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No pain, no gain

Published: Monday, June 7, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

Test Prep

Jorge Montalvo — Special to THE BATTALION

Many students are in the midst of studying and signing up for the tests they have to take to apply to graduate school. 

There are a variety of ways to prepare for these tests, said Cody Blair, test preparation coordinator at Texas A&M.

"Students can prepare for the GRE in several different ways, but there are no magic beans, I'm afraid," Blair said. "The most effective ways usually cost time, money and sweat."

Blair said there are some ways to prepare that do not take as much money as others—just more self-discipline.

"The penny-pinching way to bone up on the material is to buy a book and do it yourself," he said. "But buyer beware: all GRE books are definitely not created equal."

The books can sometimes be misleading and can contain useless information that wastes time, Blair said.

"The biggest drawback for the do-it-yourself-ers, however, is that the book will do you no good unless you study and practice religiously," he said. "Reading it once or twice may make you feel better, but it's a bit like jumping off the roof with a pillow strapped to your derriere. You'll feel confidence, followed swiftly by pain. Another minus: it can be really tough to tell what info is
most important."

Steven Shotts, director of instruction for Educational Testing Consultants, Inc., said the biggest challenge for the students he has worked with was the skills tested on the GRE, GMAT and LSAT do not always align with the students' recent academic experience.

"The fact that the test is timed—and in the case of the GRE and GMAT, computer-adaptive—sometimes add to the anxiety," Shotts said. "Fortunately, there are many university resources that can help students overcome these challenges."

Texas A&M offers free strategy workshops that help students get started studying and answer questions they may have concerning the tests. 

Shotts said he recommends taking practice tests to judge how much studying is necessary.   

"Each student will prepare at his or her own pace," he said. "As a result, study times may vary. That said, most students achieve the best results with six to eight weeks of preparation."

David Pretorius,  senior civil engineering major, is taking a GRE prep class through Kaplan and just took his first practice test.

"My older sister went through there and said it helped a lot, so that's why I chose to go there," he said. "From the opening speech they gave, the teacher seemed pretty enthusiastic that he could help us improve our scores."

If students find themselves with undesirable scores, they may want to spend the money on the pricier study options, which Blair said are usually the prep courses offered by Kaplan, Princeton Review and Texas A&M.

"All of those will work, and the average students can expect gains of 90 to 180 points," he said. "That gain can mean the difference between getting into the Mercedes Benz of grad schools or the ‘91 Buick LeSabre of grad schools, and don't forget fellowships and TA-ships may be based directly on those GRE scores. It can pay you big money to ace the GRE."

Blair said some of courses are taught by underprepared graduate students and charge over $1,000.

"Always check the experience level of the instructor, and ask pointed questions about materials and follow up," he said. "Be careful about their money-back guarantees too. The fine print often makes it almost impossible to take advantage of those guarantees."

The GRE is undergoing changes to be implemented by August 2011, and test prep will be out-of-date.  Blair said if students are going to do test prep, they need to do it and take the test before the changes are complete.




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