Best GMAT Study Material for 2020
Every year, over 140,000 people apply to business school and you're thinking about joining them. But first, you must gain admission to business school, and for many programs, that will mean taking the Graduate Management Admission Test, or the GMAT. The GMAT is an incredibly competitive exam.
Scoring in the top percentiles for the GMAT requires mastering test taking skills and the underlying verbal and math content tested on the exam. This article will walk you through what to expect on the GMAT, highlight important study strategies, and help you decide how to evaluate the best study material options for your learning style.
- What is the GMAT?
- Best GMAT Prep Courses
- How Much Time Should I Study?
- How Long Should I Prepare for the GMAT?
- Learning Styles
- Sample GMAT Study Schedule
- GMAT Study Material Options
What is the GMAT?
The GMAT has four different sections that take a total of 3 ½ hours to complete.
One section, the Analytical Writing Assessment, requires that you provide an open-ended response that evaluates the reasoning and evidence of an argument.
The other sections are multiple choice-based. The Integrated Reasoning section requires that you make logical inferences from text and statistical graphics. The Quantitative Reasoning section is a combination of arithmetic problem-solving and questions about data sufficiency: that is, determining whether you have enough information to answer the question! Finally, the Verbal Reasoning section is a combination of questions that test your reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and grammar.
The test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800, with two-thirds of scores falling between 400 and 600. Of course, the score itself isn’t quite as important as what you can do with it, and unfortunately, competition to get into the top business schools is keen. Most programs in the top 50 of the U.S. News and World Report rankings boast average GMAT scores of over 650 and the numbers are even higher at the top Ivy League institutions.
Best GMAT Prep Courses
(note: if you're viewing the chart on a mobile phone, use your finger to scroll the chart to the left of your screen to see all columns).
$219 to $799
$369 to $799
$799 to $1,099
$599 to $1,799
$799 to $999
$499 to $1,800
4 to 6
3 to 6
ebook & Hard Copy
Online & Hard Copy
Online & Hard Copy
3 to 6 months
Online Video Lessons
Over 340 lessons
27 hours of classroom video
Over 140 hours
Access via Mobile & Tablet
How Much Time Should I Study?
Ask 100 students and you’ll get as many answers. Some spend over a year preparing for the GMAT, whereas others walk in on test day without having studied at all.
But those students represent the extremes. B-school applicants who are serious about doing well on the GMAT will usually start preparing between one and six months in advance. GMAT prep has two motivating goals. First, you must learn (or re-learn) any content knowledge you may have forgotten since your last math class. Second, you need to learn how to take the test.
That’s right, test-taking is a skill. The more familiar you become with GMAT question formats and how to maneuver them, the better your score will be on test day.
How Long Should I Prepare for the GMAT?
Broadly speaking, GMAT prep programs come in three forms: self-directed, instructor-led, or hybrid. Courses that are self-directed will provide you with an expert-made study schedule, and access to practice tests, video lessons, and question banks. Some companies have adaptive practice drills, which calibrate the difficulty of the questions you see based on your answers to previous questions. These courses are primarily online, although some may come with books or other pint material.
Instructor-led courses can be online or in-person, and are taught by professionals who achieve consistently high scores on the GMAT. Enrollment in a GMAT prep course will also give you access to that company’s online materials, and premium offerings include one-on-one tutoring and admissions consultations.
Hybrid programs, as the term suggests, combine self-directed learning with expert guidance and advice. In terms of content, these courses will look mostly like self-directed programs, but may come with a certain number of live tutoring sessions or the ability to send content and strategy questions to in-house experts.
When it comes to preparing for the GMAT, one size does not fit all. Students learn in many ways—visually, aurally, and kinesthetically—and it’s important to orient your GMAT prep toward how you learn the best.
For visual learners: Choose a GMAT prep program that includes video explanations, so you can watch experts go through the process of answering tricky questions. When practicing, use your cursor to highlight important information in the question or passage, so that you can remember where to find it later.
For auditory learners: You may also benefit from a GMAT prep program with videos on content and answer explanations, as it may be helpful to listen to how experts explain tough concepts. To improve your comprehension and short-term memory, summarize questions and passages to yourself by describing them aloud… or rather, in a murmur. You won’t be able to talk to yourself on test day!
For kinetic learners: On scrap paper, write quick summaries of reading passages, and jot down key words from the text of questions. Just two or three words will often suffice. Find a subtle way to move your body as you take the test, perhaps by stretching after every fifth question, or tapping your foot to get yourself in a test-taking rhythm.
Sample GMAT Study Schedule
Now that you know what the GMAT entails and some of the strategies you’ll be practicing, how can you fit GMAT prep into your schedule day-to-day? This is an especially salient question for those of us working full-time day jobs.
Of course, a lot depends on your timetable: how far in advance will you begin preparing? Here are some rules of thumb about how much time to devote to GMAT prep each night.
- If you have only a week or two before the test, you have a lot of ground to cover, but don’t inundate yourself with more information than you can absorb. Pick and choose from the outline below, focusing on the most important areas for about an hour each night.
- If it’s three to five weeks until test day, you’re in somewhat better shape, but your GMAT prep schedule may still be somewhat expedited. In addition to content review, try to fit in at least two full length practice tests. The first will set your baseline, and the second will fine-tune your approach. You should devote about 45 minutes to studying most nights of the week, plus a couple three-hour blocks for the practice tests.
- The best GMAT prep schedules will begin at least two months before the test and will involve 30 to 45-minute study sessions about four nights per week, with a little extra on the weekends.
Basic GMAT Prep Tips
Regardless of the length of your study plan, effective GMAT preparation will involve the same core steps.
- Read about the GMAT test sections online, and get a feel for what the questions are like. Be sure to use to practice as many GMAT questions as possible. We created a comparison guide for the best GMAT practice questions to help you select the right question bank option for you.
- Take a practice test. The GMAT offers free study kits for download, and you can also purchase The Official Guide for GMAT Review. We also created a detailed resource that highlights the best Free GMAT Test Prep resources available for students.
- Make sure to replicate test conditions as much as possible: time yourself and work in a quiet area with scrap paper handy. The goal of this step is to gauge your baseline performance level and find out what areas of the test you need most work on. Don’t weigh your score too heavily. Prioritize parts of the test that felt the least comfortable.
- Work through questions you got wrong. Some questions are just too tough at first, and that’s okay, but the ones you almost got show where you can improve for test day. Don’t neglect the silly mistakes. Review those questions especially, and ask yourself: “What should I have noticed that would have helped me get the right answer?” Over time, you’ll develop a sixth sense for catching the type of information that might lead to a careless error.
- Use course materials or a guidebook to review difficult concepts. This is especially true of the Quantitative Reasoning section, as there may be areas of mathematics you’ve forgotten since the last time you were in school. For the Verbal Reasoning section, get practice summarizing key points and identifying misleading answer choices. You may also need to review certain grammar rules or improve your vocabulary with flashcards.
- Answer practice questions wherever you can find them but save the full practice tests for later. Again, you should be homing in on silly mistakes and questions that seem just slightly beyond your level of comprehension. Reviewing these types of errors are “low-hanging fruit” in your effort to improve your score efficiently.
- Take another practice test. You should feel more confident this time, and hopefully your score has improved as well. From here, repeat steps 3 – 5. As you improve, you will begin to focus on more specialized or complex concepts, particularly on the Quantitative Reasoning section, and time permitting, you will want to take one or two more practice tests to get your timing down.
GMAT Study Material Options
Several companies specialize in preparing you for tests like the GMAT. While the options below are not an exhaustive review, they represent some of the big names in GMAT prep, and will give you a sense of what options are out there as you begin to prepare!
Kaplan offers two types of GMAT preparation. Kaplan’s GMAT self-guided options allow you to pick and choose which of their materials you would like to work with. The company offers a question bank of 2,300 practice problems that are connected to an algorithm that chooses the questions most likely to challenge. You can also purchase subscriptions to Kaplan’s full-length practice tests and video instruction. Kaplan’s self-guided options provide access for either three or six months and run from $99 to $399.
Kaplan also provides individualized test prep, in the form of classes or tutoring. Their self-paced option is the most flexible: for $799, you get full access to their materials and 14 hours of classroom instruction at a location near you. You can also enroll in teacher-led courses, both online and in-person, which keep you on a regular schedule and curriculum. One-on-one tutoring is also available. At $2899, the tutoring plan comes with complimentary enrollment in a classroom course as well.
For more details, read our full review of the Kaplan GMAT prep course.
Self Study Package
$99 to $999
Option of choosing individual prep products individually (Question Bank, mock exams, and classroom videos).
Individual products range from $99 to $299.
Self Paced Bundled Course options range from $799 to $999.
Self paced full course options include full access to all products including adaptive question bank software, 9 full length practice exams, over 140 hours of video lessons, prep books, and recorded classroom video.
Self Study Package + Classroom Led
$1,249 to $1,599
All features included in the Self Paced learning bundle
Option of in person classroom sessions or live access to classroom sessions from home
The Princeton Review also allows you to choose between self-directed and instructor-led study. For students who prefer to study on their own, The Princeton Review offers separate self-directed courses for each of the GMAT sections, ranging from $149 to $299, as well as a comprehensive program priced at $499.
Like Kaplan, The Princeton Review has an algorithmically adaptive set of practice drills, as well as video lessons to help you review important content. Notably, most of the self-directed courses also allow you to participate in online Q&A sessions, where you can ask content and strategy questions, and the comprehensive course also comes with one hour of individual tutoring.
All of these resources are also available to students who enroll in their instructor-led programs. The Princeton Review offers five- and ten-week prep courses. These courses can be taken in person or online, and deliver 27 hours of live classroom instruction.
The Princeton Review also offers tutoring in the form of a ten-hour targeted tutorial, or an 18-hour, more comprehensive program, the latter of which is backed by a money-back guarantee that your score will improve.
For more information, see our full Princeton Review GMAT course overview.
Basic Study Plan
$149 to $499
Access to individual Verbal, Math, or Integrated Reasoning packages.
Combined online access to all 3 products available for $499.
Access to live Q&A sessions.
Up to 10 full mock exams available.
Adaptive learning based practice questions & video lessons.
Comprehensive Study Plan
All features included in the self paced plan.
Access to full comprehensive classroom video course with over 27 hours of instruction.
Self Study and Tutoring Plan
All features included in the Ultimate plan
1 on 1 access to a dedicated tutor.
Magoosh provides online, self-directed GMAT study courses that boast 340 video lessons, hundreds of practice questions for each section of the test, and custom-made practice tests. Affordability is one of Magoosh’s selling points, as its most comprehensive program is priced at only $249.
Magoosh backs up its product with a money-back guarantee that you will improve your score by 50 points, and claims that the proof of its quality is in the GMAT pudding: nearly one-in-three Magoosh students earn scores of 700 or higher.
For more information, read our full Magoosh GMAT review article.
Math & IR
Basic Study Plan
Full Access to online curriculum.
Over 175 video lessons.
720 practice test questions.
Custom study schedule.
Comprehensive Study Plan
All features included in the Math & IR plan
Access to Verbal & AWR content.
2 full length mock exams.
Score Predictor Access.
Self Study and Tutoring Plan
All features included in the Premium plan
6 hours of tutoring
Over 340 video lessons & 1,300 practice questions.
Manhattan Prep also has options for both self-directed and instructor-led GMAT prep. The self-directed options range from access to the company’s online study guides and question banks, to complete access to its interactive video lessons and print materials.
Manhattan Prep has a bevy of instructor-led options that are specialized to students’ learning preferences. GMAT InteractTM + Coaching allows students to pursue their own program with the advice and support of an expert coach. Manhattan Prep also have live courses, specialized courses for high-scorers, and two- or three-week boot camps for students who want to master the GMAT on a deadline.
To find out more, see Manhattan Prep GMAT course review.
Comprehensive Course Bundle
Comprehensive Self Study Package
$1,399 to $1,799
27 hours of classroom instruction.
6 full mock exams.
Access to GMAT Interact.
3 one hour coaching sessions.
Customized to your needs
$599 to $1,299
Option of purchasing access to Verbal on Quantitative sections separately.
Full access product bundle includes 35 lessons, 6 mock exams, 10 strategy guides, and full online access.
Option to add 1 on 1 coaching support.
That’s right, the leading business and foreign affairs magazine, The Economist, has its own GMAT program, and there is a lot to like in its offerings.
The Economist GMAT Tutor is a hybrid program that comes backed with a score improvement guarantee. Most of your work is self-directed, and students receive access to The Economist’s 5,000 practice questions and its in-house practice exams.
All the Economist GMAT courses include live tutoring sessions. You can also send questions to your tutor as you study, and submit Analytical Writing section responses to them for grading.
You can also read our Economist GMAT course review.
Basic Course Option
Full access to online curriculum.
3 mock exams.
50 ask a tutor questions.
2 live 1 on 1 sessions.
4 Essay Evaluations.
Over 5,000 practice questions.
Enhanced Course Option
All features included in the Complete Course
100 Ask a tutor questions.
3 Live 1 on 1 sessions.
5 Essay Evaluations.
5 mock exams.
Premium Course Option
All features included in the Premium Course
Unlimited Ask a Tutor questions.
4 live 1 on 1 sessions.
6 Essay Evaluations.
6 mock exams.
ExamPAL offers self-directed and hybrid GMAT prep options, and boasts that its curriculum shows you the fastest way to solve each problem. While students may purchase access to just its Quantitative Reasoning materials ($295), an extra $96 gives six-months of access to its Premium program, which comes with three essay reviews and a 60-minute consultation on gaining admission to top business schools.
Each program also gives access to examPAL’s four practice tests, and the Genius package, promotionally priced at $639, also provides three live tutoring sessions and two expert assessments of your progress.
See our examPAL GMAT review article for more detailed information about the course.
Full Access to quant & IR content.
4 mock exams.
Digital or Physical textbooks
Comprehensive Study Plan
Full Access to quant, IR, Verbal, and AWA content.
4 mock exams.
3 essay reviews.
Enhanced Self Study Plan
All features included in the Premium plan
3 essay reviews with inline notes.
3 live tutoring sessions.
2 Expert assessments.
Target Test Prep
Target Test Prep provides self-directed GMAT prep programs on the strength of its voluminous set of practice materials and its algorithmically adaptive practice portal. Target Test Prep offers over 800 video lessons, 20 chapters of quantitative material broken down into 500 lessons, and more than 3,000 practice problems.
The program is backed by a higher score guarantee, and access is promotionally priced at between $66 and $99 per month, depending on the length of your subscription.
See our full review for more information about the Target GMAT course.
$99 per month
3,000 practice questions.
All features of the Flexible course.
4 months of access.
lower per month rate of $74.75 per month.
Includes all Dedicated Course features
6 months of access.
Lowest monthly rate of just $66.50 per month.
Additional GMAT Resources
Before selecting a GMAT review course, you can also check our listing of the current GMAT promo codes. This resource includes a list of all current discounts from the major GMAT prep course providers.
For additional free practice questions, we also suggest trying our GMAT Question of the Day resource. This is a great free GMAT resource available to anyone.
Also if you are not sure which graduate exam you will be taking, you can read our GMAT vs GRE article that explains the differences between each exam.