If you are planning to do an M.S. in the U.S., most of the universities ask for both GRE and TOEFL scores. Only a few, mostly top tier universities, don't ask for either one of these scores. Since a typical M.S. aspirant will usually apply to around six or seven universities for admission, it is almost a must that he takes both exams.For a normal, bright student, it is not always necessary to take coaching classes for GRE and is absolutely not necessary for TOEFL. There is plenty of material available on the Net to aid in GRE preparation and Barron's preparatory book is pretty good. One can enhance his/her vocabulary by reading the `Word-Power' section in Readers' Digest magazines. In the TOEFL exam, the section in which most students lose points is the Listening Comprehension section. It is very important to pay all attention to the conversation that you will be made to hear and analyse and then answer. If you lose your concentration for even a single second, you might miss out on some vital information.The best way to prepare for GRE is to remember the context in which you learn a new word. Like, for example, if you are trying to mug up the meaning of words from Barron's book and you come across the word `salubrious' which means pleasant, as in a salubrious breeze. You might mug up the word and remember it for a few minutes and then forget its meaning as you proceed to mug up more and more words. It would be very helpful to create an imaginary scenario in which this word fits. You could picture yourself standing on a beach with Sallu (Salman Khan) in the pleasant (salubrious) breeze (that might be a rather silly example). If you want to remember the meaning of the word `rambunctious,' you could think of a particular kid in your family or neighbourhood who is very noisy, restless and mischievous (rambunctious). Or, if there is no rambunctious kid of your acquaintance, you could create a hypothetical one named `Ram' and bestow him with the characteristics of the adjective in question.

Carry a dictionary

Right from my middle school days, and even to this day, three years after I topped the GRE in my college, I have this very good habit of usually carrying a pocket dictionary with me wherever I go. It can be very handy, like when you don't understand the meaning of a word in an international airport or a terminology used by your professor in class or a word used by a friend during a casual conversation. Whenever I come across a word that I don't know, I never hesitate to look it up the dictionary. This way, you can remember the word or phrase for a long time because you will remember the context in which you first heard/saw it.I can narrate one instance in which it proved very helpful for me to have carried a dictionary along with me. This was to a regular weekly status meeting of our project, when I was briefly interning in a company in Manhattan, NY. One of my project managers was addressing the meeting and in due course, she picked me in particular and asked me if I was willing take a three-day hiatus from my regular work to do something else? And I was wondering what the word "hiatus" meant. I said I would need a minute to think about it and quietly pulled out my pocket dictionary and looked up the word which means a break from some schedule. It was less embarrassing to look it up the dictionary there rather than to ask her what the word meant. I can now never forget what a hiatus is!In general, an American's vocabulary is very expansive and they are rather succinct. Therefore, it is better to improve your grammar and vocabulary perpetually, even after you finish taking the GRE. As I was not funded for sometime in my grad school, I was compelled to work on campus as a janitor since no other jobs were available. When I was narrating tales of my plight to my grandmother and told her that I had to work as a janitor, she didn't know what a janitor did and mistook it for `senator' and asked me why I got into politics and the Senate!! If you have never taken a CBT (Computer Based Test) earlier, it is good to take the TOEFL before GRE, because TOEFL is relatively much easier than GRE and will give you a feel of a CBT, which will help you be more relaxed and comfortable while taking the GRE. And it's not just that.

Go in advance

I had scheduled to take my GRE exam a few days after the TOEFL exam, both at the same centre — the Prometric testing centre on Lavelle Road, in Bangalore. I had made sure to visit the centre once in advance, a few days before my TOEFL, and reached there one hour earlier than the scheduled time of 9 a.m. for the exam. I waited from 8 a.m. till half-past-eight, as the authorities would authenticate candidates and permit them to take the test from only half-an-hour before the scheduled time for the test to begin. When the authorities verified my identity and looked up my testing centre, at around 8.45 a.m., I was appalled when they told me that my centre had been changed to some other one on Residency Road and I had not been informed of this earlier! It took me more than 45 minutes of searching to get to that place. It was 9.35 a.m. by the time I registered there and they were reluctant to let me in because I had arrived there after the half-hour late arrival time permitted. I had to explain to them that it was not my fault that the centre was changed and all my story, by when it was 9.50 a.m. They finally consented to let me write the exam, of which I had already lost 50 minutes time. When I insisted that I should be allotted an extra 50 minutes time, they refused. Nevertheless, I took the exam and TOEFL is not a very difficult exam, so I still managed to complete it half-an-hour before the time limit and secured a very good score. But it would have been unnerving if this had happened for the GRE exam, as it is more time-consuming.My advice to GRE and TOEFL exam takers is to check out with the authorities at the reporting centre, at least 45 minutes before the exam is scheduled to begin, as to whether that is the place where they will actually take the exam or whether there has been a change in venue.As regards the GRE exam, most students know that it is computer adaptive i.e, if you answer a question correctly, the next question will be slightly tougher or easier, if you got that wrong. A student's performance in the first few questions makes a whole lot of difference to his score, more than his performance in the latter half of the exam. I hope this helps you fare better in these exams. Good luck. VINAYA KURPAD

Vinaya_kurpad@
rediffmail.com