Are GMAT Prep Courses Worth It? Pros and Cons to Consider

by Maximilian Claessens
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Are GMAT Prep Courses Worth It - Pros and Cons to Consider

When getting ready to take the GMAT, one question that candidates often ask themselves is “are GMAT prep courses worth it?” It’s possible, after all, to simply press on with self-study and free materials and not pay a cent for a GMAT prep course. This may even get you a good score, depending on how good of a test-taker you are and how diligently you police yourself for the purposes of self-study.

But there are, of course, a whole host of advantages of GMAT prep courses. These include a concrete structure, a strong motivation to keep studying, and external validation in the form of feedback. These, along with the many other benefits of taking a prep course, are often enough to prompt candidates into forking out a little cash in exchange for a solid boost in their GMAT test score.

This article plans to take a detailed and in-depth look at the question of whether or not GMAT prep courses are worth it. By examining both the pros and cons to prep courses, we hope to provide you with a nuanced and unbiased take on the question, and in doing so provide you with the information you need to make a decision for yourself.

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Without further ado, then, let’s take a look at whether GMAT prep courses are worth your time.

What Is A GMAT Prep Course?

Before discussing whether GMAT prep courses are worth it, let’s have a look at what they actually are. A GMAT prep course is exactly what it sounds like – a course that’s designed to get you ready for taking the GMAT. Courses come in many shapes and sizes, of course, and could take the following forms:

These courses generally come in both online and offline varieties too, meaning that they cater to students of all preferences.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Taking A GMAT Prep Course?

First things first – before we talk about the myriad advantages of taking a GMAT prep course, it’s important to look at the downsides thereof. Although we feel that taking a prep course is very much in your best interests (as will become obvious), there are inevitably some downsides. Let’s take a look at what those are.

They Cost Money

GMAT prep courses are almost uniformly not free. Contrast this to doing things by yourself and availing yourself of the many free resources out there, and you may find yourself wondering why you’d spend money on a course when you can just study for free.

GMAT prep courses run the gamut from $139 (for something incredibly cheap like PrepScholar) to $3000 (for private one-on-one sessions from a company like Test Masters), so there is a lot of wriggle room to work with when it comes to finding something that you can accommodate on your budget.

That said, if you’re simply looking to study as cheaply as possible, there’s no getting around it: 100% independent self-study is free, and prep courses are typically not.

There is an argument, of course, that a prep course is an investment in of itself, but we’ll get to that later.

They May Not Suit Your Preferred Learning Style

It could well be that you’re the kind of learner that thrives by doing things completely alone and at your own pace, and that any kind of structured course interferes with that. If you’re opting for a prep course, a lot of that freedom and flexibility might be taken away. And that could potentially result in your not learning as well as you otherwise might have, had you been left to your own devices.

There are, of course, counter-arguments to this. GMAT prep courses are not one-size-fits-all, for instance, and can accommodate multiple kinds of learning intelligences. You could learn as a part of a group if that’s your thing, or you could just have private one-on-one classes. You could even still learn completely by yourself, but with the structure of a self-paced course.

However, it could be that the above arguments are not enough to sway you, and that you truly prefer simply gathering your own materials and doing things your way. If that’s the case, then you may well find that a GMAT prep course simply isn’t for you.

They May Put Extra Pressure On You

As we’ve established, a GMAT prep course costs money, and it generally provides a study roadmap for you – which includes milestones to reach and goals to achieve.

This sort of pressure to perform, however, simply isn’t for everybody. By making things so concrete, you’ll be putting yourself under stress. This might be a problem if you’re already undergoing a lot of stress, and it could contribute to you simply burning out and opting not to continue at all.

One could argue that if these sorts of preconditions exist, then taking the GMAT in the first place may not be a good idea. If a prep course has the capability to stress you out to this degree, then how are you going to cope in the actual test room? Wouldn’t you be better getting to grips with the test in a non-threatening environment of the sort provided by a prep course, before taking the course itself?

That said, it’s simply the case that the rigors of preparatory courses simply aren’t for everybody – particularly if they’re paid for, which further increases the pressure placed on a student. If you feel as if this might be the case for you, then it may not be worth taking a prep course.

What Are The Advantages Of Taking A GMAT Prep Course? 

There are, as previously mentioned, many advantages to taking a GMAT prep course – that’s why there are so many, and why they are so popular.

But they’re also, generally speaking, on the expensive side. And so it’s perfectly understandable that many candidates want to know what they’re spending their money on before they spend it – and whether or not the expense is justified.

Let’s take a look at the biggest reasons to take a GMAT prep course. To understand why GMAT prep courses are worth it, read on.

It Provides Structure

Do you struggle to (a) come up with a structured study plan and (b) stick to that study plan? If you don’t, congratulations – you’re one of the few candidates with the self-discipline and the free time to organize yourself in such a way that you may not need a GMAT prep course.

If this isn’t the case – and it’s not for the vast majority of us – then it’s hugely helpful to have some help in terms of devising, structuring, and sticking to a study plan.

Most GMAT study courses provide this sense of structure – even self-paced ones. On many prep courses you’ll often complete a diagnostic test and/or a questionnaire, as well as provide your available schedule. This is then used to come up with a study plan that works for you and your schedule, and ensure that you’ll be getting the most out of your chosen course.

The benefits of this approach almost go without saying. By pacing your studies and ensuring that you’re learning at a rate that suits you and any other obligations you might have, you’re more likely to retain what you learn – and less likely to burn out.

This sort of regular study will also acclimatize you to the realities of the GMAT, and ensure that you’re much less stressed when you walk into the test room on the big day. Practice, after all, makes perfect – and given how realistic many of the GMAT materials on prep courses are, you’ll be getting plenty of relevant practice.

Different Courses Can Accommodate Different Learning Styles

A common argument against prep courses like those on offer for the GMAT is that they’re too constraining or that they are not suitable for every kind of student. And that would be true – if there were only one kind of course available.

The fact is that, as we outlined at the start of this article, there are many kinds of GMAT courses available. If you thrive under the personalized direction of a tutor that works solely with you, then you can opt for one-on-one classes that provide a high level of personalized attention and feedback.

If, on the other hand, you perform better when you have peers and colleagues to bounce off of, then group courses (of both in-person and online varieties) are available from many course providers. You might feel that there is a danger of not getting enough attention or feedback on such courses, but class sizes are usually kept deliberately low for just this reason.

Finally, if you’re a solitary student who performs much better working at your own speed without the input of others, then there are many self-paced courses available. These allow you to receive the materials and work at your own speed, while still providing an overarching study schedule that you can tweak to your own liking.

The fact is, then, that GMAT prep courses are anything but constraining. If anything, they’re liberating insofar as they provide you with the tools you need to ace the test.

It Provides A Goal To Strive For

Another benefit of a structured GMAT prep course (yes, even self-paced ones) is that you can set your desired GMAT score from the get-go. This will inform your study plan, and it will give you a sense of real progression as you steadily get closer to that ideal score on your mock tests.

It’s Generally A Good Investment

It costs $275 to take the GMAT (or $300 if you take it online), which isn’t a small amount of money. And that’s assuming that you pass the first time – if you don’t get your desired score, then you’re looking at shelling out a lot of money in order to go after it again. Those costs can quickly add up.

That’s why it makes sense for many candidates to purchase a GMAT prep course in order to make sure that they get the score they want the first time around. Sure, a prep course might cost you anywhere from $200 all the way up to $1500, but it will ensure that you get the score you want the first time around – and might even mean that you go even higher than you were looking for.

Going forward, that can translate into a better business school or grad course than you might have otherwise not qualified for – and an MBA from a prestigious business school will translate into a better-paying job and a more promising career path.

It Provides Crucial Time-Management Practice

One of the most difficult aspects of the GMAT is time management. There is a lot of onus on the student to make sure that they’re making the most out of the allotted time, and it can be quite difficult for inexperienced candidates to make sure that they’re spending an appropriate amount of time on different questions.

If you’re simply working with free resources (like the Official Starter Kit), then you may be getting some practice in, but you won’t really be getting any time-management feedback other than your own – and if you’re not experienced with GMAT time management in the first place, then that feedback will be meaningless.

By opting for a paid GMAT prep course, you’ll be able to get feedback that means something. Whether from a tutor or from an automatically-generated time-management assessment, many GMAT prep courses provide vital information on your performance during a mock test – where you’re spending too much time, where you’re spending not enough time, and how to adjust your time management in such a way that you’re able to appropriately allocate your time and maximize your scores. We could say that time management alone is so important and courses prepare you just so much better that it’s fair to say that GMAT prep courses are worth it.

It Will Boost Your Confidence

One of the scariest things about standardized tests is that they’re often so unknowable. Tutors can often prep you for the kinds of things that you might find on a test, but they can seldom prepare you for the actual test itself. That uncertainty can breed nervousness, and nervousness is not quite the mind-killer, but it certainly doesn’t do the mind any favors.

Fortunately, the same cannot be said of the GMAT. The GMAT is an extremely predictable test with proven methods and techniques that will help you to deal with the various sections.

Each section of the GMAT, in fact, always features the same kinds of questions – and those questions are well documented from many free sources, let alone from a paid prep course. This means that once you’ve familiarized yourself with those types of questions, you’ll know exactly how to answer them. And though you won’t know the exact questions you’ll be facing on the test itself, you’ll know the format they take by heart.

GMAT prep courses further prepare you for the test itself by breaking down each section (and each question type) in extreme detail, concept-checking you along the way to make sure you’ve understood each type of section and question, and then testing you on the various question types repeatedly. This will build up your mental muscle memory over time, meaning that you’ll be able to breeze through the questions as easily as a ballerina tackling a much-rehearsed dance.

All of this, of course, means that you’ll be extremely confident when the time comes to walk into that test room. With so much preparation under your belt, how could you be anything but?

It Will Increase Your GMAT Score

There are no two ways about it – taking a GMAT prep course will, statistically, provide a significant bump to your GMAT score.

This isn’t just idle prediction – according to Poets & Quants, who surveyed 859 of their users, a candidate who uses a GMAT prep course sees an average score increase of 93.7. If they used a tutor, their score went up by 90.2.

The real winners, however, were those who plumped for both options, i.e. took a prep course and had private tuition. Obviously this is the more expensive option, but it reaps dividends – dividends to the tune of a 100-point score increase.

These aren’t small amounts – they’re life-changing score differences. A score increase of just 30-50 points can mean your lifetime earnings will also increase by millions – so you should probably ask yourself if it’s worth skimping on a GMAT prep course in order to save a couple of hundred bucks.

Conclusion

The fact is, then, that the advantages of GMAT prep courses are so numerous – and the drawbacks so easily refuted or dispelled – that we’re hard-pushed not to recommend them. So yes, GMAT prep courses are definitely worth it.

The costs incurred by purchasing one are offset by the benefits they will confer down the road, and the picture that the stats paint is inescapable: students who take prep courses consistently outperform those that don’t. And we’re not just talking by a small margin, either – the 90-100 point bump that results from taking a course can quite literally change your life. The smart money, then, is on taking a GMAT prep course. It’s just a question of deciding which one. 

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