This week we're spotlighting Weike, who joined the Cambridge Coaching team in 2012 as an MCAT, GMAT, and GRE coach and subject test tutor in the sciences. Weike emphasizes the understanding of concepts over rote memorization, which results in her students grasping concepts that they formerly thought were out of their reach. Weike has tons of experience with test prep, so find out what her GRE coaching approaches are!
What’s helpful about working with a private tutor for the GRE?
Two things: pace and individual attention. I find that when put in group tutoring, students don't always get the attention they need. Things that they are confused about get lost in the shuffle and they aren't willing to stop the pace of the class if they feel that everybody else is getting it. The nice thing about a private tutor is that he/she can set a pace to fit the student and in a great tutoring relationship, the student is never afraid to ask questions. There's really no such thing as a dumb question in private tutoring because there is no judgement. The tutor is there to help, to answer questions, to connect the dots. And the student is there to learn.
Another great thing about private tutoring is that the tutor can really hone in on foundational problems and suggest specific methods for the student. Large classes will try to use the same method over and over again. Math for example will always be the plug in method but what if that method isn't really jiving with the student and the student is just losing time? A private tutor can immediately see where this student needs to focus and not just the general student.
What’s your overall philosophy to GRE coaching?
Start with the weaknesses and build strengths in later. With the diagnostic test, I can tell right away where the student is having trouble. We start with those areas because it can be the most helpful and trust-building.
What’s your approach to teaching the verbal section?
Vocab, vocab, vocab. The student should start vocab on day one and aim to know at least 500 new words going into the test. I also have the student keep a list of new words that he/she comes across. These words can come from practice, homework, or just reading the news. The student should always be in the habit of reading a word and looking up the definition instead of brushing it off.
What’s your approach to teaching the math section?
Always start with arithmetic. Even if the student is convinced that he/she knows arithmetic like the back of his hand, cold, it doesn't hurt to start with basics. With math, there are less tricks than there are with verbal because math is a hard thing to fake but the hardest thing about math is getting over the initial intimidation factor. Math is not like reading where there are at least familiar words. Sometimes the math problem is so unfamiliar, it throws the student for a loop that he/she can't get out of and it’s that pessimism that eventually prevents the student from answering the question.
What’s your approach to teaching the essay?
Practice with a few issue and argument passages. At the end of some sessions, I pull up two topics and we bounce ideas back and forth. Doing enough of these will give the student more examples to work from and more confidence. I have never had an issue with the student not knowing how the write the essay, it's the generating of ideas that's the most difficult.
What are some common misconceptions about the GRE?
1. I don't need to know vocab.
2. I need to know 5 billion words to do this...
3. The questions go in increasing order of difficulty.
4. I can't do this without a good calculator.
5. If I see an easy question in the second section, I must have failed the first.
6. Every figure is drawn to scale.
What are the three most important things you think all GRE students should know?
- Improvement takes time and effort. There is no magic bullet.
- The more you practice the better you will get. But make sure that you are going over every mistake with care and not dismissing it as careless. Sometimes careless mistakes are actually honest mistakes so be honest with yourself.
- Do full lengths test. You have to build up to the endurance and focus. At least 3 full lengths before going in on test day.
What’s the most common GRE fear you see among incoming students?
Fear of math, especially since the computer calculator isn’t good and you can't just cold solve a problem. The GRE has many different types of math questions (multiple choice one answer, multiple choice, multiple answer, fill in blanks, quantitative comparison), but they are all testing math. Math is math. The great thing about math is that it is the same wherever, in whatever format, a universal language.
Tell us about the kinds of students you’ve worked with on the GRE.
I have worked with many kinds of students, some who are remedial in both math and verbal and some who are excellent in both. In between those two extremes are the students who usually have one area that they are more nervous about than the other. The best kind of student is the kind who does all of the homework on time, comes to every session prepared with questions and ready to learn, but those students are rare. Students have busy lives outside of the GRE and the great thing about private tutoring is that the tutor can hold the student accountable on a day to day basis. In a class setting, it is much easier to slip under the radar.
How do you accommodate different learning styles?
I either slow down or speed up the pace. I also bring in additional resources (more books, Khan academy videos, online tests, etc). If the student is more visual, I draw more pictures. If the student needs something explained more than once, I write the concept down for him/her so he/she can use it as a reference to look back on. As a private tutor, I am always accessible to the student. If the student has a question, I encourage always that he/she get in contact with me right away via text or phone or email so that I can answer it immediately and not have that question nagging the student for a long period of time.
How much can I expect to improve?
This really depends on the student because on test day, I'm not there. I have seen students do very well, a good ten point improvement on each section, but this requires intense dedication on the student's part to follow and a true willingness to push forward. I set the syllabus but it's up to the student to follow it and hopefully ask for more work because they've finished everything early.
How do I get the most out of tutoring?
- Ask me more questions than I am asking you. Show a drive to learn and improve. I am there to answer your questions and I can't always predict what they will be, so be as open with me as possible and tell me where you are want me to slow down, speed up. I can read students pretty well but sometimes I don't always know which part is unclear to you.
- Do all the work.
- Do all the work early and ask me for more work
How much time should I dedicate to studying for the GRE?
With 3 months, 10 hours a week.
With 2 months, 15 hours a week.
With 1 month, as much time as possible.
I recommend 3 months as the ideal studying time.
How do you think the GRE compares to the SAT?
The vocab and math on the GRE are a tad more challenging. There is definitely more vocab on the GRE and a few more tricky math problems. But the reading comprehension feels about the same. The issue essay is essentially the SAT essay but the argument issue is exclusive to the GRE.
Read Weike's tutor biography:
Weike, pronounced Why-Key, was born in Nanjing, China but spent her childhood in Australia, Canada and America. She is fluent in both Chinese and English. In high school, Weike completed an International Baccalaureate program (scoring 7’s on advanced English, math, chemistry and physics) and achieved a perfect ACT score. She went on to earn her BA in Chemistry and English at Harvard College and graduated cum laude. Currently, Weike is completing her doctorate in cancer epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health as well as her MFA in creative writing at BU.
Weike tutors the GRE, GMAT and MCAT, all tests that she has taken and scored within the top percentile. She has a tremendous amount of experience in each test and has seen dozens of students through the testing process. Each student is different and no student learns the same way. As such, Weike spends a great deal of time preparing a personalized curriculum that hones strengths and targets weaknesses. Weike also tutors students in the sciences: mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Across all subjects and tests, Weike emphasizes the understanding of concepts over rote memorization. She has been able to help students grasp concepts that they formerly thought were out of their reach.
In her free time, Weike writes-- she has won creative writing awards from Harvard, Glimmer Train magazine, and her work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Redivider and Alaska Quarterly Review.
Looking to work with our GRE coaching expert Weike? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.