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Many students are tempted to study on their own for the GRE General Test. Some are concerned about the cost of GRE prep courses and the time they take to complete. Others are high academic achievers who are used to scoring well on exams, and believe they’ll conquer the GRE using familiar study tactics.
But the GRE is quite different from the tests students take at the undergraduate level. It is not subject specific, but rather focuses on your general ability to solve problems, analyze data, synthesize information, and articulate complex ideas—across a wide range of subject areas.
Can you prepare on your own? Yes, but there are several key ways self-study exposes students to risk, lowering their chances of achieving their best possible score on the exam.
In this post, we examine those risk factors, and present three of the most compelling reasons professional GRE prep is worth the time and money.
Personalized Coaching From Experts in GRE Test Prep
Reputable GRE test prep companies hire instructors with many years of experience. They work full-time as prep coaches and are experts in every aspect of the GRE study process. Professional instructors understand precisely what it takes to earn a competitive score, where students often struggle, and which strategies work best for every single question type on the exam. An expert GRE instructor is your greatest asset when preparing for an exam that covers multiple content areas, and tests a broad range of skills.
Consider this: the GRE reading comprehension section may draw from topics in the social sciences, arts and humanities, the physical and biological sciences, or any number of everyday themes. The math section will test your knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, word problems, and more. Most students need help to learn detailed, proven strategies for approaching unfamiliar question types and material they haven’t seen since high school.
Without guidance from an expert, it is very difficult for students to know exactly how to tackle the wide range of math and verbal questions they will face on the GRE—and how to avoid common errors and traps.
Access to Real GRE Practice Exams & Free Study Materials
A few years ago, US News consulted with GRE test-takers and instructors to compile a list of six tips for GRE success. Both experts and students profiled in the article confirm that coaching combined with practice tests can dramatically improve exam performance. High quality practice materials are key for reinforcing the strategies learned in training, getting used to computer-adaptive testing, and addressing weaknesses.
In addition to classroom instruction, a good GRE prep course will provide students with a range of high quality materials they can use at home after completing the course. Instructors walk students through hundreds of real GRE questions in class, provide manuals which include questions for home practice, and pull together the best collection of available resources. These include:
- the official GRE practice book with sample questions, strategies, scored responses, and helpful tips
- the GRE math review packet which covers the four main areas of math tested on the exam, with definitions, solutions, and practice questions
- a GRE software package, which contains full-length practice tests, scored sample essays, tutorials, and much more
- a custom GRE study manual with strategies for each question type and topic
- pre-course GRE mock exam to determine your baseline score and target weaknesses
No Wasted Time on Inefficient Research & Study Strategies
The ideal study time for the GRE is a bit different for everyone. However, common advice dictates that sophisticated test-takers spend 100+ hours preparing over a span of two to three months, and attend a quality, comprehensive 20-40 hour GRE course.
Students who choose to prepare on their own must find a way to squeeze in several hours of prep time each week—usually around a very busy schedule that includes full-time work, caring for a family, or both.
In this scenario, students must research and collect study guides on their own, and sort through them to identify the best learning materials and test-taking strategies. Quite often, they miss crucial information, find only generic strategies, and end up falling into negative study habits.
Ultimately, students who prepare independently waste more time and cover far less ground than those who take a GRE course, and are provided with the most relevant study materials for continued home practice.
It’s also worth noting that some test prep companies offer a free course repeat policy—meaning students can take the GRE course again, even multiple times, to strengthen their skills.
Looking for more information on what it takes to prepare for the GRE? Ready to find out your baseline score by taking a free practice test?
Click here for a list of free GRE information sessions and events happening in your area.
Click here to learn how you can get a completely free GRE assessment, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and how much prep you’ll need to achieve your best score.