The age old question is: does one really need to attend coaching to maximize performance in the GRE? After all, many think that, since the syllabus is public and the topics available in many high school textbooks, it just requires self study to crack the exam.
However, in our experience, we have counseled, coached and worked with many students who had first tried the self study method before coming to us. Without exception, we found an average increase of 10 points or more in their test scores after they started working with us; something in the regular rhythm of coaching just brought out their innate talent, and managed to get them the score they needed for a great grad school admit.
That got us thinking: coaching is definitely a superior option for the vast majority of candidates, but what exactly makes it so great? Is there one thing that it has as an advantage, or a mix of things? In our opinion, there are 8 big factors that set formal coaching apart from individual preparation. Here is our Jamboree in depth look at each of these:
Formal coaching ensures that your motivation levels always hover near the 100% mark
Even though you will definitely be very highly motivated, initially, to prepare for the GRE, it is extremely difficult to sustain such a level of motivation throughout the prep period. Many factors contribute to this: other commitments and busy study / work schedules are the biggest reason, but lack of structured plans to conquer weak areas, absence of a large community to draw wisdom from, and low face time with mentors and experts all play their part in making self motivation a difficult problem to crack on your own.
In contrast, formal coaching recognizes how important motivation levels are; for example, we at Jamboree have customized plans to keep every kind of student energized and excited. An important part of this is regularity: having scheduled touch points with an external guide helps make you complete prep targets with more diligence. In addition, we are also able to share facts about the grad schools that you are looking at, by leveraging the power of our large and connected network. Finally, we are able to celebrate your achievements and work on your weak areas, and there is no greater motivator than knowing that someone always has your back.
Adherence to a study plan is much easier with a formal coaching partner
Almost everyone who prepares for the GRE has a study plan, but the depth and quality of the plan are usually greater in the case of formal coaching, because of the wisdom of having done it before, many thousands of times. This quality is a result of knowing what a reasonable target is, and planning how to stretch, and understanding what reasonable stretch is. In addition, adherence to plan is a must, if you want to achieve your dream score. This is where the real advantage of a coaching partner lies.
In case you are going solo in your prep, you will find that your study plan is often disrupted by a few delays and missed study appointments; these make you fall behind in your overall plan, and it is very hard to pick up where you left off and seamlessly get back to a normal prep schedule. In addition, there is no external authority to enforce a return to the study plan, and this can have a snowball effect and make it very hard to complete your prep targets in time.
A formal coaching partner facilitates adherence to prep plans through three primary mechanisms: frequent tests, peer pressure and regular check ins. The first is self explanatory: we are conditioned to complete study plans close to a test, and practice tests scheduled every so often will help us finish some part of the portion, at the very least. Peer pressure is an implicit but important advantage: seeing a lot of bright, motivated people trying their hardest to crack the GRE is likely to make you go back to your prep plan and keep up with it. Finally, when you have to check in with a coach or mentor every so often and demonstrate completion of your plan, you will automatically become much more responsible.
Self study will never take you out of your comfort zone; formal coaching does this in a safe, structured way
The best coaches first help you realize the potential you knew you had, and then show you hidden potential, and take you to places you never knew you could reach. To truly excel at any endeavour, it is essential that you step outside your comfort zone, and achieve goals you never knew you could.
Self study, when applied to a big standardized test like the GRE, usually implies that you will get better and better at your strong points, and achieve a basic level of competence in the areas at which you are less strong; you will fix a target score in mind initially, and come close to that score. The focus in your prep will be mastery of content and practice of questions; you will never spend too much time on target setting or frequent questioning of how you can push the envelope and get to the next level in your score potential.
The big differentiator for good GRE coaching is that it questions the basic premise – and asks you for a score that you are not sure you can achieve, but that your coaches can help you get to, by unlocking all your potential, even the part that you never knew about. Target setting is very important here: rather than preparing from Day 1 in a mad rush to get to the best score possible, a great coach will first suggest that you can perform at a level you have not yet dreamt of, and then convinces you of it with a granular, day level plan. When you get comfortable with a particular chapter, section or question format, it is the job of the coach to take you to the next level and move you out of your comfort zone once again, so that growth in skill can happen.
Formal coaching helps you capitalize on a strength spike, and turn it into a time saving tool
When you self prepare for the GRE, odds are that you will find many topics at which you are very good. The usual instinct is to prove that you are, indeed, strong at these topics (this is done by practising a certain number of questions from the chapter till you achieve a correctness rate above a threshold) and then moving on to the next topic, with confidence that the first chapter has been mastered. And this works well on test day, because you are likely to get most of the questions from your ‘strong’ chapter correct. This seems like a great result, right?
But a coaching partner can help you unlock further value from your strong areas, and make them benefit the rest of your test. Here’s how: where most people stop with a certain topic once they are comfortable with it, a great coach will be able to show you how to get even better – to convert that strong point to something where you are actually able to save time on every question from that area. The precious seconds thus saved can be redistributed to other questions, and can actually give you checking time. Even if you improve accuracy in just two other questions as a result of the time saved on the strong areas, your overall score will definitely see an uptick. Leveraging strong points beyond the obvious is something that only a formal coaching partner can bring you.
A formal coaching partner can create a structured plan to get better in areas where you are having difficulties
It is not very easy for someone who is preparing on their own to improve on an aspect of GRE prep. Further study from the same sources in the same way is the usual recourse, but this has many disadvantages: the law of diminishing returns ensures that the second and third attempts are unlikely to be better than the first. Some try to practice more questions, in the hope that this will help master the topic, but this is often equivalent to treatment of the symptom (poor performance in a particular topic) rather than the cause (lack of clear understanding of that topic). Finally, others try to postpone prep on that chapter, but they lack a plan for how to tackle the chapter the next time; they are unlikely to be able to excel at it in the next round.
All these make for a low probability of improvement; a pattern we have seen is that people who try self prep often end up performing only in the areas they were initially good at.
This contrasts sharply with formal coaching – whether classroom or online. For example, we at Jamboree take a data and fact based approach to improvement. In case someone is weak at a topic (as measured by mock test performance) we try to gauge whether that was due to specific lack of understanding of the principles associated with that topic, or local effects in that one test (for example, lack of time to prepare), or lack of practice in that topic (symptoms include poor performance in the last few questions, because of cumulative lack of time) or general discomfort with test taking (by looking at previous test scores and patterns). Once we have identified reasons for the weakness, we are able to prescribe an improvement plan.
For example, problems with understanding are solved by further classroom or one on one sessions with experts; problems with practice by dedicated questions on that topic, and problems with test taking in general by a diagnosis of time management and comfort with interface.
Formal coaching links you to a community that will spur you on to greater efforts
When you prepare on your own for the GRE, your grad school network is essentially a subset of your personal network, and is limited in size. You will probably have a couple of direct mentors, who have had recent success with the exam, and a few advisors that you can occasionally ask for help on specific points. You may know a few peers who are also preparing for the GRE at the same time, but your interactions with them are likely to be unstructured and sporadic.
Therefore, you are unlikely to be able to receive significant preparation impetus from a community.
However, formal coaching always puts you in touch with multiple communities which spur you on to greater efforts. The first such is a community of peers – other people who are preparing for the GRE in approximately the same window as you. These can fulfil many functions – whether they give you a means of solving doubts, increasing your motivation levels or improving your scores, test by test – your peers can perform many useful roles. In addition, a great coach can put you in touch with many who have gone before – people who were like you a few months or years before, and were able to perform excellently well in their GRE. These are credible sources of both motivation and real tips: they become aspirational figures to whom you can ask the big questions that are on your mind.
Formal coaching takes away peripheral, boring, non value adding work, and lets you focus only on what is important
When you are preparing on your own for the GRE, there is a lot of peripheral work you have to do that does not really help you much for the final test. For example, getting hold of the study material, coming up with the logic for final test dates, creating a study plan from scratch, analyzing your mock test scores, testing your comfort with a particular topic, trying to settle a doubt by searching through the Internet: these are things that you will have to do multiple times – they will take up many hours of time and many quanta of energy – and they are not fundamentally value adding – they will not increase your score.
However, all these things are a part of the infrastructure, of the background, that you will soon come to take for granted with a formal coaching partner. A formal coaching partner has templates to make each of these happen in the best possible way, and help you save both your time and energy for where they will be best used – in mastering topics and cracking questions so as to maximize your score. This added convenience is a key differentiator; not having to spend days on frustrating work will ensure that you are much happier and healthier during your test and prep cycle.
At an overall level, a formal coaching partner has a proven track record of success
We have talked about a lot of input metrics above; it is now time to talk about the most important output metric: the one which sets formal coaching apart more than any other.
When you decide to self study for the GRE, you go into the endeavour with a 0-0 record; you have never succeeded before. A coaching partner provides a powerful contrast: they have helped dozens (in the case of Jamboree, thousands) of aspirants successfully through different standardized tests. With this kind of track record, it is clear that formal coaching classes are doing something right; they have spent years on perfecting their role, and getting better and helping every kind of test aspirant maximize his / her potential score.
Even if you look at preparing for your GRE just as a simple process and ignore the details, it would always make sense to choose the option where more people have had success in the past; looking at success rates, that option is clearly formal coaching.
It should now be clear that the advantage that studying for the GRE with a coach brings you extends far beyond simple mastery of syllabus, and has to do with overall holistic preparation and readiness. A coach can ensure that nothing goes wrong throughout your prep, and is like a form of insurance against unforeseen circumstances.
In case you want to gain access to the many advantages that a coach can bring you – not only in your GRE, but in any other standardized test that you are looking at – we invite you to come and experience the Jamboree advantage for yourself. Whether this is for a full time classroom program, a hybrid of classroom coaching and online content, or a completely online experience, we can help you add ten points to your score. Get in touch with your nearest Jamboree center today to schedule a sample session!