stream..they might end up thinking that you just used your BE to get to this stage and that u dint do that on interest..they'll think you are fickle minded. Show that you do everything with your interst , you even did your BE in Civil or any other field coz you had interest in it, and now CS is your interest too.

21. What is your father's annual income?
This question often decides your ability to pay for your expenses. They think that money can be put into banks, but annual income is a proof which they heavily rely upon to decide the student's parents capability to spend for his educational expenses.
Whatever the officer asks. 1) What is your father's annual income? 2). What is your family's annual income?..The moment the words 'Annual Income" creeps in, state your complete family annual income, i.e if your mother is also an earning member, if you have agricultural income, if you ahve rental income plus the interests and dividends...State all of them together. Dont commit the blunder of stating just your father's income..many a times it hampers your chances..if it seems low to them. Obviously a sum of mother's income , your father's income, agricultural(if u have), ental will be more than a single one. And if they ask for the IT returns , hand over both of your parent's return statements, plus the agricultural papers plus the rental receipt(duplicate) at a time. And if he/she just argues(usually they dont) that you were asked about your father's income..then say" Sir, MY family is sponsoring me. Alongwith my father my mother is also an earning member and an income tax payee. Family funds is what the I-20 states, and so my family including my father and mother(opt brother, if u have one earning) are sponsoring me and here are their statements and proofs of other modes of income.

22.You look like Potential immigrants OR I dont think you will come back to India
This is a real tricky question. Many get blue when they hear this and lose their senses as how to tackle this question. Stay calm and think what all you can say like :"I am from a very well-to do family and money is not at all essential for me. I stand to inherit a lot from my parents (say this if u have lots of property) so staying and working in the US is not a criteria at all. The only thing i lack is this Masters (or whatever degree) which will make me a better software professional. As far as opportunity is concerned, because of the recession most of the US Companies are turning to the Indian companies for their software solutions. Most of the Indian companies have tie-ups with the US Companies (give some examples). So I am certain that with my degree I will get an equivalent opportunity and pay packet in India.

The Most Important Factor

Let me tell you something. The most important factor is "CONFIDENCE". Nothing can depose that. Whatever the answer be, if you are confident and show that you aren't nervous a bit, that will really help you get through. Complete Documents, Convincing Skills, Confidence and Present mindedness is what you have to invest. These are the keys to getting through the interview successfully. Many do get through because of sheer luck, when some of the casual officers just seem to be in a hurry to get through with the troop of VISA aspirants facing their counter.
But then I believe that your parents do all the job of putting together all the financial documents and stuff. The only thing you need to do is to put a confident self of yours over there.

These are not the only questions that are asked, they might come up with any other alien stuff. But then present mindedness and spontaneity is what helps under those situations. You have to be prepared with an answer the moment he shoots a question at you.

Don't make a face as if you just committed a sin. Hand over the documents and look at him. Remember , all your documents are as genuine as your Birth-Certificate ;).

All the best!
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Public vs. Private Universities

In the United States, universities are termed as "public" or "private". Many students are often not cognizant with these terms and relate these with the quality of the institutions. Both public and private universities offer degree programs. The terms "public" and "private" refer to the way in which universities are financially supported.

Public universities may also be called state universities, and some include the words "state university" in their title or include a regional element such as "eastern" or "northern." State universities tend to be very large with enrollments of 20,000 or more students. Since public universities obtain a part of their support from the state in which they are located, the tuition they charge is often lower than that charged by private institutions. In addition, public institutions generally charge lower tuition to state residents (those who live and pay taxes in the state) than to students coming from outside the state. International students are considered out-of-state residents and therefore do not benefit from reduced tuition at most state institutions.

Private institutions are supported by student tuition, investment income, research contracts, and private donations. Tuition fees tend to be higher at private universities than at state universities, and they charge the same tuition to all students, both state and non-state residents. Colleges with a religious affiliation and single-sex colleges are private. In general, private universities have enrollments of fewer than 20,000 students, and private colleges may have 2,000 or fewer students on their campuses.

Except for financial considerations, the public or private nature of a university should not be a factor in selecting a graduate program. High quality programs exist in both types of institutions. Of more importance is the institution's commitment to the graduate program. This commitment is found in its willingness to maintain a first-class faculty and to provide excellent facilities for advanced study, including libraries, laboratories, computers, and other equipment. Another important factor to consider in many disciplines is the presence of strong departments in other fields relevant to your interests so that you can have access to scholars and courses in disciplines related to your own.
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