The Best GRE Prep Course
The best GRE prep course will offer a wide range of resources and help you maximize your study time by offering interactive resources and study tools that adapt to your strengths and weaknesses. We compared respected prep course providers to see which offered the best learning experiences. After hours of exploring free trials, watching sample videos, taking quizzes, and comparing customer reviews, we found three options that outperformed the rest.
If you plan on attending graduate school, chances are you’ll need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Getting a high score on the GRE is easier said than done. Not only do you need to understand a wide range of subject material, from reading comprehension to algebra, you’ll need to learn how to take the test quickly and effectively. Enter the GRE prep course. These courses are designed to give a basic refresher on important subject material, but also train you to use the best strategies for getting a higher score.
For those who prefer the experience of learning in a physical classroom, Kaplan Test Prep is our pick. It’s the only provider available in over 40 states (the total is 46 states) — the closest competitor, TestMasters is available in 31. Students get access to an expert instructor and one of the largest libraries of resources that includes practice tests and over 180 hours of online resources. Students even have the option to take a practice test in a real testing center — the most immersive practice experience offered by any provider. The course comes in at a premium of $1,300, but Kaplan is also one of the few that offers tuition assistance to those who qualify.
With adaptive study tools and easy to follow lessons, The Princeton Review took our top spot for live online. It has all the makings of a strong learning experience, including direct feedback from instructors during lessons, eight practice tests, and interactive study tools that help you identify your weaknesses. For these resources you’ll pay a relatively low $800 — its closest competitor, Kaplan, costs $1,300. That means you’ll also have savings to spare for your GRE entrance fee and additional resources you might want such as official practice tests or a celebratory dinner after taking the exam. Simply put, a great combination of resources makes the Princeton Review a solid live online course and the best bang for your buck.
If you don’t have time to attend the scheduled classes of in-person or live online courses, we recommend Manhattan Prep. As a self-paced course it offers complete flexibility, and a wide range of resources, to study any time and anywhere you choose. Its strongest feature is its interactive videos that review the basics of the subject material and teach you strategies for answering questions effectively. Unlike other videos that simply present you a recording of an instructor quickly working through problems, Manhattan Prep’s videos automatically pause for you to work through problems before heading into explanations. For $550 you’ll have access to the course materials for three years, rather than the industry standard of three to six months, so you’ll be able to set your own study timeline or reuse the resources to retake the exam.
While this exam is the most widely accepted standard for measuring whether a student is ready for graduate-level work, the number one question that most students ask is: how much do the scores matter? The truth is, it depends. Some schools will prioritize GRE scores while others will favor other parts of your application, such as your personal statement or undergraduate GPA. But no matter how much or how little your GRE score matters in the end, most schools require one. A high score on the GRE will only make your application stronger.
It’s important to note that a GRE prep course will not make you proficient in reading comprehension or math. While it will cover the basics of each subject, Dennis Yim, Academic Director for Kaplan and GRE tutor of 10 years, explained “the goal of a course isn’t to make you a mathematician or grammar wiz; the goal is to teach you what the test will actually be like.”
GRE prep courses are designed to teach you the strategies for taking the test effectively rather than the ins and outs of the subject matter. If you haven’t looked at geometry in a couple of years, you might be better off brushing up on the subject before signing up for a course. A GRE Prep course is a heavy financial investment and will require at least 1-3 hours every day for studying. Our experts recommend using that time to learn the strategies for taking the test rather than trying to relearn topics from your first year of undergrad.
How We Found the Best GRE Prep Course
We required full-length practice exams.
When it comes to getting a high score on the GRE, there is one golden rule: practice makes perfect. Ample research identifies practice exams as one of the most effective ways to prepare for a test. The more practice exams you take, the easier it will be to recall subject material and test-taking strategies on the day of the actual GRE.
Researchers refer to this recall process as transfer-appropriate processing. Essentially, practice tests allow your brain to become familiar with the format and style of the final test. When your brain recognizes the structure of a particular question, it brings up the right strategy and information you need to answer it. In other words, practice tests train your brain to not only recognize what will be on the test but how to take it effectively. So we cut any prep courses that did not offer practice exams.
Target Test Prep (0 practice exams)
The best GRE prep course should also have multiple practice exams so that you don’t get stuck preparing with tests you’ve accidentally memorized. We gave bonus points to prep courses that had a large number of practice exams. For example, while some like Magoosh offer three exams, others, like the Princeton Review offer up to eight practice exams.
Some companies, like TestMasters and Manhattan Prep, even provide licensed practice exams from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) — the official administrators of the GRE — which are made up of real past GRE questions. Practicing with the real deal can make all the difference, so these companies also started with an edge.
We evaluated courses according to delivery method: in-person, live online, and self-paced.
There are three different delivery methods when it comes to prep courses: in-person, live online, and self-paced. Each method is designed to address specific student needs, and choosing one is about finding the best match for your learning style and lifestyle.
Most of our contenders offer more than one delivery method for their prep courses. But just because a contender has a great live online course does not necessarily mean it will be the best option for in-person or self-paced courses. We developed a few specific criteria for each delivery method:
If you prefer a traditional classroom experience, an in-person course is the way to go. While you can always look up a course location with your zip code, it turns out that even some big players don’t offer that many courses nationwide.
The Princeton Review is a huge name in the test prep industry, but we only found locations for in-person GRE classes in 24 states — even after plugging in zip codes from each state’s capital and largest metropolitan city. Kaplan offered courses in a far more impressive 46 states, and even some smaller providers, like TestMasters, offered courses in 31 states. We scrapped in-person courses that did not have locations in at least 40 states (or 80% of the nation). After all, the best in-person prep course should be widely available.
Manhattan Review (29 states), PowerScore (5 states), Princeton Review ( 24 states), TestMasters (31 states)
Of course, it takes more than availability to be a great prep course. To be fair, evaluating an instructor will always be a little subjective, but we prioritized courses that employed instructors with high GRE scores (at least in the 90th percentile or among the highest scorers) and teaching experience. This ensures that your instructor is not only an expert GRE taker, but also knows how to teach you the strategies they’ve mastered.
In addition, we also gave extra points to courses that allowed you to contact your instructor outside of class in case you had any questions while studying on your own — far better than the stress of waiting until the next class.
Live Online offers the consistency of scheduled classes with an instructor without the need to travel to a classroom. The best live online course has engaging instructors and access to real-time feedback during lessons, in addition to practice tests and adaptive resources, But during testing, we found certain teaching methods to be more engaging than others.
For example, Powerscore has real-time lessons online, but you only have the option of listening to your instructor via live audio stream — the video feed only shows the material. Competitors like Kaplan let you see your instructor as well as the material, and this small change helped the lesson feel more personal. The result? It was much easier to stay focused and pay attention to the material. While audio-only may not be a dealbreaker, given the cost of a prep course, every little advantage counts.
PowerScore – audio classes only
We gave preference to any providers with course designs that were more interactive, engaging, or easier to follow than others. As we mentioned before, having the video feed of Kaplan’s instructors helped us pay attention. At the same time, we gave preference to providers like Manhattan Prep that offered supplementary materials with explanations that were easier to follow compared to competitors like Kaplan or PowerScore.
In an in-person or live online prep course, you’ll have a teacher who can respond to your unique strengths and identify room for improvement. If you take a self-paced course, addressing your subject weaknesses will be your own responsibility, but the best self-paced prep course will have adaptive and customizable study tools to help you along the way.
Customizable and adaptive study tools automatically design, or allow students to build, a tailored program to maximize their study time and decrease boredom. For example, English majors may not need much help with reading comprehension, but their geometry skills might be a bit rusty. Some courses, like The Economist’s, let you choose the order of your lessons, but don’t offer any actual customization or adaptive learning tools, meaning you may end up wasting time on material you already excel in. For that reason, we cut any providers that did not offer either customizable or adaptive resources during our testing.
Magoosh, The Economist
We gave preference to options, like Kaplan, that offer innovative resources such as their relatively new Qbank — a service that lets you build customizable quizzes to shore up any learning gaps you may have. Others like Veritas Prep offered video lessons with high production quality, but a much smaller range of resources (two guidebooks).
Working one-on-one with a tutor will give you the most personalized feedback possible from a prep course. This makes tutoring an excellent option for those who need extra assistance in shoring up particular subject material gaps, test-taking concerns, or simply staying focused on course material.
That said, tutoring is the most expensive option with standard plans starting around $2,500 for fifteen hours with an instructor (shorter or longer packages will change the price but still average around $150-180 per hour). Since your experience will heavily depend on the individual tutors, we can’t recommend this service to everyone and so we didn’t consider tutoring options. But many students report good experiences with tutors, and if you prefer one-on-one learning they are worth a look.
We got hands-on to find the most important features: clear explanations and interactive study tools.
The majority of prep courses advertise a long list of features in order to impress potential students. But the truth is, most offer pretty similar features that don’t offer any distinct advantages over others. Whether it’s a set of flashcards or a practice exam, the material and strategies each company provides mostly come from the same play book. But we wanted to find those courses with unique features that would actually improve your studying experience and scores.
We signed up for trials, took practice quizzes, and diligently took notes on sample videos, study tools, and customer responses to find the prep courses that truly offered a better learning experience than others. It all came down to two general principles: clear explanations and interactive study tools improved our study experiences the most.
For example, both Manhattan Prep and the Princeton Review offered online videos in their self-paced prep courses. While Princeton Review offers a recording of an instructor walking through questions, we found the explanations a little more difficult to follow — we had to rewind the video a few times because the instructor moved too quickly. Manhattan Prep’s videos are broken into sections with pauses in-between, so you can have time to work through problems. The video dashboard also prompts you if you run out of time while answering questions and gives you the option to keep trying or to move to an explanation — this also helped us realize algebra was our weak point. After hours of comparison, we found our top picks.
Our Top Picks for The Best GRE Prep Course
Kaplan has been a pioneer in the test prep industry since 1938. With its wide availability and range of traditional and adaptive resources, Kaplan’s classroom experience offers a solid in-person path toward improving your GRE score.
Kaplan offers its in-person courses to 46 states — 15 more than its closest competitor, TestMasters. Students can expect seven practice exams, four prep books, and over 180 hours of online resources in addition to seven weeks of class time. With such a wide range of resources, you can mix and match until you find the perfect combination that will help you study at home. Pair that combination with the in-class instructor, and you have a prep course that is tailored to your needs without losing the benefits of a traditional classroom.
Kaplan’s GRE prep course also comes with what they call the “Official Test Day Experience” (in fact, all of its prep courses do). You get to take a practice exam at an actual testing center with students who are taking the real GRE. The practice exam won’t be the official GRE, but you will get to use the official GRE computer interface and gain first-hand knowledge of what your testing experience will be like. Add to that Kaplan’s Qbank tool — a service that allows you to create personalized quizzes to shore up any weaknesses, and you will have access to resources that are on the forefront of adaptive and immersive learning.
While each instructor will have their own teaching style, all of Kaplan’s instructors achieved scores within the top tenth percentile on their own GRE exam. In other words, the instructors Kaplan employs are expert GRE takers, and you can be sure that you’re learning from someone who knows exactly what to expect on the exam and how to score well. You can also contact your instructor outside of class in case you need help while studying at home — no more anxiously waiting for the next class to receive an answer. If for any reason you aren’t a fan of your instructor, Kaplan also allows you to switch into another class at no charge (as long as it is before the midway point of the seven week course). We’ve all had that teacher we just didn’t vibe with, and we like that Kaplan provides an easy out to a better learning environment.
Kaplan’s in-person course costs $1,300 and comes with a limited refund period of just three days if you change your mind. But it does offer a higher score guarantee that allows you to take it again or receive your money back if you don’t improve. It’s also one of the few options that provides financial aid for its prep courses. Kaplan’s tuition assistance program offers discounts of up to 60 percent; a thoughtful inclusion in an industry that is known for its exclusionary prices.
Students of the Princeton Review course can expect over 180 hours of online resources, including interactive score reports that pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. One of its more impressive resources is an adaptive tool they call Drill Smart. The practice tool includes drills that route you to questions matching your skill level and areas for improvement. As your skills develop, the drills become more difficult, helping you move past dreaded score plateaus and avoid the boredom of easy questions.
The actual lessons are fairly standard. An instructor is accessible through video to guide you through the subject material and any test-taking strategies. A live chat feature allows you to respond to the instructor in real time and to request feedback or additional explanations — you won’t have to worry about being left behind in case you have difficulty understanding any material. With both the Drill Smart tool and the guidance of its instructors, the Princeton Review makes it easy to coach yourself through those tough spots.
There is one thing that frustrated us with the Princeton Review. We were not able to check the credentials of its instructors, and when we sent a request for the information, the company never responded. We want to know exactly what (and who) we’re signing up for, and expected better from our top pick, but most customer reviews online reported a great experience with caring and helpful instructors.
Price was the deciding factor between the Princeton Review and its closest competitor Kaplan. At $800, it costs significantly less than Kaplan’s $1,300 (the same price they charge for their in-person course). The price cut comes with a few sacrifices: you get eight practice exams compared to Kaplan’s ten, one practice book instead of four, and miss out on taking a practice exam at an actual testing center. But you can always use the money you saved to purchase official practice exams from the ETS and pay to take an actual GRE — and still have $315 to spare. You can even use the money to buy those missing Kaplan prep materials and get the best of both worlds. With that in mind, we just can’t imagine choosing anyone besides Princeton Review for our live online needs.
Manhattan Prep was acquired by Kaplan in 2009. But when it comes to self-paced GRE prep, the company outpaces its parent — which was also its closest competitor during our testing. The Manhattan Prep resources were easier to follow — vital when you’re studying alone — and offered better practice opportunities than Kaplan.
The resources Manhattan Prep offers are among the better choices we saw. While the interface is a little dull (think: the blandest PowerPoint template your professors used), the actual lessons are engaging and informative. The videos pause so you can answer questions or solve problems. When you are ready to move on, the videos will provide detailed explanations to help you learn both the subject material and the best strategies for answering that particular type of question. The best part? The explanations were some of the easiest to follow and understand — no small matter when you are learning on your own.
Manhattan Prep has you covered for practice exams too. The course includes the official GRE study guide from the ETS which comes with four official practice exams, bringing the company’s total practice exam count up to ten. This beat out Kaplan’s seven exams, none of which are official exams. Manhattan Prep also edged out Kaplan in price, with a price tag of $550 compared to Kaplan’s $700.
Manhattan Prep’s biggest flaw is the absence of a higher score guarantee for its GRE course. After all, a higher score guarantee protects consumers and is considered standard practice. But it attempts to make up for it in an unusual way. Manhattan Prep gives you access to their course for three years versus the six months you see from providers like Kaplan or Magoosh. Since a self-paced course is all about having control over your schedule, the long access ensures you won’t run out of time while preparing for your test (although experts recommend 3 mths as the optimal period of study for the GRE), or that you’ll have time to review the materials in the event of a retake. Even if you ultimately choose to switch to another prep course, you will still have Manhattan Prep’s resources to use as a supplement.
How to Study for the GRE
Key strategies to improve your test scores
During your prep course, you will cover a lot of strategies for taking the test effectively. However, it is also important to learn strategies for studying effectively. We have a few tips for getting the most out of your study sessions.Switch up the topics – According to the American Psychological Association, switching up topics while you study will improve your brain’s ability to recall information. In simple terms, the more times your brain learns, forgets, and then relearns subject material or strategies for answering questions, the better it gets at holding onto the information. New topics also require different strategies and the practice helps the brain recall the right ones faster. Write notes – This advice isn’t new, and for good reason. Research shows that writing out notes by hand while studying helps boost the process of learning. While many of the resources prep courses provide are digital, we suggest having pen and paper handy to ensure you get the most out of the lessons you watch. Take breaks – It may seem strange that one of the best study techniques is to actually spend time away from studying. But research suggests spacing out study sessions enhances the effectiveness and efficiency of learning. It turns out that repeated encounters with subject material with gaps in-between is better at promoting memory than longer study sessions. The best part? Practice tests amplify the effect. Sleep – Similar to taking breaks, sleeping improves your ability to learn and memorize important information. Research shows that the act of sleeping promotes the formation of dendrites in the brain, which are directly related to memory storage and the brain’s ability to recall learned tasks. While it can be tempting to have all night study sessions or to schedule your study time for late at night, doing so can cause more harm than good.
Free GRE resources to help you study
For students who don’t want to invest in a traditional prep course, finding free resources is an excellent option. We compiled a few resources that will supplement any courses you are in or help you build your own course.
While resources will give you material to study with, it’s also important how you use your resources. A study plan will help you schedule the time you need to prepare. We recommend following Kaplan’s 3 month study plan. Why three? Three months of prep is the most common and recommended study period for the GRE.
A lot of students try to cram and quickly realize that doesn’t work. You don’t have unlimited time to devote to these tests, so longer courses aren’t really as effective for the GRE either. We advise students to prepare for 1-3 months, because it will engage you and give you enough time to figure out how to increase your score.
Dennis Yim Director, Live Online Academics and GRE tutor of 10 years with Kaplan Test Prep
As the official administrators of the GRE, it makes sense that the ETS offers free practice resources. One of the best resources is the online POWERPREP practice tests that simulate the actual exam. You will need to sign into your free ETS account to access them, but you get access to two practice tests and scores for each section, including feedback for the written essay.
Although they aren’t licensed by the ETS, many test prep companies offer at least one free GRE practice test. Test Guide offers a thorough list of full length GRE practice tests as well as other GRE study resources including the ETS 100-page math review. That said, we found a few other free practice tests from well known prep course providers to help round out their list: Manhattan Prep Practice Test, Kaplan Practice Test, Princeton Review Practice Test, and McGraw-Hill Practice Test
Non-profit Khan Academy is known and celebrated for free resources that help students study for many standardized tests. While the company does not have a section dedicated to the GRE, the ETS compiled a list of Khan Academy videos that will help you prepare for the GRE.