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Note: This is the old version of a post that has since been updated. Read Stacey’s new version here!
Summer is here again, along with the GMAT busy season. Application deadlines are just a few short months away! It’s time to get your GMAT study into gear.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how to study overall. Students ask whether they should study on their own or whether they should take a class or work with a tutor.
In the first part of this 2-part series, we’ll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the three primary study approaches; in the second part, we’ll examine how to choose the best program and instructor for you (if you decide to take a class or work with a tutor).
How to Study: GMAT Self-study, Class, or Tutor?
There are plenty of study materials and programs available from which to choose; the question is what is right for you.
Expect to spend between 50 and 100 hours total spread over approximately 2 to 4 months, depending upon your starting point and goal GMAT score. You’ll need to cover a wide range of material and strategies for the four sections of the test. In fact, this is why so many people do choose to take a class (though there are plenty of self-studiers out there, too!).
There are three primary approaches: working on your own (possibly with friends, but without the help of a professional), taking a GMAT class, or working with a private GMAT tutor. No one method is universally the best method. There are benefits and drawbacks to each situation, so deciding which one is best for you will depend upon your specific learning style, goals, needs, and preferences.
Regardless of study method, there are certain aspects that everyone must have. You will need materials that teach you the content tested on the exam, as well as techniques and methodologies for answering the different kinds of questions on the GMAT. You will also need practice materials, both individual practice problems (which can also be grouped into practice sets) and full, adaptive practice CATs.
You will also need some kind of plan—an outline of what to study and when. If you work with a company, that company should provide a syllabus and materials for you. If you work on your own, you will have to determine your own syllabus and decide what materials to use.
Studying on your own is typically the least expensive option and allows you to work on your own schedule. You also have to develop your own study program, which some people view as a benefit and some view as a drawback.
Developing your own study plan can be a benefit if you have past experience with developing study plans, including diagnosing your strengths and weaknesses, choosing the best books and online materials to address your particular issues, planning your time wisely, sticking to a schedule, and, most importantly, teaching yourself. A lot of free resources are available to help you with these steps.
Some companies offer more complete self-study programs. For example, Manhattan Prep offers an interactive digital learning platform called Interact. GMAT Interact for Integrated Reasoning™ is already available and a full GMAT Interact program will be available in about two weeks.
You can also choose to work just from books. The basic books might cost you about $250 to $350, while a more advanced interactive learning program might set you back about $500 to $1,000.
You are going to have to be your own taskmaster. If you know from past experience that you’ll find it hard to stay home on Saturdays to study, especially when the sunshine is beckoning, then you may want to consider taking a GMAT course with regular class sessions and assigned homework. The last thing you want to do is reach mid-August and realize that you’ve barely cracked the books.
If you have generally done well on standardized tests in the past, are disciplined, and aren’t looking for an extra-large (200+ points) score increase, then self-study may be the option for you.
Taking a GMAT class is more expensive than studying on your own but less expensive than tutoring. On average, a class might cost you $1,000 to $2,000. It will also, of course, provide you with a study schedule (though you will still have to have the discipline to follow it!).
A GMAT course will provide you with a comprehensive set of effective materials and a syllabus to follow. Using a class syllabus will be somewhat less flexible than developing your own (with or without the help of a tutor), but you also won’t have to sit down and figure out what to study on your own. You can (and should!) prioritize the standard syllabus according to your own strengths and weaknesses, spending additional time in weaker areas and moving on more quickly to advanced material in stronger areas.
A good instructor will be able to address different learning styles in the classroom. You will also be able to ask questions and discuss the finer points of GMAT problems with a real, live person; your teacher will become familiar with your strengths and weaknesses over the length of the course and will be better able to assist you as a result.
If you’re going for a large score increase (200+ points) or a very high score (700+), then this option might be the one for you. The cost is mid-range between the other two, and you gain access to a tried-and-tested program and an instructor who can help guide you through your studies. (Plus, the incremental cost over a self-study plan is negligible compared to the opportunities that will open up if you can hit your ambitious goal score.)
Tutoring is the most flexible and customized option, but also the most expensive—so much so that cost is the primary drawback to tutoring. Expect to spend a minimum of $3,000 (and quite possibly more).
A tutoring package will provide you with a comprehensive set of effective materials and a tutor should customize a syllabus based upon your particular learning style, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. You will also have the flexibility to set your own schedule and to concentrate on the areas that are most problematic for you. Further, because the expert is working with you one-on-one, she or he will quickly learn what your needs are and customize the lessons accordingly. As a result, tutoring is typically the most efficient study method (though you will pay for that efficiency!).
If cost is no object or if you know that self-study and classroom approaches won’t work well for you, then tutoring may be the best path. You might also use a hybrid approach in which you study on your own or take a class, and then do only a small number of hours of tutoring for more targeted help.
For options two and three, the right instructor makes all the difference. In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll talk about how to choose a particular instructor who matches your learning style, motivates you to attend class, and effectively conveys how best to think and work as the best GMAT test-takers do. 📝
Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Montreal, Canada and Los Angeles, California. Stacey has been teaching the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for more than 15 years and is one of the most well-known instructors in the industry. Stacey loves to teach and is absolutely fascinated by standardized tests. Check out Stacey’s upcoming GMAT courses here.