HOW TO COMPARE GRE PREP OPTIONS
The purpose of this page is to describe the Cutts Personal GRE Tutorial, and its companion Cutts Classroom Style Program, so you understand how they compare to other prep options and to then give you some guidelines for comparing the wide range of options that do exist. (To compare the two types of Cutts program, go here)
We'll go over the various categories of programs (large national companies, university classes. online prep, etc) and examine what you should look for in each one.
This guide should be helpful for you whether you are considering the Cutts program or not.
Read the questions and answers below. Then please give me a quick call at (505) 281-0684. It's the best way for me to make personal recommendations for you.
HOW DOES THE CUTTS PERSONAL TUTORIAL WORK?
I work with you one on one. You study videos of my actual classroom sessions (11 hrs), work with handouts, a diagnostic test, an intensive study calendar and actual GRE questions. You and I work together by phone at your convenience. Many students talk with me once or twice a week with quick questions, for suggestions on practicing or to go into strategies in depth.
You pay a basic fee to register with me. It allows you to work with our videos, it gives you two free hours of phone tutorial with me and it allows you to buy additional phone hours at a discounted rate. (See our site for current costs or call me.) You pay only for the time you actually need.
In the Classroom Style Program, you pay one fee for unlimited help and also attend live, interactive classes with other students from your school or area, as well as students from around the country and the world. Classes are done by Web video conference, which you attend from home.
HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PREP PROGRAMS?
I am one of the few, and perhaps the only, full time, highly experienced (since 1991) test prep specialists available nationally for you to work with directly. Many students come to me after taking a Kaplan or Princeton course or a course with one of the smaller companies. Once they've worked with me, they report that for the first time they are able to understand what the test is really looking for. The strategies I teach go to the heart of the test - exactly why the right answer is right and exactly why the wrong answers are wrong.
As a linguist and educator, I specialize in helping with individual learning styles, including test and math anxiety, learning disabilities, poor standardized test taking and special timing strategies for the computer exam.
A prep class is only as effective as its instructor. Instructors for most commercial programs have usually done extremely well on the test. Most are bright and often good in the classroom. However, the average instructor has probably taught the test only 3 or 4 times and may have only 5 or 10 hours of experience in working individually with students. Very few instructors have taught more than 8 or 10 times or have more than 30 or 40 hours individual tutoring experience.
Having done well on the test does not in itself qualify a person to teach. I personally got a near perfect score the first time I took the test but it has taken 13 years of teaching and research for me to thoroughly understand the hidden patterns of the exam, not to mention how to tailor special strategies to the needs of each individual.
I estimate that I have worked with over 1200 students and have 3000 hours of working one on one with a wide variety of students.
WHAT IF I NEED A LIVE CLASS?
Our Classroom Style Program does allow you to attend live, interactive classroom sessions with other students from your school or area, as well as from around the country and the world. In most cities these classes are not on site but rather are done through Web video conferencing. You can attend from home or wherever you'd like to set up your computer.
If you like interacting with other students and like a classroom setting, our Classroom Style Program gives you both that and the advantages of being able to get as much one on one help as you need.
If you are more of an independent worker and want to have more control over your own schedule and how much help you pay for, the regular Personal Tutorial may suit you better. For a full comparison, go here.
One of the main reasons for choosing a classroom setting is to get extra structure - a timeline you have to follow and assigments you have to do. In many commercial programs there is not enough personal attention given to you in class to actually achieve this. It's all too easy to hide at the back of the class. In the Cutts program the classes are small and because you are working with me one on one outside of class, I can help you stay on your plan.
Often if someone is not getting around to the work, it's because they're getting frustrated or feeling intimidated. They need someone who can listen to them carefully and show them how to keep moving forward. Because of my years of individual teaching experience, I can often spot when someone is getting discouraged even before they are aware of it themselves! Usually a good heart to heart talk about how the prep is going, along with a specific plan for making step by step progress, gives you a way to dig in again and focus your efforts.
I'M A VISUAL LEARNER. I LIKE TO SEE WHAT'S HAPPENING IN A CLASS AND BE ABLE TO LOOK AT SOMETHING WHILE THE TEACHER IS EXPLAINING. HOW CAN WE DO THAT I THE PERSONAL TUTORIAL?
Most people are visual learners. The program is designed for visual learning. In the videos you are watching me explain things and diagram on the board. When we work together, you and I are looking at the same materials. Most of the strategies I teach are visual strategies that I demonstrate on the videos and reinforce with you as we work together.
In the Classroom Style Program we make use of Web video conferencing, chat and whiteboards for a full audiovisual environment. But even in the Personal Tutorial we use these as well. We can both see each other, draw, write out solutions, make diagrams and talk with each other at the same time. The critical difference between this and a commercial program is that - in both Cutts programs - you have as much chance as you need to work with an experienced test prep specialist closely one on one.
OK, I SEE THE BENEFIT OF WORKING INDIVIDUALLY WITH AN EXPERT. I STILL WANT TO COMPARE MY OPTIONS BUT THERE ARE SO MANY. HOW DO I COMPARE THEM?
Let's look at different categories of prep help. First, there are the large national companies, such as Princeton and Kaplan. (When I started, there were just Princeton, Kaplan and Cutts). These companies offer classes in many locations. They are usually very expensive. Their instructors have probably gotten near perfect scores but typically only work very part time for one or two seasons. Frequently your instructor was hired within the last few months.
When you talk to these companies, ask to speak with the instructor. If they can't allow this, they either don't have an instructor yet or that person is not accessible to you outside of class. If you do talk to them, find out how many students they've worked with and how many hours of individual tutoring experience they have.
Individual tutorial is essential and critical to help you master the test. You could never learn a tennis serve or golf swing from classroom lecture alone. Most students need individual guidance to learn the most important patterns and strategies of the test.
For some reason the Kaplan program usually does not include any personal help unless you buy a very expensive tutoring package. Other major companies offer more individual help. However, if you are not getting your questions answered in class, getting tutoring from the same person may not help.
The main complaint I hear about these big programs is that the student has asked the instructor to explain exactly why one answer is correct and the other one wrong and the instructor can't answer. Usually they say, "Just get it down to two and guess." or "This one is just better. You just have to get the feel of it." Neither of these comments is helpful or true. In fact there is a specific reason why one is right and the other wrong and you can learn to see it. Without that, you simply can't improve.
The other area that is usually completely missing in the most courses is help with timing strategy. How you use your time makes a significant difference in your score. However, it is a very complex issue and inexperienced teachers will have no idea of how to approach it.
So be sure to ask an instructor how they work with timing and how they can help you figure out exactly why right answers are right and wrong ones wrong. Many former Kaplan or Princeton students have told me that without some expertise in these areas, the instructor is not really any more helpful than a book would be, other than having a place to go to do practice tests.
The second category of prep options includes local courses taught either at a college or by a local tutor or by a volunteer who wants to help students. Usually the teachers are well meaning but don't have a realistic understanding of what kind of preparation is needed. They may review math facts and study vocabulary, which is what many people assume it takes, but in fact neither of these areas is particularly helpful. It is almost impossible to learn enough vocabulary to spot more than one or two words on the test that you studied. And reviewing the standard math strategies for solving problems will probably make things worse, actually, for most people. The GRE requires very different, much simpler, more intuitive strategies for organizing math problems. Unless you are a math whiz, using standard math strategies will just lead you into their traps.
The next category of prep program consists of the traveling weekend seminars. I cannot recommend these. You pay as much as you would for more extensive help and yet have only a couple days instruction, often too close to your test date, with minimal if any chance for individual follow up help. If you do look into one, find out how much experience the owner has, as well as the instructors. Find out if you can get individual help, if it a different person each time and what their experience is. Try to schedule the program at least 4 months before your test.
The final category of prep program consists of the myriad companies that have sprung up in the last three or four years on the internet. They may offer online help or home study materials. Ask to speak with the owner of the company to find out what their qualifications are. Who developed their study materials and how much experience did they have in teaching and in one on one work? Unfortunately much of the materials used by these companies is not worth much more than a book. Fortunately some of them don't cost more than a book.
I THINK I KNOW HOW TO COMPARE NOW. BUT I'M NOT USED TO THE IDEA OF A PERSONALIZED COURSE. TELL ME AGAIN HOW IT WORKS WITH YOU.
First, You and I will be working together closely. You can also communicate with other Cutts students in your area. If you are in the Classroom Style Program, you will be in classes with them as well.
You start with a diagnostic test. I help you interpret what it means. Then you start watching my classroom lectures on video. It is just as though you were attending a professional class but you can watch it at your convenience, rewind the video, and review it later.
Then you call me when you've finished the first tape. I'll ask you some questions about how you are doing. You can ask me questions about things that might not have been clear to you on the tape. We talk about how you should practice over the next week.
You practice as we discussed together. When you have a question, you pick up the phone and call me. We can talk for as long or short as you need. I can help you understand questions you had trouble with. I give you new strategies and demonstrate them for you. I may give you an assignment and ask you to call me at a certain time to review it.
In the Classroom Style Program you will have the opportunity to attend a group class about once a month, in which we will all work together on problems, using video, whiteboards and audio.
HOW MUCH PROGRESS WILL I MAKE IN YOUR PROGRAM?
Your progress really depends on how long you can work on the test - how many months, how many hours per week - and on how closely you work with me. It is helpful to work together frequently. If you can call me to review your situation, I can suggest a study plan for maximum improvement.
The only way to really make significant improvement is to understand the hidden patterns of the test and the strategies for working through them. It is also essential to learn how to use your time most effectively. Finally, you need to work with someone who can address your particular learning needs. Given all of these things, you can't help but make good improvement.
WHAT IF I DON'T GET THE SCORE I NEED? DOES IT MEAN I WON'T GET ACCEPTED?
I offer two guarantees. The first is that you will be satisfied that you got your money's worth from our program or you get your registration fee back, less a small service charge. The second is that you will get accepted to grad school. To qualify for this you have to meet certain requirements, such as applying a second year if necessary and applying to a certain number of schools. (Please see our registration from online for a description of the guarantees and requirements.)
My experience is that most people can get accepted if they go about it the right way.
If your GRE score does not go as high as you would have liked despite your best efforts, there are a number of other strategies that I will work with you on, including your Personal Statement, making certain contacts and taking on certain projects. With expert guidance you should get in. If not the first time, then the second. Once you have met our minimum requirements for the guaranteed acceptance program, I will continue to work with you free of charge until you are accepted.
STILL CONFUSED ABOUT THE BEST WAY TO PREP?
Please call me. I'd like to find out more
about your situation and will refer you to
the option that's best for you.