When it comes to preparing for the GRE or GMAT, you have a number of options. It’s a good idea to make yourself familiar with these and do some research before you put your money down for a prep program. There are many options that are overpriced and don’t really address the prep needs of most students. Let’s take a closer look at each of the options.
1. Self-prep. This is, of course, the cheapest way to go. Buy a few books and study on your own. Quite a number of people can do find this way but it’s important to be honest about whether you are one of them. Start by taking a diagnostic test using a real GRE or GMAT. If you score well above the 500 that Anderson is looking for, you may do fine on your own.
If your diagnostic is significantly lower than 500, study hard for a month and then retest. If you are not a lot closer to 500, you’ll probably need help.
2. Online prep. As a 25 year test prep specialist, I can only say, “Yikes.” There are dozens of sites that have popped up in the past 5 years or so. Many of them look great. Please don’t judge a site by its appearance!
Online sites may well be significantly cheaper than a live class or coaching program but are you getting anything significant for your money, other than feeling like at least you’re doing something? Here are the points to consider.
Vocabulary is not an issue on the GRE or the GMAT so don’t waste your time with a site that offers vocabulary review. As I’ve mentioned in another post, the GRE and GMAT math is NOT about memorizing math facts or formulas. It’s about problem solving. If a site is only offering standard math review and practice, it’s probably not worth the price. If you really, really want to do math review, buy a book.
Most sites will offer some kind of practice questions or tests. Some may even offer dozens. This may sound like a great way to practice. In reality, these sites have to create their own questions. I can tell you from personal experience that writing test questions that actually match the patterns of the test is a challenging task. To do so one must be a highly experienced expert in the test. Most of the people who start a GRE or GMAT prep site did well on the exam but have not studied and taught the test for 25 years. More likely they have dabbled in it for a couple years or so. The practice question on such a site are not likely to prepare you for the actual test and may be highly misleading.
Personally, I only use actual GRE or GMAT questions when I work with students. You should too.
3. Live classes. There are a number of companies that offer live prep programs. In Albuquerque these include Kaplan, which no longer has an office here but does offer prep classes periodically. In addition Anderson offers a prep program. And of course Cutts Graduate Reviews has been teaching the GRE and GMAT for 25 years here.
How do these programs compare? I’ll try to give you a perspective by telling you from my experience that learning the GRE or the GMAT is about learning strategy. This includes timing strategy, which is critical for most people. I’ve had many students who got where they needed to be by strategy alone. On the math, as I’ve written in another post, it is not about reviewing math facts or formulas. It is about learning math problem solving strategies that work for you. In the verbal, as mentioned above, it is not about vocabulary. Nor is it about trying to learn to read faster. The verbal sections have specific hidden agendas and patterns that you need to learn about and specific strategies that you need to master in order to do well.
How does this affect the quality of a prep program? For an instructor to teach you the strategies and patterns of the test, that instructor needs to be a highly experienced test prep specialist. In both the Kaplan and Anderson programs, the instructors are nearly always people who have taken the test recently and done very well. But they are not professional, experienced, test prep specialists.
As a result, these programs tend to teach math by reviewing standard math facts and formuals. This is exactly the wrong approach for all but the most math-sophisticated students. For verbal they tend to teach vocabulary and speed reading. These do not get to the heart of the test. In fact it’s virtually impossible to make any score improvement through studying vocab.
When I work with students, I focus on the strategies and patterns of the test that have proven to make a real difference over my 25 years of test coaching. Each student has unlimited one-on-one time with me for as many months (or years!) as they need, so that I can tailor the strategies to that person’s needs.
The fee for this unlimited Cutts program is about half of what Kaplan and Anderson charge for a 6 to 8 week course with limited or no personal help.
4. Choosing a program. When you talk to a specific program, ask them who the instructors are. Ask them how much experience the instructors have. You can assume all instructors got high scores. That’s not what you’re looking for. You want to find out if they are experienced test prep professionals or just hired instructors. Find out how many months of help you’ll get and ask about options for personal coaching.
Be sure to compare your options before you decide on a course. It’s not a good idea to take a course just because a friend is doing it or because it sounds like they have good practice materials or a convenient schedule. If you don’t have a highly experienced instructor, none of the rest will make much difference.
Cutts Graduate Reviews has been helping people get into business and professional schools since 1990. Our GRE and GMAT prep programs are more in-depth, longer, more flexible, and more affordable than other options.
Jay Cutts is a test prep specialist with over 25 years experience. He is the lead author of the Barron’s LSAT Prep Book, MCAT Prep Book, and MCAT Flash Cards.
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