By: Apex GMAT
Contributor: Ilia Dobrev
Date: February 23, 2021
If you are already preparing for the GRE or researching how to do it in the most efficient way, then you will want to know about: The Four Ps for having the best GRE Prep experience. Over the course of more than a decade coaching GRE and GMAT test-takers to elite performance, we have created The Four Ps of GRE prep – Practice Prevents Poor Performance. These words have proven to be essential to achieving GRE success. It all might sound obvious at first, but we bet it is easier said than done.
All practice, however, isn’t the same. It’s vital to engage in high yielding, iterative practice that engages the brain in the ways that are most efficient to learn. This is different from memorizing material or even being able to recognize particular problems; strong GGRE practices entails internalizing how the GRE operates, recognizing underlying structural patterns, and mastering flexibility in the face of highly familiar concepts.
While these are beyond the scope of this article, today we’ll take you through the most significant stepping stones of your journey to accomplish your graduate school goals and help you select the best GRE preparation plan for you, depending on your aspirations, timeline, budget, and current level of skill.
KNOW YOUR GRE NEEDS
The cornerstone of the GRE is having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and the proper roadmap to follow to attain the desired results. The most common motivation for many of our clients is the positive correlation between a high GRE score, prestigious graduate school admission, and long-term career goals.
Also worth mentioning is that a good GRE score is relative. Even if you achieve a score that is competitive, there is always someone out there with a stronger score… until you get to 340. What this means is that there’s always room to grow, and that learning – in life and in the GRE – is never finished, but also that the tools to learn never go out of style.
Universities view your full portfolio; resume, essays, recommendations, interview (read as personality), and much, much more. A strong academic record at college/university both does not guarantee admission, nor does it equal success on the GRE. In fact, a high GPA can be a liability if your GRE score comes in significantly below where one would expect it to, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. Our advice is to research the programs that you are interested in by speaking to admission counselors, school alumni, and current students and look at both the range and the average GRE scores of admitted students. This way you will have an idea and make an informed prediction about how competitive you need to be.
A great GRE score is one that complements your portfolio, highlights your strengths, and covers for your shortcomings. From our experience and those of our clients, extensive focused GRE preparation is central to getting those extra points under your belt.
THREE TYPES OF GRE PREP
In your search for the best GRE prep plan for you, we wanted to lay out the connection between your current ambitions and future career goals. Therefore, we’ve divided this concept into three key distinguishable subcategories based on factors that have a significant effect on productivity: personalized approach, group vs solo work, and time spent preparing.
Self-prep refers to preparing for the GRE by yourself, without the help of a tutor or an instructor using published resources, message boards, and the help of friends or family.
- Working at your own pace – Often, many test takers to-be are engaged with a heavy workload during their GRE preparation. Self-prepping allows them to devote time as they can without having to coordinate with any external schedules.
- It is cost efficient – As this approach does not involve tutoring services, it is likely that you will be spending money only for learning aids. Moreover, there is an abundance of free resources online that you can take advantage of if you have the time to distinguish which ones will serve you well. That said, there are a lot of very poor resources out there, so proceed with caution.
- Over-Reliance on Practice exams – When you are prepping alone, it is natural to refer to practice exams as your main baseline for your performance. However, the main purpose of GRE practice tests is not to “learn” new knowledge about a topic or a specific problem, but to improve your timing or identify weak points in your conceptual understanding. This makes practice tests by themselves fairly insufficient for thorough and effective GRE prep.
- Ineffective prep time – Spending too much of your valuable prep time on searching for the right questions, learning aids, study guides, etc. is a very low-yielding strategy. A bit of expert direction can save a ton of time that can be used to focus on amplifying your skills.
- Lack of professional guidance – if you opt for self-prep you must be aware that you will miss out on working with GRE tutors who understand the exam backwards and forwards and have years of experience helping others achieve their goals. They can be a sounding board, coach and disciplinarian, recommend (or better provide) the highest quality resources, and make the learning more personal.
- Lack of self-discipline – Depending on the person, one may find it hard to be self-disciplined enough to maintain a schedule and commit to studying regularly so that they’re as prepared as possible by test day.
A GRE prep course or GRE bootcamp with a tutor (either online or in-person)
This concept involves future test takers gathering in a study group, class, or a bootcamp and working collectively with a professional GRE tutor who will guide them through their GRE preparation.
- You can ask others for help – As you will be working not only with an instructor but with a group of other prospective test-takers, you’ll be exposed to an environment that brings together various skill sets, learning backgrounds, and experience. You can capitalize on this opportunity to network and build relationships that will not only help you with your prepping, but also potentially with your career beyond.
- There is competition – Despite the negative connotations of competition, it can boost your motivation and even make you want to work harder in order to become better or the best in the group. The best teams have healthy competition where each individual is driven to excellence by their teammates, so having a good study companion or three is a great way to have a successful experience.
- Learning aids and supplementary materials are usually included in the price – this saves you money because you do not have to purchase materials outside of the class or to supplement your prep. When considering more than one course be sure to consider what each course includes as this can be a key deciding factor.
- Lack of personal attention and individual feedback – Having one tutor for all means that the instructor cannot concentrate on individuals and their unique needs, which becomes especially important past the 156 level scoring plateau. The instructor must instead concentrate on helping the wider group by going over topics generally, and at a level that speaks to the majority. Inevitably, you will be forced to cope with teaching practices that might not be perfectly aligned with the way you learn best, simply because they are more universally teachable. This can prevent you from focusing on the areas you need to improve in the most, and can certainly drive down the efficiency of your GRE preparation.
- Not everyone works well in a team – Peer pressure, social distractions, and low group chemistry are factors that might negatively affect not only your individual performance, but also that of the whole group and can ultimately result in a waste of valuable time.
- Having to cope with the group’s pace – Timing is one of the most vital aspects of the GRE that you must master if you want to even give yourself a chance to achieve a good score. Studying with a group where people differ in terms of availability, previous knowledge, skill sets, educational backgrounds, and, most importantly, learning styles creates many time-constraints. Even when it comes down to GRE fundamentals, you ought to focus on mastering them in an un-timed environment before you proceed with bringing them in under the exam’s time constraint. When in a group, you will be improving as a unit rather than as an individual. This does not ensure that you will outperform your peers.
- Finding your own unique solution paths – Everyone has a preference when it comes down to using a solution path. To be efficient on the GRE, you will not only need to refine the ones that you’re used to applying, but to also master other approaches that will be more effective when it comes down to tackling different types of problems. When studying in a group, it will be hard to gain such new skills as all of you will be progressing as a unit and employing universal tactics rather than learning as individuals.
Private, one-on-one GRE prep with a tutor (either online or in-person)
Individualized GRE involves a single test taker spending time with a single instructor in a private environment.
- Customized lessons tailored to match your specific learning needs – This is a mixture of the Pros of both self and group prep. You get to move at your own pace, but accelerated by the personalization element. You can also concentrate on concepts and question types that are most challenging for you, and solution paths that most naturally fit the way your brain likes to solve problems. A strong private GRE tutor should adapt his or her teaching style to your specific learning style to help you gain the most of your preparation.
- Convenience – Sessions, especially if held online, can take place anytime, day or night, whenever most convenient to you.
- Flexibility – as private prep is personalized, tutoring firms offer different options for the length of the program and the content covered. You can customize your GRE preparation in such a way so that you save time and concentrate on the aspects you choose. Having a mentor to guide you also allows you to gain insights about yourself that you were not aware of before that will help you excel in the areas you need.
- Instructors can provide specific content related to your progress – tutors will quickly understand your GRE needs and provide only the materials that will be most beneficial to your process. In this way you will get the most suitable problems, views, and exercises without spending additional efforts on research. Moreover, you will save a lot of time reviewing things that you already know (happens in classes), or strategies that aren’t efficient for your learning style.
- The best GRE tutors will teach to your skills, not simply tell you about theirs – as mentioned, moving up your learning curve happens when an equivalence between an instructor’s teaching style and a student’s learning style is in place. Individual work allows the best tutors to create an efficient and realistic action plan for your GRE preparation and to tailor their skills to match your needs.
- Expense – one-on-one GRE preparation is the most valuable option, but also runs at a premium price point compared with classes. The most highly qualified instructors are worth it, however, if you are aiming for a 328+ admission to a top-tier graduate program.
- Some private tutors do not have their own materials and curricula – This means that some extra costs might be necessary. Having access to high quality material is vital, especially if you are aiming to score above 328 in the test as real value begins where the books end. Commercially available materials are designed for the heart of the market, and designed to be consumable by everyone.
THE BEST GRE PREP FOR ME
We can distinguish these three approaches based on the score goals one has. If you are looking to get from a 304 to a 314 or even a bit more depending on how good your knowledge is, then the self or group approaches might be more beneficial if cost is a factor in your decision. They can give you a solid base, while saving the frustration of self prepping or the cost of personalized attention that you might not require.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking at the premiere Graduate programs, you’ll need to be included among the GRE’s top performers. Aiming for a 328+ on the GRE, will require you to leverage your own strengths and combat your cognitive liabilities in an optimal manner. You’ll need to closely examine how you approach math and the written language, as well as your overall problem solving techniques, heuristics and mental models to reach top marks. Further, the best GRE performances come not just from ruthlessly solving problems, but from understanding the real structural aspects of the GRE that drive complexity and make it so challenging. Recognizing the meaning behind each question, its underlying purpose, and the subtleties that GRE test writers embed are just as important, if not more so, than the fundamentals.
To achieve this private, one-on-one tutoring is the best overall GRE preparation option. Naturally, it is more expensive, but the most highly qualified tutors, like the ones here at Apex, usually focus teaching the higher order strategies that are necessary for the achievement of a 328+ score and bringing out your optimal performance. Enlisting the help of a one on one instructor is recommended for those who already have a solid understanding of the exam and are scoring well (low-300’s), but are looking to gain those extra points that will make them get into their dream graduate program and lay the groundwork for a challenging, engaging, and lucrative career.
THE TYPE OF GRE PREP TOP PERFORMING STUDENTS IDENTIFIED AS THE BEST
The concept of private, one-on-one GRE prep is exactly the type of service our tutors at Apex offer. We have built our own GRE curriculum and created guides, learning aids, and other resources that help the highest achieving test takers understand what they excel at and identify where they must focus. The goal is not only to tackle a question by answering it correctly, but also to extract a methodology that can be continuously applied with other questions, in a time efficient manner.
This approach permits students to move up their learning curve and to get to the 328+ score that they desire. The feedback they provide helps us understand the needs of each future test taker better and to accelerate even more at providing the best value for clients.