Surprisingly, you can actually study for the GMAT for free and get more than you get in a paid course, without sacrificing in the reputation or quality of materials. Here is a summary of high-quality, low-cost study materials.
GMATPrep Download from GMAC
If you used only one resource for your GMAT preparation – especially, say, if you were cramming over a weekend – that resource would be GMATPrep. GMATPrep is free practice software from GMAC, the organization that makes and administers the GMAT. GMATPrep includes two full-length practice tests. GMATPrep tests are the only practice tests available that employ the same computer-adaptive algorithm that the real GMAT uses. Moreover, GMATPrep tests are the only practice tests that are made up of questions designed by the test maker and previously used on the GMAT exam. So, you’d be crazy not to download and use this free resources.
As discussed on this page about GMAT practice tests, your two GMATPrep tests are essential milestones in your GMAT preparation. Roughly, they represent the “Start” and the “Finish” line. You can learn and improve from your review of the tests, but if you’re preparing for more than a couple of days, you’ll want more practice questions and more detailed explanations. (The official resources are sometimes criticized for having stilted explanations, although no one doubts the value of the realism of these tests.)
Takeaway: The GMATPrep tests should be a part of every GMAT study program, but they are not a “course” and 99+% of test takers will want more practice material.
GMAT Free is this course! It is designed to be used with the other resources on this page, and, in fact, it will guide you in how to incorporate them into your GMAT Free experience. It is completely free, open to registered and non-registered users, contains a Math Review of all topics on the Quant section, as well as 800 questions with detailed explanations (mostly text and video).
This course features several hundred unique questions created to be extremely realistic to the format and difficulty level of official questions. Moreover, this course focuses on learning from small groups of questions rather than lectures, so you can get in and out of the course easily for short practice or marathon study sessions.
Takeaway: GMAT Free is designed for a complete, no-compromises approach to preparing for the GMAT at essentially no cost. You’ll need to get some of the other resources on this page, however. You can enroll for free here, and the first module will guide you through the study planning process.
Not Free: GMAT Books
Some GMAT books are rich with questions and tests, come from trustworthy sources, and are low in cost. Here are the three most important sources, with pros and cons and then final advice:
- The Official Guide, published by GMAC, the test-maker, is a good source of official questions. As mentioned above in discussing GMATPrep, the only sources of official questions are GMAC publications. This book is light on explanations; every question has an explanation, but they are quite succinct and GMAT takers tend to find them less clear. The latest edition includes an online Integrated Reasoning practice section. Price: ~$32
- Kaplan GMAT Premier is a strong resource. Both the questions and explanations are complete and low in errors. The Premier book is also one of the best resources for printed explanations that give text-based overviews of topics sprinkled throughout the topics. The Premier book also includes a number of practice tests (although, before you get too focused on practice tests, read this article). The 2015 version of the book is approximately equal to the previous version. [Caveat: I formerly managed the GMAT program at Kaplan when various editions of this book were published.] Price: ~$35
- The Manhattan GMAT guides are popular, but expensive. The complete set is about $150 on Amazon, and is not too much more extensive than the much-cheaper Kaplan Premier book. Like Kaplan’s, the MGMAT books come with a set of practice tests – but you actually get the set from buying a single book. So the set is rather expensive, while a single book is an excellent value. Price: ~$16 for single volume; ~$150 for set.
Takeaway: books can be an inexpensive additional source of good questions and practice tests. One sensible route is to begin the GMAT Free course (with the GMATPrep practice tests), then add in books if you want more practice tests.
The following resources are free or cheap, so they are worth having on your radar. I would not necessarily include them in your plan, but I have listed them here because I think they are of high quality based on working with them over the years.
- Social practice: If you want to practice for the GMAT in a less organized but social format, then you should consider Beat the GMAT and GMAT Club, which are free forums. Both sites ultimately are based on providing additional explanations for questions from The Official Guide, above. They also feature articles from test prep companies. In this respect, they are partly redundant with the books above, but definitely provide free GMAT resources. If you see questions on these forums that are not from an official source, I would proceed with caution, because questions from less experienced sources may not be realistic. This advice is doubly true for anything simulating or resembling a practice test.
- Sample Materials: You generally get these in the popular books, and when they are distributed as samples, the experience tends to be chaotic and mixed with the marketing message that you should enroll in a course. These sources are good for a trickle of questions, so I wouldn’t bother to include them in your GMAT plan, but here are the most significant ones, for your information:
- Manhattan GMAT Blog
- Kaplan GMAT Blog
- Kaplan GMAT Question-a-Day
- Manhattan GMAT Practice Test*: this test is included in the tests you get with a single MGMAT book, so you can skip it if you will buy at least one book. Also worth noting: all of the tests you get with the book are included in the tests that come with the course, so you can get quite a chunk of the course resources by buying the book.
- Kaplan GMAT Practice Test*: this test is included in the tests you get with the Kaplan Premier book, so you can skip it if you will buy at least one book. Also worth noting: all of the tests you get with the book are included in the tests that come with the course, so you can get quite a chunk of the course resources by buying the book.
- Digital Courses: There are digital courses more or less like GMAT Free; they tend to be priced $100 to $500. In my experience, these courses have been built by people who have not come directly from a test making or major test prep operation, and for this reason, I see reason to doubt that all of the practice questions will be highly realistic. However, I have personally reviewed some of these materials in the past and found them to be not glaringly bad, so taking one or more of these courses is an option to enhance your free program.
If you plow through all of the materials above, you will spend far more hours practicing than the average person who enrolls in a $1,000+ test prep course, and hence you are likely to improve far more. Specifically, here’s what I would recommend for your next steps:
- Enroll in GMAT Free
- Download GMAT Prep
- Get 0-3 of the above books, with the possibility to add more later
Good luck with your preparation! For more on the test itself and planning for it, you can read about The GMAT Exam.