WHY I SIGNED UP FOR THE PRINCETON REVIEW:
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Three months ago I had a panic attack. Why? Because I realized that it was already July and I had not started to prepare for the GMAT exam. Most first-round applications are due on the admissions deans' desks by November 1st, so the GMAT must be completed at least one week before in order to get the materials in on time. I am one of the most prepared people I know for most situations, and I pride myself on my organizational skills. However, as my life has become more complicated and busier, I have lost the ability to multi-task. My desk is the epitome of neatness, my work ethic is exemplary, and my projects are always completed on time. Ask me what I had to eat yesterday, and I will stare at you with a very blank look on my face. Anyway, back to my saga. Although I had been preparing for the business school application process for almost a year in terms of researching schools and mentally preparing myself to begin the process, I had not spent any serious time considering my GMAT. At first, I was unconcerned - after all, three months seemed like more than enough time to prepare for an exam, which seemed to mimic the SAT (only harder) and for which I felt prepared as a result of four years of college and two years of work experience. What could they possibly test that I did not already know?
WHAT IS THE GMAT LIKE, AND WHY I KNEW I SHOULDN'T TAKE IT WITHOUT A PREPARATORY CLASS:
It turns out, they can test an awful lot. The exam consists of two written essays, a verbal section and a math section. If you are a sucker for punishment and you want to learn more about the exam itself, please read my review which details the exam itself
The written essays are fairly simple if you are a good writer, and no amount of preparation can change that one way or another. The verbal section is tricky, because it tests sentence correction, reading comprehension and critical reasoning. Understandably, the questions are significantly harder than the SAT and they are designed to trick you. Each answer is practically identical to the others, and the ability to differentiate between the answers is a skill hard-earned. My fear was not the verbal section, for as you can see, I like to write and I am fairly verbose. I was scared of math.
WHY I CHOSE PRINCETON REVIEW:
I began to research the various GMAT test prep courses in my area, and quickly found two brand-name schools: the Princeton Review and Kaplan. After doing extensive research between the two, which consisted of me realizing that Kaplan's course was $200 more, I quickly signed up for Princeton Review's accelerated course. I picked the course that would allow me to finish the class and take the exam by the end of October, and I was fortunate enough to find an accelerated class located one block from my office that was beginning in mid-September. The accelerated class meets twice a week, which is actually a lot considering the amount of homework they assign, and finishes in a month.
I searched far and wide to find guidance as to whether to choose Princeton Review or Kaplan, and I must say, the information is lacking. I can only report on what I have heard, but I heard that Kaplan's practice questions are inordinately hard, so the students feel challenged, yet quite discouraged. Additionally, Kaplan has no limit on the amount of students in their classes, while Princeton Review has a class-size limit of eight students. The "Class Size 8" program is great, because the intimate feeling encourages participation and bonds friendships among your classmates.
WHAT IS THE FORMAT OF THE CLASS?
The course format has been dramatically revamped for the accelerated class. Previously, classes covering the verbal section of the exam were taught by one professor for four classes, and then another professor was brought in to teach the math section. My class is taught by one guy (a first-year Wharton student) and splits each class into two parts to cover the verbal and math sections. Each class begins with him asking us if we had any questions from the homework, and then we turn to the Princeton Review guidebook, which serves as our roadmap for each class. I have found that this is the most useful part of the course. The book covers test-taking techniques for every kind of question on the exam and helps to hammer in certain concepts that allow you to recognize what type of question they are asking so that you can use the right technique. Each class is three hours long, roughly split evenly between verbal and math. Homework is designed to take you between eight-and-ten hours per week, but I must confess, I haven't done any yet (gee, I wonder why? I am always on Epinions!!!) :)
WHAT DOES THE PRINCETON REVIEW COVER?
I have to give Princeton Review very high marks because of the quality of their course materials. You are issued two books: the course guide and the "Official GMAT Guide", which just contains sample questions. The course guide tells you how to approach each type of questions and we do practice questions and drills throughout each class. The Official Guide contains problems that are assigned for homework, in addition to the course-book homework.
The course is not just about "tips and tricks" to help boost your score. Although the course covers many useful stretegies and techniques, such as how to tackle to almost-impossible "data-sufficiency" math problems (too complicated to explain here), the course also centers on reminding people like me, who have forgotten the basics such as the volume of a sphere, the basic information we need to answer the questions.
This dual-focus on giving you tips, tricks and strategies, all the while brushing up your mathmatical skills, is why I have been so pleased with my choice of the Princeton Review.
PROS AND CONS REGARDING THE PRINCETON REVIEW:
I had to downgrade the overall rating by two because of the quality of the teachers. I love the guy who teaches us, because he is funny, charming, cute, and attends my number-one-choice school, Wharton. However, he is not the best teacher in the world. He is great when he sticks to the script of the course guide, but if you try and question why an answer is what it is, he goes blank. Unfortunately, I think that this is an over-riding problem at Princeton Review, because every review I have read has mentioned the quality of the teachers as a problem. The good news is, the course guide-book answers 95 percent of our questions, so we don't have to rely on our teacher as much as one would think.
Princeton Review also gets high marks for the quality of their web site and online help. In addition to having a great school-search page with valuable tips for college and grad-school-wannabe's (http://www.review.com), the course entitles students to unlimited online tests and drills (http://www.princetonreview.com). This has been invaluable, because the Princeton Review has gone out of their way to model their practice tests to mimic the real GMAT in form and content. It looks just like the real GMAT, except I got to drink coffee and have a cigarette during my exam (don't tell my mom!) :) I have already seen a 60-point improvement over the baseline exam you take when you first start the exam, and I anticipate going even higher once I stop making such stupid mistakes.
WELL? HOW DID I DO? HOW MUCH DID IT HELP?:
When I first wrote this, I had not yet taken my exam; now I have. My score went up 100 points from their baseline exam, but I will always wonder if their exam was harder so that more people were happy with their improvement following the course. Hmmm.. Guess I'll never know. But I never would have gotten what I did had I not read their books. As for the course? Well, I guess it was good in that it forced me to study. I don't think I would have been disciplined enough otherwise given my schedule.
POST-SCRIPT (yes, can you believe it??)
Someone emailed me to ask whether I thought the Princeton Review was better than Kaplan. Although I have not taken Kaplan, here is what i learned from talking to other GMAT students:
1) First, consider deeply whether or not you really need to take a full course at all. In retrospect, they gave me no more information than was found in their books. However, if you think you won't be able to stay dedicated and focused enough outside of a classroom setting, by all means take the class. Also, if you are the type who needs explanations beyond textbook answers, take the class. But if you are self-motivated, self-directed and ok with the answers they give you in the answer key, just buy the book. Save $1000;
2) The main difference between Kaplan and the Princeton Review for me came down to price. Kaplan was $1300, Princeton Review was $1000. Easy choice;
3) Kaplan has better technology, and has computer-testing in their centers. Princeton Review is paper and blackboard-based in the classroom, but has 4 online tests that you can take along with extra online drills;
4) Class size is another huge factor. Princeton Review classes are limited to 8 students, which gives you a very intense, focused experience. Kaplan, I believe, can have up to 30;
5) It also boils down to convenience and class schedules. Princeton Review had a better schedule, both in terms of my work availability and a class schedule that would get me done in time to take the exam with 2 weeks review time.
All in all, I chose Princeton Review because it was cheaper, smaller, and was more convenient. In retrospect, I probably would not have chosen either. However, who knows if I actually would have studied! :)
I re-took the exam this afternoon, because I had scored a 640 last time; a great score, but not great enough for my number-one choice school.
I have been sick all week, and have not studied since last taking the exam on October 23rd. I took the exam with the attitude that hopefully what I had learned in the Princeton Review had sunk in.....
IT DID!!!!! My score went up another 100 points, despite the fact that I didn't study after completing the class!! I wound up receiving a 740, a full 200 points higher than the baseline exam we were given at the beginning of the course! I guess the $1,000 went to something, huh?? :)
Best of luck, all!
Thanks for reading!
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