Overview of GMAT Preparation Methods
The GMAT is too difficult an exam to attempt without substantial preparation. Having strong verbal and quantitative skills will not ensure high scores. In order to maximize results, the test-taker must also be familiar with the specific methods of assessing these skills on the GMAT, and must be able to demonstrate their abilities under a particular set of circumstances. All of this requires meticulous preparation strategies that use credible sources of information.
A handful of journalists have taken the GMAT without preparation in order to assess the results, which are predictable. One writer for the Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) took the GMAT in 2014 with no advance preparation, and received a total score of 360 (the 8th percentile of all test-takers), a verbal score of 23 (the 31st percentile), a quantitative score of 14 (the 4th percentile), and an integrated reasoning score of 2 (the 12th percentile). Also in 2014, a veteran Bloomberg journalist was able to receive remarkable scores of 640 (total), 42 (verbal), and 7 (integrated reasoning) without studying, but she also had a very low quantitative score of 35 (the 35th percentile). Even this impressive (and probably anomalous) case shows that taking the GMAT without preparation produces scores that are less than optimal.
Students taking the GMAT have many options when it comes to preparing for the test. From least expensive to most expensive, these include official and unofficial books, software, online instruction, prep courses, and private tutoring. The primary advantages of professional instruction are structure, accountability, detailed knowledge of common preparation issues, teaching differentiation according to individual GMAT strengths and weaknesses, and regular assessment and feedback. Private tutoring generally offers the highest degree of customized instruction as well as maximum efficiency of learning, but is also the most costly available method of preparing for the GMAT.
Some standardized tests (such as the SAT) have been the subject of numerous peer-reviewed studies that clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of coaching, but GMAT preparation has not been extensively researched. Growth in average scores, both among all test-takers and at top business schools, does convincingly show that competition has had a positive effect on GMAT performance. The emergence and success of a number of new test prep companies in the 21st century suggests that the market has rendered a favorable verdict on the quality of professional GMAT prep. Some companies claim high average score gains and/or offer guarantees of score improvements, but test-takers should review these carefully and with an appropriate degree of skepticism before making any decisions. Reviews of GMAT prep courses are published in many reputable newspapers and magazines, which can provide objective information that is useful to consumers.
Though the GMAT does not directly test business knowledge or skill, GMAT prep can help develop a number of abilities that are highly relevant to graduate business study. Written communication is important in most if not all business courses, and the GMAT analytical writing assessment helps students learn to write clear, concise prose that stays on point. The quantitative reasoning skills learned through GMAT prep are eminently helpful to the statistical analyses, charts and diagrams, and multi-step problem solving that students will encounter as graduate business students. Advanced learning is much more difficult without highly developed reading comprehension abilities, and GMAT prep helps students improve in this area as well.
GMAT prep can have a significant impact on business school admissions prospects, and choosing the right GMAT prep is therefore extremely important. Students who receive high scores will have numerous options for graduate business training, while lower-scoring students will not be as well-positioned to succeed. Test-takers should explore all of their choices in GMAT prep, and make decisions that accommodate their individual goals, preferred learning styles, and personalities. Average GMAT scores and score ranges for accepted students are easy to find on most business school websites, and this allows applicants to precisely target the ultimate goal of their GMAT prep. Professional GMAT tutors are usually costly, but lucrative employment after graduation and available GMAT-based scholarships are likely to be well worth the investment. Self-study methods require a high amount of self-discipline and organizational skill, and are thus recommended only for certain types of students.