A GRE Tutor's Review of the Magoosh GRE Course
(Vince's 4 main options to help you with your GRE prep are HERE.)
My name is Vince Kotchian, and I've been an independent GRE tutor for 12 years. Here's what you'll learn in this article:
TL;DR version of this article:
- Magoosh is inexpensive in terms of dollars but expensive in terms of time.
- Big brand names like Magoosh aren't your best option, since their practice questions and tests are unrealistic.
- Most "reviews" of Magoosh are bullshit.
- You need to practice with official ETS GRE questions.
If you're more in a video mood, some of my thoughts about Magoosh are detailed in this video, "GRE companies ranked from most to least full of shit".
How Much Does Magoosh's GRE Course Cost?
As of December 1st, 2020, you can sign up for a one month plan for $149, or a six-month plan for $179. This is a lot less expensive than many big brand name courses: Kaplan and The Princeton Review, for instance, have courses that are hundreds of dollars more.
But there's another cost involved in terms of your GRE prep: time. Since Magoosh takes hundreds of hours to fully complete, many students don't finish the program. And the opportunity cost is important to consider: every hour you spend on Magoosh is an hour you could have been using to work on and analyze official ETS questions, which are WAY more realistic and will therefore better prepare you for the actual GRE.
Why's Magoosh So Well-Known?
Ever heard of "the streetlight effect"? It's the psychological tendency to look for something where it's easiest to search - named for a joke in which a drunk is searching for his lost keys under a streetlight, since it's easier for him to look there than in the surrounding darkness.
Most people looking for GRE prep just end up buying something they find on the first page of Google or Amazon search results. Unfortunately, these people usually just go with that choice, and if it's not a good product, they only find out the hard way. Many companies' products that appear on the first page of Amazon or Google AREN'T very good, but some these companies have so much money that they can influence reviews and SEO more than the little guys.
If you're reading this article, you're one of the few people who are willing to put in a little more time and effort when looking for GRE prep material.
Is Magoosh GRE Good?
Magoosh's website offers hundreds of videos covering nearly every possible GRE topic, along with lots of practice questions, vocabulary flashcards, math formula sheets, and other GRE-related info. There's a blog with hundreds of articles about the GRE, including lots of vocabulary articles, and various GRE study plans.
So if your definition of "good" is "provides a ton of material", then sure. However, my definition of good is more complex. I want a product to have:
- Lessons that are both insightful and digestible a.k.a. not too long
- Practice material that is realistic and plentiful
- Study plans that are based around the official ETS practice material
In this article, I'll go into detail about Magoosh's strengths and weaknesses in these three crucial areas.
3 Things I Like About Magoosh
1. Their vocabulary app
Magoosh has a free GRE vocabulary app with about 1000 words, and it's a convenient way to study new vocab for the GRE. You don't have to buy their course to use it.
The app has a feature that makes you get the definition of a word right several times if you get it wrong the first time.
2. The instructional quality of their videos is good
Chris Lele and Mike McGarry are experienced teachers, and their instruction is much better than that you'd get from many companies' instructors. They've been in the industry for a long time, and that's a good thing, since they've had the opportunity to learn lessons from their successes and failures (like any long-time tutor has).
3. The price
Magoosh is inexpensive compared to courses from companies like Kaplan and The Princeton Review. BTW, Kaplan and TPR are probably the best known test-prep brand names, but also are the worst in terms of quality, in my opinion.
4 Things I Don't Like About Magoosh
1. It's time-consuming
Since there are so many videos on Magoosh and since it takes so long to watch them all, there's a tremendous time investment involved. And even after you've watched the videos, you've still got to actually solve questions, which is where most skill-building actually happens. So even though Magoosh is inexpensive in terms of dollars, it's very expensive in terms of time.
2. Magoosh writes their own practice questions and tests
Third-party-written GRE questions, like Magoosh's, invariably don't play by the same rules the real GRE's will. This can make you develop bad habits, introduce confusion, and in general, prepare inadequately for the real test.
They may also drive you a little bit crazy! Magoosh verbal GRE questions can be extremely ambiguous (multiple answers may seem correct); Magoosh math GRE questions are often unrealistically time-consuming and calculation-heavy, and don't offer the logical reasoning opportunities that ETS GRE questions do.
Magoosh does provide 1, 2, 3, and 6-month study plans, but they aren't very objective - all involve heavy use of their course's videos and questions and are obviously designed to get you to sign up for their course.
I kind of feel bad for the people at Magoosh who created the study plans. They obviously had to recommend the Magoosh practice material since they work for the company, but their plans would be more effective if they just directed you to practice mostly with ETS's stuff.
3. The slick marketing.
Magoosh has spent millions on marketing and advertising its products over the past 10 years, and was one of the first companies to market with GRE videos. This is one reason their brand name is so recognizable.
However, a lot of online reviews are fake (for any product), and the bigger the company, the more it is able to create fake reviews. The real reviews tend to float to the top of the pile, since they're ranked higher by the algorithms of the sites they're on, so if you're reading reviews, make sure you dig down several pages, and see how many of those 5-star reviews sound like a real user of the product and how many just seem designed to make the product look as good as possible.
Also, Magoosh pays people to refer others to its videos by using affiliate marketing. Most of the popular GRE blogs and GRE course review websites I've seen have glowing "reviews" of Magoosh GRE... along with a discount code: if you use the code, the owner of the blog gets a commission. This is why the 99.9% of the reviews of Magoosh you will find on blogs are positive. Magoosh is actually the biggest money-maker for many of these sites, since its GRE course is relatively cheap and easier to get people to buy than, say, a $499 course.
But if someone is writing a "review" but making money if you click on their affiliate link or use their coupon code, then that "review" isn't worth a hill of beans.
Sad fact: Unfortunately, most "review" websites for any product are affiliate marketing sites, and it's hard to trust their reviews since their primary goal is to get you to buy anything through any of their links.
4. The indiscriminate video library. For example, Magoosh has more than 30 videos spanning almost 3 hours just on how to do text completion questions! 3 hours?? WTF. Text completion questions are really not that complicated; there is no need to watch 3 whole hours of videos just on how to do them. In fact, I wonder if the average student has the patience to watch the 230+ videos in Magoosh's library. There doesn't seem to be any guidance on which are the most important videos. Quantity is not what should make you select a GRE prep product; quality should.
The GRE Prep Industry's Dirty Little Secret
Ever have a crappy teacher in high school or college? You probably noticed that everyone in that class and in your major knew about how bad they were. But online, it's different. Let's imagine you use a product like Magoosh for a couple of months, but it doesn't improve your score:
1. You might just blame yourself. After all, so much of what you've read about the product was glowingly positive. And the people in the videos seemed really helpful and intelligent, and you had all those practice materials to use. Plus, you may chalk it up to being "bad" at standardized tests. However, you might not realize that although the instructors WERE good and there WERE a lot of practice materials, the realism of those materials and the way the program was structured WASN'T very good.
Magoosh directs you to watch math videos but then gives you practice covering concepts that HAVEN'T BEEN COVERED in the videos. This drives most people crazy. Interleaving concepts is smart pedagogy, but they have to be concepts you've already been introduced to!
2. You blame the product, but then just move on with your life. Most people don't write a negative review unless they're really pissed off, and most GRE products aren't terrible. So people end up in that zone where they didn't like the product but aren't motivated enough to, say, write a review. Plus, there's no easy place to review many GRE products, so it might feel futile.
What Is The Best Way To Prepare For The GRE?
Part of the reason I'm writing this review is to try to convince you that you can effectively prepare for the GRE by yourself without spending money on anything other than the official ETS GRE books.
My free 1, 2, 3, and 4 month GRE study plans are designed to show you exactly how to do that. They include all my materials recommendations and spell out your daily and weekly to-dos.
But I get it - some of you want more guidance. The promise of buying a product that seems as though it will take care of all your GRE problems is really appealing. Unfortunately, Magoosh is not a complete solution - nor is any single GRE product - and the sooner you realize that, the better, so you can develop a study plan that actually covers everything you need.
If you missed it before, here's the link to my GRE study plans again.
My plans are the culmination of the lessons I've learned about effective GRE preparation over the past 12 years, and represent my best attempt to help people who are preparing for the GRE by themselves.