So, you've set your sights on business school and you're strategizing on how to get into the best Master of Business Administration (MBA) program possible. Admissions departments are the gatekeepers to MBA programs; your job is to impress them enough to get them to choose you over other candidates. That means submitting a killer application.
Many elements make up an MBA program application. You'll have to provide your undergraduate transcripts, of course (and transcripts for any other post-secondary academic work you've done, regardless of whether you earned a degree). Nearly all programs also want to see:
Finally, many schools require standardized test scores. While a growing number of MBA programs, including some top business schools, have GMAT-optional or no-GMAT admissions policies, a majority of programs still require applicants to take the exam and submit scores. A few programs accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), but most prefer or require the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).
The marketplace is flooded with books promising to deliver everything you need to know to ace the exam. Test-prep companies like Kaplan Test Prep, Manhattan Prep, and the Princeton Review all offer multiple volumes of study materials that teach skills and test-taking strategies based on their GMAT prep courses. There are also offerings from industry stalwarts like Barron's and the Dummy series. Are any of these any good? Most definitely. Are they all the same? Most definitely not.
This article should help you identify the books that can improve your GMAT score. All are readily available via Amazon and other online book vendors, and most should also be available at local bookstores. We'll start with the only must-own book in the bunch.
The GMAT Official Guide Bundle includes three books and access to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) online question bank. It is important that you understand that these resources represent the only actual, authentic GMAT questions available. All other resources, including those listed below, include only facsimile questions. Some of them are reasonable approximations of GMAT questions, others are way off base, but none of them are actual GMAT questions. The only place you'll find authentic questions is in the Official Guide.
These books would be invaluable even if all they contained were test questions, but they also do a fairly good job of reviewing the content of the exam. We say "fairly good" because the GMAC treats this exam as sacrosanct, an attitude not universally shared by the many private companies that prepare students for the test. Official Guide instruction and answer explanations can be unnecessarily elaborate and occasionally quite obtuse. It's no accident that some of these materials make you feel stupid; they want to create the impression that the exam is more difficult than it actually is.
That caveat aside, these books and the accompanying online resources (i.e. the question bank) are essential. They represent the only resource you truly cannot do without to prepare for this test. These books, alongside a book that teaches smart test-taking strategy, are the way to go.
If this package is beyond your budget, you can get by with the single-volume GMAT Official Guide. You won't get as many practice questions or as detailed instruction on the test's reading comprehension, sentence correction, integrated reasoning, and data sufficiency questions, but you will still get plenty of practice questions of all types. Like the bundle, this single-volume option provides access to GMAC's online question bank.
The Princeton Review literally wrote the book on demystifying standardized testing and demonstrating that many test questions could be solved using gaming strategies. Indeed, it argued that some questions were designed to reward such gaming strategies, since strategic thinking falls under the category of what the test framers regard as intelligent problem-solving.
If you want to get under the hood of the GMAT and understand how it runs, Princeton Review materials are a great place to start (disclosure: I contributed to earlier editions of this book, although I have not worked on it in decades and no longer have any association with the Princeton Review). You'll learn how the test writers choose question types, construct correct and incorrect answers, design incorrect answers that look correct to careless and/or highly stressed test takers, and see in-depth detailed explanations for how to solve numerous practice problems. You'll learn time-management strategies and see analytics dissecting the likelihood of various question types appearing on your test. Along with the book, you'll gain access to six online practice tests modeled to mimic the GMAT's computer-adaptive format.
The Princeton Review also separately sells workbooks—called "workouts"—for those requiring additional practice in GMAT verbal, quant, and integrated reasoning questions.
When the Princeton Review launched in the 1980s, test prep was a two-team league: Kaplan and Princeton Review. Back then, Kaplan taught lots of skills but no strategy. Its approach was to deluge students with practice questions that were typically more difficult than those on the actual exam. The Princeton Review was the upstart proclaiming the tests flawed; it taught skills but also strategies to take advantage of the exam's weaknesses. It was the better approach that was eventually adapted by all subsequent test-prep companies.
Many have followed in Princeton Review's wake. Among them, Manhattan Prep has built a very solid reputation among prospective business students. The company offers a voluminous library of GMAT test preparation materials. They aren't cheap; All the GMAT: Content Review (3 books) plus 6 online practice tests runs well over $100, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. You could fill a small bookshelf with Manhattan Prep GMAT books. All receive solid reviews from numerous Amazon reviewers.
This is not the place to start, because it focuses only on the most difficult questions on the GMAT. If you're aiming for anything less than a 700, you never need to look at this book. If you are aiming for a 700, wait until you're getting close on practice exams before you dig into this resource. You gotta walk before you can fly.
That said, once you're ready to reach for the brass ring, GMAT Official Advanced Questions will teach you how. All the questions in this book come from real GMATs, and that's critical: the real thing is always better than a facsimile. For those who need practice answering those last few questions, this is arguably the best GMAT book out there.
OK, so this isn't actually a GMAT prep book. Even so, The Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets: A Former Harvard Business School Admissions Board Member Reveals the Insider Keys to Getting In offers a wealth of insights into the MBA admissions process, including the importance of the GMAT (and strategies for deciding whether to take the GMAT or the GRE). More important, it will help you polish all aspects of your application and develop your brand.
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