The GRE Tutor: Mac and his Tutoring Approaches

GRE Tutor Spotlights



Meet Mac Staben!  GRE Tutor at Cambridge Coaching since 2012.
Thanks to Mac's wide range of interests, Mac has had a variety of teaching experiences ranging from history to the sciences, and exams like the SAT, the MCAT, and of course, the GRE.  He's great at using memorable analogies to make dificult topics accessible, and he loves getting feedback from his students.  Check out what he has to say about being a GRE tutor!

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

Developing a relationship with a tutor who can help you. As a tutor, I quickly learn the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and fears of my student. Knowing that information, I can shape my presentation of difficult subjects so that my students can ace questions on that material.

What’s your overall philosophy to teaching the GRE?

Make it simple and fun.  I teach my students that the GRE isn't something evil that needs vanquishing, but a chance to give their best "performance." After overcoming that psychological barrier, we work together to understand the material tested on the GRE. Finally, we'll do lots of practice tests so that students can be confident in their ability to answer GRE questions.

What’s your approach to teaching the verbal section?

There are two parts to the Verbal section: vocabulary and the passages.  For vocabulary, I encourage students to focus on getting the sense of a blank (filling in your own words to substitute for the word). We also use spaced repetition software (such as Anki) to improve word retention.  For passages, the approach I teach students is recognizing the main idea, then simplifying those answer choices.

What’s your approach to teaching the math section?

Learn the basic concepts, then practice! It's a standardized test, so they can only ask you so many questions. We'll work together to get the basic concepts out of the ways, then do practice examples to show how to you'll be asked to apply this information on GRE problems.

What are the three most important things you think all GRE students should know?

1.  The GRE is just a trickier SAT:  There's nothing beyond algebra II on the GRE exam. But, to make sure that you learned something in college, the ETS makes the GRE a little bit trickier. We'll work together to learn to see past their common tricks.

2.  The importance of emotional and physical preparation. Doing well on the GRE requires more than just intellectual preparation. You can learn everything you want, but unless you can perform with sangfroid (vocab word!), you won't be able to demonstrate your abilities. This is an often-neglected element of GRE preparation, that I care about tremendously.

3.  The importance of working methodically. Lots of students are a little haphazard with doing mental math or failing to do their work on paper. I focus on teaching students to work methodically on their math in order to minimize any errors from mistakes.

Tell us about the kinds of students you’ve worked with on the GRE.

Mostly students who have needed to focus on improving their math skills.  I'm in medical school, so I use math all the time. But, I have a background in the humanities, so I can understand the fears of many students who struggle with math. I've worked with students of a variety of ages, including students who are going back to school after extended breaks. I've also worked with students of different abilities, from people who were trying to get into top graduate schools to students who just need to hit the minimum score for a program.   

How do you accommodate different learning styles?

I figure out what types of explanations "click" with a particular student, and I’ll present information in that way.  Identify areas of weakness and then offer targeted practice on those concepts. I'm comfortable in fitting my instruction to different learning styles. Additionally, I've worked with several students who received testing accommodations, and offered strategies that helped them focus.

How do I get the most out of tutoring?

Practice and speak up! Ask questions if you don't understand something. Tell me if an explanation works (or doesn't). I love getting feedback from my students. I have a sneaking suspicion that I learn as much (or more) from my students as they do from me!

How much time should I dedicate to studying for the GRE?

Totally depends on your preparation. If you're working in a job that does lots of math and you love to read, a few weeks. If you haven't been in school for a long time, or haven't looked at a math problem since high school, then it'll take longer to get you up to speed.  

How do you think the GRE exam compares to the SAT?

It's essentially the same test. But, because the ETS knows that you've gone through college, they expect a little bit more from you. So the GRE makes its problems trickier. That said, if you've taken algebra II, you've seen all of the material that will be on the math section on the GRE exam. The Verbal section depends on your familiarity with the vocabulary and organization that appears in the types of books and articles that you read in college.

Mac's Biography:

Mac grew up in the rolling hills of Kentucky.  From the Bluegrass state, he headed north to Middlebury College, where he graduated magna cum laude with a double major in political science and biochemistry.  After graduation, he studied cancer biology for a year at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. Following that, he completed a Master’s program in political science at Boston College. This year, Mac began an MD/PhD program at Boston university. 

Thanks to his wide range of interests, Mac has also had a variety of teaching experiences.  Mac started teaching At Middlebury, taught volunteer swim lessons and tutored friends in a variety of subjects.  Since he began at Cambridge Coaching, Mac has tutored students in the SAT, the GRE, and the MCAT.   He particularly enjoys working with students to achieve the highest score they can on the MCAT.  Mac has a wide range of experience with different academic subjects, including the sciences, history, and political science and looks forward to using memorable analogies to make difficult topics accessible. 

In his spare time, Mac enjoys swimming, cooking, reading, and glassblowing. 


For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our GRE tutors: Not As Easy As You Thought, No Sweat Study Habits for Busy People, How to Keep Test Strategy Fresh in Your Head. Looking to work with Mac Staben? 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.

Sign up to receive a free, 8-part GRE Math Toolkit