When getting ready for the GMAT, one of the smartest things you can do is take an online course or two to ensure you’re as prepped for the big day as possible. Online courses have a lot to offer for that preparation process – they can familiarize you with the various sections and question types, offer you valuable feedback on practice tests, and have you employing best practices well before you walk in the door on test day.
The question then, is not whether you should make use of online GMAT courses (you should), but the best features you should be looking for in a GMAT online course.
Over the course of this article we’ll highlight what, exactly you should be looking for when considering which GMAT course is the best option for you – and why you should be looking for these things.
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What Are The Advantages Of Taking An Online GMAT Course?
You are, of course, always free to self-study. And while this is the cheaper option, it’s almost assuredly not the most efficient or effective one. The fact is that taking an online course) offers a host of benefits that you simply cannot get with self-study. These include:
- Interactivity (and increased motivation/stimulation)
- Deadlines (which help with motivation)
- Constructive feedback
- More efficient/less individual research time
- Peer interaction (further help with motivation)
- Plenty of practice materials
- Personal or group instructor
- A clear structure and timeline
If you’re self-studying – and particularly if it’s your first time – you quite simply lack a lot of these benefits. It’s difficult to structure your own study plan without an idea of how you should go about that. It’s hard to motivate yourself in a vacuum. And though you can mark your own tests, it’s much better coming from a professional instructor who’s well-versed in offering incisive, constructive feedback. Alternatively, you can hire a tutor to help you out on your weak spots.
Now that we’re clear on the benefits of taking an online GMAT course, let’s take a look at the features of such courses that you should be looking for.
5 Key Features to Look for in a GMAT Online Course
Let’s now take a closer look at the key features you should be looking for when choosing a GMAT online course.
Type of Course
When it comes to online GMAT courses, there are really three types: group, individual and self-study, each coming with their own features. Which one is best for you depends on your individual study habits/preferences, and also on the kind of budget you have for your course.
Individual (1:1) Course
The individual option is the more intensive of the two, and is exactly what it sounds like – it will be just you and a personal tutor. You’ll likely have an interview with your tutor, perhaps do some diagnostic tests, and thereafter be given a personalized study plan. Each class will be with your personal tutor, and will be tailored according to your individual study needs, your learning preferences, and your scheduling requirements.
The benefits of opting for a 1:1 course are obvious: you are the tutor’s only student, which affords a high degree of attention and personalization. Feedback will be prompt, detailed, and highly personalized, which makes for faster progress and will have you ready for the test sooner rather than later. You’ll also have much readier access to your tutor in the event that you have queries or requests.
Furthermore, your study schedule will be entirely up to you. You won’t have to adjust to accommodate pre-scheduled classes, but rather you’ll be able to let your tutor know when you’re available, and they’ll take care of organizing the classes around you.
There are, inevitably, a couple of drawbacks with an individual course, however. Firstly, they’re extremely expensive (all that personalization comes with a price tag). Private one-to-one courses over a four-month period can cost as much as three times the cost of their equivalent group courses, and can reach as high as USD 3,000. If you’re looking to go this route, then, make sure your wallet can take the hit.
Secondly, they might not be great for students who thrive on interaction and group activities. If you’re a very sociable person who prefers to bounce off your classmates and work in larger groups, then an individual course might not be for you.
On the other hand, you have group courses. Online group courses still have pretty low numbers (typically 3-5 students), so by opting for it over an individual course, it’s still not going to be a completely impersonal experience where you’ll have to fight for the tutor’s attention.
Group courses are, of course, much cheaper than individual courses. There’s also a lot more opportunities to discuss your mutual progress with your classmates, hash out how best to approach different sections of the GMAT, and compare notes on your practice tests. For the student who thrives best in a social environment, a group course is probably the better pick.
There are, of course, drawbacks to taking group courses. The schedule will be predetermined and inflexible, so you need to make sure you can organize your time around it. If you miss a class, then that class is lost – and the money you spent on it, too.
There is also much less personal attention than in an individual course. Sure, your tutor will answer your questions and get back to you about your personal progress – it will just take a little longer, and be less detailed, than on a 1:1 course. Consequently, you may not see as much improvement – or improvement as quickly – as you might have seen if you’d opted for one-on-one classes. Thus, it really depends on the features you find important in a GMAT online course.
The cheapest of the three options, an online self-study course means that you pay for access to the course materials, a pre-written study guide, and possibly a diagnostic test. There’s limited interaction with tutors, and zero interaction with other students (outside of forums etc., but that’s not a feature of the course you pay for).
Self-study is, as mentioned, very cheap, but it does mean that you get neither the social experience of learning together with other students, nor the personalized feedback of a private tutor. It really comes down to a question of budget, and your faith in your own skills. Do you believe you can ace the GMAT without a tutor or peer feedback? Then this may be the option for you.
An important feature of any of the best GMAT online courses is the quality of their study materials. After all, you can’t really prepare for the GMAT without practice tests and questions – and the better quality these materials are, the better they’ll prepare you for what you can expect on test day.
Study resources for the GMAT fall into one of three basic categories:
GMAT Section and Test Guides
Before you can start taking practice tests, you need to understand how each section of the GMAT works. The best online courses will provide clear and detailed breakdowns of each section, and they’ll also offer guides to the test in general.
When selecting a course, then, you need to make sure that your course of choice offers such materials – preferably created by either former GMAT assessors, or tutors who’ve previously scored in the 99th percentile of the GMAT.
Also included in this are diagnostic tests. These should be brief tests that can give you an idea of where you’d roughly place if you were to take the test today, and can be used to assess your strengths and weaknesses in the various sections of the GMAT.
Practice Exam Packs
The best GMAT courses are not complete without this, the most essential aspect of any GMAT prep.
Practice exam packs are not simply questions recycled from previous tests. The very best ones will draw from unused questions that appear in GMAC’s official pool, and they will, ideally, be adaptive. That is to say that they will respond to your progress and become incrementally more difficult, meaning that as you improve, you’ll continue to be challenged by the questions that come up.
They should also provide meaningful feedback in various ways. Automatically generated time-management reports can let you know which sections you’re tackling efficiently (and which you need to speed up on), and it’s standard for the marking criteria and rubrics used to be identical to those on the official test.
It’s not always necessary to do a full-on practice test – and is sometimes actually counterproductive. If that day’s class focuses exclusively on Quant, then your tutor is not going to want to have you do a full test to revise that. It’s much more practical to give you 20-30 practice Quant questions.
It’s often possible to switch between exam mode (in which the answers are not revealed) and study mode (wherein answers are shown once you’ve finished), allowing both you and your tutor a greater degree of control over proceedings. What’s more, practice questions can help you improve your test-taking methodology and help your tutor figure out which sections (or question types) you need to focus on.
Score Improvement Guarantee
Practically all GMAT online course providers have a score improvement guarantee. The nature of that score improvement differs from course to course, but it is something that any reputable GMAT tutoring service has.
Score improvements generally come in one of two forms:
Flat Score Bump Guarantee
Many course providers, such as Magoosh or Testmasters, will guarantee a flat increase to your score. In Magoosh’s case, it’s 70+; in Testmasters, it’s a whopping 100+ (the biggest guarantee of any course).
How much use these flat score increases are to you is, of course, something for you to determine. However, it is a useful metric by which to measure the various prep schools (and their corresponding course price tags).
Conditional Score Increases
Other GMAT prep courses will offer a score increase that’s predicated upon your already testing above a certain threshold. For instance, the highly-regarded Princeton Review offers a ‘700+’ course, which guarantees a GMAT score of 700 – provided you are already scoring 620+.
Many would argue that this approach is much more realistic than a flat “we can increase your score by [x]” guarantee, which doesn’t take into account the circumstances and aptitude of individual students. However, detractors would point to the fact that such courses rely upon their students already being accomplished and competent, which makes such a guarantee a little less meaningful.
What If A Course Has No Score Guarantee?
Some courses don’t offer an improved score guarantee at all. Take Kaplan, whose online course is generally regarded as one of the best, but has no guarantee in place. Does this make their course a wash?
Not necessarily. As just mentioned, Kaplan’s course is very well regarded, and the fact that it doesn’t offer a score guarantee (while not ideal) does not mean that their students perform poorly or that the course isn’t worth it. Kaplan makes up for it with an extensive catalog of test materials and live teaching in an online classroom.
With that in mind, then, it’s worth remembering that score guarantees are not the be-all and end-all.
One of the key features you’ll want to consider is the duration of any GMAT online course. While it’s not always accurate to say longer = better, as a rule of thumb it is generally preferable to have as much time as possible to properly prep for GMAT test day.
When talking about course duration, it’s also important to establish what ‘duration’ means. For instance, some course providers (like Magoosh) provide 1 year’s ‘access’ – which means you can make use of their online materials as much as you like, but doesn’t mean that you get a year’s worth of class. Others, such as The Princeton Review, only offer a 1.5-month-long course, but within that timeframe there are a lot of class hours packed in.
Course duration also varies depending on the type of course you’re taking. Many online courses are simply self-study options, which means that you’re given access to the materials provided and you’ll make use of them yourself. In this case, duration refers to how long you can access such materials.
If, on the other hand, you’re taking part in group or 1:1 sessions, then course duration is also going to include a number of hours of class/workshops/seminars. These vary from provider to provider, and are inevitably going to drive the price up.
A huge deciding factor for many potential GMAT students is the price tag attached to prep courses. Admittedly, this may be a key limiting feature of GMAT online courses for many students. Naturally, this price tag is going to vary depending on a great number of factors. Let’s take a look at those factors.
Length Of Course
Simply put: the longer your course, the more it’s generally going to cost. This is not a universal rule, however (Magoosh’s course provides a year’s access and is noted for its cheapness), and it’s perhaps more informative to look at whether or not it’s a course with actual online classroom time. In that instance, class hours can raise the price quickly.
The Princeton Review’s online course, for instance, has around 20 hours of online classes, and is consequently on the expensive side ($1700 at the time of writing). Magoosh, on the other hand, offers 16 hours of online classes and only costs $599.
Quality Of Teaching And Materials
As we’ve just seen above, despite only offering four fewer hours in the (online) classroom, Magoosh is much cheaper than The Princeton Review. Why is this?
Essentially, it boils down to the quality of materials on offer. The Princeton Review offers close to 5000 practice questions and a full 10 practice tests – more than enough for any GMAT student to sink their teeth into.
As for Magoosh? While great value for money, they only offer around 1300 practice questions – and two practice tests. They are a fantastic option, but you’re not going to be as well prepared with them as you would be with The Princeton Review.
Simply put: you get what you pay for, and that should obviously be one of the key features of a good GMAT online course.
Type Of Course
Perhaps the biggest bump in course price comes once you opt for personal 1:1 classes. This option is, of course, more expensive than group classes, and vastly more expensive than individual ones. As we noted earlier, you can likely expect to pay three times as much as you would for a group class – and 6-7 times what you’d pay for self-study.
Again, though – you get what you pay for. 1:1 classes are expensive, but they’re likely to yield the best results.
If you bear in mind these five key features of online GMAT courses, then you should have no problem narrowing the playing field and choosing the type of course that’s right for you.
It ultimately boils down to the type of budget you have, the sort of results you want, and the timeframe in which you expect to be taking your GMAT. Once you’ve established these factors, you can look more closely at the type of course that best suits you and your requirements.
Whatever course you end up going with, however, it must be said that it is worth taking an online GMAT course, as long as it has the key features you find important. The difference between your score with and without one is almost certainly going to be considerable.