Should I get private tutoring?: the pros and cons of hiring an expert

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 And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

So, today’s topic I want to ask you about, Orion, is the many different approaches to preparing for the GRE. Someone could, you know, wing it themselves, just buying a book off the shelf, or someone could wing it themselves, just going in cold. There are group classes in person, which are coming back online more and more since COVID. There are also a plethora of, now you know, mobile apps available.

And of course, there’s also, you know, traditional good old-fashioned hiring an expert for single, sit-down, private tutoring, which can be in person or, you know, online. So, specifically with that last one, when should someone who’s preparing for the GRE really consider the advantages and dive in to paying for private tutoring?

Orion: It’s a great question, and you’re running the risk of asking a barber if you need a haircut. But my answer might surprise you. I don’t think that private tutoring is a good option for a lot of folks.

Let’s just say this to begin with: Nobody needs a private tutor. Like, I didn’t have a private tutor to prepare for this test. When I took the test, I was a broke artist living in New York City; I couldn’t even afford to buy the books.

So, I would go into the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, take one GRE prep book down, go into the café, and do all the problems on the little bev napkins in the café, until I did all the problems in that book. Then I’d put it back on the shelf and take down the next book, and do all the problems in that book. And I repeated this until I got through the whole shelf of materials. And I learned from my mistakes. And I learned by doing. I didn’t spend a lot of time reading the theory associated with the various test prep companies; I mostly focused on doing. And that’s how I improved a great deal. And that’s certainly something that anyone can do. It costs no money, just a little time and initiative.

Davis: How long did that process take you, though?

Orion: I didn’t have a lot of other things to do at the time, I’ll be honest; that’s part of why I was broke. So, I think I did that over about a month. I was very dedicated. It was something that I wanted to do. I felt confident in my ability to learn from my mistakes. I’m generally a very disciplined and focused person. So, it was easy for me to be self-directed. I understand that’s not true for everybody. But if you are, absolutely, that’s a route that you can take.

Davis: That was my next question: was, you know, is that a route that you would recommend at large? Or, you know, you started by saying, you know, you’re risking asking a barber for a haircut. And then you’re saying that you were able to do it, just methodically, free time over a month, going through everything and kind of gleaning it. And that was really, as I understand it, the birth of StellarGRE and the approach that you’ve put into our study guide. You said it’s not an approach for many people. But, what in private tutoring, that is, but when would it be an appropriate approach?

Orion: Yeah. It was the birth of StellarGRE. But the approaches that I teach in the manual only really evolved organically over years of teaching. So, that’s also one of the best ways to learn: by teaching it to somebody else. So, if you are going through this process, and you have a friend or a loved one who’s willing to subject their time to your studies, you might try to teach them a few things. That really helps to consolidate your own process.

In general, I recommend in life that you try to take yourself as far as you can on your own before hiring an expert or hiring a professional. That’s because professionals are very expensive, obviously. But by going through this process of taking yourself as far as you can on your own, you’ll also be able to provide the expert with much more useful information about what you need. Because by then, you should know kind of what you understand and what you don’t understand.

And so the time that you spend together will be very targeted and efficient, as opposed to just showing up from square one. The reason why tutoring is so much more expensive is that it’s by far the most efficient route to mastery. Like, I can do in an hour what somebody else might be able to do on their own in a week. So it’s that expensive because you’re saving time. If you want to take the long way, you’ll save money, but if you want to take the short way, you generally have to pay, right? So, I think that it’s useful to go through the self-study program, especially the Stellar self-study program.

Davis: Why?

Orion: Because everything that I sell in the self-study program is something that I would teach you in a private tutoring session. So, you get the vast majority of the system at less than the cost of a single private tutoring session.

So, when students reach out to me through the podcast often and say, hey, you know, I’d like to hire you for private tutoring. Alright, it sounds like you know what you’re talking about. I almost always recommend that they go through the self-study program first because I was going to teach them all that stuff anyway. They’ll save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. And then, if they’re still not quite where they need to be, they might only need a session or two at the end of that process to really take care of a few different little tactical issues. So, it’s overall a much more efficient and economic option for folks.

Davis: So, for anybody out there who’s in the middle of their own self-study or another method, another approach to studying for the GRE, what’s a qualifier like? So, if they’re not reaching their target score on a practice test, is that pretty much?

Orion: Sure. I mean, if you go through the self-study program, your score will go up. Depending on where you’re starting from, and where you’re trying to get to, it may not go up enough on the time frame that you are desiring. So, at that point, it’s useful to reach out for private tutoring because really, we’re talking about achieving certain outcomes. We’re not here to just, like, spend time together; you know, we’re here to help you get what you want.

One other thing that I think is really great about the StellarGRE integrated method is that, for better or for worse, every system, or every tutor, kind of has their own way of doing things. So, if you were to say, take a self-study program through one of my competitors, and then call me up after you spent months moving through that process. Unfortunately, I might tell you to unlearn some of the things that you’ve spent the last few months learning and do things a very different way. What’s great about what I’m offering is that the self-study program is exactly what I would teach my private students. And so all the systems are integrated. So you’re not going to run the risk of having to unlearn things or go backwards, or serve two masters, as is sometimes the case if you go this route.

Davis: Now, that makes a lot of sense.

Orion: Thanks.

Davis: I mean, it’s akin to, you know, how to approach a mountain; there are some paths up the mountain, you realize the only way to actually get to the top that you are looking for is to actually go back down a little bit and have a different approach, if you will. Would you take a brief moment to just say, give a quick comparison between the pros and cons of, you know, a private tutor at that point at which you need versus like a group class setting?

Orion: I really like group classes. I used to teach a lot of them before the pandemic; they were a lot of fun, mostly because it made the process of preparing for standardized tests more tolerable. Like, people built relationships with the other folks in the class, which gave them sort of a motivation to keep working and to keep coming back.

So, group classes can be useful if you are, let’s say, more extroverted and less self-structured and self-directed, because that kind of culture that can develop when a class is well-run can really help motivate people to move through this process, which isn’t usually very pleasant and enjoyable. That said, group classes can really run the gamut. If you are scheduling a group class through, like, a big corporation, the teacher might have only had a couple of weeks of training, maybe isn’t a very experienced teacher. And that kind of culture may not really develop. It could, but it doesn’t necessarily; it doesn’t happen inevitably. You do need a teacher with experience who wants to nurture that kind of context for his or her students. But when that happens, it’s great for a lot of folks. If you’re really more introverted and focused, then group classes can be distracting. So, there are pros and cons to every approach.

Davis: Thanks, and maybe in a future episode, we can dive into those a little more.

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 And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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