Review of The Princeton Review GRE Course
What is the GRE?
The Graduate Record Examination (or GRE) is a standardized test that aims to predict one’s academic performance in graduate school. Typically, anyone who is interested in pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree should expect to take the GRE test. GRE scores are an important part of the graduate school application process as they are taken into consideration alongside work experience, academic record, letters of recommendation, etc.
How is the GRE structured?
The GRE is a computer-adaptive, multiple-choice test. The GRE’s question types are meant to measure and reflect the skills and the way of thinking one will need as a graduate student. Unlike many other standardized tests, the GRE test allows test takers to skip questions within a section and go back and change answers if need be. The GRE has three major sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.
How much does the GRE cost?
Taking the GRE is expensive. The exam costs $205 and can be taken once every 21 days but is limited to five times within any 12-month period. GRE scores are valid for five years.
What to look for when shopping for GRE prep courses.
It is very important for potential graduate students to choose the right time to take the GRE. And of course, choosing the right prep course should be a top priority when preparing to apply to graduate school; the goal should be to only have to take the exam once.
I believe that there are at least three key criteria for GRE students to consider when shopping for test prep. Students should ask themselves:
- How do I get the score I need in the most efficient way possible?
- Does it fit my budget?
- Does it provide an engaging and effective learning experience?
Before making a final decision on an online prep course, students should also ask themselves:
- Does the company have the technology necessary to reduce my learning curve?
- Does the program identify the best methods of problem solving?
- What time and financial investments do I need to make to best prepare for the exam?
I am going to take a closer look at the Princeton Review.
When you do a quick Google search for GRE prep, one of the first sites you are recommended is the Princeton Review. So, with this in mind, I have decided to take a closer look into what this program offers and consider how it stacks up against other online GRE prep courses.
In what follows, I will evaluate some of the key features of the Princeton Review, outlining the good and the bad aspects of one of their programs. Readers should keep in mind that everything I do here is meant to help those of you preparing to take the GRE consider which type of prep materials are best for you. Therefore, I encourage anyone reading this to take time and check out the Princeton Review site (and any other GRE prep programs you are shopping) for themselves before making a final decision. The Princeton Review even provides potential users with a free practice test, a free live seminar and a 14-day trial that includes a sample of their online course materials.
Users can customize the level of help they want.
The first thing I noticed was that the Princeton Review offers various package and format options, including in-person, live online, and self-paced options for students. I like that the Princeton Review gives students the ability to customize the level of help they need or want. When it comes to private tutoring, users can choose from a number of different tutors with varying specializations and backgrounds. And some of their programs also offer users 8 full-length and computer adaptive practice exams. In short, the Princeton Review provides potential clients a lot to work with when preparing for the GRE.
Depending on a student’s preferred learning style, I recommend that anyone who needs more comprehensive test review materials choose from one of the live options I have listed below. All of the live course options include one-on-one practice test reviews with an instructor, and opportunities to connect with instructors outside of classroom time are also available, depending on the package. I think this last option is ideal for any student who is looking for more individual attention throughout their test prep process.
Choosing the right test prep for you is extremely important. However, it can be challenging to sift through all of the courses that are offered, so I have provided a breakdown of some of the options for you.
Below are the formats the Princeton Review offers along with descriptions:
- The comprehensive Self-Paced Online program is $499 and provides users with 65+ recorded video lessons, over 2,574 practice questions, 8 adaptive computer tests and score reports, and 61+ GRE styled adaptive drills that, in essence, curates lessons in response to users’ unique subject-specific performance;
- The Ultimate Live Online program costs $1024 and includes all of the Self-Paced features along with 180+ hours of total instruction – which includes 24 hours of live instruction that covers all context and test-taking strategies – 470+ exercises/drills, and over 3500 practice questions;
- The most expensive program, Private Tutoring, ranges from $1800 to $3000 and gives users access to a live instructor either in person or online for 15 or 18 hours, depending. The Private Tutoring option also comes with the Princeton Guarantee (which I will explain in-depth later).
There are, of course, less expensive options for any student who is looking for a more streamlined review of one of the exam’s sections. This kind of student could potentially benefit from the Princeton Review’s math only or verbal only module: currently priced at $299 each. With this option, students are given access to an online course that includes four practice tests, a number of questions and drills, and an essay review.
There are plenty of additional materials available for purchase.
What I like most about the Princeton Review is that it is extremely versatile. Not only do they have options ranging in price for those who are looking for affordable test prep, but their site also boasts 21 textbook options from subject-specific drill books to comprehensive strategies and practice tests.
I definitely give the Princeton Review credit for offering users the ability to choose the right online materials and books for them and at a price that fits their budget. However, I would still encourage anyone who purchases hard copy books to also combine their studying with an online prep course since these courses are updated more frequently and provide structured study plans that can make a major difference in one’s GRE prep.
For students working a busy schedule alongside preparing for the GRE, utilizing on-the-go study strategies and materials can be crucial. Unfortunately, the Princeton Review does not yet offer a mobile platform. But, their online course materials do offer flashcards. And there are options to purchase the Princeton Review’s physical flashcard packs that focus on vocabulary and sentence structure; these are extra and cost $16.28 on Amazon.
The Princeton Review combines one-on-one style lectures with mock classroom demonstrations and exercises.
Alongside the online materials, the Princeton Review advertises instructors with extensive training in GRE strategies and teaching. I think this form could really benefit users, making them feel as though they are in the room with the instructor rather than listening and watching through a screen.
What is more, students who sign up for the Princeton Review’s Ultimate Course will also have access to their instructor outside of class hours. And their instructor methodology tailors classwork and homework to each student’s skill level to focus on the particular areas that need the most improvement.
Customizable tutoring options are available to users.
Private tutoring tends to run as the most expensive option for most prep courses. But I believe it can also make a huge difference in student performance, so being able to choose the right tutor for oneself and to find an option that fits your budget is a benefit of the Princeton Review.
The Princeton Review offers computer-adaptive practice tests to customize user experience.
Since the GRE responds to individual students’ performance, it is important to find a prep course that functions in the same way. Anyone who is new to the GRE might be thrown off by an exam-type that changes its difficulty level in response to user performance. Therefore, the more exposure a student has to this unique mechanic, the more comfortable he/she will be during the real-time exam.
When it comes to the Princeton Review, their programs are tailored to individual students’ needs. For one, the Princeton Review offers simulated practice, including 8 full-length, section-adaptive computer practice tests. Secondly, after each test, students receive personalized feedback helping them to identify their areas of strength and weakness. In doing so, users can then focus their study efforts towards particulars in order maximize their test prep experience.
The Princeton Review utilizes their trademarked DrillSmart technology.
In addition to its computer-adaptive practice tests, the Princeton Review’s DrillSmart technology also features adaptive questions based on individual student performance. The drill sessions begin with a calibration question, dictating the level of difficulty of the exercises to follow. Again, this simulates the nature of the real-time GRE, and I believe this could benefit students by making them more comfortable with unique features of the test.
The biggest downside to The Princeton Review's practice questions and tests is realism. Make sure you're also practicing with official ETS practice questions and tests.
The Princeton Review program offers feedback on essays.
From what I have seen, the Princeton Review’s Self-Paced Online GRE course is the only one of its kind that offers users feedback on essays. Users submit their essays via the site’s LiveGrader tool, which will get scored by an instructor/tutor who offers suggestions on how to refine one’s essay-writing skills for a higher score on the real-time exam.
Getting feedback on essays can make a critical difference during one’s test prep. Writing for the exam can be difficult for many students, so having a responsive grader reviewing your writing and providing personalized feedback is useful and important.
When it comes to other practice exams, I fear that if students aren’t getting feedback then there is no one intervening on negative habits, which is detrimental on test day. Many of the other GRE prep courses I have looked at either do not address essay writing and revision at all or treat it as an afterthought rather than a key component for maximizing one’s exam prep.
Below I have listed some of the major pros of the Princeton Review Self-Paced Online program:
- The 24+ hours of live instruction is more live instruction than users are likely to get from any other online programs;
- The program’s adaptive drills and timed practice simulate the real-time exam;
- Interactive score reports and essay feedback help students see exactly how they performed on each section of the exam and where they still need to improve;
- The Princeton Review offers users a comprehensive way to study and prepare for the exam with plenty of video content, practice questions, and full-length tests.
Below I have listed some of the major cons of the Princeton Review Self-Paced Online program:
- Although the Princeton Review has several full-length exams that help identify areas of weakness and 2,574+ practice questions, there is no quiz bank of questions. And there are other comparable GRE prep courses that offer question banks that allow users to create quizzes and focus on specific areas by filtering questions and tailoring their prep time to their individual needs;
- The site does offer flashcards for users, but there is no mobile app available on smartphones or tablets for students who want on-the-go study time materials;
- The Ultimate Course comes with one prep book that includes practice questions with detailed explanations, advanced strategies for taking the test and solving the most difficult questions, a review of all the GRE topics, as well as two full-length practice tests. The Self-Paced Course, on the other hand, does not come with a prep book, so getting a physical text in order to optimize test prep would come at an extra cost for students.
- Question realism and practice test realism is not very good.
Below are some additional thoughts about the online program.
Before accessing the Self-Paced Online module for myself, I read many reviews complaining about the Princeton Review’s typos. Although this sort of carelessness was rare during my experience, there were times when answers in the explanations did not match the answer choices given in the question stem. This sort of turned me off to the program. I felt as though the editors of the online materials compromised the quality of their content for quantity, which made me more skeptical about the program’s ability to majorly improve students’ test scores.
Princeton Review guarantees a higher score.
Guarantees can go a long way for users who are shopping for the right GRE prep.
When it comes to the Princeton Review, if a student does not feel ready to take the test at the end of a course, he or she can repeat the same course or one of their refresher courses if available at no additional cost. Or, if a student’s base score does not increase by the end of the program, an eligible student could get completely refunded.
What is more, if a student is not satisfied with his or her results, regardless of their score, they could potentially continue to work with the Princeton Review for up to a year.
Of course, there are unique conditions depending on the type of program a student enrolls in. I would encourage shoppers to visit the Princeton Review website for more specifics on their guarantees, but below I have offered a breakdown of the Self-Paced Online guarantee.
In order for students to get their money back or get an extension on their program, users must:
- Take all 4 required tests;
- Complete an official test within 90 days of the termination of the Online Student Portal access;
- Prove that their test scores have not improved.
Students should also keep in mind that they are only able to use the Princeton Review Guarantee once per paid purchase.
My goal has been to show readers that the right choice largely depends on one’s availability and learning style. The Princeton Review’s GRE courses offer a number of personalized options for those of you who are looking for solid test prep. Students can choose from various tutors, enroll in small-group learning, and take advantage of the flexible Self-Paced option at somewhat reasonable prices.
The 8 full-length, computer-adaptive practice exams are definitely a selling point for students; not many other prep courses that I have seen offer this many practice exams. There is also the Princeton Review College Planner. This is a personalized program that helps track down the school and program that matches students’ strengths and interests.
The Princeton Review’s Self-Paced Online course is not cheap by any means, but if a student is looking to apply to and secure a spot in a top grad school, then investing in a program like this is helpful.
Preparing for the GRE is inevitably going to cause stress. But stress can be greatly alleviated by using a comprehensive GRE course to prepare for test day. Hopefully now readers feel more informed and are better able to choose the right program that works for them.