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Kaplan GRE Prep Review
Our comprehensive and detailed review of the Kaplan GRE prep course
When it comes to test prep, many consider Kaplan to be king. They’ve been prepping students for years and have some of the best results in the industry. But does Kaplan’s decades of experience, team of GRE experts and robust curriculum warrant the high price tag for their GRE prep course? We delve into the finer points of Kaplan’s GRE prep course in this review and analyze its strengths and weaknesses.
Often, one of the first things students want to know when assessing which GRE prep course is best is the price tag. Fortunately, Kaplan offers a nice selection of course formats with varying price points that range from the very approachable Self-Guided on demand course at around $450 to ultra-expensive packages with 40 hours of private tutoring that cost well into the thousands.
Generally speaking, the Kaplan course costs are pricey, but right in line with similarly positioned competitors like Princeton Review and Manhattan Prep. Manhattan Prep’s comparable self-paced course does run about $100 cheaper on average than the Kaplan course, but the flagship live courses of all three companies come in at the same price level.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Evaluation of the Kaplan Lessons and Coursework
In reviewing test prep courses, there is usually one or two features that immediately jump out as being the premier aspects of the course. However, with the Kaplan GRE prep course, there are a lot more than one or two things that stand out.
Kicking off with the video instruction on their online platform, Kaplan delivers a homerun in the form of engaging and high-quality lessons that keep your attention from beginning to end. In each video lesson, a Kaplan instructor appears onscreen standing in front of a digital whiteboard. From there, they walk you through their lesson (varying in lengths from just a couple minutes to well over an hour) by providing strategies, explaining concepts, and working problems. As they speak, the digital whiteboard behind them updates with notes, text and graphics.
The instructor will also change course from time to time, picking up a marker and working a problem in illuminated ink on the screen in front of them. The variation in method of instruction delivery, digital effects and incredible production quality all make for a top-notch video lesson. And that doesn’t even touch on the substantive content, which in my opinion is spot on. The instructors do a great job breaking down complex topics into understandable info bites and provide catchy little strategies that stick with you.
To help retain what you’re learning in the video lesson, you’re also provided a coursebook that tracks with each session. Like the video instruction, the coursebooks are a highly beneficial resource. Within the prep books you can take notes, highlight important concepts and flag the most important pages. There is more on the Kaplan prep books below, but the video-book combo makes for a super effective means of conveying and retaining lessons.
To further reinforce what you learned in the lesson, each video is followed by a short quiz that tests the material you just covered. You work the short practice set (usually 5 questions or so), and are then prompted to go back and review the answers you got wrong. Accompanying every problem, Kaplan gives you a detailed written explanation, which breaks down the problem and explains why each answer choice is correct or incorrect.
I personally found these text explanations to be very helpful. While some courses go into too much detail and your eyes glaze over as you read a thesis on one question, the Kaplan explanations hit just the right level of thoroughness. They give you everything you need to know about a practice problem without all the fluff.
These practice problems and explanations can be accessed not only through the study plan, but also through Kaplan’s QBank. The QBank is a tool that allows you to create customized practice question sets with problems of your choice. You can narrow the scope of this custom practice session by question type, test style (practice mode or quiz mode), number of questions and more. This is a very nice feature for building quizzes to focus in on where you need the most work.
In terms of quantity of study material, Kaplan gives you access to over 5,000 practice problems in total. That is an incredible amount and bested only by Manhattan Prep in terms of total number. Together, the practice problems, video lessons, and quizzes combine to create over 180 hours of total core instruction.
Within the coursework, Kaplan also offers additional PDF resources, including chapters from its GRE Premier book to reinforce the video lesson material, and digital printouts of the coursebook chapters and problem explanations. These materials are nice to have, but essentially just repeat everything you’ve already seen through the digital platform.
Everything considered, I was very impressed with the level and quality of coursework delivered by Kaplan. I kept waiting for some component of the study material to pick out as being substandard, but struggled to find anything. The video lessons are super engaging and deliver substantive content that is spot on. And it’s the type of content I like to call “sticky” because the instructors give you these little tips and tricks that help the material stick with you. In addition, the custom practice problem sets and succinct explanations add significant value. There’s a reason Kaplan has the reputation it does – its materials are exceptional.
Kaplan GRE Practice Tests
No matter which Kaplan GRE prep course option you sign up for, you will be provided access to 7 full-length practice tests. While 7 may not sound like a lot, compared to other test prep companies’ offerings, this is a very respectable number. In fact, it is surpassed only by Princeton Review with 8 tests.
Kaplan’s computer-based practice tests are a dead ringer for the real thing. The look and feel of their testing program is very comparable to the official GRE platform, and the nature of the questions is indistinguishable. Additionally, Kaplan’s tech does a great job of matching the adaptive features of the real GRE. In the real GRE, if you perform well on early sections, the test will adapt and give you harder questions as you progress (and vice versa for poor performance).
Kaplan does a great job mimicking this function. As I worked through the Kaplan test, I honestly felt like I was taking the real thing. Now, to be clear, the GRE is not as hard to replicate as other tests like the LSAT, but it is still critically important that you test under exam-like conditions, and Kaplan doesn’t miss the mark.
Further, following each practice test (as well as each practice problem set) you get one of Kaplan’s “Smart Reports,” which analyzes your performance. It will show you not only how you scored overall, but will also break down performance by timing, difficulty level of the questions and more. This is a really great feature that accompanies all of Kaplan’s practice tests and problem sets.
The GRE Channel
In addition to the outstanding lessons and coursework that make up the core of Kaplan’s GRE prep course, you will also get access to their “GRE Channel.” This is a bonus resource that Kaplan provides to allow students a deeper dive into certain topics covered on the GRE. These GRE Channel video lessons are live hosted by one of Kaplan’s top tier teachers and serve to complement the core instruction.
The instructor takes a close look at a particularly difficult subject matter and breaks it down with examples, strategies and practice problems. Students follow along and can participate in the message board that tracks under the teacher’s webcam. If you miss a live session, there are also 35+ hours of pre-recorded GRE Channel lessons you can access at any time. And as a cool feature, you can sort these videos out by subject, difficulty level and even teacher.
My personal take on these GRE Channel video lessons is that they are a nice add-on resource, but nothing worth relying on too much in your studies. As is, you’ve already got 180+ hours of core online instruction across lessons, drills and quizzes. And that doesn’t even include the additional 21 hours you get with a live class or added bookwork. So, to think you’ll be spending significant time also watching these videos, you’re likely kidding yourself because you’ll be buried with all of the other content. But if you have the time and energy to tackle these video lessons after a long day of studying, they are very insightful.
Kaplan GRE Books
As mentioned above, in addition to the online content, you will be provided two hardcopy prep books to assist in your studies. These books generally track with and supplement the course (online and live), and contain lessons, strategies and practice problems. These books will be shipped out to you after you purchase the course, but if you prefer e-books, you can also access these very same copies via PDF.
I personally found Kaplan’s GRE prep books to be very high quality, though a little lengthy. While it may seem odd to complain about getting too much study material and detail, these books were just a little much. The material is all relevant and spot on in terms of quality, but I just felt like I was getting bulldozed with material.
Adding on these super detailed books to the already detailed lessons, practice problems, practice tests and online content, I felt like my mind was getting overfilled with info (think glass of champagne that you’ve poured too much into and you’re sipping like crazy trying to keep the bubbles from overflowing). But weird analogies aside, most students will likely actually see this as a very strong positive. The books are well-written, pertinent, and very, very, very thorough.
Interface and User Experience
The overall user experience and interface of the Kaplan online platform is easy on the eyes. It’s not the prettiest or most modern we’ve seen, but is clean, professional and gets the job done. Structurally, it is also nicely laid out, with intuitive tabs in the header and easy-to-use dropdowns. I also liked how everything highlights purple as you hover across it. It all makes for a very practical and pleasant experience.
My one complaint about the user experience though is that as you pop open lessons and quizzes from within the coursework, they open in new browser tabs. This always annoys me to no end. Instead of just being able to click the ‘back’ button, you have to go up and close out the browser window. I know, it sounds like such a whiny complaint, and it is, but these little things add up. If you’re powering through a sequence of video lessons and quizzes, before you know it you’ve got 20 tabs open and don’t know which one is which. Plus, it catches you up every time you go to hit ‘back.’ A small gripe, but a valid one I think.
Kaplan GRE Classes
If you purchase any course option other than the Self-Paced format, you will have 21 hours of live instruction, whether that be live online or in-person. Your class will meet either once or twice weekly for 3 hour stretches and you will have the same Kaplan instructor throughout. These live courses are Kaplan’s bellwether formats and most students do opt for a live course.
In my opinion, nothing matches up to an in-person course – assuming you get a solid instructor. The face-to-face instruction, side tips that come with being there in person, the extra personalized attention – it all adds up and provides true value. My Kaplan class experience was fairly pleasant. The class size was a little large, but the instructor was excellent. He was clearly a GRE math guru, but was very well versed in the verbal material as well.
He was a great communicator and a genuine pleasure to spend 3 hours with. Some courses I’ve taken feel all business, but this Kaplan instructor did a good job keeping things light while still getting work done. If I could make one recommendation – take the two day per week sessions, unless you can’t avoid the one day per week classes. It will help you stay current on the material and the course will fly by. I took the one day per week course and it felt like it was dragging, with me stretching to work on material between class.
Likely the biggest draw in its basket of extra resources is Kaplan’s “test day experience” at a real GRE test center. Exclusive to Kaplan, you get a one-time pass to take one of your practice tests at a Prometric center so that you can authentically simulate what it will feel like on test day. This full trial run gives you a great idea of what the exam day will be like and remove any uncertainty that may be causing butterflies. Kaplan suggests taking this trial run approximately two weeks before the real exam and I would agree.
Kaplan also has a great resource tab in its online content that allows you to easily sort, filter and track down any bit of study material you’re after. Additionally, Kaplan provides a nice progress tracker that allows you to monitor your performance and make sure you’re on track. This is critical when trying to keep your schedule on track and make sure you’re in line to hit your target score.
Kaplan GRE Tutoring
If you’re after a little personalized attention with a Kaplan instructor, 1-on-1 tutoring can be purchased through the Kaplan website. Kaplan’s private tutoring packages start at around $2,300 and offer anywhere from 10 to 40 hours depending on your needs. Alternatively, you can also pay by the drink and just buy a couple hours of tutoring as you need them, though the rates are discounted if you buy a lumpsum package.
Kaplan’s tutoring rates are not cheap, but are right in line with rivals’ offerings. No GRE tutoring is ever cheap, and if you find a guy or gal on Craigslist that only charges $45 per hour, chances are you’ll get what you pay for. If you’re going to get the tutoring, you may as well do it right and only have to pay once.
Content Access Period
Kaplan provides users 6 months of access to its online GRE prep content. This is equivalent to what you get with value GRE prep company Magoosh and more than you get with rival Princeton Review, who only offers 4 months of access. 6 months should be plenty of time to get fully prepared for the GRE, barring some crazy work/life schedule.
Does Kaplan have a Mobile App?
Like many of its competitors, Kaplan has upped its game and now offers students a mobile app. But don’t be confused – this mobile app is not a replacement for their online platform or content. Not by a long shot. The Kaplan mobile app is simply a bundle of 500 vocabulary flashcards. I don’t mean to downplay the value of this app, but it’s not exactly a game changer.
That said, the app is very sleek and functional, and does offer a great practice opportunity on the go. If you’re between class or on the bus, bust out the app and hit some flashcards. Memorizing vocab can be one of the hardest parts of prepping for the GRE and the app definitely makes it easier.
Better Score or Money Back Guarantee
If you don’t raise your score with Kaplan’s GRE prep course, you get your money back. There are some requirements and technicalities that go along with this guarantee (there always are, so read the fine print), but generally speaking Kaplan will insure your progress. This is a nice security blanket, as not all test prep companies offer such guarantees (see rival Manhattan Prep).
General Refund Policy
In addition to its score increase guarantee, Kaplan also offers a fairly generous refund policy. If you aren’t happy with their product or just change your mind, you can get 100% of your tuition back if you call within 3 days of ordering. You won’t get your shipping costs back, but your tuition cost will be 100% refundable. Additionally, if you call within 4-7 days after your purchase, you can get 75% of your tuition back.
Verdict: Kaplan GRE Prep Course
When it comes to GRE test prep, often the first company people think of is Kaplan. And for good reason. Kaplan offers top-shelf quality video lessons, custom practice problem sets and an abundance of resources at reasonably priced rates. In addition, their instructors are masters of their craft who do an excellent job of communicating even the most complex topics with strategies that stick with you.
That said, their highly touted GRE Channel, which they market as one of their biggest selling points, is a bit of a wasted add-on and I do have a gripe with one aspect of their interface. But apart from those couple things, this is a rock-solid prep course and Kaplan delivers the goods. If you want a top end prep course from a company with a tried and tested formula for getting results, Kaplan is likely a good bet for you.
How much does the Kaplan GRE prep course cost?
The Kaplan GRE prep packages generally range in price from around $450 up to $1,200 depending on what format of class and level of access you want.
Do the Kaplan prep courses come with books?
Yes. Each Kaplan GRE prep course option comes with two hardcopy prep books that track with and supplement the course.
Will my score increase with Kaplan GRE prep?
Given the robust coursework and high-quality lessons offered by Kaplan, there is a very high likelihood you’ll see a point boost in your GRE score if you take a Kaplan prep course. And if you don’t, they’ll give you your money back.