A Review of Kaplan's Online GRE Course
Vince's 4 main options to help you with your GRE prep are HERE.
Studying for the GRE is daunting due to how many options you have! Looking for the right prep material is really important, but it can also be a time-consuming process. With that being said, in this article, I am going to help quiet some of the noise that accompanies test prep shopping and review one potential study option: Kaplan.
BTW, you will notice that this review doesn't have an affiliate link to purchase Kaplan's GRE course. That's because we'd rather have you trust our review than make money if you bought the course using our link.
Any GRE course "review" with an affiliate link isn't really a review - it's a way of making money for the author. It's no wonder than 99% of GRE course reviews are really positive - they are designed to get you to buy the course!
(Bored already? Here's the TL;DR.)
Kaplan's GRE Prep Course TL;DR
Kaplan’s online GRE course materials are plentiful, but they come at a hefty price, and since it is still one of the more expensive online programs on the market, I was surprised by how ineffective I found the Self Guided test prep to be.
My biggest complaint is that the practice materials and tests that Kaplan writes are unrealistic. You're much better off using practice material published by ETS, the company that creates the GRE. If you only use Kaplan materials, you're in for a lot of surprises when you take the real test!
How much does Kaplan's GRE course cost?
Kaplan's "Self-Paced Package" usually starts at $699 (right now, it is only $599) and includes 6 months of online access, 180 hours of “online instruction” alongside GRE prep books, 7 full-length, computer based practice tests, and additional practice questions called QuizBanks (or QBanks).
Now, there are other – perhaps more promising – online packages available to choose from. There is the online Self-Paced Plus option, which also comes with 35 hours of live instruction for an additional $200 (usually totaling in $899 but is currently on sale for $799). Then, there is the Live Online for $999. This package includes all of the Self-Paced Plus items along with an extra 3 hours of online instruction; the Live Online Plus option comes with 3 hours of 1-on-1 coaching for another $300. The most expensive (and expansive) is Kaplan’s Private Tutoring package. The price range for this package starts at $2199 for 15 hours of instruction, $3299 for 25 hours of instruction, and $4399 for 35 hours of instruction. With this package, users get access to a complete in-person OR live online course along with a study plan and personal GRE coach.
(Never compare a GRE course to a brownie - it's just not fair.)
Is Kaplan's GRE course good?
What I like most about Kaplan’s general Self-Paced course was that it provides two (physical or digital) primary workbooks that offer test-taking strategies and practice tests for the verbal, essay, and quantitative sections of the GRE. Now, you can purchase these texts online (like on Amazon) for rather cheap – like 14-15 bucks. BUT, I would still encourage those who purchase books to combine their studying with (at least) an online prep course. In general, online courses (including Kaplan) provide solid structured study plans that definitely make a difference in one’s GRE prep.
With this package, Kaplan also offers online instruction via their student KapTest portal. “Online instruction” is just their way of saying pre-recorded videos consisting of one-on-one style lectures with mock classroom demonstrations and exercises that last a couple of minutes each; in other words, users are more-or-less accountable for their own instructional processes when it comes to their review of the materials. The videos feature GRE strategies and teaching and combine one-on-one style lectures with mock classroom demonstrations and exercises. I did like the presentation of these videos, as they made me feel like I was in the room with the instructor rather than listening/watching through a screen.
I also found the KapTest website to be user friendly. The materials are essentially sectioned out into lesson plans; there are four quantitative lessons and four verbal lessons. Each section partners with a chapter out of the digital or hardcopy texts, which is nice, because like I said before, being provided with a structured study plan when preparing for the GRE is really helpful.
Having taught GRE prep classes in the past, I felt that the study structure was conducive to learning the skills necessary for the exam and to adapting to the GRE’s style. It worked gradually from lower-end concepts to higher-end concepts, and this was especially true of the verbal section overview. For instance, on KapTest, sections Verbal 1a and 1b collectively focused on vocabulary and using context clues to predict the answers for text completion and sentence equivalence question types. The skills discussed in these sections (and their paired chapters) were then applied to more difficult concepts, like reading comprehension, in KapTest’s Verbal 2a section (along with its paired chapter). Then, the newer concepts discussed in the reading comprehension chapter – like identifying the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions in a short, argumentative reading passage – were applied to the strategies discussed in the Verbal 2b, Analytical Writing section.
How do I study for GRE math?
Unfortunately, when it comes to the quality and content of the recorded math lectures, I found these to be less helpful during the quantitative section overview. For instance, the instructional videos assume that users have a solid foundation, rather than a basic, working knowledge, in math – this is not the case for me, and I am sure it is not the case for many others preparing for the GRE. It has been quite some time since my last geometry class (over 12 years, actually). Since I have forgotten much of what I learned back in my high school geometry class, I felt as though the videos skipped steps; they start at step C and assume I understand the unspoken steps A and B. Essentially, anyone who doesn’t have a solid foundation in arithmetic, algebra, statistics, geometry, etc. would have to outsource additional learning materials. I find this to be unreasonable considering the rather high cost of the most basic online Kaplan course.
(Bear with us even if math bores you.)
I did, however, appreciate the online QBanks. The QBanks allow users to create custom quizzes based on subject and difficulty. Users can pick the subject matter (reading comprehension, text completion, data sufficiency, etc.), difficulty level (low, medium, high), number of questions, and tutor, timed, or untimed mode. The tutor mode allows users to take their time with each question and offers an answer breakdown. The untimed mode is similar, however, users aren’t able to view the answer breakdown until the quiz is completed. Timed mode acts as if you are taking the exam in real time, meaning one’s time with each question type is limited to the amount of time one would want to spend on the problem when taking the real exam. This timed mode option really helps users get accustomed to the fast pace of the real time exam.
Although the QBanks offer users thousands of practice questions, I found these were only really helpful when it came to question types that I was already comfortable with – like reading comprehension, for example. Although these offer “step-by-step” answer reviews, I still had a hard time following some of the math logic and felt as though the written explanations were just as misguided as the instructional videos.
The biggest downside of Kaplan-written questions is realism. Make sure you're also using official ETS GRE questions to practice with.
(Train like you want to perform on the real GRE.)
Simulated GRE Practice Tests
When choosing a practice course, the quality of the content, structure, AND test features are highly important. In additional to QBanks, the Self-Paced course has practice tests on KapTest. I believe that Kaplan’s test series, which offers users seven full-length practice tests, is one of the course’s best features. This gives those preparing for the GRE a realistic sense of what the exam is like; I believe that this is the best way to prepare for the exam. When it comes to the test series, Kaplan’s Self-Paced course has a similar scoring algorithm as on the real GRE and gives users a sense of their strengths and weaknesses, giving users the ability to tailor their review practice to their individual needs; this is another respectable feature of Kaplan’s online course.
Again, it's crucial to also practice with the official ETS GRE powerprep tests, which are much more realistic than those offered by Kaplan.
There is, however, this unfortunate misconception that test prep is just about taking practice tests. But preparing the right way for the GRE is also about understanding and learning from your mistakes so that you have the best possible chance at improving your score when it comes time for the actual exam. So, test prep that does not tailor to a user’s specific needs and offer varied techniques to solving complex problems won’t improve one’s score. Those preparing for the test essentially have to adapt to the test’s structure and potentially change the way they respond to certain problematic question types by understanding specifically what works and what doesn’t work for them.
Sadly, Kaplan is a very “set” course in my opinion. What I mean by this is that although the Self-Paced guide offers strategies, these strategies, at times, seem tedious and inflexible. Along with being somewhat vague, the answer reviews don’t offer alternative routes AND anticipate that every user comes in with a certain level of familiarity with the exam itself and with its various problem types. If users don’t already fit into Kaplan’s student mold, then I think it will be hard for users to succeed in the Self-Paced program.
(Phone support -- actual photo.)
Kaplan Online Support
Although this particular program offers email-based support (so that students can email an unspecified tutor and get a response), the response time is sort of lax. It takes anywhere from 3 to 7 days to hear back. In that time, I was able to outsource additional learning materials to help me resolve whatever questions or concerns I might have had. Again, there are other online programs through Kaplan that offer live support at a higher cost if you are able and willing to fork out more money.
With Kaplan’s program, if a user’s GRE score doesn’t improve after completing an entire course, they might qualify for either a full refund or what is referred to as the “Highest Score Guarantee.” Meaning, if a user is unhappy with the score or program, he or she could be eligible to retake the same course at no additional charge; however, if a user chooses to retake the course, then he or she will no longer be qualified for a refund. This would seem enticing and low-risk, but there are a number of minimum requirements that users must meet in order to qualify for either option. The details of their refund and repeat policies are too much to get into here but the specifics can be reviewed on Kaplan’s website.
The Bottom Line
With all that said, here is a brief recap of my review of Kaplan’s Self-Paced course:
- The online interface is user friendly and has a lot of features, utilizing different learning modules that are well structured (✓);
- Users have plenty of practice materials and can go through separate lesson books that coordinate with the online modules (✓);
- The user site offers GRE practice tests under the same conditions as the real thing alongside personalized score reports that highlight users’ strengths and weaknesses (✓);
- The online program and its materials offers test taking strategies and practice sets and tests but doesn’t offer foundational lesson plans (X);
- If you don’t have a solid foundation in any of the concepts discussed, then you won’t get very far (X);
- It is likely that some users may need to access other resources outside of Kaplan to help through some of the practice sets/tests (X);
- The practice questions and tests that Kaplan writes are not very realistic. (X);
- The online support is somewhat non-responsive, as it takes 3-7 business day to hear back (X);
- Users can qualify for a refund or course retake IF they meet a series of specified requirements (✓) or (X), depending.
Below are some things to keep in mind when shopping for GRE prep courses.
(In our opinion, the above describes most GRE prep products.)
I believe that mastering the GRE content is only part of the puzzle. Successful GRE prep is also about pacing and test-taking skills. Therefore, in order to ensure that one is best prepared for the real time exam, he or she must have the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with a tutor to review his or her performance on practice exams. Since everyone is different, personalized tutoring is essential – Kaplan does not offer this feature with its most basic Self-Paced course.
Also, learning new skills requires lots of practice. Having access to hundreds of practice problems in all subject areas is imperative. (But, again, in order to make the most out of test prep, an instructor or tutor should review one’s performance on these practice items.)
Since anyone taking the GRE is preparing for a computer-based exam, one cannot prepare for this test using a book alone. A good course will utilize technology in order to mimic the scoring and overall experience of taking the actual test. Practice is wholly ineffective if you are not practicing on tests that actually mimic the content and functionality of the real time exam. So, when shopping for online prep courses, one wants to make sure that the program offers electronic tests that are adaptive by section and mirror the same conversion processes as the ETS to generate scores.
Often, people believe that the GRE includes complex math concepts. However, I would like to note that the math problems on the GRE are tough because of the way the concepts are tested. The concepts themselves are not overly complex. But, the GRE tests math concepts that I learned in grade school, so, for me, I would need a program that offers a more in-depth quantitative overview of the concepts tests on the exam than Kaplan’s Self-Paced course.
(Tracking your studying with a planner is crucial no matter how you prepare.)
There is also a common misconception that although one can hone a number of skills to improve his or her math score, he or she is not able to raise his or her verbal score in the same way. Yet, like most other exam tutors and instructors would point out, the GRE is a standardized exam, meaning that it is somewhat predictable. In a solid test prep program, students should expect to learn exactly how passages and questions are constructed alongside the skills necessary to master each question type. In other words, verbal scores CAN be improved by anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort into his or her study program.
Finally, many people in process of applying to graduate school believe that GRE scores are not as important as other application factors: like undergraduate GPA, letters or recommendation, relevant experience in the field, personal statement, etc. BUT, it is good to keep in mind that the weight placed on one’s GRE score in relation to these other factors will vary depending on the program.
GRE scores can be a key factor that grad school admissions officers consider. Although these scores are not necessarily the deciding factor – it is just part of the package -, grad schools do use GRE scores to distinguish between applicants. GRE scores give graduate admissions evaluators a metric to use to make “apples-to-apples” comparisons between students who would otherwise be difficult to judge on an equal footing (because of different backgrounds or whatever). Therefore, this misconception is dangerous since a low GRE score can seriously hurt one’s chances of admission into a graduate program. In addition to this, GRE scores are also important when it comes to obtaining teaching fellowships, research assistantships, and merit-based financial aid, among other things.
Interested in reading our Magoosh GRE course review?
Vince's 4 main options to help you with your GRE prep are HERE.