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GMAT Preparation Options

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There are several ways to prepare for the GMAT, from self-study to tutoring to classes to online options. We will compare the pros and cons of the different options and then rank the options from a cost-benefit perspective. Next, we'll discuss each option in more depth, providing some suggestions on what to look for when evaluating specific offerings. Quality of the instructor is one of the critical considerations for most of these preparation methods.

You probably have limited time to study for the GMAT, given work and other commitments and the time required for business school applications. Therefore, carefully think through which GMAT preparation option would be most effective for you. If you do not adequately prepare before taking the GMAT, you may need to retake the exam and invest significantly more time to continue studying.

The cost of some preparation options may seem hefty, but the cost is insubstantial in the long run. Effective GMAT preparation should help you achieve a higher GMAT score, directly impacting which MBA program you are ultimately able to attend. Our chart of the Top U.S. Business Schools shows a clear correlation among median GMAT score, school ranking, and post-graduate salary.

Option Pros Cons Best For
  • Inexpensive
  • Work at your own pace
  • Concentrate only on the material you need
  • Too easy to make excuses to put off studying
  • No one to point out or correct your mistakes
  • May study inefficiently and develop bad habits
  • Self-motivated individuals who are quick learners
  • Advanced students who don’t need expert support
Private Tutoring
  • Cost is controllable; only pay for what you need
  • Customized to your specific needs
  • Individual attention from a skilled tutor
  • Immediate feedback and suggestions on problems
  • Flexibility in setting up tutoring sessions
  • Expensive on an hourly basis
  • Students who need help in just a few specific areas
  • Individuals who want instruction tailored to their specific needs
  • Students struggling to improve their GMAT score
  • Those who need a flexible meeting schedule
Instructor-Led Course
  • Cost is reasonable on a per-hour basis
  • Structured framework ensures that all material is covered
  • Forces you to study on an ongoing basis
  • Ongoing interaction with a skilled instructor
  • Instructor can modify and elaborate on lessons based on class needs
  • Opportunity to practice between class sessions
  • Network with other students and find study buddies
  • Expensive in total
  • Fixed, non-customized curriculum
  • Covers material you may already know
  • Hard to catch up if you fall behind
  • Course moves too slowly for advanced students
  • Students who need a thorough review of most topics
  • Individuals who prefer the structure of a course
On-Demand Course
  • Very flexible schedule
  • Review pre-developed lessons at your pace
  • Lower cost than instructor-led courses
  • No instructor-student interactivity
  • No personal feedback or insight from an instructor
  • Easy to get distracted
  • Often get minimal written study materials
  • Students with a hectic schedule who cannot attend regular classes
  • Individuals who don't need to ask questions or request elaboration
Online Study Tools
  • Lower cost
  • Can pick options that meet your needs
  • No systematic coverage of GMAT content
  • Minimal or no written study materials
  • Supplementing self-study or tutoring
  • Students who want additional online practice

Cost-Benefit Rankings

So which option is best? That will depend on your personal circumstances. We have provided an overview of the pros and cons; you can evaluate how these are applicable to your situation.

You may also have a preference for online or in-person preparation. This applies primarily to private tutoring, although you may find in-person instructor-led courses in some major cities. The primary trade-off entails slightly enhanced interaction that is possible with in-person options versus convenience afforded by online options. We discuss this more on our Online Tutoring page.

Although some preparation options are clearly more effective than others, cost is also a critical consideration. In our opinion, purely from a cost-benefit perspective, we would rank the options as follows:

  1. Private Tutoring
  2. Instructor-Led Course
  3. On-Demand Course
  4. Self-Study
  5. Online Study Tools


Although the least expensive option, self-study is not very effective for most students. There is a tremendous amount of material to learn for the GMAT. Furthermore, GMAT questions often incorporate the math and verbal concepts in a subtle manner, essentially testing your critical thinking skills. Students who achieve high scores often spend over 100 hours preparing for the GMAT. You want to make the most productive use of your study time, not waste valuable time studying in a haphazard manner, approaching problems inefficiently, repeating mistakes, and developing bad study habits.

You can learn concepts from a book, but with self-study, you won’t have someone to develop a study plan for you, show you how to solve problems efficiently, point out your mistakes, offer immediate corrective suggestions, answer your questions, fill in knowledge gaps, and keep your studying on track. A skilled tutor or instructor can help you with all of this and much more.

Self-study works best primarily for advanced students who have lots of self-discipline. You will need good concept study guides to help you progress through GMAT concepts. Good study guides should be high-quality and error-free, offer a thorough discussion of relevant GMAT content and strategies without delving into irrelevant material, contain quality practice questions with detailed explanations, and be structured towards self-study. Although there are many study guides available, unfortunately very few are worthwhile.

Private Tutoring

Private tutoring is the most effective way to prepare for the GMAT. A highly-skilled GMAT tutor teaches concepts to you, customized to your specific needs, skill levels, and learning style. Furthermore, a good tutor can help you develop a focused study plan, immediately offer corrective suggestions as you work through problems, and keep your studying on track. This is particularly important for students struggling to improve their GMAT score. Finally, you can set up a flexible meeting schedule with your tutor that suits your availability. The biggest disadvantage to tutoring is cost. In order to limit the hours and corresponding cost, many students use tutoring to supplement self-study or another preparation method.

You deserve a top-quality GMAT tutor. Since this a subjective, difficult-to-measure criterion, you can focus on two objective statistics: minimum GMAT score and tutor pay rates. A tutor who achieved a 99% score on the GMAT should be able to understand and effortlessly explain any GMAT concept to you. Furthermore, the best tutors will naturally gravitate to the companies that offer the best compensation. Ideally a company should also offer hourly tutoring, so that you can get however many hours you need or try tutoring out without having to commit upfront to a package. For more recommendations on how to select a tutor, please see our Tutoring Comparisons page.

Instructor-Led Course

Full-length courses typically run six to nine weeks, with one or two weekly class meetings (typically three hours each). A full-length GMAT course is a good alternative to in-person tutoring, particularly for someone who needs broad-based help. Although courses follow a set lesson plan and are not customized to your specific needs, full-length courses systematically cover all the material and allow for a reasonable amount of interaction with the instructor. You can ask questions to and solicit feedback from your instructor. Instructors can come up with additional explanations and show different methods as necessary. As the course progresses, your instructor will get to know you and can provide personalized advice. Furthermore, a good instructor will vary the class pacing according to student needs, based on his/her observations and student feedback.

The quality of the instructor is the most important factor in a class. As with tutoring, you should look for an instructor who has achieved a 99% GMAT score and who gets top industry pay. The depth and quality of the course materials is also important. Other factors to consider in choosing a preparation course include cost, the frequency and total number of class meetings, and the convenience of class times and locations.

Online Course Considerations

Most instructor-led courses are online, although you may find in-person instructor-led courses in some major cities. To receive maximum benefit from a live online course, select a GMAT company that has invested in a robust online classroom platform. The platform should include tools that allow student interaction with the instructor and session recording capabilities. Furthermore, be wary of companies do not offer accompanying course books from which to study. Physical books should be part of your course curriculum, as concept reading as part of "homework" helps reinforce class learnings.

Weekend / Intensive Courses

A weekend course condenses much of the material of a full-length course into one or two weekends. In our opinion, there is too much material to fully digest in such a short span of time. Because of the limited time available, you cannot delve as deeply into any topic or work through as many questions as in a full-length course. Furthermore, you do not receive ongoing interaction with your instructor, nor do you have the opportunity to practice on your own in between lessons. You need high attention and energy levels to receive maximum benefit from a weekend course. A weekend course may provide a good introductory overview of GMAT concepts, but you should not expect to be ready to take the GMAT after a weekend course. You will need extensive practice to reinforce the concepts through additional studies.

An intensive course compresses all the material and hours of a full-length course into a week, with the unrealistic expectation that you will be ready to take the GMAT upon course completion. As with a weekend course, we believe that this compressed timeframe is detrimental to the learning process. You need lots of practice over an extended period of time to reinforce the concepts discussed in class. Although an intensive course provides time for practice, you will probably be too burned out from class lectures to focus optimally on practice problems and tests. Furthermore, you cannot effectively learn so much material over a short span of time. We would suggest an intensive course only for advanced students in very intense (80+ hours per week) jobs, such as investment banking or management consulting, who can study for the GMAT only during a one week vacation from work.

On-Demand Course

Online on-demand courses offer pre-recorded video lessons and/or text lessons that cover GMAT concepts in a comprehensive manner. On-demand courses do not have live classes taught by an instructor at a set schedule, however. As a result, on-demand courses can be significantly less expensive and are often offered as a monthly subscription. You work through on-demand lessons anytime at your convenience. If you choose this option, choose a course that offers either text lessons or physical course books, because you cannot master the GMAT simply by watching pre-recorded videos.

Consider whether the instructor interactivity inherent in a full-length course is worth the extra cost. A highly-skilled GMAT instructor can elaborate on concepts and provide alternate explanations to help you fully understand the concepts. Furthermore, you can ask questions and solicit feedback from your instructor. Online on-demand courses are a good option for students who cannot commit to a fixed class schedule and who have sufficient self-discipline and focus to study effectively on their own.

Online Study Tools

Online tools can be relatively inexpensive compared with other preparation options, but do not provide a complete preparation solution. These tools typically consist of online practice questions and/or content videos, but lack the comprehensive structure and lessons that other preparation options offer. Furthermore, online study tools do not provide written materials from which to study. Nonetheless, online study tools can be a good supplement to other preparation options. There are many different offerings available, most with a limited free trial. Quality can vary significantly, so evaluate these options carefully.