Since many GRE courses have a hefty price tag, it’s natural to wonder if they’re really worth it. I prep students for the GRE myself, so I can spot scammy classes a mile away.
Here are my pro tips for determining if a GRE class is actually worth your money.
Are GRE Test Prep Courses Really Worth It?
It depends on what you’re hoping to get from a GRE prep course. Some test prep companies guarantee their students results -- like higher scores or overall improvement.
But higher scores don’t necessarily mean that you’ll get into your chosen grad school or get scholarships.
In most cases, you can’t really rely on a course 100%. You’ll have to do some heavy lifting yourself. Besides that, whether a class is worth it depends on how much value you’ll get for the price.
This needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Students Weigh In On the Topic
“I tend to do well on standardized tests, but I knew it would be hard to motivate myself to study without a structured course. Nothing in the class was mind-blowing, but there were helpful tips and it absolutely served the purpose I had hoped.
Parents were willing to foot the bill though. I might have found a different source of motivation if the money came out of my pocket.“
- Doctor Eliza
Eliza emphasizes two things when discussing if the class paid off: motivation and structure. Let’s see what another student said:
“...I took a course and found the structure really helped. I don't care how brilliant you are, you have to prepare for the GRE. People who do score higher than they would have if they didn't prepare. Period.
$300 is cheap compared to what you will save if you get into a funded program because your higher score made you a more competitive applicant. Good luck!”
This student also emphasized the importance of having a structure while preparing for the GRE. We could conclude, then, that most participants take GRE classes because of two factors:
- They equip you with a done-for-you study plan
- They ensure you stick to the plan
Neither student mentioned that the class they took helped them learn more or learn something they couldn’t tackle on their own. Obviously, it’s more about feeling prepared for the GRE test and lifting the burden off your shoulders, rather than necessarily taking a GRE class because you can’t study on your own.
It’s up to you to decide if that’s something you want to pay for. But I do think it will definitely up your chances of doing well on the test.
Why Do Students Take GRE Prep Courses?
From what we’ve seen above, most students do so because of three main reasons:
- Classroom experience
In most cases, students find it hard to motivate themselves to start studying for the GRE or to stick to their study plan by themselves. Also, they might not know where to start or how to organize their GRE prep at all.
Of course, there are a few other things students get from a prep class:
- Theory from tested subject areas
- A lot of practice (usually)
While I can’t speak for all courses, most do involve a good mix of practice and theory. Students get a ton of practice questions and exams, which they’d rarely solve on their own.
What’s the Average Cost of a GRE Prep Course?
It’s hard to pinpoint the average cost, but most courses are somewhere within the range between $200-$700. Some online courses start at even lower prices. I found some starting at $149. There are also more expensive ones, like the UCLA Extension course which I recently reviewed.
Why Does Your GRE Score Matter?
Your score matters because it directly influences if you’ll get into the grad school of your choice. The admissions committee will use your test scores to compare you to other students and determine who would be the best fit for their school.
They’ll look at some other things as well -- such as your GPA and your previous work experience -- so you might be able to get away with lower GRE scores if the rest of your application is outstanding.
What’s a Good GRE Score?
A good score is equal to or higher than the average scores, right?
So here’s how the average scores look like:
- Verbal → 152-158 score
- Quant → 153-158 score
- Writing → 4.0 score
If you want to get into a very competitive school, then these scores might not be considered “good”. In that case, you definitely need to aim higher to get in.
Recommended Article: For How Long Are GRE Scores Valid?
Do You Need a GRE Prep Course?
Unfortunately, I can’t answer this for you. It depends on how well you need to do on the GRE and whether you’re capable of planning your own prep.
What I can do is give you a few questions that will help you gain some clarity:
- What grad school do you want to get into?
Is the grad school you want to attend highly competitive? If so, taking a class is probably always a good idea.
- Do you (really) know how to solve the test?
Many GRE test prep courses focus on teaching each student unique test-solving techniques and time-management strategies that will work for him. These little tricks can prove to be very useful on the actual GRE when you’ll be under stress and pressure to get as many right answers as fast as possible.
- How much do you actually need to study for the GRE?
Think of the GRE as a test of your general high school knowledge. You’re not starting from scratch.
If you’ve done well throughout high school, you’ll probably do well on the test too. This means you probably won’t have to put that much effort into studying and you could do well even without taking a class.
Bonus: Determine Your Baseline By Taking a GRE Practice Test
I always recommend applicants to take GRE practice tests. This way, they can establish their baseline before they even start their GRE prep. Your initial GRE scores -- your baseline -- will help you determine how much additional prep you’ll need.
Make a list of your initial scores. Then compare them to the ones you need to get admitted into your chosen grad schools. Is there a big difference between those scores? If yes, I advise you to enroll in a class that will prepare you for the GRE.
When Should You Start Studying for the GRE?
I always advise students to start their GRE prep 2-4 months before the test and invest about 20 hours a week into studying. With that said, many students simply can’t invest that much time into their prep.
They either have lots of other obligations, or they simply didn’t start their prep on time. I think that’s where a good test prep course can really help. If you have limited time, a prep class can help you make the most of it.
5 Things to Determine if a GRE Test Prep Course Is Worth It
I know you want to start practicing as soon as possible, but don’t buy the first course you stumble upon without establishing if it’s worth your money -- or your time.
Determine if the course will actually help you get the scores you want. By using these five questions:
1. Is It Teaching You Something New?
Chances are you don’t need help with the entire GRE test. Just like other students, you have your strengths and weaknesses.
You need to find a class that will help you overcome weaknesses -- not just review what you already know.
For example, if you’re already confident about your vocab, don’t choose a course that includes tons of text completions or reading comprehension questions. Instead, find the ones that focus on math or practice essays.
2. Are You Learning from GRE Experts?
You don’t want to attend a class held by someone who’s just dabbling in the topic or teaching for the first time.
Here’s how to determine if a GRE class is taught by an expert:
- Do they have any credentials?
- Do they themselves have a good academic record?
- Do they share any testimonials from previous students?
There are some great teachers out there that don’t have any official credentials. That’s fine, as long as they have some other evidence of their expertise -- like the things I’ve mentioned above.
3. Will You Get Any Feedback On Your Progress?
If your chosen GRE class doesn’t include regular feedback, then maybe you should find another one. With feedback, you’ll know exactly what to focus and work harder on. In the long run, this will save you a ton of time you’d waste on studying unnecessary stuff.
4. Does the Prep Course Revolve Around Theory or Practice?
The best GRE prep has a healthy balance between theory and practice. And, yet, so many GRE prep courses only revolve around one thing.
Sure, practice is great, but you won’t get a whole lot of it if you don’t already know the theory. You’ll just be going through the motions, trying to guess the right answer. That isn’t very helpful, is it?
On the other hand, if your entire GRE test prep course revolves around theory, you won’t feel prepared for the actual GRE. You won’t know what type of questions to expect and you won’t have any go-to strategies or techniques for solving the test.
5. Does the Course Offer a Money-Back Guarantee?
What’s the best way to tell if test prep companies really believe in their GRE prep class? Just see if they’re willing to offer you your money back if you don’t do so well on the actual GRE.
If they’re not, this means they’re not really confident that they can help you get higher GRE scores. And if they’re not confident, you shouldn’t be either.
What are the Alternatives to Taking a Prep Course?
Some students really don’t like GRE prep courses. That’s perfectly fine. Here’s a list of other options you can choose from:
- GRE prep books
A lot of students like books because they still provide them with the structure they’d get in a prep class, but they don’t have the obligation to attend lessons or learn at someone else’s pace.
They can tailor their studies to their individual needs, while the GRE prep books guide them in what content they should cover.
- Online resources
You can find TONS of free resources online and some of them are useful. Like really useful. In fact, I collected the three best free online GRE prep courses for you.
- Individual GRE prep plan
Lastly, you can take matters into your own hands and create your own study plan. Focus on the parts of the GRE that you’re still uncomfortable with -- or the parts that your dream grad school will be particularly interested in.
Combine different study materials: test prep books, online resources, and sample test questions.
Just make sure you dedicate enough time to studying, as well as find the right balance between practice and theory.
In-person vs Online GRE Course: Which Should You Take?
I don’t think there’s much of a difference between the two nowadays. Previously, I’d always advise a student to take an in-person GRE course.
But I’ve changed my opinion after seeing tons of good online GRE classes. Most of them now have scheduled live sessions, so you can still ask questions and get feedback.
Your decision should come down to the price. Usually, online classes are cheaper than in-person ones.
Are GRE Prep Courses Worth It?
Don’t just settle on the first GRE course you stumble upon. Instead, consider what you have to work on to do well on the test. Then see if your chosen class will help you with your unique problems.
Here’s the thing. The GRE essentially puts your high school knowledge to the test. It’s not like you have to learn everything from scratch. On the contrary, given that you’ll have limited time for your prep, you should focus only on the aspects you’re struggling with.
In our opinion, the Magoosh GRE prep course is by far the most detailed course in the market, which is why we highly recommend it.