Is Online GMAT Prep Worth It?
By Ajay Amar, Ph.D., Jun 7 2017 09:00AM
I come from a career in science and technology. Yet I believe that the highest quality education – GMAT preparation being no exception – is found in an ancient method dating back to Socrates: the classical, in-person, professor-explaining-right-to-you classroom.
Technology is a beautiful thing, and like the GMAT itself, which is a computer adaptive test, GMAT prep can be positively enhanced by technological advances. For example, GMAC’s test-prep software provides you with hundreds of questions almost instantly. If it’s been a long time since you have worked with math, I recommend watching Khan Academy videos to brush up on foundational topics.
The modern classroom is no longer equipped with chalkboards and No. 2 pencils. Yet one educational tradition is still fresh: the ideal setting for optimized learning is one in which teacher and student are fully present, the teacher focused on conveying both knowledge and illumination to the student, the student focused on understanding.
Here are six reasons why, in the end, online GMAT prep is not as effective as classroom preparation in getting you ready for the exam.
1. GMAT prep minus two-way interaction equals under-prepared test-taker.
Stuck in your GMAT studies? There’s an app for that. It’s called “teaching.”
You don't know what you don't know. In other words, it's difficult to self-diagnose and self-correct. With online GMAT courses, you might be given the right answer... but did you really understand how the solution was found? In a GMAT class, you can ask your professor to rephrase or provide another example. In a smaller classroom setting, your professor might even notice your glazed eyes or confused expression, and try another tactic to explain.
Online GMAT classes have an even more serious limitation – technology. If you have questions on GMAT algebra or geometry, how do you communicate equations or diagrams via chat? If you are struggling with math concepts, you may not even know how to formulate your question. In the classroom, however, you can just tell your professor that you are lost, in “real-time.”
2. What you really need is a way not only to pinpoint your weaknesses but also improve your results.
You may be considering an online GMAT prep course that provides computer-adaptive practice questions and tests. Such a course can help you calibrate your performance, but won’t necessarily help you improve.
Taking computer adaptive tests (CATs) can be valuable as practice. Not only will you be better prepared for the official GMAT test, you may also uncover the areas in which you need help.
But that's only one part of the GMAT prep equation.
First and foremost, you need to understand why you are failing at certain GMAT questions. The reasons can vary widely. One student may not know an underlying concept that applies to the question. Another student may know the rules but not understand how to set up the solution process. Yet another student may have developed bad test-taking habits that doom the outcome from the beginning. A skilled professor can not only diagnose the root cause, but work with you to correct the issue.
Secondly, brushing up on your knowledge is only one of your GMAT goals. A good teacher can help you maximize your performance in your areas of strength. That's how real GMAT prep can help you achieve a higher GMAT score.
3. Time is money, and you don’t want to waste either.
Many people turn to online GMAT prep because of its convenience. There are many, many forums, GMAT prep courses, and practice questions – a mixed bag of good and bad – all available online, and some of it free or very cheap.
When you're a busy professional, you don't have the time to sort through it all. If you are relying on online resources, the burden is on you to figure out where you might be going wrong, comb through materials, post questions, and try to get answers through a chat window.
GMAT prep is going to take time and effort on your part. Ultimately, it is less time-consuming to attend a well-taught GMAT class with a rigorous, carefully considered curriculum, taught by an experienced professor who can address your individual questions … than to sit through hours of videos and sift through generic GMAT prep materials.
Yes, even with an excellent GMAT course, you will need to practice on your own. But you will also have a better foundation in concepts and strategies, so your independent practice will be far more productive.
4. The GMAT is tough. Now and then, it helps to get extra motivation.
A study by Columbia University found that community-college students enrolled in online courses failed and dropped out more often than those whose coursework was classroom-based. Isolation, technical difficulties, and lack of structure were the main causes. It's not difficult to draw the analogy to online GMAT preparation. Sitting at a computer for hours watching GMAT prep videos – especially after a workday sitting in front of a computer – is not especially stimulating.
On the other hand, sitting next to other students who have similar aspirations, learning from a professor who is encouraging you to practice and excel, can provide just the extra motivation you need.
Online GMAT preparation encourages passivity. Even with a "live" webcast – in which you watch an instructor lecture, but the instructor can't see you – you will typically just follow along, maybe even be tempted to try to multi-task.
Classroom discussions, however, promote more involvement and active learning. You will be encouraged to speak up and ask questions, and motivated to take notes and remember the concepts.
Giant, anonymous GMAT forums serve a limited purpose in providing support. The opinions offered online vary widely from the helpful to the just plain wrong. (And no, the time you spend chatting on a forum does not count as study time.)
On the other hand, a small GMAT class is your own personal support group. And your professor is your own personal expert to turn to with questions.
5. Who will keep you honest?
Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of accountability in online prep. If you slack off or drop out, no one will notice.
On the other hand, in a real GMAT class, the professor might ask each student – that includes you – to bring specific questions to class. In response, you’ll be that much more likely to stay on top of your studies.
6. You need to schedule significant time blocks to devote to GMAT prep.
With a long work week, family obligations, and other commitments, you may hope to squeeze GMAT prep into your free time with self-study programs or videos, or fall back on other online GMAT resources for help.
I have found that students starting from scratch need upward of 50 hours in dedicated classroom or tutoring time, plus 80-100 hours of self-study – especially if they are rusty in math. You are not going to be able to study meaningfully in short time blocks. You need to be serious about committing time to GMAT prep.
You also need to give your studies your undivided attention. Going online to study can tempt you to do “just this one thing first” – returning texts and emails, getting in some online shopping before you study, checking on Facebook updates, and general time-wasting. In contrast, the classroom setting encourages you to focus on the task at hand, even over longer periods of time.
A GMAT class provides what you really need: scheduled time away from your other commitments and distractions to focus on studying for the GMAT.
Technology is no substitute for real teaching.
When you get down to the hard business of GMAT preparation, there is no substitute for quality classroom learning with a first-rate professor. Online self-study programs, on-demand instruction videos, and "live" webcast GMAT classes may be beneficial for a GMAT prep company's bottom line (no brick-and-mortar rents, and fewer instructors to pay), but does it really benefit you, the person preparing for the GMAT?
At Austin GMAT Review, we offer remote teaching, but strictly in a 1-1 format. We do not offer online GMAT classes that preclude real interaction and personal attention. We do not market online instruction videos as a substitute for the true classroom experience. We value and respect our students too much.
As a future MBA, you should value excellence in GMAT preparation as well. With a busy career and life, it's easy to let your GMAT preparation slip in priority, especially if you're not getting much illumination from your methods. A bargain's no bargain if it doesn't work. In the end, that online GMAT prep will end up wasting your money, and worse, your time ... time that you should have spent on better GMAT preparation. Excellent GMAT preparation, however, can help you achieve a high GMAT score and win admission to a great business school. A stellar GMAT score may attract a fellowship! Now, that’s a cost savings.
Austin GMAT Review is the premier GMAT test prep company in Central Texas, offering structured GMAT courses to professionals preparing to enter full-time MBA or executive MBA programs. Austin GMAT Review caters to busy professionals who don't have the time to sort through masses of generic study materials. Meeting with an experienced professor face-to-face in limited-size GMAT classes, students receive the personalized coaching that they need and strategies to excel on the GMAT.