As you may know, we open up the first session of our 8-session Manhattan Prep GRE Complete Course as a free GRE trial class for anyone to attend. What happens in a GRE trial class? Why bother attending one? I’m sure every class is a little bit different, but there are some things you can expect to see, as well as a few things you should make sure to look for.
1. Why take a standardized test class in the first place?
When I was a high school student preparing for the SAT, I never really considered taking a test prep class. In retrospect, I really should have—I just never considered it at the time. I have a hunch that it had something to do with my own deep misunderstanding of how standardized tests work. I thought that the SAT tested how smart you were. It was called the “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” after all. Surely, smart people just did well on it and that was that. Actually, in the 1970s, the SAT was renamed the “Standardized Achievement Test.” Why the name switch? I think they realized such a silly test could not and should not pretend to test someone’s innate ability. Rather, it tests a set of discrete, learnable skills. In many ways, the SAT just tests how well you prepared for the SAT.
Likewise, the GRE—at its core—is just testing you on how well you prepared for the GRE. And you will almost definitely do better on it if you put in some deliberate practice. When I approached the GRE as an adult, I did so in a much different way than I’d studied for such tests in the past. I dug deep into the problems I missed, ironed out weaknesses in the 5 lb. Book, and noticed that the problems were usually much easier when I pushed past the content to look for time-saving and efficiency strategies.
After years of considering myself “a bad standardized test taker,” I surprised myself with how well I did on my GRE. I also recently went back and took the SAT again. (That might seem peculiar—30-year-old me sitting there with a bunch of teenagers getting ready to go to college—but sometimes you’ve got to do such things if you’re a test prep instructor.) After years of teaching the GRE, I was surprised at how much easier this test felt compared to when I was in high school.
When I was younger, I really struggled on it; I took it twice and got the same mediocre scores on both attempts. When I went back and took it as an adult with lots of relevant practice, I scored about 200 points higher. What was the difference? There may have been some maturity and a college education at play. But I think the most significant factor was that somewhere along the way, I learned how to prepare for standardized tests. They’re not intelligence tests, and they really do keep testing the same few themes over and over again.
However you prepared for tests when you were younger, consider approaching the GRE with a mindset that embraces your potential to grow. Even if you never considered yourself a “good test taker,” you can learn to become one. A good test prep class will show you how to begin that transformation.
2. What’s covered in a GRE trial class?
In a Manhattan Prep GRE trial class, you can expect to look at the structure of the test, analyze the way it’s scored, and then spend the brunt of the three-hour class actually solving and talking about problems. Along the way, you’ll learn (or re-learn) some things about how exponents and triangles work.
In a good class, though, your teacher won’t just stop at the content and rules. A good class will also introduce you the personality of the test. In my class, we refer to this GRE persona as “Ethel”—a peculiar and exacting spirit who knows some common errors in thinking and tries to induce those mistake patterns in similar ways, over and over again.
Take, for example, a simple comparison:
Ethel knows that your first instinct is probably to simplify quantity A and B, rewriting each as “x.” She knows that you’ll probably want to pick answer choice C. And she’s messing with you.
This is a pretty common move. If the two sides seem equal and it seems really easy to prove that… then C is probably a trap answer. Pause for 10 seconds and ask yourself whether they’re still equal when you plug in a negative number. The correct answer to this question should be D.
A good test prep class will introduce you to such situations, and will make you aware of the “personality of the test” and themes that come up in such tricky questions. Many of us Manhattan Prep teachers have actually grown to enjoy these little puzzles. (I sometimes write about them in blog entries like this one.) Once you’ve had these patterns highlighted for you, you’ll find that your awareness makes you sidestep all sorts of common pitfalls you weren’t really noticing before. Who knows, you may even find yourself having a little fun doing so.
3. What kind of teacher do I want?
I’m sure you know that an ideal teacher is somewhat a matter of personal taste. And while I do think my colleagues are all fantastic teachers in their own ways, I’d encourage you to attend a GRE trial class before you commit to 8 full weeks with any of them in particular. Any teacher can tell you how the content works; a good teacher will also leave you feeling inspired and will give you a fundamentally different way of thinking about something than you had before.
For some of you, you’ll find that you gravitate toward a benevolent, kind teacher who knows how to encourage you. Others will find that you need a tough personality—a teacher who holds you accountable, challenges you, and gets you out of your comfort zone. If you attend my GRE trial class, you’ll probably find that I’m far from that “drill sergeant.” I certainly hope you’ll enjoy the class, but I’m sure many folks will find they need a teacher who’s a little tougher on them. If that’s you, I know a few other teachers I’d highly recommend. One way or another, you should try a GRE trial class to determine whether your teacher is a good fit for you.
4. Not just the what, but the why.
Finally, a GRE trial class should leave you not just knowing what to work on, but how and why. If you really understand how your memory works, for example, you’ll spend about 1/3 as much time memorizing vocabulary as someone who just makes simple flashcards and churns through them repetitively. In your first class, you may learn the definitions of the words “arcane” and “archaic.” Ideally, you’ll also learn how to tell them apart and how to generate some good flashcards for them:
Archaic = old (like this old arch)
Arcane = mysterious (like the magic spells of a cane-wielding wizard)
I’ve written a little bit about such memory moves in blog entries like this one. A good class will consistently make you aware of how your brain works and how to use it best.
In your GRE trial class, your teacher will also introduce you to your course books, videos, flashcards, and apps, as well as give you some guidance on how to best approach studying them (hint: it’s definitely not just plowing through page by page, trying to do everything). Ideally, you’ll leave that first class with a crystal-clear game plan for what you should be doing before the next class starts.
5. Let us know what you think.
Hopefully I’ve got you thinking about whether or not you want to attend a GRE trial class and about what you should look for if you do. If you’ve been to a GRE class (whether with Manhattan Prep or some other test prep company), be sure to let us know what you thought about it. Shoot us an email or post about it in the comments below.
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Tom Anderson is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York, NY. He has a B.A. in English and a master’s degree in education. Tom has long possessed an understanding of the power of standardized tests in propelling one’s education and career, and he hopes he can help his students see through the intimidating veneer of the GRE. Check out Tom’s upcoming GRE courses here.
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