For better or worse, the GMAT is a critical component of every business school application. Other factors are taken into consideration, including work experience, undergraduate GPA, and letters of recommendation. But particularly at top-tier MBA programs, GMAT scores are a big deal.
Over the years, this has created a relatively lucrative cottage industry in GMAT prep: countless classes, tutor offerings, books, and other resources that claim to provide the best way to improve your GMAT score. Of course, some work and some don’t (and some are prohibitively expensive).
Below, we’ve outlined some general studying tips and selected the best available resources online to prepare for the GMAT, including affordable prep courses and free tools and resources.
First, the basics.
What’s On the GMAT?
The GMAT consists of four sections:
- Analytical Writing Assessment: A brief analysis of an argument to demonstrate writing skills, critical thinking, and the ability to defend or critique a point of view
- 30 minutes
- Integrated Reasoning: Tests your ability to read and interpret charts, graphs, and tables
- 12-multiple choice questions (including multiple response options)
- 30 minutes
- Quantitative: Tests general knowledge in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry
- 31 multiple–choice questions
- 62 minutes
- No Calculator
- Verbal: Tests grammar, logic skills, and reading comprehension
- 36 multiple-choice questions
- 65 minutes
There are three available orders in which to complete the section, and the scores are graded on a 200-800 scale. All of the test is completed on a secure computer terminal.
The GMAT has no specific test dates, but test-takers are limited to one test per 31-day period and no more than 5 times over a 12-month period.
What Makes a Good Online GMAT Course?
GMAT courses are perhaps the most popular way to prep for the test, but some run on the expensive side, so it’s important to get your money’s worth. Fortunately, online GMAT courses tend to be more affordable, and offer advantages over traditional in-class delivery. Below are some specs to keep in mind when you’re choosing courses:
Self-Paced: The best online GMAT courses offer a self-paced option, which is ideal for working professionals and adult learners with busy and unpredictable schedules. While live classes have obvious perks, including instant feedback and one-on-one student-instructor opportunities, self-paced coursework means you can complete lesson plans and practice sessions on your time. If something doesn’t make sense, go over it again; if you know you need extra time to to study one section, focus on that instead of reviewing material you don’t need to review. In short, self-paced GMAT courses provide a more tailored, customized learning model that maximizes time spent.
Online Resources: Before you sign up for any course, be sure to check what kind of resources are included. For online GMAT courses, the most important features are interactive tools, quizzes, and high-quality practice exams. Because online students forfeit some of the benefits of traditional instruction, built-in resources are a critical component of the course, particularly practice-oriented tools that capitalize on the self-paced model and utilize educational technologies to help develop your knowledge base and test-taking skills. Some other questions worth considering: How many practice tests does the course include? How many practice questions? How well does the practice test imitate the real thing? (Since the real GMAT is adaptive, your practice tests should be as well.)
Proven Instructor: Regardless of the format, a good GMAT course requires a quality instructor. What experience do they have? What are past students’ feedback and reviews? Many courses list instructors’ GMAT scores, and some organizations require instructors who placed in the 99th percentile. Needless to say, this should play an important factor in your decision, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook.
Our Picks for Best Online GMAT Courses
- Veritas Prep: In addition to top-rated live and self-paced classes, Veritas offers an array of unique features and resources, including 12 adaptive GMAT practices tests, interactive video lessons, and year-long access. Stundets improve their GMAT score by 140 points on average. (Free resources are available, too.)
- Magoosh: One of the most affordable online GMAT courses that also boasts an excellent track record. Magoosh students improve their score by at least 50 points, and have access to customizable practices, progress reports, and access for a year. A quarter of the cost of competition, with score guarantee or money-back options.
- The Princeton Review: Perhaps the best name-brand course provider, Princeton Review is surprisingly affordable, featuring over 4,000 questions, 10 computer-adaptive practice exams, and score reports that suggest target study areas. Self-paced courses are taught by John Fulmer, who has 25 years of experience teaching the GMAT. Live instructors must complete 40 hours of training.
What’s The Best Way to Self-Prep for the GMAT?
Every form of GMAT study is self-prep in one way or another, but some students prefer a 100% DIY approach for several reasons: 1) Complete control over what, when, how, and where you study; 2) Avoid spending hundreds (even thousands) of dollars on GMAT courses. That said, your GMAT studies still need structure, organization, and a rigorous schedule. The self-prep approach doesn’t work if you’re not self-motivated. A few tips to consider:
- Create a Schedule: We can’t emphasize this enough. Plan a detailed study schedule and stick to it. Set reminders if necessary. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, divide your schedule accordingly. Whatever works for you, make studying a habit: the goal is structured, productive repetition.
- Practice, Practice, Practice: This should be integrated into every study session, whether it’s through a full-length practice test or a series of questions based on the lesson plan. Don’t be afraid to fail: not only do practice questions and tests help you locate improvement areas, they’ll also give you a goal to work toward. Speaking of which….
- Have a Target Score: Not everyone needs a perfect GMAT score to get into their dream MBA program. In fact, no does: 800 GMATs are virtually nonexistent. Instead, find the average GMAT score for business schools you want to pursue, then develop a strategy to match that score. If you only need a 650, that should be your goal. If you end up getting a 680, great! But don’t beat yourself up. Obsessing over unrealistic and unnecessary scoring expectations is a waste of energy and potentially counterproductive.
- Variety is Key: Repetition is important, but be careful not to fall into rote memorization. Computer adaptive tests are a great way to keep studies fresh, but all your studies should maintain a level of variety. If you’re spending a lot of time with the Official Guide for GMAT Review — no doubt, a great resource — switch things up, even if it’s for 15 minutes. The best self-prep strategies include at least 2-3 resources.
On that note, the following online resources are excellent for self-prep or as supplementary study materials for GMAT courses. Better yet, they’re free to use.
- MBA.com: The official website of the GMAT is an awesome learning tool and general resource for MBA applicants. In addition to GMAT prep software, there are two adaptive practice tests (the closest thing you’ll find to the actual GMAT), a comprehensive quant review, practice questions, and other helpful features like a post-MBA salary estimator.
- Manhattan Prep: This popular tutoring service provides several free GMAT resources, including practice tests, tutorials, and trial self-paced courses and live classes.
- Khan Academy: Offers one of the most comprehensive test prep modules online, for free. Taught by site founder Sal Khan, the course covers 249 problem solving questions, as found in chapter 5 of the 11th edition of the GMAT Review (book unnecessary).
How Long Will It Take to Prepare for the GMAT?
Kaplan Test Prep suggests studying at least 2-3 months for the GMAT. On average, top scorers study over 120 hours.
But these figures should be taken with a grain of salt. Total study time depends on the individual, and while a general timetable sounds nice, it’s misleading. Many people spend far longer than a few months, which is why many GMAT courses offer year-long access. The best indicator will be your practice test scores: once you can consistently reach your target score, you’re ready to take the test. Of course, it’s important to keep application deadlines in mind, and some experts advise scheduling the GMAT well in advance. Again, it’s up to the individual.
Regardless, cramming isn’t a good strategy. Make best use of all your available study materials, and you’ll be fine.
Alternatively, if you’re still wondering whether business school is the right fit for your career goals, or what kind of MBA program you want to pursue, Online Course Report offers numerous resources, as well as in-depth MBA rankings. As mentioned above, be sure to research your target business schools in advance to know the average MBA score of accepted applicants, and if GMAT scores are required. In some cases, the GRE is acceptable, and lenient MBA programs may have a flexible GMAT policy.