When prepping for the GMAT, many students gravitate towards self-paced GMAT online courses. They’re certainly an attractive option – being able to set the pace of your own student schedule means that you can fit it in around your existing work and study obligations, and is less pressure than a traditionally-scheduled class (whether in person or online).
However, self-paced online courses for the GMAT have their drawbacks, too. Those who find it hard to motivate themselves may easily stall, and it can be easier to burn out without any sort of external feedback or encouragement.
During the course of this article, we plan to comprehensively break down the advantages of self-paced GMAT online courses – as well as their disadvantages. This will, we hope, assist you in deciding whether or not such a course is right for you.
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What Is A Self-Paced GMAT Online Course?
A self-paced online GMAT course is one in which you are simply given access to the materials and activities, and left to work through them at your own pace. There is limited interaction with other students and almost no interaction with faculty, outside of direct questions or assignment/test feedback.
What Are The Most Popular Self-Paced GMAT Online Courses?
There is plenty of popular self-paced online courses available. These include:
- Magoosh (best overall)
- The Princeton Review (best prep materials, live support & highest number of practice tests)
- Kaplan/ Manhattan Prep (best online class format)
- GMAT official course materials (best free resources)
Check out our in-depth comparison of the best GMAT online course providers.
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What Are The Advantages Of Self-Paced GMAT Online Courses?
There are a number of advantages to engaging in a self-paced course, as opposed to an instructor-led one. Let’s take a detailed look at those advantages.
A Flexible Schedule
Perhaps the biggest benefit of self-paced learning is that it’s completely flexible. Because there are no scheduled class times and no need to work around the time requirements of an instructor and fifteen other people, it’s entirely up to you when and where you engage with the study materials and activities.
The benefits of this go almost without saying. It makes a self-paced course perfect for those who don’t have a great deal of spare time. Students, those with a heavy workload, and those with a lot of time-heavy responsibilities (e.g. children or other dependents) will find that self-paced study works a lot better than a traditional course.
Another benefit of self-paced study is that if you ‘miss’ a ‘class’ (e.g. time that you’ve set aside to study), you’re not really losing anything. With an instructor-driven course, you’d likely lose that class slot forever (whether online or offline). With self-paced study, you simply need to find the time elsewhere to squeeze it in.
Of course, this presents its own dangers – it’s much easier to blow off studies if the only person you have to answer to is you – but it nevertheless makes for infinitely more flexibility than a traditional course.
Ease Of Accessibility
Another string to the bow of self-paced courses is just how accessible they are. Whether at home on the couch or enjoying a coffee in Starbucks, it’s easy to simply flip open your laptop and get started on an interactive video lesson or a practice Quant test.
The incidental benefits of this are enormous. No commute time to get to a study center means that you have more time to spend on your studies, rather than time-wasting journeys after work/school on the bus or train. This, in turn, further incentivizes you to study – it’s harder to justify not completing an activity when it’s as easy as firing up your laptop, after all.
It also makes it easier to study whenever and wherever. You need nothing more than an electronic device and a quiet corner – or, failing that, noise-canceling headphones. Online self-paced study makes it easier than ever to study on your own terms.
Increased Retention Of New Knowledge
With the lack of pressure that comes with self-study comes a confidence in oneself and an ability to take on new knowledge more efficiently – and remember it better. Studies show that students who take self-study courses are more likely to later recall key information about those courses, in comparison with those who took traditional instructor-led courses.
The reasons for this are manifold, but simply put, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and distracted when you’re in an environment with a lot of other people – even in an online environment like a Zoom class. This holds particularly true for socially anxious or introverted students, who can see lower knowledge retention and test scores as a result of seminars, webinars and group classes.
The lack of set class times means that you can also study at a time when you’re more likely to retain knowledge. Some people make for better students in the morning, whereas others are night owls – not a time traditionally given over to regular classes (whether on- or offline). Self-paced GMAT online courses obviate the need to study at a time when it’s more difficult for you to retain knowledge.
We mentioned earlier the possibility of missing a class in a traditional instructor-driven class. In many cases, this means that you simply lose that class forever – and the money you spent alongside it. You may be able to recoup some of what you lost with the teacher’s notes, or other students’ notes, but it’s not going to be the same as if you were actually in that class.
With online instructor-led classes, this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that you can generally review recordings of the class after the fact. This helps to an extent, but you still wouldn’t be able to dynamically participate or pose questions to the instructor during the class, and so even these are necessarily limited.
These aren’t an issue with self-paced GMAT courses online, where all materials provided are reusable again and again. If you space out or daydream during a class, you will still have access to that class later. If you can’t really remember the advice imparted in a Quant 101 interactive video from 2 months back, simply do the video again.
The only limit with self-paced courses is how long you can access the materials provided with your course. Some course providers, such as Magoosh, are extremely generous with their access windows, allowing students a whole year of access. Others, like Kaplan, grant 6 months.
One obvious benefit of self-paced courses is that there is no instructor – and therefore no need to pay for an instructor. All of the classes are pre-recorded (often interactive) videos, which can be re-used time and time again with every student that accesses the self-paced course. This means, of course, that self-paced courses tend to be much cheaper than their instructor-led equivalents.
Improved Time-Management Skills
If there’s one skill that self-paced online courses necessarily teach the learner, it’s time management. After all, there’s no set schedule to follow, and no instructor to keep you on track. It’s entirely up to you to manage your own time and discipline yourself.
In order to get the most out of a self-paced GMAT course, then, you’ll become a natural at managing your own schedule and making the most efficient use of the time available to you. This is, incidentally, an extremely useful secondary skill in the GMAT itself, where you’ll need to make use of your time efficiently in order to maximize your score.
Improved Problem-Solving Skills
In the same way that improved time management is a corollary to self-paced courses, so too are improved problem-solving skills. You’ll be given the tools to solve problems via the interactive videos and supplementary materials, sure, but it will be up to you to figure out how to use those tools most effectively. Thus, as you’re engaging with the materials on a self-paced course, you’ll be simultaneously improving your ability to think critically and tackle problems efficiently.
As with time management, problem-solving is a vital skill that will stand you in good stead when you walk into the test room. What is the GMAT, after all, if not a set of problems? By making use of self-paced course materials, you’re strengthening the skills you’ll need for the actual test.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Self-Paced GMAT Online Courses?
We’ve taken a comprehensive look at the advantages of self-paced GMAT online courses – and there are many. But they go, somewhat inevitably, hand in hand with the drawbacks of such courses.
Instructor-led courses remain not only a viable alternative to their self-paced equivalents, but are actually far more attractive to many. So what are the disadvantages of self-paced courses that many find so off-putting? Let’s take a look.
Little To No Social Interaction
One of the biggest drawbacks of self-paced classes is that there is almost no social interaction whatsoever. This is a particular issue for gregarious or socially extroverted students who thrive on the exchange of ideas and lively discussion, as neither of these is really possible with a self-paced course.
Note that some limited social interaction is still possible with self-paced study, particularly in the form of forums. However, self-paced students are, by definition, at their own point on their study journey, and are unlikely to be studying the same thing as other students at the same time. This does result in less of a sense of camaraderie owing to the lack of shared experiences.
There is also less interaction with instructors, which means less feedback (but not necessarily none). This can be difficult for students who thrive on criticism and feedback, who may easily lose interest without that guiding hand on the tiller.
A High Level Of Self-Discipline Is Required
Self-paced courses are not for everybody. One of the skills that it’s essential to have is an iron will and excellent self-discipline. We all know how easy it can be to cut ourselves a break and slack off, and that temptation is especially strong when the only person we have to answer to is ourselves.
On a self-study course, then, it can be very easy to give ourselves the day off – or maybe a few days off – and consequently lose track of where we’re up to. This problem compounds itself the more you give in to this temptation, often resulting in students who just give up altogether than try to figure out where they’re up to or start fresh.
If you’re someone who needs external motivation to stay on target, then it may be worth reconsidering whether a self-paced course is right for you. After all, it’s a lot of money to spend if you’re not going to get as much use out of the course as possible.
If, on the other hand, you’ve got a zeal to ace the GMAT and you do just fine with self-motivation and –discipline, then a self-paced course might be the right call for you.
Less Peer-To-Peer Learning
Not all learning comes from a teacher – or out of a book. A surprising amount of the knowledge we acquire comes from our peers, who impart what they’ve learned to us in group activities and seminars, and may lead us to consider things from a perspective we hadn’t considered before.
With self-paced courses this is, of course, functionally impossible. There are no group classes or seminars at all, and so no opportunity for peer learning to take place. If you’re disciplined and attentive enough this might not be an issue, but again, if you thrive in a classroom environment, a self-study course might not be for you.
Technical issues are largely a thing of the past when it comes to online learning, but this may be a consideration for students who live in rural areas or who don’t have great internet connections.
If you spend half your time trying to solve connection issues or you’re waiting hours to buffer an interactive video, the process is likely to be a frustrating and demotivating one. It’s vital, then that you ensure that your internet connection is up to the exigencies of an online self-paced course.
A Lack Of Personalization
In the post-pandemic world, many GMAT online course providers have really honed their game and have produced some truly amazing materials for self-paced courses. Such materials include adaptive tests, thousands of practice questions, and interactive lesson videos that frequently pause proceedings to ensure your understanding of the target content with concept-check questions and impromptu quizzes. All of this works to ensure your engagement and motivation throughout.
However, even with such dynamic elements as adaptive tests, self-paced courses will simply never have the personal touch that you’ll find in a group class (or a one-to-one class). A flesh-and-blood instructor can assess your strengths and weaknesses, measure your progress and consequently tailor your assignments in a way that an algorithm – no matter how sophisticated – simply can’t.
If this sort of personalization, then, is something that you find invaluable in a course (whether online or offline), you may want to consider an instructor-driven course rather than a self-paced one.
Which Course Is Right For Me?
As we have seen, there are a great many moving parts that need to be taken into consideration when pondering whether or not to enter into a self-paced course. So many moving parts, in fact, that it can be a little overwhelming trying to make a decision.
Ultimately, the difference between a self-paced course and an instructor-led one boils down to a few factors. If you’re highly motivated, and you’re able to effectively discipline yourself and stick to a schedule, then you may find that a self-paced course works perfectly for you. You’ll also find that the flexibility of making your own schedule fits perfectly into your already-busy life.
On the other hand, if your schedule is flexible enough that you can adapt to a fixed class schedule, and you prefer the cut and thrust of the classroom environment to isolated self-study, then you may find yourself gravitating toward a more traditional instructor-led course. Such courses also promise much more social interaction, which you may find more intellectually stimulating and engaging.
However, there is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solution for this, and it ultimately boils down to what is right for you personally. It could be that you lack the motivation and self-discipline to police yourself when it comes to self-study, but that you also shy away from social interaction and dislike seminars and group activities. In this case a more considered approach may be necessary, and you might find yourself drawn towards private classes that both limit social interaction and provides a strict framework.
Whatever your ultimate decision may be, we can only hope that the pros and cons laid out in this article prove to be of use to you in your GMAT study journey. Remember that everybody is an individual, and this – naturally – includes you.
And, ultimately, you’re the only person who is really suited to decide what’s best for you. A self-guided GMAT online course? An online group class? A private online class with a personal tutor? Or perhaps even offline classes, whether in group or one-to-one format? Whichever sort of course you ultimately plump for, be sure to make the best use of the information available to you. Only then will you be in a decision to make the best-informed decision for you and your needs.