… which GMAT resources to use. So here is my review of the various resources I used and the benefits/drawbacks of each.
Princeton Review: Cracking the GMAT 2011 Edition
I finished reading all the material in this book in about 6 hours, because for the most part, there wasn’t too much of great substance in it (including time to do warm up test, but not including time to do practice questions). The book had some useful insights into how the test was structured, and since it was my introduction to the format of the GMAT and how it was marked, I gained a lot from this information. After the introductory material and the diagnostic test, specific strategies and tips are provided on how to approach each section. I found most of these strategies generic, and an articulation of common sense to some degree. If you are familiar with multiple choice exams, and comfortable with eliminating choices and making educated guesses, there is not much in the way of unique insight in these strategies.
Two specific sections I found useful in the book were the suggested approach to allocating time, and the approach to data sufficiency questions. I used the timing strategies suggested in all my practice exams, and also my actual attempt, and they seemed to work well. The data sufficiency approach is really common sense, but since it was the first time I had really seen these types of questions I found the description of the strategies useful. The Princeton Review also introduces what they term the “Joe Bloggs” principle; Joe Bloggs represents the average test-taker who would achieve a 550 score on the GMAT, and by being aware of the tricks GMAC uses in trying to confuse the average test-taker, writers can avoid some of the common mistakes test-takers make and improve their scores. None of these strategies are revolutionary, and might not really be different from anything other test prep companies offer, but they serve as decent introductory material to a first-time writer.
I only attempted the most difficult category of questions provided in the book, since I was fairly comfortable with the rest. These questions were at least one or two degrees of difficulty higher than the GMAT, and served as good practice. They also provided good exposure to the different types of questions to expect. The one downside was that the phrasing on the questions did not seem to mimic that of the questions on the GMAT, and there was definitely a different feel to them.
Along with the book, I received access to 4 CATs. These CATs were, in my opinion, fairly poor representations of what to expect. Like the practice questions, the feel and phrasing of the questions was very different from the GMAT. Moreover, the algorithm used did not seem too similar to that actual GMAT – there were many times where I felt like I did fairly well (relative to other CATs) and ended up scoring in the low 700s. This is bad given that I felt worse on other CATs and GMATPrep CATs, but ended up scoring higher on those. For most other CATs, there is some sort of consensus on whether they underestimate or overestimate scores, but I couldn’t seem to find any such consensus for the Princeton CATs. My scores were underestimated on average by around 70 points. Overall I felt that the Princeton CATs were not great representations of what to expect on the GMAT, in predicted scores and in overall feel.
Strengths -tough practice questions in the book, good introductory material/strategies, good time-management strategies
Weaknesses – CATs do not represent real GMAT well (feel/phrasing of questions), predictability of scores is not great, not too many insightful/unique strategies
Overall: 3/5 (grain of salt: I have no experience with other prep companies’ guide books and material intended to rival this offering, so nothing to really compare to)
The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 12th Edition
Started off with this book, while waiting for the Princeton Review Cracking the GMAT to arrive in the mail. I did the diagnostic test to get a sense of where I stood, and it was a pretty good indicator. My quant scores were lower than my verbal, but still fairly good. In the actual test, I scored a 49 on the quant (86th percentile) and a 46 on the verbal (99th percentile).
The Official Guide says that in the estimate of the GMAC, no other resource should be necessary to prepare for the test. For the most part, people do not see significant improvement in scores across multiple events, and the GMAC believes that by working through all the sample questions in the book and familiarizing oneself with all the material, one can achieve the level of proficiency required to meet their potential. I only did a few questions from the guide, as I was more focused on doing practice tests and the material from the test prep companies, but the questions in the guide were definitely the best reflection of what to expect on the GMAT. So there is some merit to the argument that one can do well using no other materials, but I would err on the side of caution and use multiple resources when possible.
Strenghts – Material is very good, diagnostic test is a good representation of skills to start
Weaknesses – content is limited if you’re looking for lots of practice
Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides, 4th Edition
I used these guides mostly to augment my preparation in areas where I felt I was weak. The only two guides I really used were the sentence correction and the word translations guides. The latter was a good source for practice in combinatorics, probability and statistics, areas in which I was not the most comfortable. The guides were very thorough, and provided in-depth explanations of various rules. They also used pretty good examples to illustrate concepts. Each chapter in each guide had questions at the end, to practice the concepts just learned. These questions were generally pretty good and helped impress the concepts into memory. Everything I have read about these guides says that they are very useful once areas of weaknesses are identified because they really drill down into the fundamentals of the concepts and help build knowledge and understanding from the ground up, rather than assuming an understanding of these fundamentals.
I also did an MGMAT CAT, and found that it was pretty good overall. The feel was not too different from the actual GMAT. The quant questions were more difficult than the actual GMAT, but this provided a good source of practice. If I were to go back and do it all over again, I’d probably purchase access to the 6 MGMAT CATs instead of the 4 Princeton Review CATs.
Strengths – in-depth explanations of fundamentals, good practice problems, broken down by types of questions, comprehensive, CATs are good representations of GMAT
Weaknesses – best used as a way to shore up weaknesses, might not be the greatest tool if used by itself, math questions on CATs are more difficult than actual GMAT
Took the GMAT Prep Test 1 after some basic prep, and then near the end took the second test and re-took the first test. On my re-take, I didn’t find too many repeats (maybe 5-6), and since it had been almost 2 months, I only barely remembered anything about the repeats I saw. These are definitely the best predictors of performance, and most closely reflective of the actual GMAT. The difficulty level, phrasing, feel, and expectations I had coming out the practice tests were all very similar to my experience with the actual GMAT. I think this is hands down the best resource to use, but unfortunately there are only 2 practice tests so one has to be careful with how they are used.
Strengths – best predictor of scores, most similar feel to actual GMAT
Weaknesses – only 2 practice tests, might need to re-take to get more use out of them
My recommendation would be to use a good mix of all the resources above. One introductory guide book like the Princeton Review, the Official Guide, and the GMAT Prep software should be used for sure, and if needed, the MGMAT strategy guides can be a good way to sharpen areas of weakness. I would suggest purchasing the 6 MGMAT CATs – along with the two GMAT Prep tests, this should be more than enough to evaluate skills accurately and also provide practice. I hope this review helped provide some insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the resources above, and that it can help shape some of your study plans!