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The Best GRE Prep Courses of 2016

GRE instructor Daniel Matthew and our team of experts reviewed every GRE prep course offered nationwide, both online and in-person, to determine the best courses on the market. The top three prep courses for 2016 are from Kaplan, the Princeton Review, and the Manhattan Review.

 

Overview of Research

GRE expert Daniel Matthew and our team identified every course package currently available through major test prep companies. We then established seven core metrics to score each company against: the extent of courses offered, practice tests, tutoring, company guarantees, pricing, grad school admissions prep, and subject tests.

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Daniel Matthew

GRE Instructor

Daniel Matthew is a professional prep test instructor and previously worked at Stonehill College. He loves teaching students how to strategize to crack the puzzles of standardized tests so that each one can maximize their potential.

The seven core metrics consist of smaller data points and specs, 40 criteria total, all of which contributed to the final score a company received. These data points have been arranged into the directory below, letting prospective graduate students efficiently compare the prep materials they need.

Sort/filter by price, core metric scores, sub-metric scores, and more

The Best GRE Prep Courses of 2016

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Overall Rank
Overall Rank
Prep Course
Prep Course
Core Metrics
Rating
Rating
Course Packages
Course Packages
Live online?
Live online?
In-person?
In-person?
Self-paced?
Self-paced?
Tutoring online?
Tutoring online?
Tutoring in-person?
Tutoring in-person?
Tutoring over the phone?
Tutoring over the phone?
Email assistance for self-paced courses?
Email assistance for self-paced courses?
Intensive workshops?
Intensive workshops?
Mobile app?
Mobile app?
Option to concentrate on math or verbal?
Option to concentrate on math or verbal?
Flashcards?
Flashcards?
Blog?
Blog?
Coursebooks?
Coursebooks?
Practice Tests
Practice Tests
Number of full-length practice tests
Number of full-length practice tests
Does the practice test mimic the GRE?
Does the practice test mimic the GRE?
Feedback from instructors online?
Feedback from instructors online?
Feedback from instructors in-person?
Feedback from instructors in-person?
Pricing
Pricing
Live online price
Live online price
In-person price
In-person price
Self-paced price
Self-paced price
Tutoring online price
Tutoring online price
Tutoring in-person price
Tutoring in-person price
Tutoring on the phone price
Tutoring on the phone price
Intensive price
Intensive price
Free trial?
Free trial?
Tutoring
Tutoring
Are the tutors real teachers?
Are the tutors real teachers?
Training required?
Training required?
Are the positions full-time or part-time?
Are the positions full-time or part-time?
What qualifications are needed to be a tutor?
What qualifications are needed to be a tutor?
Guarantees
Guarantees
Guarantee
Guarantee
Grad School Admissions Prep
Grad School Admissions Prep
Do they offer prep services?
Do they offer prep services?
Is there free information?
Is there free information?
Admissions prep options
Admissions prep options
Subject Tests
Subject Tests
Biochemistry
Biochemistry
Biology?
Biology?
Chemistry?
Chemistry?
English Literature?
English Literature?
Mathematics?
Mathematics?
Physics?
Physics?
Psychology?
Psychology?
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Editor's Award
Editor's Award
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Methodology

Our expert

Daniel Matthew graduated from Claremont McKenna College in 2011, and began delving into the world of test prep the following year. He tutors just about every test with an acronym, and previously instructed a GRE class at Stonehill College. He loves teaching students how to strategize to crack the puzzles of standardized tests so that each one can maximize their potential.

How we selected our list of GRE prep courses to test

After researching every available prep course from major test prep companies, we started off with this initial list:

  • Barron’s
  • BenchPrep
  • Cambridge Coaching
  • Kaplan
  • Magoosh
  • Manhattan Prep
  • Manhattan Review
  • MLIC
  • Parliament Tutors
  • PowerScore
  • Princeton Review
  • Stratus Prep
  • TestMasters
  • Varsity Tutors

How we narrowed our list down

We first cut products that were unavailable on a national or near-national level. We also eliminated any prep services that were exclusively or near exclusively focused on tutoring. This was done to focus on prep courses that provided an array of options: different sized in-person and online courses as well as intensive workshops and in-person or online tutors.

With this criteria, we then eliminated the following:

  • BenchPrep
  • Cambridge Coaching
  • Parliament Tutors
  • Stratus Prep
  • Varsity Tutors

This left us with nine GRE prep course providers to evaluate, score and rank:

  1. Barron’s
  2. Kaplan
  3. Magoosh
  4. Manhattan Prep
  5. Manhattan Review
  6. MLIC
  7. PowerScore
  8. Princeton Review
  9. TestMasters

How we selected the features for our methodology

Our team was able to identify a core set of criteria that all GRE prep courses could be evaluated against. These features in total tell us what the very best GRE prep courses rely on: a variety of courses that support distinct test takers, a well-educated staff with a mastery of the GRE, a competitive price tag that reflects the quality of their courses and worthwhile resources available to students who, having taken the test, are ready to apply to graduate schools.

Our core metrics and sub-metrics are as follows:

Metric 1: Course Packages (20%)

  • Live online?
  • In-person?
  • Self-paced?
  • Tutoring offered online?
  • Tutoring offered in-person?
  • Tutoring on the phone?
  • Email assistance?
  • Intensive workshops?
  • Mobile app?
  • Option to concentrate on verbal or math?
  • Flashcards?
  • Coursebooks?
  • Blog?

Metric 2: Practice Tests (20%)

  • Number of full-length practice tests
  • Does the practice test mimic the GRE?
  • Feedback from online instructors?
  • Feedback from in-person instructors?

Metric 3: Tutoring (20%)

  • Are the tutors/instructors real teachers?
  • What qualifications are needed to be a tutor?
  • Training required?
  • Are the positions full-time or part-time?

Metri 4: Guarantees (15%)

  • Guarantees

Metric 5: Pricing (15%)

  • Live online price
  • In-person price
  • Self-paced price
  • Tutoring online price
  • Tutoring in-person price
  • Tutoring on the phone price
  • Intensive workshop price
  • Free trial?

Metric 6: Grad School Admissions Prep (5%)

  • Do they offer prep services?
  • Is there free information?
  • Admissions prep options

Metric 7: Subject Tests (5%)

  • Biochemistry?
  • Biology?
  • Chemistry?
  • English Literature?
  • Mathematics?
  • Physics?
  • Psychology?

We compiled data for each core metric by researching every company’s website for the most up to date information.

How we scored our methodology

Each of our seven core metrics are made up of multiple sub-metrics. To calculate each prep course’s core metric scores, we first scored their sub-metrics.

For example, the tutoring core metric has four total sub-metrics dealing with the nature and quality of companies’ tutors. Every prep course was scored out of 10 against these four sub-metrics, where a 10 was given for the prep course that performed the best and 1 the worst. Then all sub-metric scores for a prep course were weighted equally to arrive at its core metric score.

So, in the tutoring core metric metric, there were four sub-metrics to be scored:

  1. Are the tutors/instructors real teachers?
  2. What qualifications are needed to be a tutor?
  3. Training required?
  4. Are the positions full-time or part-time?

Manhattan Review performed the best across each of the four sub-metrics, leading to a score of 10 for this core metric

The seven core metrics were then assigned weights. These weights were chosen to highlight the most important features for students from the least important.

The weights we established were as follows:

  1. Course Packages – 20%
  2. Practice Tests – 20%
  3. Pricing – 20%
  4. Tutors – 15%
  5. Guarantees – 15%
  6. Grad School Admissions Prep – 5%
  7. Subject Tests – 5%

To give each prep course an overall score, we took each of their core metric scores, multiplied it by the appropriate assigned weight (see above) and then took the sum of each weighted metric. The prep course with the highest overall sum became our best overall course for 2016.

Drawbacks of our methodology

As you might guess, not all GRE prep courses are the same. Some rely far more on self-paced learning, while others favor intensive in-person workshops. Some have tutors and an impressive host of post-exam services, while others strictly focus on the prep work leading up to the exam. While we strove to account for these differences when establishing our criteria, we ultimately felt it necessary to include some features that are a priority for some courses but not others. With that in mind, we hope our assessment makes it perfectly clear what each company is best at. In a sense, this resource provides some general direction, but it is key that test takers understand their own learning style and priorities and thereby pick prep courses that suit them best.

Understanding GRE Prep Features

Learn about our core metrics

1. Course Packages back to metric

Very Important

20.00% of our methodology score

The course packages feature is something of a catchall. In it, we take a detailed look at exactly what options each company offers in terms of courses: are they online, in-person, real time or self-paced? Is tutoring support built into the courses? What texts and associated materials come with the company’s courses? What other resources or services are in place, such as blogs, apps or workshops? When combined, all of these criteria give us a general overview of the prep courses, as well as how extensive and how customizable the options are with each.

Highest Scoring Companies on Course Packages
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2. Practice Tests back to metric

Very Important

20.00% of our methodology score

To many test takers access to quality practice tests is their foremost concern. Practice tests that fully simulate the actual GRE, in the style and difficulty of questions, as well as in the actual conditions of the exam, provide an unparalleled opportunity to gauge your preparedness in the lead up to the test. In that sense, it is also the go to litmus for determining how much more prep work is needed. For our purposes, we looked at the number of tests offered as a part of each prep course, as well as how well companies followed up with students in the aftermath of practice exams. We especially favored courses where instructors reviewed students’ practice results and provided specific feedback on questions missed.

Highest Scoring Companies on Practice Tests
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3. Pricing back to metric

Very Important

20.00% of our methodology score

Pricing is of course a major consideration for all test takers seeking a prep course. The difference between a live course and a self-paced one tends to be a few hundred dollars; the jump from an online course to an in-person course can be equally as expensive. Tack on fees for additional support, such as tutoring services and workshops, and true prep courses quickly add up to well over a thousand dollars. As a base, we found most courses, at their lowest, hover around $30 to $35 dollars an hour for live class time with an instructor. Self-paced courses, on the other hand, tend to run on an access basis, meaning you pay a lump sum to have access to a slew of prep materials for a certain period of time, typically three to six months. These tend to work out to roughly $200 to $250 per month, though they almost always require a multiple month commitment.

Highest Scoring Companies on Pricing
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4. Tutoring back to metric

Important

15.00% of our methodology score

Many students feel the most prepared after receiving individual help. While few courses have that level of one-on-one time built in, most prep companies offer GRE tutoring services at an additional cost. We looked at how tutoring services work at each company, particularly focusing on the qualifications of tutors. Considering the steep cost associated with one-on-one coursework it is important that students get a well-trained GRE expert who can them bring their best to the exam.

Highest Scoring Companies on Tutoring
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5. Guarantees back to metric

Important

15.00% of our methodology score

Considering the cost of most GRE prep courses, which can quickly add up to a few hundred dollars, test takers should feel assured they are getting their money’s worth. Guarantees are a sign of good faith that a company stands behind its products and, in the event students do not perform as expected, is committed to working with students again to ensure their scores go up.

Highest Scoring Companies on Guarantees
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6. Grad School Admissions Prep back to metric

Less Important

5.00% of our methodology score

While not an essential part of a company’s prep offerings, we liked companies that provided students with additional support after the completion of the GRE. It is an indication of a well-rounded service that cares about prospective student’s graduate school journey, instead of a single test. The kicker of course is that many of the companies offering graduate school prep do so at a significant extra cost. We kept that in mind while looking at the nature and effectiveness of the services offered.

Highest Scoring Companies on Grad Admission Prep
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7. Subject Tests back to metric

Less important

5.00% of our methodology score

The GRE subject tests are exams separate from the core GRE that many schools require in conjunction with the general exam. Subjects that do so include biology, English literature, mathematics, psychology and physics, to name only a few. A stellar prep service will make the effort to understand the programs prospective graduate students are seeking out and be able to offer them prep work in support of those exams as well.3

Highest Scoring Companies on Subject Tests
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Editor's Awards

With a stellar, focused package of prep courses, Princeton Review stands out as the year's best GRE course.

The variety of courses run by Princeton Review make it the most customizable of all GRE prep providers, letting students choose prep work based on price and level of commitment. Available courses include individual tutoring sessions, small group classes (four students max), somewhat larger classes (six students and over), live online courses and both a self-paced online course and a cheaper online “quick study” session.

Practice tests are another of Princeton Review’s selling points, with eight computer adaptive tests bundled into courses, the highest number among all prep courses reviewed. In addition to exams, Princeton Review also promises a whopping 184 hours of material accessible to students at any level barring “quick study.” Much like Kaplan, the Review’s reputation precedes itself. For those torn between the two, the decision may very well come down to preferred coursebook. Comparison shoppers should either get a hold of the latest incarnation offered by each or leaf through old editions (many can be previewed online) to see which suits them best.

Drawbacks:

  • Students can only take prep courses dedicated to a specific area of the GRE by hiring a Princeton Review private tutor.
  • Princeton Review does not have support services that help prospective grad students with the admissions process.

Ranking Results:

  • Course Packages – 7/10
  • Practice Tests – 10/10
  • Pricing – 8/10
  • Tutoring – 9/10
  • Guarantees – 9/10
  • Grad School Admission Prep – 4/10
  • Subject Tests – 10/10



Kaplan succeeds due to comprehensive approach to GRE and graduate school prep.

Kaplan, one of the test prep industries most recognized brands, makes good on its name with an extensive array of prep options for GRE test takers. There are essentially four options to choose from: intensive tutoring, in-person classes, online classes or online, self-paced prep work. While each has a relatively high price point when compared to the other major prep courses, with Kaplan students have access to highly trained instructors and first-class prep materials. Prep courses come with a series of course texts covering the entirety of the exam and nine practice tests. Kaplan also offers extensive, one-on-one admissions support and prep courses for four of the GRE subject tests.

Kaplan has been a major presence in the test prep industry for decades. The amount of thought and support that goes into their GRE products will become quickly apparent once enrolled.

Drawbacks:

  • While well trained, Kaplan’s tutors are not required to have previous teaching experience.
  • Kaplan has several tiers of pricing, which can drive the baseline costs well above $40 per hour of class time.

Ranking Results:

  • Course Packages – 9/10
  • Practice Tests – 9/10
  • Pricing – 7/10
  • Tutoring – 6/10
  • Guarantees – 10/10
  • Grad School Admission Prep – 9/10
  • Subject Tests – 9/10



Manhattan Review

Manhattan Review's tutors are far and away the most qualified in the GRE prep market.

Manhattan Review is something of a boutique form of GRE prep, with all courses, offered both online and in-person, lead by an instructor. The Review also prides itself on extensive tutoring services, coming from the self-declared “best GRE instructors in the industry.” We tend to agree, noting that Manhattan Review’s GRE instructors finished in the 99th percentile, have previous teaching experience and, depending on location, may be required to have a graduate school education as well. Test takers interested in intensive tutoring can opt for a 12-hour private course, at a somewhat discounted rate, or a tutoring session for anywhere from two to thirty hours; tutoring sessions are also held in-person or online, whatever is convenient to the customer. The level of flexibility Manhattan Review offers is unrivaled.

Of course, the Review’s prices tend to be on the higher side, at least when compared to the cheaper options on the market, though they remain in close proximity to the equally steep Princeton Review and Kaplan course costs.

Drawbacks:

  • Manhattan Review has no self-paced programs, which some may regard as a plus.
  • Manhattan Review does not offer prep services for the GRE subject exams.

Ranking Results:

  • Course Packages – 6/10
  • Practice Tests – 7/10
  • Pricing – 7/10
  • Tutoring – 10/10
  • Guarantees – 9/10
  • Grad School Admission Prep – 8/10
  • Subject Tests – 0/10



PowerScore's per course price is excellent, making it a cheap but serviceable alternative to the best.

Coming in at a respectable 4th, behind the industry’s major players, is PowerScore, a test prep company committed to extensive, affordable options. Like our top prep courses, PowerScore has both online and in-person courses and online and in-person tutoring. While the company does not have a self-paced course per se, every PowerScore textbook can be bought individually, with each costing less than $30.

The courses themselves come in at roughly $100 to $200 less than major competitors. And the PowerScore courses that appear to have roughly equal prices to competitors tend to offer several more hours of in-class work. Tutoring prices come in at $150 an hour but drop considerably when a package of hours is purchase ($120/hr for 10 hours, $110/hr for 30 hours). While the company comes up somewhat short in some key features, notably guarantees and practice tests, test takers with a budget owe it to themselves to review the various affordable options PowerScore has to offer.

Drawbacks:

  • PowerScore does not offer any support to students who have taken their course and, after testing, are dissatisfied with their score.
  • While practice tests are offered, PowerScore is unclear about exactly how many tests it offers with its various course packages.

Ranking Results:

  • Course Packages – 8/10
  • Practice Tests – 3/10
  • Pricing – 10/10
  • Tutoring – 6/10
  • Guarantees – 0/10
  • Grad School Admission Prep – 10/10
  • Subject Tests – 0/10

Last Updated on May 24, 2016

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