The GMAT is a Graduate Management Admission Test that’s taken by students looking to get into graduate business programs like an MBA program. About 250,000 students take the exam each year and hope that their scores will help launch the next step of their education.
For those planning to take the GMAT, prep courses are available. However, there are a lot of different choices, price points, and instruction types. To help students navigate GMAT prep materials and courses, we’ve created this guide. We’ll cover:
- What’s on the GMAT?
- How is the GMAT scored?
- GMAT statistics
- Why do you need a GMAT prep course?
- Who needs a GMAT prep course?
- Things to consider before selecting a GMAT prep course
- How to choose a GMAT prep course
- Frequently Asked Questions About GMAT
- The best GMAT prep courses to consider
What’s on the GMAT?
The purpose of the GMAT is to evaluate how well a student can solve problems, think critically, and analyze data. The test takes about 3.5 hours to complete and has four sections:
- Analytical Writing Assessment
- Integrated Reasoning
People who take the test will receive a grade on each section as well as a total score.
How is the GMAT scored?
Scoring for the GMAT can be confusing. The Analytical Writing Assessment is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point intervals. The Integrated Reasoning section is scored from 1 to 8 in single-digit intervals. The Qualitative and Verbal sections are scored from 0 to 60.
Students receive a total score too, which ranges from 200 to 800 with increments of 10 and only takes the Verbal and Quantitative scores into consideration.
As a primer to GMAT prep courses, it’s important to understand a few things about the exam. Here’s a look at how many students take the exam, the average score, and where students send their scores:
- 250,884 students took the GMAT in 2017, a 5% increase from the year before, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.
- The average GMAT score is 556 out of 800, according to The Princeton Review.
- 69% of students taking the exam will send their scores to business schools in the U.S., which holds the title of the top score-sending destination, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.
Check out our ranking of the Best Business Schools in the U.S.
Why do you need a GMAT prep course?
For students considering a GMAT prep course, there are several reasons to go through with one. Here’s a look at why people opt for a prep course:
Students who are looking to get into a business program of their choice opt for a GMAT prep course to increase the likelihood of admission. Many of the prep programs guarantee a score increase; some even specify how many points tests scores will increase by.
The GMAT isn’t like other college exams, it’s a more comprehensive test that evaluates a student’s critical thinking skills. Part of the reason prep courses are used is to get to know what the test looks like and how it’s structured.
Test strategy and resources
By taking a preparation course, students are given strategies and tools to succeeds. Many programs have comprehensive study guides, quizzes, video lessons, and content to help students succeed.
Part of the strategy even includes how to make educated guesses, so if a student comes to a question they can’t answer he or she can at least make a wise guess.
Take practice exams
Taking practice exams is the easiest way to set expectations and calm nerves. When it’s test day, students will know what to expect and be able to manage their stress knowing they’ve prepared with practice questions and tests.
Improve your timing
Like other standardized tests, the GMAT is a timed test, which means students have to make good use of their time. Spending too much time on one question could be costly. The best GMAT test prep courses help students work through the exam in a timely fashion and provide strategies to revisit questions that are more challenging.
Room to practice and ask questions
GMAT test prep gives students the chance to practice their skills, identify weak spots, and get the help they need. Ideally, the GMAT preparation course has convenient ways to engage with the teacher, whether it’s in-person or online.
Who needs a GMAT prep course?
For students wondering if a prep course is right them, here’s who typically takes the courses:
Students looking to score well
Whether your dream school requires a certain test score or you just want to do well to have as many options as possible, a prep course is for you.
Students who struggle with tests
There are some students who simply aren’t good test-takers. Rather than shy away from this test, students who get test-day jitters say preparing for the exam calms their anxiety and gives them a chance to focus on the task at hand.
Students who are willing to do the work
Prep courses require students to set aside time to study. Attending classes is part of the process, but working at home is part of the process too.
Things to consider before selecting a GMAT prep course
When you’re ready to select a GMAT prep course, here’s what to consider:
Students taking the GMAT are different stages in life. Some students will move on to graduate school right after finishing their bachelor’s degree while other people may be working full-time when they decide to enter a graduate-level business program.
A prep course takes time, so it’s important that people who plan to take the test access their schedules and realistically look at how much time they can commit to studying.
The best format
People looking for a GMAT prep class will find several different formats including in-person instruction, live, online instruction, and on-demand instruction. The format and structure of the class depend on the learning style of each person.
While there are some free resources online, expect to pay for a GMAT prep course. Prices vary. The most expensive option is the use of private tutoring, followed by structured classes with in-person instruction or live online instruction. These courses come with support materials, practice tests, and study guides that are used to study at home. The more affordable options provide study materials that students work through at their own pace.
How to choose a GMAT prep course
There’s a lot of test prep resources out there, but for those who are ready to commit to a prep course, here’s what you should look for:
To be prepared on exam day, the GMAT course should have practice exams and quizzes that mimic the real test. The course should include timed questions and full-length scenarios that help students adjust to the content they’ll see when they’re taking the test for real.
Everyone’s strengths and weaknesses vary. Make sure that the program you’re looking at has the ability to identify those weaknesses and provides access to specific assignments that can improve skills in this area. Access to a personalized study plan is ideal.
Preferred structure and motivation
A GMAT course should match the test-takers preferences. If a person learns better in-person, for example, that’s the format that should be selected. In addition to the format that’s selected, review the organization of the course too. Ideally, the course is spread out into digestible study schedules that make it easier to stay motivated.
The GMAT exam changed in 2012. At that time the Integrated Reasoning section was added, so make sure that the resources being used in a course or as up-to-date as possible. This is more of a concern if students opt for at-home study resources as opposed to selecting a professional course.
Positive reviews from students
While researching different options, be sure to read through the reviews. Every course has a negative review or two, but overall look for positive reviews from students, parents, and even teachers.
Frequently Asked Questions About GMAT
For those new to GMAT test, here are answers to a few frequently asked questions:
When do students take the GMAT?
Students take the GMAT before applying to a graduate school or for a graduate-level business program, usually an MBA program.
Should students take the exam while they’re still an undergrad?
Students usually have more time and control over their schedule at this point, so taking the exam now when there’s time to prepare does make sense.
How long are the test scores good for?
GMAT test scores are good for five years. For students planning to go into an MBA program, taking the exam right after undergrad makes sense since the test scores last for some time.
How long do students need to study for the GMAT?
Ideally, people need two to three months to study for the exam.
How much does the GMAT test cost?
It costs $250 to take the test.
How many times can you take the exam?
Students can take the GMAT five times every 12 months. Typically, students take it 1-3 times.
When should you schedule an exam after taking a prep course?
Ideally, a student will schedule the exam for the week following the prep course.
The best GMAT prep courses to consider
For students planning to take a GMAT prep course, there’s a lot of choices to sift through. To help narrow the search, here’s a list of the best GMAT prep courses to consider:
1. The Princeton Review GMAT Ready
- Price: Starts at $399
- Format: Video-based learning or live online instruction
- Best for: Students who are eyeing a specific MBA program
The Princeton Review is a professional test prep center, which offers prep courses for several standardized tests, like the SAT, ACT, and GRE. The company has a good reputation, great reviews, and a lot of experience in coaching students through big exams.
For the GMAT prep, there are several packages to choose from. The most affordable option is a self-paced course with video instruction, practice exams, customizable assignments, and access to a teacher or tutor. The cost for this is $399.
The next package is a significant jump in price. Coming in at $1200, the Fundamentals package has 27 hours of live instruction and a lot of additional at-home resources to use to prepare.
The company does offer a money-back guarantee. People who take the course will score higher or they get their money back.
2. Kaplan GMAT
- Price: Starting at $499
- Format: Live online instruction and on-demand videos
- Best for: Students who are eyeing a specific MBA program
Kaplan is another trusted prep center with a long history in the business and a great reputation. Similar to The Princeton Review, the company helps students with many standardized tests.
The courses rely on expert instructors, which is a standard that Kaplan takes very seriously. Kaplan is so confident in its ability to help students with score improvement that they offer an improvement guarantee. If students don’t raise their score by using the course, there’s a money-back guarantee.
The company offers two formats: live online instruction or on-demand videos, with 140 core hours of video available. The cost is $499.
The company does offer a one-on-one GMAT tutor, but that has a high price tag – $2200.
3. Target Test Prep
- Price: Starting at $66 per month
- Format: video learning
- Best for: People with busy schedules who need flexibility
Target Test Prep is a self-paced, video learning course that students can use to prepare for the GMAT.
The company gives its students the chance to try the course for $1 for five days and has some impressive stats to support its program. For instance, the average score of its users is 760, which is a lot higher than the average test taker’s score of 556. Those who use this program also score 157 points higher than those who don’t take a prep course.
The course has realistic questions, practice exams, and tools to identify problem areas. There’s also live support available as needed.
The downside to this program is that it’s self-paced, so people really have to motivate themselves to stick with it. The other downside is the billing, which is a little confusing.
There’s a $99 recurring monthly fee for people who want to flexibility, but this could be easy to sign up for a forget about. There are four-month and six-month contracts too with monthly fees attached.
- Price: $99
- Format: Video learning
- Best for: People to identify problem areas and work to improve them
EMPOWERgmat offers on-demand video learning and lets users try the platform out for 24 hours free. The company also offers a specific score guarantee. Users are guaranteed a 100 point improvement on their exam scores, which it claims is higher than any other GMAT prep course. If a score doesn’t increase, the test taker can get a one month refunded back to them.
While the course does require self-study, but the innovative software has a Mistake Tracker that helps people identify problem areas and work to improve them.
The cost of the course is a $99 monthly fee that users can cancel anytime or a flat fee of $349 to gain access to three months of testing-taking materials and practice problems.
5. Manhattan Prep
- Price: Starts at $1199 for instructor-led
- Format: Live online instruction or on-demand
- Best for: People looking for a wide range of prep options
Manhattan Prep has name recognition in the test preparation industry, but it has the price tag to go with it. Manhattan Prep is one of the most expensive options students will come across.
The company has a variety of “guided instruction” choices. Students can take an in-person boot camp, a live online instruction course, or pair live instruction with private tutoring. The guided courses start at $1199, but the boot camp is the most expensive option at $2699.
Manhattan Prep also has self-guided courses with test-taking tips, study guides, course materials, and interactive video lessons starting at $349.
The company has more choices than any other company we’ve listed, so for people looking for some variety, this could be a good choice.
- Price: Starting at $219
- Format: Video learning
- Best for: Students who want more help
Magoosh is another choice on our list of course options. Magoosh, which is a Persian word that means highly-educated, has helped more than 236,000 students prep for the GMAT.
The company does offer a 50-point improvement guarantee and gives users a chance to try the platform free for a week.
The courses are based on video lessons that students use at their own pace. The course comes with the typical study guides, but it also includes a study schedule to keep students on track and a tool that can predict the score you’ll likely get on the test.
The courses are more affordable than most listed. The premium package is $349 and offers 340 video lessons and 1300 practice test questions. For students who want more help, there is a choice to add a private tutor to the plan too for $799.