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Ask Test Masters – Admission to a Top 10 Graduate School

Information technology

The Information Technology logo (according to Wiki Commons).

Ask Test Masters is a free information service offered by the GRE and graduate school admission experts at Test Masters. Reader MSAspirant asks,

“Dear Test Masters, I have a score of 319 (160 Q, 159 V, 4.5 AWA) on my second attempt. On my first attempt I had a 314(159 Q, 155 V, 4.0 AWA). I have an experience of 7.5 years in Information Technology and was looking to get into a top 10 school for MS. I am a bit worried about my Quant scores. Can you please throw some light as to whether they are good enough? Should I reattempt [the] GRE or can I just focus on my SOP and Recommendation Letters.”

Dear MSAspirant,

I would first recommend consulting this article: What is a good score on the GRE? Pay close attention to the second table listed in this article. This table (reproduced below) shows the average Verbal and Quantitative scores by intended graduate school program.

Data taken from Tables 6 & 7 of GRE Snapshot Report.

Without more information, based what you’ve provided in your question, we assume that by MS you are referring to obtaining a Master of Science in Information Technology. Information Technology degrees typically include a core curriculum of business and computer science courses; however, for the purpose of answering your question (i.e. is your score good enough for a top 10 graduate school), we can categorize your intended graduate program under “engineering” (because the average scores for engineering students most closely resemble the average scores for computer science graduate students).

If you review the article linked above, there is a fairly thorough explanation as to what constitutes a “good” score on the GRE. Essentially, whether a GRE score is good or not is entirely relative to the goals of the individual. You have clear goals – be accepted into a top 10 graduate program and earn an MS; for just a moment though, let’s set your stated goals aside.

Objectively, you have an excellent GRE score. Can it be improved upon? Certainly, but it is a very good score nonetheless. For the purpose of comparison, the average GRE score is a 302.8 (152.2 Q, 150.6 V, 3.5 AWA). Your score is well above this average. Also, in case you are unaware, you may also utilize something known as ScoreSelect to ensure that the graduate institution(s) you apply to sees only the higher of your two scores, or three scores should you decide to take the GRE again.

Returning to your stated goal – admission to a top 10 university – there is no better institution to use for comparison than Harvard University. Please take a moment to review the table below, which outlines several important averages for both Master’s and PH.D. students admitted to Harvard. (Note: Data taken from Harvard Grad Data Page.)

Quant. Verbal AWA Cumulative GPA
Master’s 163 160 4.5 3.60
PH.D. 165 161 4.3 3.84

You can see that the average GRE scores for Master’s students accepted to Harvard are (163 Q, 160 V, 4.5 AWA). This puts you just at, but slightly below, the average scores of students accepted to Harvard. That is very good! Is it good enough? Maybe. Keep in mind these are average scores; some students were accepted with higher scores and others were probably accepted with lower scores.

If you really are targeting a top 10 university then you are correct to be slightly concerned with your quantitative score as it is several points below the average; however, this won’t immediately disqualify you from admission. Whether you should take the GRE again should revolve around several factors, but the two most important questions you should ask yourself are:

1)      Do I feel like I can improve my score?

2)      How would retaking the GRE fit into my current timetable?

You were able to improve your quantitative score by only one point the last time you took the GRE. Did you do any test preparation between your first exam and your second exam? If you did not, it might be worth taking the exam again as proper preparation could lead to significant score gains. If you did prepare in what you consider a sufficient amount and only achieved a marginal score increase, then it might be less worthwhile to put in the time, energy, and cost associated with preparing for and taking the GRE again.

You should also be mindful of how taking the GRE again might fit into your overall admission timetable. If you do decide to take the GRE again, you should certainly prepare for it. This means that you will have that much less time to devote towards the other aspects of your application, which (as you mentioned) include your Statement of Purpose and Letters of Recommendation, among other things. Take a look at the application deadlines of the various institutions you plan on applying to, and keep those deadlines in mind.

Your scores are good and your previous experience in the field should help as well; all of this combined should make you a competitive applicant, as is, to any university (provided you have the corresponding GPA as well). My advice is, unless you feel like you can really improve your quantitative score with preparation, to begin focusing on the other aspects of your application.

Hope this helps!

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What is a good score on the GRE?

One of the most common questions on this blog is, “What is a good score on the GRE?” Invariably, the answer is “it depends,” and it does. Generally speaking, whether a GRE score is good (or not) is relative to the goals of the individual test taker. Please keep this in mind as we explore the question, what is a good score on the GRE?

The ETS, the makers and administrators of the GRE, recently released a report entitled A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE revised General Test. This report is primarily intended “to provide score users with the most relevant information” possible about the GRE test taking population (‘score users’ means admission officers, university administrators and faculty, etc.). Much of the information within this report will not be particularly useful to you as an individual test taker; however, this report does give us a great deal of insight into what constitutes a good GRE score in terms of means and averages and (more importantly) field of study. Let us take a look.

Note: This is not an exact reproduction of Table 1 as it appears in the GRE Snapshot Report. The author has edited this info-graph for space and relevance.

The table above doesn’t quite answer the question what is a good score on the GRE?, but it does tell us what is an average score on the GRE. This table shows us that the mean Verbal Reasoning score is a 150.6 and the mean Quantitative Reasoning score is a 152.2. For those of you not familiar with Standard Deviation, in this case, it simply tells us how close to the mean most students scored. This indicates that the majority of GRE test takers scored between 142.3 to 158.9 on Verbal Reasoning and between 143.4 to 160.4 on Quantitative Reasoning.

This gives us a basic understanding of what constitutes a “good” score: if you are scoring below the standard deviations you have a bad score, if you are scoring above the standard deviations you have a good score, and if you are scoring in between, then you have a relatively average score.

This information is useful in understanding how GRE scores are broadly evaluated; however, as many university admission officers will be quick to point out, every applicant is evaluated individually. For example, you would not expect a person applying to a Masters of Fine Arts program to have a better Quantitative Reasoning score than somebody pursuing a Doctorate in Engineering. This means that when you are trying to determine whether your GRE score is good or not, you should consider it within the context of your application.

Luckily, the GRE Snapshot Report contains information relevant to this endeavor. Consider the following chart:

Data taken from Tables 6 & 7 of GRE Snapshot Report.

This spreadsheet shows the average Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores by intended graduate major; this shows how you compare to students who plan on pursuing a degree in the same field as you. For example, say you score a 155 on the Quantitative Reasoning section. This score is several standard deviations above the aggregate mean of 152.2, and so could be considered a relatively good score, unless, of course, you intend to apply to an Engineering program, in which case it would be several deviations below the mean of 159, and a relatively bad score. The above information should give you a good grasp of what constitutes a good GRE score by field of interest.

As many of this blog’s readers are international students, it is worth noting that your international status will be taken into account when you apply for a graduate program in the United States. For example, admission officers do not expect a potential graduate student from South Korea or India to score as well on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE as a native English speaker. If you are an international student, refer to pages 40-45 in the GRE Snapshot Report to get an idea of how you compare to other international students.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that whether a GRE score is good (or not) is ultimately relative to your own personal goals. If you are planning on applying to an elite university or program, then you will need a correspondingly higher score; conversely, if you are targeting a less prestigious institution or degree plan, then a good GRE score for you may be slightly lower than what is traditionally considered an exemplary score. On this note, let me remind you how important it is that you research the institutions you are planning on applying to so that you know what GRE score will be good for you.

ETS’ GRE Snapshot report attempts to break down the GRE scores of the global test taking population into more distinguishable categories. This means they examine average GRE scores by gender, race, nationality, educational objectives and fields of interest, among other categories. By and large the specific sub-categories and cross categorization of these breakdowns are of no interest to most of us; however, knowing the average GRE score for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in your field gives you the significant advantage of having a score to compare your own to. Hopefully the information above has helped you determine whether you have a good GRE score (or not); of course, if you need more help or have additional questions, please feel free to comment below or Ask Test Masters!

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How to Write Your Statement of Purpose (Part I. What do I Write About?)

What Should I Write AboutHow to Write Your Statement of Purpose

One of the most daunting tasks of applying to graduate school is writing and submitting your statement of purpose. This is one of the few times throughout the entire admission process that the objective aspects of your application are momentarily set aside so that admission officers can really get to know you. You should view your statement of purpose as an opportunity, not an obstacle. This article is one of a series dedicated to unraveling the challenges of writing your statement of purpose.

Part I. What do I write about?

Deciding what to write may seem like the most difficult part of the entire endeavor, so you might be surprised to discover that the opposite is often the case. Prospective students are usually provided with clear instructions on what to write about and why. Most universities want you to use your personal statement to tell them the following things:

  • Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?
  • What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?
  • What are your academic goals?
  • What are your professional goals?

We will address each of these topics individually. As you read on, note that many of these topics interrelate. For example, your reasons for attending graduate school could stem from your professional experiences post-college, or, if you are considering a research-heavy program, perhaps your professional goals are academic in nature. This is okay! The point of this post is to help you figure out what you want to write about, not how you will structure all of this information into a coherent essay (we will cover that in a future post).

Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?

Your reasons for choosing a particular field are important. Your explanation should be succinct, avoid platitudes, and be unique but relatable. Also, do not turn your answer into an autobiography; only share a personal story if it is pertinent to your application. Good reasons to pursue a graduate education in a particular field include:

  • Talent and interest in a particular field.
  • The opportunities available from an advanced degree in a particular field.
  • The skill-set obtained from an education in this field will help in another.

What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?

This part of your essay should convince admission officers that you are not only capable of doing well in their program but that you have taken steps toward improving your chance of success. This would also be a good time to discuss how you plan to utilize your experiences in a way that would benefit the campus community and classroom.

Do not be mistaken – this is not the same thing as ticking off all the points on your résumé. They already have your résumé; don’t waste their and your time retyping it in essay format! This is not to say you should disregard your achievements or be afraid to discuss them; rather, elaborate on those accomplishments that actually pertain to the field you are applying to, and avoid going into great length about those things that do not.

What are your academic goals?

Academic goals will vary from field to field, but everyone’s personal statement should share a few characteristics. Good things to talk about here include:

  • The knowledge and skills you would like to acquire and develop in your time with this program.
  • The aspects of the program that impress you.
  • Research or papers you find interesting that have been published by current or past faculty members.

You should also use this part of your essay to demonstrate knowledge about the field you are interested in studying. You are more likely to impress admission officers if you can show them you are already competent in the field and have done an appropriate amount of research regarding their program.

What are your professional goals?

Consider this the “What is your five-year plan?” question. Specificity is good here, but it’s more important that your goals and plans be believable and realistic. Your answer should emphasize the importance of attending graduate school, but in the context of hoping to attain something greater.

This should be enough to start you on the journey to writing a good personal statement. As you begin the brainstorming process, remember who you are writing this essay for. The person reading your essay will have read dozens, if not hundreds of these statements. Think about it from his or her perspective, and ask yourself, “What is the point of including this in my application?” After reading your personal statement, admission officers should be firmly convinced that you:

  • Know how to write.
  • Know how present yourself.
  • Will not drop out of their program.
  • Have ambition and will be a credit to the program.

Ask Test Masters or comment if you have questions; otherwise, return soon for the second installment of It’s Not GREek’s How to Write Your Statement of Purpose.

 

 

 

Ask Test Masters – United Nations Application Pt. 1

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Reader Devan Taylor asks,

“I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from the University of Houston, and I am interested in working for the United Nations one day. What graduate school programs would give me an edge when I do apply to work for the United Nations? One program I am interested in is the M.A. in Humanities program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Are there other programs similar to this in Houston, TX, Austin, TX, or other cities in general?”

Dear Devan,

Great questions all around; let’s start at the beginning – “What graduate school programs would give me an edge when I do apply to work for the United Nations?”

If you are asking “Is there any single graduate program that will give me an edge regardless of what position I apply for?” the answer is foreign languages or linguistics, and to a lesser degree cultural studies. Fluency in two or three (or more) foreign languages will absolutely make a huge difference in the strength of your application, as will a demonstrable ability to pick up languages quickly. Among the many tests United Nations applicants must take is a “Language Examination.” Learn about the different exams you will have to take here.

The general occupational career groups employed by the UN include administration, conference services, human rights, jurists, legal affairs, logistics, political affairs, transport work, program management, and security, among other more specific career niches. Ideally, you want to present yourself as a candidate who could potentially contribute in several of these capacities. Combined with a fluency in one or more foreign languages, degree programs focused on international law, international business (the GRE can be used for graduate admission to business school as well – check out this article, “The New GRE – GMAT Killer?”), and political science would best serve to make you a viable candidate for a position with the UN; other, perhaps less obviously significant, fields of study might involve history, statistics, geography, or even sociology.

It’s a challenging task, but our advice is to identify the position you most desire and then do everything you can to mold yourself into the perfect candidate for that position, all while crafting a resume that presents you as someone who can function capably at multiple levels within the UN bureaucracy.

Something else to keep in mind is that obtaining a position with the United Nations is extremely competitive; you could apply and be turned down multiple times before being hired. One way to gain an advantage in the application process is to have related work experience. Did you know that you can volunteer or intern with the United Nations? If you excel at this sort of entry level work, it could potentially lead to a more permanent position. Another more tertiary option to being hired at the UN is to pursue a similar career path within the US government (the CIA is always hiring); this gives you the option of gaining valuable experience without spending months or summers suffering as an unpaid helper. If you have more questions about the actual process of applying to the United Nations, consult this Frequently Asked Questions guide provided by the UN’s Human Resources department.

This concludes part one of a two-part answer to our most recent “Ask Test Masters” submission. Join us next time as we discuss the specifics regarding admission to the university mentioned above and review other potential colleges and universities that might help you craft an excellent resume to work at the United Nations.

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee.

GRE Scores May be Down, but Competition is UP!

Our mantra at “It’s Not GREek” is “The score you want is the score that will get you into your graduate school of choice.” Though every student has different goals and ambitions, this means that you do not need to get a perfect score on the GRE to get into a good graduate program; you do, however, generally need to score above average to have a chance at being admitted to your program of choice. This self-evident, sagacious wisdom has come under scrutiny recently as the average GRE score for American test-takers has dropped to, well, below average. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the GRE, recently released data outlining the average scores of domestic and international test takers.

*Source: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/02/21/ets-releases-data-gre-averages-country

 

It is apparent that a truly significant number of undergraduate students and undergraduate degree holders in the United States are considering applying to graduate school; as Bachelor’s degrees are now the workplace standard rather than the exception, people are seeking to stand out from the crowd by pursuing advanced degrees.  The most important consequence of this is, though the average GRE score is down, competition for admission into graduate school is up.

The sheer volume of potential applicants is staggering; simply put, there are not enough spots available for the number of interested or potential graduate school applicants. This is true without even mentioning the challenge competing for spots at prestigious universities with well qualified international students poses to prospective American graduate students. Given the new GRE average score for US test takers, suffice it to say, it is no longer enough to score ‘above average’ on the GRE.

It might be tempting to look at these scores and breathe a sigh of relief, thinking, “Well, look … my score is above average.” Well, suck in that sigh and let out a groan, because the admission standards for prestigious universities have not been lowered to accommodate the drop in GRE scores for the average American test taker. Quite the opposite, in fact; competition for a spot in an excellent graduate program has never been fiercer (as evidenced by the exponential growth of potential applicants).

The simple fact of the matter is ‘above average’ no longer means what it used to; at least when it comes to the GRE. With nearly 320,000 annual GRE test takers in the United States, averages may be down but competition is UP! 

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Ask Test Masters – GRE Subject Tests

Ask-Test-MastersSachin is a student interested in studying Computer Science at the graduate level. He recently wrote to us for advice on whether or not he should take a GRE Subject Test. Sachin asks:

Hello,
I’m preparing for the GRE, but my academic marks are not so good. This might be a problem that can arise at the time of admission. Also, tell me about the GRE subject test. Is it beneficial or not?

Dear Sachin,

It sounds like you are asking if a GRE or GRE Subject Test score can make up for bad grades. The short answer is it depends. Keep in mind that most (but not all) graduate programs have a minimum Grade Point Average requirement; without meeting your University of Choice’s minimum GPA requirement, it is unlikely that high test scores will help. If, on the other hand, a student does meet the minimum grade requirements of their preferred graduate school or program, then your GRE scores can possibly make a very significant difference. Coursework is the most important factor admission officers will consider when deciding whether to admit a candidate or not, since that is the context in which graduate professors will interact with students. Note that different schools calculate minimum GPA in different ways; some schools may only consider the last 60 hours of coursework on your transcript, other schools may only consider your Major GPA. If in doubt, call the school; whatever your GPA is, a high GRE score can’t hurt.

If you do have a low GPA or academic marks, you can learn more about how to get into graduate school here and here.

As for subject tests, having a good score on a GRE Subject Test can have a significant impact on any graduate school application. Many universities or programs will require you to submit a specific GRE Subject Test score to be even considered for admission; this is especially true at the Ph. D. level. Other universities may not require you to submit a specific GRE Subject Test, but will instead ask you to submit a Subject Test of your choice. In both of these circumstances the benefits of taking a GRE Subject Test are obvious- you won’t be admitted, or even considered for admission, without one.

Even if your university of choice does not require you to submit a GRE Subject Test score to be considered for admission, taking a GRE Subject Test can be very beneficial for any graduate school application. A good subject test score demonstrates that you are qualified and competent in the field you are applying for; it also shows that you are willing to put in extra work to succeed (something that any admission officer would like to see). A good score on a GRE Subject Test will help you stand out among other competitive candidates.

All in all, a GRE Subject Test might not be necessary, but it is certainly a good idea!

Hope this helps!

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The New GRE – GMAT Killer?

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You can stop worrying about which exam you should take for graduate school. The GRE is accepted practically everywhere.

At one point in time, the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) was the de facto exam that students took to get into business school. But in 2006, the creators of the GMAT, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), decided to sever ties with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), who up until that point had administered the exam. This move, which ended the non-compete clause that the GMAC held over the ETS, allowed the ETS to challenge the stranglehold that the GMAC had on business school testing.

Since 2006, the ETS has been campaigning schools to accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT. According to a press release by the ETS, “About 450 MBA programs worldwide now accept the GRE test, including 45 percent of the U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 U.S. programs and seven of the top 10 global MBA programs according to The Financial Times.” These schools include some of the top-ranked business schools in the world, such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton at UPenn, Stern at NYU, and Sloan at MIT.

Additionally, the revised GRE is in part meant to make the exam more attractive to business schools. The ETS website states, “ETS has revised the test to better reflect the kind of thinking you’ll do in graduate or business school and improve your test-taking experience. New types of questions now more closely align with the skills you need to succeed in today’s demanding graduate and business school programs.” Removing analogies and antonyms, for instance, shifts the focus away from memorization and towards analysis and understanding.

It’s no surprise that more and more schools are starting to accept the GRE. The ETS estimates that there are approximately 700 GRE testing centers in 160 countries around the world; contrast this with a 2010 GMAC press release, which estimates that there are 500 testing centers in 110 countries. Schools that decide to accept the GRE can expand their applicant pools by making it more convenient for international applicants applying to US business schools in this era of globalization. Additionally, the move to accept the GRE is beneficial to students as well. Those who are trying to decide between going to graduate school and going to business school don’t have to choose one over the other or worry about taking two tests (and paying two registration fees) — they can simply take the GRE and apply to both. Test Masters recommends that prospective students take both tests and submit the higher score.

With the release of the new GRE and the momentum that the ETS has built up over the past several years, we can expect to see more and more business schools accepting the GRE for admissions. Of course, the GMAC is not simply twiddling its thumbs as the ETS courts its primary market — the GMAT is scheduled for a major facelift soon to give the exam more business-specific content.

But who knows? By then, it may be too late.

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available. Test Masters’ GRE course comes with a 10 Score Increase Guarantee.

Ask Test Masters: Cost of Attendance and GRE Scores for an International Graduate Student

ASK TMAsk Test Masters is a free informational service offered by the experts at Test Masters; you ask, we answer. Shravan, an international student interested in attending graduate school in the United States and abroad, has a few questions about admission requirements and the cost of attendance. Shravan writes,

“I’m pursuing a Bachelor’s in Information Technology (3rd year, 2nd semester) and would like to earn my MS in the U.S. or another country. My question is: my average is 60% aggregate and my financials are also not good; if I get a good score on the GRE can I get into at least an average university? Also, which university has the lowest fees for a semester? How much should I pay in total for an MS in the U.S., and how much money will it cost in total? Please give me some suggestions!!!”

Dear Shravan,

Let’s talk financials first. The total cost of your graduate education will depend on a number of factors – Better known schools are more expensive than less well known schools, private schools are more expensive than state schools, and certain degree programs are more expensive than other degree programs. Other factors, like the cost of living and financial aid, can impact your total cost of attendance, but are indeterminate. Universities regularly release helpful information regarding tuition and living expenses online, so getting a general idea of how much graduate school will cost is really only a Google search away. Let’s take a quick look at two examples of what different types of universities may cost.

Rice

Rice University is often called “The Harvard of the South.”

The University of Texas at Austin is a well-regarded state school, and generally considered a great value because of its high ranking and low cost. The cost per semester, when taking 12 hours of course work, for an Information graduate student who is a non-Texas resident at UT Austin is $10,830. Now consider Rice University, one of the United States’ premiere private research universities; the tuition for a full-time graduate student, regardless of residency status (though international students will have to pay certain fees that may affect the total cost of attendance), in the 2012-2013 academic year is $34,900. Notice that the cost of tuition is significantly higher at the private university than the state university. If you would like to do a detailed search of graduate universities by cost, this website is very useful. To get an idea of what your total tuition costs may be, simply research the cost per semester and multiply by the number of semesters it will take to obtain your degree.

In order to qualify for federal financial aid, international students are required to be US citizens or have permanent resident status, which, of course, makes financial aid for international graduate students extremely rare and very competitive to obtain. That said, it is not impossible to obtain financial aid as an international grad student; edupass.org is an excellent resource to understanding your options when it comes to financial aid. There is also the possibility of obtaining “work-study” employment, where you work for the university (as a Teacher’s Assistant or in some other capacity) for a small stipend to help pay for living expenses and tuition costs.

If you are worried that your grades might not be good enough to get you into your university of choice, there are a number of options available to you on how to mold yourself into a competitive graduate school candidate. You can learn more about getting into graduate school with a low GPA here. Remember, a higher GPA improves your chances of being admitted to the graduate school of your choice and drastically increases the likelihood of you obtaining a scholarship or financial aid.

GRE logo

The GRE is administered by the ETS.

In terms of standardized test scores, you should be focused on two things: the TOEFL and the GRE. The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, is mandatory for international students; its primary purpose is to determine whether you are fluent enough in English to communicate effectively in a classroom environment. You can register for the TOEFL here.

Before pinning your hopes of attending graduate school to achieving a near perfect GRE score, you have to realize the GRE is hard. This exam is designed to challenge people who are not just academically talented, but motivated to succeed. If you need an excellent GRE score to have a chance of getting into your college of choice, the best piece of advice we can offer you is prepare. Practice, study, review and then practice, study, and review some more. You can learn more about how to make your study habits more effective here.

International students are at a disadvantage when it comes to GRE preparation as professional exam preparation is not as widely available internationally as it is domestically in the United States. One excellent resource to consider is a GRE online preparatory course like the one offered by Test Masters.

We hope this helps, and let us know if you have any more questions!

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