Whether you’re just starting your GMAT prep or you’re reevaluating your approach after some early practice, finding good GMAT materials can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are just so many different ways to prep—with books, videos, in-person lessons, tutors—and the quality of questions can vary wildly. How are you supposed to know where to start?
Actually, knowing your learning style can help you sift through this mountain of materials and pick out a prep program that’s exactly right for you. If you feel stuck before you’ve even begun, here are a few tips to help you get the prep you need for the GMAT test.
Know thyself! Knowing two things will help you immensely in your search for the perfect GMAT prep course, and they have nothing to do with student reviews or score guarantees. They have to do with you.
First of all, what’s your preferred learning style? If you don’t know, think about how you like to consume content and new information. Do you prefer posts with videos? Or do videos have you searching wildly for transcripts you can read? Do you love a good podcast, or would you rather read the essay—or watch a good TED talk? Think back, as well, to your time at college. Did you perform better in large lecture classes, where you were more of a silent observer, or in seminars where you could talk, ask questions, and get feedback from your professor and peers? Did you go to your professors’ office hours so you could ask them questions one-on-one?
In terms of your learning style, you need to know what format you want your lessons and materials to come in (in-person classes, books, videos, one-one-one tutoring, or some combination of the above), as well as the presentation (in-person, remote, teacher- or tutor-led).
The second thing you need to know about yourself is where you currently stand in terms of knowledge and mastery of the test itself. The best way to do this is to take a GMAT practice test and spend time evaluating it carefully. You may find that you’re already acing verbal, or have a knack for quant; this info will also help you narrow down your options (however, don’t be discouraged if your early scores aren’t stellar in either category—this diagnostic test just tells you where you are now, not what your ultimate scoring potential is!)
Know what’s out there. Once you’ve figured out both where you are in terms of the test and how you learn best, it’s time to look through materials. I highly suggest you start with official materials: that is, materials created by the GMAC, the test-maker. Because this practice comes from the people who make the test, it’s extremely close to what you’ll see on test day.
At a certain point, you’ll find that you either need more materials, or that you need different types of materials (video lessons, for example). When this happens, you knowledge of the official GMAT materials will help you evaluate the quality of other companies’ materials.
Even if you’ve chosen to take a classroom course or work with a one-on-one tutor, it’s important to look at the materials before you commit. These options can be expensive and time-consuming, so it’s vital that you don’t put a ton of resources into a program before you’re as sure as you can be that the program will work.
Know that there’s an option for every budget. GMAT prep can be expensive, there’s no doubt about that. However, no matter what your preferred learning style is, you can find a good program in your price range. If in-person tutoring is too expensive, look into distance tutoring via Skype and other services. Buying packages of hours can also save you money. If you’re looking for a course, online can also be a cheaper way to go, or you can search out vouchers and promo codes—most test prep centers have promotions going pretty regularly.
There are a lot of great, free resources out there (the Magoosh blog being one of them!), as well as cheap resources, including online programs, apps, and books. If money is an issue but you still want one-on-one personalized feedback from a tutor, plan ahead to create a study schedule that’s independently driven but incorporates a few hours with a tutor here and there to keep you on track.
Know that you need to follow through. At the end of the day, test prep materials are like workout programs: even if you find the one that’s perfect for your style, they still won’t get you anywhere if you don’t actually buckle down and get to work! Particularly if you’re an independent learner, know that there will be days where you just don’t feel like studying for the GMAT, but that you’re still going to have to sit down and study. In the end, though, if your materials are well suited to you and of high quality, you’ll find that you have fewer and fewer of those kind of days—if you have any at all!
Rachel Kapelke-Dale blogs about graduate school admissions for Magoosh. She has a BA from Brown University, and did her own graduate work at the Université de Paris VII (Master Recherche) and University College London (PhD). She has taught and written about test preparation and admissions practices for eight years.