For-profit companies will gladly charge you hundreds, even thousands of dollars to help you prepare for your exam. Before signing up to pay all that money, be aware that taking a commercial preparation class does not guarantee better scores and is not usually necessary. Before enrolling in a commercial prep course, take full advantage of the following:
- Study for long-term retention. Your undergraduate courses are designed to prepare you for graduate entrance exams. Read your assignments thoroughly and carefully, take courses that require extensive writing, use your quantitative skills daily (instead of relying on calculators and computers), and study your field to build a strong foundation. For many students, this step alone is enough to do well on entrance exams.
- Take the free practice and diagnostic exams on the official websites. Remember that the exams’ websites are the original source; their information is the most up-to-date and official. Best of all – they’re free! Some of the websites will allow you to purchase older versions of the exam, the same versions used in commercial prep courses. Some websites also offer for sale test preparation information and sample tests in CD-ROM format.
- Purchase exam guidebooks. These are available at most bookstores and are often well less than $100 each. Read the “Tips” sections carefully and take the practice tests, some slowly so that you understand each problem and answer, others within the allotted time. As you near the actual exam, practice taking the entire exam 2-3 times, exactly as it will be given, using a stopwatch and adhering to exact break times.
- Study 100- and 200-level textbooks. Graduate entrance exams are testing basic liberal arts skills, not the skills you will acquire as a graduate student. For example, if your math skills are weak, work through a basic textbook (the websites and guidebooks can tell you what level math you will need).
- Enroll in a commercial test preparation course. The primary benefit of these courses is the discipline provided by paying the high tuition. If you are the kind of person who plans to study every Saturday morning, wakes up to a beautiful day, and then postpones studying in order to catch a few waves first, you should probably sign up for a commercial course. Paying several hundred dollars will ensure you show up to study. If, however, you plan to study and do so faithfully every Saturday morning, you can probably save your money.