After students provided positive feedback on the first cohort this summer, Academic Commons staff are holding a second study group this semester for students and alumni taking the Graduate Records Examination.
Officials piloted the program in July to provide students an opportunity to join their peers in preparing for the GRE, a standardized test required for admission to many graduate schools. Officials said the cohort, called “Let’s GRE Together,” gives students the opportunity to help one another and hold one another accountable for studying for the test.
Geneva Henry, the dean of libraries and academic innovation, said officials decided to continue the program for students and alumni taking the GRE on the November testing date after receiving “an overwhelming number of inquiries.” She said the first session for the second cohort began earlier this month.
“The program was a response to strong feedback from students that they needed affordable resources and assistance to prepare for graduate and professional school entrance exams, including the GRE,” she said in an email.
The sessions are open to any member of the GW community interested in taking the GRE and occur every Friday for one or two hours guided by Academic Commons staff, according to the department’s website. The program’s first cohort lasted for about a month and a half from July to August, and almost 60 people participated, Henry said.
She said that during the first cohort, Academic Commons staff members devised a study plan for participants and led practice sessions on specific skills like analytical writing and quantitative reasoning. Henry said participants were encouraged to independently work through 30 sets of flashcards with questions related to these skills to promote simultaneous self-study.
Henry said students participating in the cohort could take two proctored practice exams to familiarize themselves with the test and track their progress over time. She said the first cohort’s members gave “very positive” feedback, and more than 50 people have signed up for the current cohort.
“The pilot program over the summer was successful enough to warrant trying a second cohort, taking place now,” Henry said. “We will continue to assess both interest in the program and resources available to continue it.”
Higher education experts said future cohorts will give students an opportunity to prepare for the test through a method other than independent studying, allowing them to simultaneously help and receive assistance from their peers.
John McCarthy, the dean of the School of Philosophy at Catholic University of America, said students may have more incentive to take their work more seriously when working with others in a study session because they can hold one another accountable. He said students in the group can work through their problems together, preventing anyone from falling behind their peers.
“I think students benefit from the example your fellow students give you here in the room together,” he said.
He said that despite the group’s benefits, not all students may benefit from a group session because individual preferences vary with respect to test preparation.
“If you feel anxious around groups, this might not be the best option, and a private tutor might work better for you,” McCarthy said. “It is good practice that students benefit from another, and this cohort certainly is a great idea if it is better than other forms of preparation falling on the individual.”
Leslie Fenwick, the dean emeritus of the School of Education at Howard University, said an ideal group-study cohort balances large group instruction with discussion among its participants – the structure the GRE cohort has adopted.
She said the group will help students mostly with the three main areas of preparation for the test – sharing knowledge, developing testing strategies and gaining familiarity with the test structure.
“All of those reduce test anxiety and tend to increase performance,” she said.
Carlos Campo, the president of Ashland University in Ohio, said members of the cohort can form a “trusted network” of participants who can advise one another on strategies to take the test. He said officials should continue to update the group’s study plan to ensure the group remains helpful to students taking the test.
“Test-taking skills and the GRE can both change, so the program will stay relevant only if they continue to track best practices,” Campo said.