Following up on our prior post about the new 2015 GMAT Official Guides, we now review the online study tools that accompany the printed books. Registration is quite easy. Once you register one book, you can select Profile to add the access codes for additional Official Guide books rather than starting the registration process anew. Your online account is valid for only six months. Due to this time limit, be sure to register only when you are ready to start preparing for the GMAT.
Online access includes three brief videos, one per book. The videos are in a Q&A format, with potential test takers asking and receiving answers to some questions about test preparation. Overall, these videos are not very insightful.
The primary purpose of the online account is not the videos, however, but the online question access. In our opinion, the online interface is poorly designed and detracts from the purpose of online question access.
Problem Set Options
You create a practice problem set by selecting any combination of question difficulty (Easy, Medium, or Hard) and question type (PS, DS, RC, CR, or SC), and the number of questions for the set. When choosing multiple question types, the types are all inter-mingled (i.e. they do not come in discrete blocks). Therefore, be sure to choose among either math question types or verbal types, but not both for a given practice set. You must also name your practice set; these names are listed in the review stage for your prior sessions. The system allows you to use the same name multiple times. But it will be helpful for you to create a unique, intuitive name for your future reference.
Finally, you must choose between Practice Mode (the default) and Exam Mode. In Practice Mode, you can view the answer / explanation for a question at any time. Similarly, you can review a summary table of all your responses so far for the current practice set. The time counter does not pause while you are viewing an answer, thereby defeating the purpose of time analytics. Also in Practice Mode, there is a button to take notes for each question. But this is a useless feature, because there is no way to ever access the notes that you took. We highly recommend that you use only Exam mode, in which you review your responses and explanations only after completing all questions in the practice set. Since the system keeps defaulting back to Practice Mode, be sure to switch to Exam Mode before starting a practice set.
In either mode, Reading Comprehension presents only one question per passage. Even when practicing with only a limited set of RC questions, the passages are interspersed. For example, you may see a certain passage for questions 1, 5, and 8 in your set, with a different question each time for the same passage. Since it is not efficient or worthwhile to read the same passages over and over, the RC functionality is effectively useless. We recommend that you practice RC only in the physical book.
Progressing Through Problem Sets
Unlike the real exam, the test interface saves your answer as soon as you choose Next Question (in either mode). There is no Answer Confirm feature, so be sure that you have selected your final response before progressing. After you answer the last question in a practice set, you must select “View Test Results” in order to submit your answer. We found this to be non-intuitive.
As you progress through practice sets, the test does not give you repeat questions, unless you have already completed all the questions of that type at that difficulty level. You can bookmark questions and return to bookmarked questions in the review phase. Answer explanations are identical to those in the printed books. The test interface shows the time spent per question, but offers no performance analytics.
Poor Design Decisions
Questions are presented in a different order than in the book, and there is no way to easily cross-reference completed questions with the printed book. This makes it difficult to move back-and-forth between the book and online access. It would have been helpful, at a minimum, for each question to list the corresponding question number in the Official Guide. Even better, the interface could have presented a chart with the question numbers from the book, highlighting which questions have been completed online. Unfortunately such functionality is absent.
A calculator is available for all question types, even verbal. This reflects a poor design decision the part of GMAC and Wiley, since a calculator is not available on the real GMAT. Absolutely do not use the calculator – just pretend that it does not exist.
You can Pause and then Resume the test (in either mode). You can also choose End Test; the interface treats the remaining questions as unanswered. We encourage you to use these features sparingly, since they defeat the purpose of concentrated studying. The system logs out fairly quickly, after about 5 to 10 minutes of inactivity, so you may find yourself frequently having to log-back-in.
Diagnostic Test Mode
In addition to the Practice and Exam Modes, the main Official Guide also offers a Diagnostic Mode. This section presents the same questions, in the same order, that are in Chapter 3 (Diagnostic Test) of the Official Guide. You can select which question type(s) you wish to complete in one sitting. Since questions are presented sequentially, the Reading Comprehension section is fine in this mode.
Unlike the Practice and Exam modes, your results are not saved for the Diagnostic exam. Once you exit the review screen, you cannot retrieve your prior performance. So either carefully review your results or capture screen shots before navigating away.
Integrated Reasoning Interface
The Integrated Reasoning questions open up in a new tab at an entirely different, non-integrated website. The calculator is entirely different than for the main Math and Verbal questions, making the presence of a calculator for those questions all the more puzzling. There is no timing feature for IR, so you must track timing on your own. You can individually check the answer for each question. There is no exam mode or review results screen.
Your responses are saved for each question, and you can jump at any time to any question. The IR section includes the exact same questions as in the 13th Edition of the Official Guide, including the two highly-flawed Two-Part Analysis questions that we described in a prior post.
The inclusion of an online practice site is an added bonus that previously did not exist for the Official Guides. Because the GMAT is taken on a computer, it is advisable to practice GMAT questions on a computer. For this reason, we recommend practicing the Official Guide questions (other than Reading Comprehension) using the online platform (in Exam Mode), despite the disappointing practice interface. We much prefer the interface of GMATPrep, and wish that the GMAC had instead integrated the Official Guide online practice into GMATPrep instead.