Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.
Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.
Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.
Orion: I’m really happy to be doing this, Davis; this is going to be a lot of fun, I hope.
Davis: Yeah, that’s so cool. Any opportunity to pick your brain and get to know about your experience with the GRE. So first, I mean, how did you get involved with the GRE and testing?
Orion: That’s a bit of a long story, but I guess it’s important to get that out of the way first and foremost. I don’t want to bore the audience. So, I have been in test prep and education for about 20 years. Nineteen years, to be accurate, was my first job out of undergrad. I worked for the Princeton Review doing LSAT prep in Manhattan and the Bronx, and I cut my teeth working with all kinds of rambunctious high schoolers for about a year and a half and decided, okay, I might want to try doing things my own way.
And so, I quit that job and founded my own tutoring company, Stellar Tutoring. And I taught all kinds of Subject Tests: LSAT, GRE, GMAT, pretty much every standardized test under the sun. And I did that for several years as I was trying to subsidize my artistic pretensions. As an actor, I was trying to make it as a theatre actor in New York at that time. So, that was my way of keeping a roof over my head. And I was very grateful for the work. I did that for a while, became an adjunct professor at the City University of New York teaching math. That was an interesting story. I just responded to a Craigslist ad. And it turned out to be a CUNY faculty position. I showed up, and they said, “You’re not qualified for this job.” And I said, “You’re right, I’m not. But since I came down, I might as well give you my spiel.” And I gave them my spiel, and they hired me.
And I taught there for a few years, which was an interesting experience as well. I got more and more interested in potentially going to grad school myself, as I got into my later 20s, and decided to go back to grad school to get a doctorate in psychology, which I now have. I took the GRE myself at that point, after probably helping hundreds of other people prepare for that test over five years, got a perfect score, and then moved on to San Francisco to pursue my doctorate. When I moved out here, I still now live in the Bay Area, I decided to focus exclusively on the GRE; that was kind of my bread and butter, and I used it to pay my way through grad school.
When I first landed, I became the global master teacher for the quantitative section for Barron’s Test Prep. So, there are these online self-study programs. It used to be called Barron’s. Now, I think it’s called The Economist. And I was the guy in the quantitative videos doing all the explanations. And so, I reached an audience of probably tens of thousands of students that way and began to focus exclusively on the GRE.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked with thousands of students in person, both through private tutoring and then increasingly through my small group classes, which are based out of San Francisco. And I’ve helped thousands of students get top percentile scores on this test, even perfect scores. I’ve also worked with thousands of people to get into graduate school programs, which is really, really cool. And one of the amazing things about this Stellar system, if I may say so myself, is that I think it’s the only test prep system on the planet that has empirical validation.
Davis: So what do you mean by empirical validation?
Orion: Yeah. So, how do you know that any of this stuff works, right? I mean, if I were a customer in the market for a test prep system, I would want some reasonable assurance that this was actually going to help me get what I want, i.e., a higher score on the GRE. Most test prep companies don’t collect outcome data on their students; they don’t actually track the extent to which they improve as a result of engaging with their materials. What they generally do is offer a money-back guarantee, that if you don’t improve by, say, five points, you either get your money back or you get to take the course again for free, which I always thought was kind of baffling. Because if it didn’t work the first time, why would you want to do it the second time, you know what I’m saying?
Orion: So I think that’s more of a marketing approach as opposed to a scientific investigation into the effectiveness of the product. Does that make sense?
Davis: Yeah, no, that’s great. So, from tutoring multiple different tests in New York, paying your way through your first adventures, acting, teaching, going back as a grad student yourself, and having firsthand experience with this, what’s your unique take on the GRE? Like, as opposed to other test prep, because I know test prep is a huge industry, and a lot of people offer courses, a lot of people offer different strategies to improve your scores, like you were saying, but what’s your unique take? With all that experience you just shared, what perspective does that give you, that empirical validation, that effectiveness?
Orion: Okay, well, let me first finish by explaining what that empirical validation was. Okay. So, as I mentioned, I’ve been teaching small group classes for about four years prior to the shutdowns around the pandemic. I was able to collect pre- and post-outcome data for hundreds of students enrolled in my course. What I discovered is that, on average, students improved around three times the score guarantees of my competitors. That was the average actual improvement as a result of participation in that class, and I think that comes down to like 35 percentile points; it’s all on my website. I’m pretty transparent with the data. But that’s a significant improvement for a two-month engagement. Like, if your income went up 35% in two months, you’d probably be pretty stoked, right? So my average student’s response to engaging the stellar system is three times what other programs promise you with respect to their score guarantees, which is actually pretty incredible, in my opinion.
Davis: I just want to dig into this a little bit more. Because you were saying how one of the things that you’ve had that’s unique is this empirical validation. And that other strategies of other companies might not be as transparent or direct, saying, like, “Oh, yeah, just you know, you get money back if you don’t get the improvement you want.” So, the data that you’re getting, you’ve had your own personal “I’m going to test you before I take you on as a student, and then you’re going to share with me your test results after,” so you get that quantitative data. How is it that you’re comparing that to the results of other companies who are offering testing? Is it similar?
Orion: No, they’re not. That’s where I’m coming from. As far as I know, Stellar is the only test prep company on the planet that actually collects outcome data. One of the dirty secrets of test prep is that it often does not work. I mean, the vast majority of the students who contact me for test prep services at this point are not doing it for the first time. They’ve engaged services at some of my competitors, they’ve done exactly what they’ve told them to do, and they haven’t yet gotten the results they want. And I think that if some of my competitors were to try to collect empirical data on outcomes, it wouldn’t be as attractive as, say, offering a money-back score guarantee. Does that make sense?
Davis: Yeah, that makes sense.
Orion: So, what makes my system Stellar different from that of my competitors? That is a great question. I think Stellar is like the Tesla of test prep because it’s been reimagined from the most fundamental axioms of what test prep is supposed to look like. In almost every respect, it is completely reimagined. Most importantly, it’s always driven by empirical data. Like, for example, one of the easiest ways to accelerate your growth in GRE prep is to pay attention to base rates. What is a base rate? A base rate is how likely it’s like the encounter rate for a certain question type. Does that make sense?
Orion: Okay. So, the mistake that the vast majority of my competitors make is that they present all the material as if it’s equally likely to occur on the GRE, which is absolutely not true.
Davis: Okay, I’m sorry. Let me make sure I understand. So, you’re saying that, based on the base rates, based on how often certain types of questions come up, you focus your coursework? You weight it more heavily on the ones that come up more often?
Orion: Absolutely. I’ve gone through dozens of practice tests, developed and released by ETS, and 1,000 practice questions, not tests, but 1,000 practice questions developed and released by ETS, the makers of the GRE. I have diagnosed every single question that I’ve seen in these tests to collect this data empirically. And I’ve learned that some questions literally have a 100 times greater likelihood of appearing on the test than others. And it doesn’t make sense to delegate your attention and efforts as a student equally over all concepts when there are these vast disparities in the encounter rates of certain question types. So, the Stellar system incorporates that fundamentally into the test prep program. Question types with higher base rates are weighted more heavily in our practice sets and our practice tests, but also they appear earlier and more frequently throughout the program. So that you’re training and practicing with high-encounter questions far more than low-encounter questions. Does that make sense?
Orion: So, you just get more bang for your buck. This is part of like working smarter, not harder, which is a big part of what I do as an educator.
Davis: No, it sounds really exciting.
Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.