Should You Take a GRE Review Course?

Paul Thomas / Getty Images

Regardless of whether you dread it, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for entry to most graduate programs. The test is challenging, designed to measure your aptitude for grad school. Subscales measure competence in verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. Your GRE score will influence not just whether you get into grad school but can influence whether you get funding. Many graduate departments use GRE scores as a method for allocating scholarships, fellowships, and tuition remission grants.

How should you prepare for the GRE? It depends on your needs and learning style. Some students study alone and others take a test prep course. There are several course options, of course, but first, you need to determine if a GRE prep course is for you.

Why Take a GRE Test Prep Course?

  • Helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses to sharpen your focus.
  • Provides structure, leadership, and a timetable for studying so that you do not get stuck.
  • Shows you how to prepare using proven strategies so that you do not waste your time.
  • You’ll learn alongside other students.
  • Guidance in reviewing and correcting mistakes
  • You’ll have one-on-one instruction
  • External motivation. You will be surrounded by other people that are on the same page as you and can serve as motivators.
  • Helps you generate a systematic study plan and alter it as your capacities and needs change.

Despite these advantages, not everyone needs a GRE prep course.

Some of the cons of taking a GRE prep course include the following:

  • Expensive. Most in-person classes cost about $1,000
  • Good self-study methods are available – you may not need a class
  • Large classes may not offer enough focus on you as an individual.
  • Your success might rest on the expertise of your teacher.
  • Requires a great deal of homework and out of class study. Most people will do well with that much practice regardless of whether they take a class.

Diagnose Yourself

Success on the GRE is largely about knowing the test and a prep class will help you learn that, but do you really need a GRE class? Take a diagnostic GRE test. Several test prep companies, such as Barron’s, offer free diagnostic tests to help applicants figure out their capacities and their needs. A good diagnostic test will give you the information to determine your present skill level and areas of strength and weakness.

Consider the following after taking your diagnostic test

  • Overall score
  • Score across different types of questions
  • Scores for each section
  • Time taken for the overall test
  • Time taken for various question types and sections
  • List of specific weak areas
  • List of specific stronger areas

How many areas are you deficient in? If there are many you might consider taking a GRE prep course. A good course can direct you as to how to study, what areas, and help managing time to study most efficiently and effectively.

What to Look for

Should you look for a GRE course seek one that has experienced faculty who have scored in the upper percentiles of the GRE.

Look for classes that offer a range of study materials, online and in print. Look for courses that give students opportunities to take multiple exams and to revise their studying strategies and scope after each. Seek opportunities for one-on-one instruction.

If you choose to enroll in a GRE prep class recognize that it is not a magic wand for your GRE score. Success is not simply a matter of enrolling, but doing the work. Without doing the homework and prep outside of class you will not get much out of the class. Listening to lectures without doing the work will not help you. Like other things in life, such as college, GRE prep course is as helpful as you make them. To improve your score you will have to work hard. The class can teach you how and offer evaluation but ultimately the work is your own.