Test-Day Tips


SDSU, UCSD, and USD GRE Classes: Do They Work?

A GRE tutor's perspective on SDSU, UC San Diego, and USD GRE cOURSES

As a GRE tutor, I sometimes get contacted by students who have taken GRE classes at San Diego State University, UCSD Extension, or The University of San Diego, or who've taken a GRE class at the San Diego branches of big companies such as Sherwood, Kaplan, The Princeton Review, or Manhattan Review. As you can imagine, if these students are still looking for help, many of them did not get much out of those GRE classes! I have a few thoughts about why:

    • Courses taught by large organizations are, by necessity, one-size-fits-all. Kind of like most GRE books, most GRE courses offer basic insight about the test but aren't very comprehensive. They also don't usually offer much in the way of depth of analysis or personalization. Teachers often must teach from a script. Check out this quote from a Yelp review of a San Diego Princeton Review class: "Basically, you go to class three hours a day, four days a week, and you listen to the "teachers" regurgitate what is already in the review books. The point of taking a course like this is to gain insight about some test taking strategies or to help you learn HOW to take the test... very little of that was present in this course."


    • The materials used by courses vary. For instance, SDSU's GRE classes use CliffsTestPrep GRE General Test®, which is one of the worst GRE books on the market. Published in 2011, it's now out-of-date, and many of the questions in the book bear little resemblance to real GRE questions. I can only assume the company who administers the classes (BTPS Testing) mandates the use of that book, since it publishes the book.


    • Instructors are a blind item. It's often tough to figure out who is teaching the course and how experienced he is. I know from personal experience that companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan sometimes spend as little as 16 hours training instructors before sending them out to teach! If their class is inexpensive, imagine how much the instructor gets paid... and who'd be willing to not get paid very much.


Who Teaches GRE Classes?

Since SDSU and USD don't tell you who's teaching their GRE classes other than describing teachers as "expert instructors" or "leading experts in the field of test preparation", your guess is as good as mine about whether the instructor of the class will be a skilled teacher. 

If their teachers really were GRE experts, wouldn't SDSU and USD provide their biographical information or at least tell you their names?

Let's consider the money. Most companies pay instructors a set hourly rate no matter how many students take the class (and since big organizations often sign up as many people as possible, class sizes can be quite large). The company or school keeps two-thirds or even three-quarters of the course cost!

Again, if teachers were really "leading experts", why would they be teaching a class in which the school keeps most of what students pay? What usually happens, in my experience, is that companies and schools hire younger, less experienced teachers who are content to make $20-30 per hour. Tutoring is typically a temporary job for these instructors while they complete a graduate degree, or while they look for a "normal" job in their field.

If big companies' tutors stay in the test prep field, they realize (like I did many years ago) that they can make much more working for themselves, they leave, and the company hires new people. This is another reason most companies don't tell you who is teaching their GRE course.


How GRE Tutoring Is Different Than GRE Classes

GRE tutoring is much more efficient. We can get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time because everything is customized, minute-by-minute, to what the student needs.

Furthermore, we can have conversations about the test in much more detail. In my experience, conversations are really the most helpful way to learn about the verbal and writing sections of the test.

If you can't afford more than the price of a course, a good private tutor will be able to give you MUCH more help within that budget - try asking the tutor to structure a plan around what you can afford. After all, the tutor is not limited by a set curriculum, nor is she forced to use certain scripts or materials like course teachers are.

Furthermore, a private tutor will be able to design a detailed home study plan for you. This is huge. You'll have the opportunity to study on your own for the GRE over the upcoming weeks and months - so you want to learn how to optimize your self-study time.

If you're just getting started with GRE prep, a good study plan might be all you need to prepare for the test. Many people just need to figure out what to study and when to study it.


The Bottom Line

Now, you might be saying, "Okay, Vince - is there ANY good reason to take GRE classes?" Sure... if you know who's teaching them. A great instructor can compensate for the limitations of a course's format. Think about the best teacher you've ever had. If someone like that teaches a course, you'll benefit. On that note...

In addition to my one-on-one GRE tutoring, I offer my own GRE classes. I can keep my pricing competitive since I don't have to split the price with a college like SDSU or USD or a company like The Princeton Review or Kaplan.

Click here for more details about my GRE Bootcamp Classes.

A final note: keep in mind that however you prepare for the GRE, you'll have to work hard and think hard on your own if you really want to do well. 

Copyright 2018 Vince Kotchian Test Prep
5230 Carroll Canyon Road, Suite 206, San Diego CA 92121
Telephone 760-542-8395

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