GRE Coaching Approaches with Sam

Posted by Julia Holden on 9/25/15 10:00 AM

This week we're spotlighting Sam, who joined the Cambridge Coaching team in 2010 as an application coach and English tutor.  Since joining our team, Sam's clients have consistenly been accepted to top tier schools like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Duke, Harvard Kennedy School, and many more. With over a decade of tutoring experience, Sam is definitely the right person to ask about GRE Coaching Approaches!

What’s helpful about working with a private tutor for the GRE?

Precision, precision, precision. The GRE is built to resist the kind of extreme categorizing that makes the SAT so eminently teachable. There are far fewer rules, and far more ways to get a question wrong. Questions can come screwballing in from anywhere. That's why practice is so essential, but it's also why a tutor is useful: a tutor who has mastered the test, and can understand how seemingly-baffling questions are constructed, can explain with great precision and authority why answers are right or wrong. A tutor can see the tiny components of a sentence or answer that either rule it in, or rule it out. This can be the hardest thing for a test-taker prepping alone. A tutor refines your sensitivity, teaches you to be flexible, and how to adapt to whatever the test throws at you.

What’s your overall philosophy to teaching the GRE?

My main goal as a tutor is this: to make sure that on test day, my students never encounter a problem that they do not immediately know how to begin. This means that for each possible question type, they need both a name and an approach--and to have practiced enough to use them.

What’s your approach to teaching the verbal section?

Partially-correct is completely wrong, always. Check every component part of every answer to make sure it is true; if even a word is off, then it's wrong. Also, learn to hack through the horrendously overblown language as one would hack through the jungle with a machete. Learn to separate the flowers from the brush.

What’s your approach to teaching the essay?

For the Issue essay, make sure you come equipped with specific and relevant examples. Then, be sure to include counterarguments. For the Argument essay, treat it like a consulting interview case study: you have to ask the right questions. Start by familiarizing yourself with the list of possible assumptions and fallacies in the ETS book. Also, remember that correlation does not equal causation, and statistics are almost always misused.

What are some common misconceptions about the GRE?

That sheer volume of studying is enough. Simply answering vast numbers of questions without zeroing in on why you got a question right or wrong is not helpful. Study smart.

How do I get the most out of tutoring?

By working really hard on training yourself to consistently using the methods and GRE Coaching Approaches you work on with your tutor. The hardest thing is not doing a lot of questions--it's making sure that once you find a method that words, practice until you can use it easily and confidently.

How do you think the GRE compares to the SAT?

This is set to change soon with the new SAT, but while the GRE seems to share a lot of DNA with the SAT, it's also meant to be different in a number of crucial ways. It is nowhere near as predictable, for one thing. Its question types, especially in the reading comprehension passages, are not as standardized, and can be much harder to decipher. For another, if there is one rule on the SAT verbal, it is that every word matters. There is no extraneous language on the SAT. The GRE, however, is full of language that is flagrantly extraneous, superfluous, pleonastic, and prolix in every way.

Read Sam's tutor biography:

A true Manhattanite from head to toe, Sam attended Horace Mann High School before emigrating, in a fit of wanderlust and questionable judgment, to Ireland to enroll in the English Department of Trinity College Dublin. After two years there, he returned to his native island and earned his BA magna cum laude in English literature from Columbia University. In 2012, he was signed as a novelist by Folio Literary Agency, and his first novel—in the form of a college application—went on submission in winter of 2014. He is also a translator and a book reviewer for various publications, including the Times Literary Supplement.

Having been a private tutor for nearly a decade, Sam is now Cambridge Coaching's Master SAT Tutor and College Counselor, responsible for designing curricula and leading tutor-training workshops. He has provided admissions advising for applicants to every level of higher education, from the undergraduate to the Ph.D level, and his clients have been accepted to Harvard, Yale, Columbia. Stanford, Duke, Harvard Kennedy School, and many more. He is particularly experienced in counseling non-native English speakers. As a writer, however, his chief passion is for teaching writing and helping students improve their English overall.

An expert in the SAT Verbal sections, Sam was named an "exemplary tutor" by Kaplan Test Prep prior to coming to CC, and was regularly invited to give demonstrations of tutoring methods for potential students. He has also worked as an evaluator and grader of SAT essays and has written passages and questions for Verbal sections. Bilingual in French from the age of six and proficient in Mandarin Chinese (after years of intensive study in college, and time spent at Peking University in China), he has taught both languages, at the AP and SAT II level alike, raising students' scores dramatically.

Looking to work with our admissions coach Sam? 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.

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Tags: GRE, Tutors