Students weigh benefits of test prep

Some students find courses useful, but others say they’re not worth the cost.

For University of Minnesota psychology senior Andy Gobran, using practice tests to study for the Graduate Record Examination helped him get the score he wanted — and was more worthwhile than expensive courses.

Some students are taking the same approach, but others taking graduate and professional school examinations say taking a course is worth the cost. University experts say each method can be effective, depending on the student.

The University’s College of Continuing Education offers cheaper preparatory course options for students taking the GRE, Law School Admission Test, Graduate Management Admissions Test or Pharmacy College Admission Test, but not one for the Medical College Admission Test.

Kaplan University is a popular choice for students who say they don’t think buying a booklet will give them enough of an advantage. But Kaplan’s MCAT preparatory courses start at about $2,000. Private tutoring can cost as much as $5,700.

CCE program associate Pat Anderson said the University considered offering an MCAT course, but the test’s format is so different from the other entrance exams that it would be difficult to design an effective curriculum.

“We did explore the possibility of doing the MCAT,” she said. “But … we’ve left that for others to do.”

Biochemistry junior Christopher Jennen recently purchased a Kaplan course and a full set of booklets to prepare for the MCAT.

“The Kaplan books are written in a way that you can understand,” he said. “It’s always beneficial to give yourself an advantage.”

Jennen said if the University did offer an MCAT prep course, he probably wouldn’t take it unless he knew how much it helped students.

“Kaplan is really good for mnemonics — remembering things — and understanding how they’re written,” he said. “By taking the class, you have to study, and it’s motivation to do well.”

Anderson said the University courses are valuable for students because they’re cheaper than other preparatory courses, they help teach test-taking strategies and they encourage students to study.

“We don’t rely on gimmicks,” she said. “The students are expected to be motivated, and they get out of the class what they put into it.”

Child psychology sophomore Sophie Burch said she wasn’t aware the University had prep courses. She might consider taking one when she starts preparing for her exams next summer, she said, but she would do additional studying outside of the course.

Gobran, who took the GRE last month, said he decided to save money by studying on his own.

“Those courses usually say your score will increase by this many points,” he said. “But … you don’t end up doing as well as the courses say you will.”

University instructor Paul Baepler, who’s been teaching the GRE preparatory course for 20 years, said in an email statement that prep courses are more like study tools rather than a way to increase student scores.

CCE also offers a course that helps refresh students on mathematics in preparation for the GMAT or the GRE.

Marketing senior Alex Rongen said that because he plans to take some time off before applying to grad school, by the time he takes the GRE it will have been four or five years since he’s taken math.

Although Rongen may consider taking a refresher course, he said he plans to do most of his preparation through free practice exams online.

“I’m not too worried,” he said. “I’m really fortunate in that I am pretty good at tests.”

For students who are unsure of how they’ll do on the tests, Anderson said, extra preparation can be beneficial.

Gobran said he thinks study books and taking practice exams are the most effective study method because they familiarize students with how the test is formatted.

“Really, the main challenge is the way the test is — not the content,” he said.