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How to Teach the GRE

The web has transformed almost every facet of our lives. The tutoring industry is no different. Both tutors and students trawl, sometimes connecting with someone who lives half-a-world away, conducting weekly sessions via Skype. offers every single test prep resource available—along with customer reviews. Essay websites offer instant corrections through newfangled algorithms.

As dazzling as all that may seem, there are even more exciting transformations—many of which tutors have been wary of embracing. Five years ago when I was tutoring, students would often wait till our sessions if they had a question or doubt, not wanting to bombard me with emails (though I never minded!). Now, if a student is stuck on a fundamental of exponent, he can head off to Khan Academy, where the ins-and-outs of exponents are deftly explained. Or, if the student has a specific question, experts at are ready to answer.

Yet, many GRE tutors still rely primarily on the old 1:1 session, perhaps answering a few emails throughout the week. Being a GRE tutor these days, however, entails a lot more than just a face to face session—at least if you want to be the most effective tutor possible.

In a sense, the GRE tutor should not just be someone who answers questions and provides instruction. He should think of himself as a consummate tour guide to the land of GRE, directing students to the best available resources, whether it is an official guide or an explanation to one of the questions in the official guide. In other words, the GRE tutor does not “follow” the student around during that student’s time in GRE land, but meets with them periodically to make sure the student is getting the most out of their trip to do this exotic country (well, I guess it’s not that exotic).

(I should add that if you want to teach/tutor the GRE, you should not think that this influx of other resources is going to displace your skills. On the contrary, by providing the students with these outlets, you will make your 1:1 sessions more focused—and students will thank you for it).


GRE Resources for Students

Below are some online GRE resources at a student’s disposal:

1)     Khan Academy

Clear explanations on anything related to math, from 1 + 1 to Bayes’ Theorem. The downside is there is no help for the verbal side of things. But if students don’t quite “get” fractions, exponents, or combinations, Khan Academy is a great place to go for more examples and explanations.


The user interface can be messy and, at times, unwieldy, but if you have a question—even on the verbal side—you will get answers. Those answers might come from a student or from an expert, so the quality and helpfulness of responses varies, but at least you can get another perspective.

3)     Magoosh (GRE Blog and YouTube Videos)

That’s us! We have written blog posts on almost every facet of the GRE. If you still have lingering questions, you can just post them on the blog—I will answer them.

On YouTube (find us at MagooshGRE) you have access to our Official GRE Guide Lesson Videos. Every single question in the official guide has a video explanation. We also have weekly GRE Vocab Wednesday Videos to help you boost your GRE vocabulary.


Definitions are helpful, but they sometimes just don’t stick. has a great way of defining words: they give you a quick, but memorable snippet, of each word. Just as importantly, dozens of example sentences, gleaned from reputable sources, accompany each word.

(Other free resources: Study Schedules, eBooks, and Vocab Flashcards.)


Three Tests in One

The GRE consists of three discrete parts, as you probably know. You can tutor all three; you can tutor only one. Regardless, make sure you are master of the section you teach. Of course, most students will need help on all three, so being able to teach one or only two parts of the test limits your effectiveness. I’d say learn to be adept at all three sections. You’ll be able to market yourself far more easily.


Know Your Materials

From questions that barely even resemble the test (sorry REA) to questions created by the test writers themselves, the GRE book landscape can be truly dizzying. To get your bearings you should go through the books of most of the major publishers, determining for yourself what you like and do not like. You may come away feeling comfortable recommending Barron’s math questions, but Manhattan GRE’s strategies; Princeton Review’s approach to studying vocabulary, but none of the actual questions themselves.

To aid you in this process, Magoosh has written plenty of book reviews. Get the details on all the major (and some not-so-major!) GRE prep books/resources.

As far as all these books go, I should mention that being a GRE tutor isn’t easy—even if you did very well on the test. You should be able to answer, on the fly, every question in whichever book you use, or at least be able to do so with minimal preparation.


Be Personable

Probably one of the most important—but definitely most overlooked—components of an effective GRE tutor is the personal touch. This doesn’t just mean smiling and tossing off a joke every 15 minutes. You really have to be able to understand your student—her worries with the test, her weaknesses on the test, and her test taking anxieties in general.

You should come back to some of these concerns and let the student know when she is making progress. For instance, I had a student who would always say, “ I hate geometry; I just don’t get it”. When she would get a difficult geometry question correct, I’d remind her of this. Eventually, she hardly used the phrase—though she began to worry excessively about her test date. We talked through her anxiety each time it came up, instead of letting it become the elephant in the room. In essence, being a GRE instructor is one part tutor, one part therapist.

Speaking of anxiety: always let your students know that they can contact you throughout the week. Very few will take advantage of this, emailing you every day. For most, it’s just a relief to know that they can reach out to you if they really have to. They’ll probably email you a couple times a week, at most.


Make your Student Sweat

Now that I’ve made the GRE tutor sound like a nice guy, I’ll pull an about-face. A GRE tutor also has to be a meanie—sometimes. See, it’s easy to become too personable chatting about the latest news and glibly reassuring the student that she will do well on the test as long as she relaxes. During your session, you should present the student with several questions that she will probably miss. You can do so via timed sections, or simply a question at a time.

By constantly moving the bar up a little, you will help your student make incremental improvements. And when she is sweating away, thinking about what a meanie you are, you can swoop in with a lucid explanation.


Experiment and Adapt

These are just the insights of one tutor—me. I have my own approach and even my own idiosyncrasies, as do the students I’ve taught. And my style has changed over the years, and even changes today. The key is to be open to crafting your own approach, based on your interactions with students. Some stuff that I recommend might not work for you—perhaps a student calls you a bully after you ply her with three back-to-back reading comprehension sets. You’ll learn that doing a passage at a time works better.


A Dialogue

One thing that I’m pretty sure holds true across all cases: treat your sessions like active dialogues; don’t just teach from a book, going through a question at a time. In the latter case, both you and your student will fall asleep. Have a plan, but don’t feel you have to push that plan and answer X number of questions in a session. It is okay if a student has a few questions unanswered by the session. The key is that you answer most of their questions during the session. If they get stuck somewhere, do your best to help them, even if that takes longer than expected.

Of course, sometimes a student will “hit a wall”. At that point move on. Again, this give and take, between students asking questions, you providing answers and instructions, and asking some follow-up questions yourself, is important to keeping the session helpful and interesting. If you feel the minutes grinding along, change up your strategy.



How to teach the GRE is a subject that could go on for pages and pages. So much of the above is high-level. To supplement much of it—assuming you are a GRE tutor or are planning on becoming one—check out the rest of our blog. We have broken the test down by the different sections (check out GRE Math and GRE Verbal) and question types. There are both practice questions galore and helpful strategies, many of which should inspire your GRE tutoring sessions.


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

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