Comparing GMAT Prep Options: Self-study v.s. In-Person & Online Tutoring
Although its importance is often overstated, the GMAT is, of course, a critical factor in the MBA admissions process.
While some applicants can achieve their target score without investing in any sort of GMAT prep service beyond purchasing some prep books, most applicants invest in an app, in-person or online GMAT class, or in-person or online GMAT 1-1 tutoring. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of various GMAT prep options and offer some advice about how to choose among them.
Before doing that, however, it’s important to ground ourselves in how to begin any GMAT prep decision process.
What are the basic principles of effective GMAT Prep?
The GMAT is one part of a broader application. A score >700 does not automatically mean you are in really good shape for most of the top schools and the rest of the application process can be taken lightly. There is still an important story about your application to be told. A score < 700 does not mean you can’t get into HBS, either. MBA programs care deeply about why you are pursuing an MBA, why you want to go to that school, and what you’ll bring in terms of leadership and communication skills. You need to allow time after you take the GMAT to write and re-write essays, prepare your resume, gather recommendations, etc. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to do these things well. Sometimes, not taking the GMAT again so you have time for these activities is the right call.
If you choose any sort of self-paced approach or GMAT class, always take the outline in the prep book, course, or app, and create a customized study plan. No matter what approach you follow, there should be a diagnostic exam completed upfront, and a customized study plan developed in the early stages of your GMAT prep process. Even if you are taking a GMAT course, the homework you do, or at least how you focus on that homework, should be customized to your strengths and weaknesses.
The following image will guide our discussion of the pros and cons of various GMAT prep options.
Should you prepare for the GMAT?
The only part of the image above that is red, indicating we think it’s clearly a bad idea, is to take the GMAT but not really prepare for it. I don’t think many people really consider doing this, but I DO think some people believe that, to some degree, the GMAT is a bit like an IQ test, and there is a floor or ceiling to how well you can do, making intense preparation unnecessary. But it’s not like that. The GMAT tests knowledge of a foundational set of concepts and theories and your ability to think critically and logically. This ability to think critically and logically through various math and reading comprehension questions is a skill that can be developed. The more you practice, the better you’ll do. Getting a high score is as much about hard work and practice as it is IQ.
Even if you
Should you study on your own or invest in some sort of GMAT prep option beyond a basic prep book?
There are a
If you aren’t making rapid progress, however, you should probably strongly consider investing in GMAP prep services of some sort. This is our recommendation for two reasons:
You are going to invest in some paid GMAT preparation services. Should you choose an in-person or online option?
And there are other benefits, too, namely:
There is no
How does an online app/self-paced course compare to a more traditional GMAT course? How does private tutoring fit in?
We think about these three options as lying on a bit of continuum from closest to furthest away from self-study, but there are some nuances here. Let’s start with some definitions:
An app or self-paced course approach offers great flexibility, and generally delivers video content in such a way that you are offered guidance on why you are missing questions and where to focus moving forward. So unlike a prep book, you might say that explanations of how to do problems are greatly enhanced through the use of video, and the feedback you receive on your missed answers is highly valuable. When you compare the option of self-studying with just the Official Guides to the GMAT (which, if you are going to self-study, you should be using) to spending $250 on Magoosh, it’s a no brainer. That $250 is money well spent.
In-person or online classes are a nice option for the person who feels they need more guidance and accountability than self-paced courses or self-study provides. With a class, you have the option to ask questions in real-time, and most importantly, a plan of attack is given to you, and if you just show up each week for class and do the assigned homework, you know you’ll be making progress. Most GMAT classes are a great option for a student looking to score in the 600s (an above-average score). A GMAT class instructor must, on some level, teach to the average student, reviewing the moderately difficult concepts and questions to ensure understanding. Substantial time can’t be spent on the easiest or the hardest questions, as only a few students will really be benefiting from the explanation.
Private tutoring is the ultimate in customization. A great GMAT tutor is a coach and mentor, and helps you develop a highly customized study plan. They help build accountability into the GMAT prep process. And the benefits of customized study planning and immediate, personalized feedback are significant. Across disciplines (academia, athletics, music, etc.) it has been shown that skill development is greatest when deliberate practice principles are followed, and customized instruction and real-time feedback are hallmarks of that. That said, of course, private GMAT tutoring is typically the largest investment of the above options. On the other hand, if you get where you need to be in 6 weeks instead of 24 weeks, there is a lot of value in the extra time you can spend on your applications and the reduced level of stress in knowing you are getting past the GMAT efficiently with the score you need.
In sum, we recommend preparing for the GMAT in a very serious way that’s customized to your situation, and as you consider your options, at the margin, consider whether an online GMAT prep approach could work for you.
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