With all of the options for GMAT prep, which ones are the most effective? Which GMAT study material will help you master the test and achieve your target score?
To help you prepare for this important exam, we’ve compiled all of the best GMAT study materials in one guide. You’ll find official and unofficial resources, prep books and online programs, free GMAT study materials and ones you can purchase.
Before diving into the full list, let’s go over what you should look for in the best GMAT study material.
What Makes for Excellent GMAT Study Material? 5 Features
There are a lot of GMAT prep resources out there, but not all of them are up to scratch. Not only should you stick to the highest quality materials, but you should also choose the ones that best match your learning style. For instance, you might prefer to self-study with books than to take a full prep course, or vice versa.
Whatever you choose, you should make sure your GMAT study materials include at least some of the following five components.
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#1: Thorough Content Review
You don’t need to memorize a lot of facts and figures to do well on the GMAT, but you do need to have a certain amount of core knowledge. You must be able to interpret various types of graphs and to apply properties of geometry to solve problems, to give a couple of examples.
Many people taking the GMAT haven’t worked with the concepts it tests in years, maybe even since they left high school. If you haven’t calculated the area of a right triangle in a while, don’t worry – you’re not alone. To help you brush up on rusty skills, your study materials should go over all of the concepts that will come into play on GMAT problems.
#2: Effective Test-Taking Strategies
Doing well on the GMAT isn’t just about having great math, verbal, and reasoning skills. It’s also about being a strategic test-taker. You need to learn strategies to manage time and approach specific question types. The best study materials will offer various strategies to boost your performance.
You should try these strategies out as you study to figure out which ones work best for you. Even with a solid foundation in math concepts and verbal skills, you need to develop an effective approach to challenges like managing your time and knowing when to guess on a question.
#3: Realistic Practice Questions
As you review key concepts, you should drill skills into your memory by answering lots of practice questions. GMAT questions are tricky and challenging, and you need plenty of practice with them before the real test.
The best GMAT study materials generally come from the test makers themselves, and you’ll see below that GMAC offers a good amount of free material, along with additional questions and tests available for purchase. Unfortunately, unofficial practice questions are less reliable: some prep companies rush to put out material and offer shoddy practice problems that don’t resemble real GMAT questions. Unrealistic practice questions aren’t going to help you on test day.
At the start of your prep, you should work with official practice questions, so that you can gain a clear sense of what GMAT questions look like. Once you’ve become familiar with the format, you’ll be able to spot and avoid low-quality imitators. Regardless, if you stick to the study resources on this list, you’ll ensure that you’re working with realistic practice questions.
#4: Computer-Adaptive Practice Tests
The Quantitative and Verbal sections of the GMAT are adaptive, meaning that the selection of questions changes as you go along to match your ability and get an accurate measure of your skills.
To gain practice with this adaptive format and get insight into your scoring level, you should use materials with realistic, computer-adaptive practice tests. They should also be timed in the same way as the GMAT and offer a testing experience as close as possible to the real thing.
#5: Clear Answer Explanations
Finally, your practice materials should give clear, thorough answer explanations that help you understand your mistakes. They should walk you through problems step by step so you know how to solve them and how to approach a similar question next time.
The least helpful study materials only give the answer and offer no explanation. Some are even filled with errors! Make sure that your study materials offer extensive answer explanations so you can learn from your mistakes.
You may not find that a single study material contains every single one of these components, but you should make sure that your materials, on the whole, include them. You might rely on one source for content review and another for practice tests and sample questions. Altogether, your materials should cover all of these important parts of effective GMAT prep.
Now let’s take a look at the best GMAT prep materials, starting with official materials that come directly from the test makers themselves.
Official GMAT Prep Materials From the Test Makers
There’s one free GMAT study material that should be part of everybody’s study plan. That’s the free GMATPrep software offered by the Graduate Management Admission Council, or GMAC.
Beyond this free software, GMAC also sells practice tests, sample questions, prep books, and online study tools. Let’s take a look at the official free GMAT study material, followed by the ones that you can purchase.
Free GMAT Prep Software
You can download GMAT Prep Software for free at MBA.com. This prep software includes two realistic, computer-adaptive, full-length practice tests, as well as 90 sample questions — 30 Quantitative, 45 Verbal, and 15 Integrated Reasoning.
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The software also contains a guide explaining how to get ready for the GMAT, as well as a useful review of all of the algebra, geometry, and arithmetic concepts and word problem types that will appear on the Quantitative section.
The tests have thorough answer explanations, and they will give you an accurate sense of your scoring level, as they use the official GMAT scoring algorithm. You can actually take each test more than once, but you may see a few repeat questions after the first time.
The free GMAT Prep Software is a great way to start your GMAT prep, and it’s most useful for realistic practice tests and sample questions. It’s not as useful for a comprehensive review of content beyond the Quantitative section, nor will it tell you much about time management or other test-taking strategies.
Official GMAT Prep Books You Can Buy
GMAC offers three books for the GMAT. One is a comprehensive guide, while the other two are section-specific and help you prepare for the math and verbal sections. Read on to learn about the details of each book, along with the pros and cons of preparing for the GMAT from these books.
Note that all of the prices below come from the official GMAC site, but you should be able to find the books much cheaper on Amazon.
- 900 practice questions with answers and explanations
- Diagnostic practice test
- Six months’ access to 50 online Integrated Reasoning questions
- Comprehensive math review for the Quantitative section
- Grammar review for the Verbal section
- Chapter with details on Integrated Reasoning
- Study tips to help you get ready
- 300 math questions from past GMAT tests
- Questions organized in order of difficulty
- Access to an online question bank where you can create your own question sets
- Access to videos from test takers and GMAC staff who share tips on GMAT prep
- 300 verbal questions from past GMAT tests
- Questions organized in order of difficulty
- Access to an online question bank where you can make your own question sets
- Access to videos from real test takers and GMAC staff with tips on GMAT prep
All three books together cost $85.85 on MBA.com, or you can order them for a total of $49.21 on Amazon.
Pros and Cons of Official GMAT Prep Books
Should you study for the GMAT from books and their accompanying online study tools? As with any study material, there are pros and cons to these books.
- Most realistic practice questions and practice tests available
- Diagnostic test will give the most accurate measure of your scoring level
- Excellent Integrated Reasoning practice questions accompany official study guide
- Comprehensive math and verbal review
- Not a ton of concept review apart from math and grammar rules
- Not useful for test taking strategies
- Only one additional practice test
- Books may not be as convenient as online resources, plus you’re solely responsible for sticking to your study plan and recording your progress.
The official GMAT prep books are excellent for practice questions and practice tests, and they offer great math and grammar review. For a more thorough content review and test-taking strategies, though, you’d benefit from supplementing these books with other materials.
Now that you have a sense of the official GMAT prep books, let’s take a look at the online study tools that GMAC offers.
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Official Online Study Tools From GMAC
Each of the following study tools integrates with the free GMAT Prep Software. Basically, they add practice tests or practice questions to the software you already have.
We’ll break down each option, and then list out the packages that offer various combos of these resources.
GMAT Prep Exam Pack 1, $49.99
- 2 full-length computer adaptive practice tests with answer explanations
- 90 additional practice questions
- Enhanced score reporting. You’ll see your math and verbal results by question type, and your IR report will tell you about your time management. You’ll get enhanced score reports on both the exam pack practice tests and the free ones already on the GMAT Prep Software.
GMAT Prep Exam Pack 2, $49.99
- Two more full length computer adaptive practice tests with answers (no answer explanations)
- Enhanced score reporting as in Exam Pack 1 for included practice tests and the free tests that come with the GMAT Prep Software.
GMAT Prep Question Pack 1, $29.99
- 404 GMAT questions and answer explanations — 200 Quantitative, 180 Verbal, and 24 Integrated Reasoning
- Integrates with the GMAT Prep software, so you can create your own question sets and answer questions individually or as part of a full-length practice test
GMAT Focus Online Quantitative Diagnostic Tool, $29.99 – $79.99
- Can be purchased as individual exam or set of three exams
- Quantitative exam with a detailed, diagnostic score report and comprehensive answer explanations
- Can purchase the Focus exam more than once, but after the fourth time will start to see repeat questions
Integrated Reasoning Prep Tool, $19.99
- 48 Integrated Reasoning questions and answer explanations
- Create your own question sets by type or difficulty level
- Score your results and track your time management
GMAT Write, $29.99
- Writing tool for the AWA section
- Up to four practice essays scored in real time using the same automated essay-scoring engine used by the official GMAT exam
- You’ll get a score, suggestions for improvement, and detailed feedback on your analysis, supporting examples, essay structure, and use of language.
The resources above are the main online study tools offered by GMAC, and all of them integrate with the free GMAT Prep Software. In addition to buying them individually, you can also purchase them in two combinations at a slightly reduced price. Below are the two combo packages from GMAC.
The Premium GMAT Study Collection, $405.77
- Includes the following books, online tools, and paper-based GMAT tests:
- The Official Guide for GMAT Review, 2017
- The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review, 2017
- The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review, 2017
- GMATPrep Exam Pack 1
- GMATPrep Exam Pack 2
- GMATPrep Question Pack 1
- GMAT Paper Tests Set I, II, and III (9 past, paper-based GMAT exams with an answer sheet and instructions for calculating your score)
- GMAT Focus Online Quantitative Diagnostic Tool, set of 3
- IR Prep Tool
The On Demand GMAT Study Collection, $319.92
- GMAT Paper Tests I, II, and III
- GMAT Focus Online Quantitative Diagnostic Tool
- IR Prep Tool
- GMAT Prep Question Pack 1
- GMAT Prep Exam Pack I
- GMAT Prep Exam Pack 2
- Including both the paper-based and online practice tests, this package includes 13 complete GMAT exams and more than 1,100 practice questions
As you saw, both combos include GMAT paper tests, which you can download as a pdf separately for $29.99. You’ll get nine full-length tests, but all of them are paper-based, so they don’t offer a very realistic experience of the exam.
Given all of these options, how can you decide which, if any, are most useful to you?
Which Official GMAT Prep Materials Are Best for You?
At this point, you may be feeling overwhelmed by all of the options — and these are just the official GMAT study materials from GMAC! Given all of these choices, which one should you buy? Should you splurge on a combo? Should you stick to the free software and forget about the add-ons?
Everyone’s needs are a little different, but for most students I recommend the exam packs and question packs over any of the other online tools. These official practice tests and questions are the best ones out there, since they come from the test makers themselves. Plus, they get scored by the official GMAT scoring algorithm, so they’ll give you the most realistic assessment of your score.
Many people take a practice test every two to three weeks to measure their progress. If this practice is part of your study plan, then you should probably buy one or both of the exam packs. If the price is too steep, then you can find other free or inexpensive practice tests online, but they won’t be as realistic as these official ones.
The other study tools could be useful if you have a specific weakness you need to shore up, but most people should buy an exam pack and/or question pack and not worry about the rest. While official GMAT materials are excellent for practice tests and practice questions, they’re somewhat lacking in content review (the books prioritize math and grammar concepts) and won’t tell you much in the way of test-taking strategy.
Third-party prep materials and programs are more helpful for strategy and content review. Let’s take a look at the best unofficial GMAT study materials.
Best Unofficial GMAT Study Materials
Below you’ll find the best GMAT study materials produced by third-party test prep companies, not by the Graduate Management Admission Council. As we did above, let’s start with the best books and then look at the best online resources.
Best GMAT Prep Books
These books rise to the top for GMAT prep books, both because of their comprehensive review of content and their accompanying online components with practice tests and practice questions.
Read on to learn more about each book or set of books.
Manhattan Prep Strategy Guide Set, $133.64
Manhattan Prep offers a bundle of 10 GMAT guides full of strategy and content review. Along with the books, you’ll get access to six full-length, computer-adaptive practice tests and over 200 additional practice questions. The questions come with detailed answer explanations.
The Manhattan Prep books do an excellent job of teaching strategy and subject material, plus they have thorough question sets to help you drill skills and improve as a test taker. They are geared toward highly motivated students looking to score in top percentiles.
Each guide delves into a specific area or question type, like algebra, word problems, number properties, sentence corrections, and reading comprehension. You can buy the guides individually for between $15 and $20 each.
The main downside is the hefty cost of the books, plus the sheer amount of material means you’ll need to work hard to get through it all. Some students also feel that the Quantitative questions are more difficult than the actual GMAT, meaning that the questions are not as realistic as they could be.
Kaplan GMAT Premier, $25.86
Kaplan’s prep book is a popular one among students getting ready to take the GMAT. It offers extensive review for all sections of the test, plus five computer-adaptive tests online and an additional paper-based one in the book. Beyond the practice tests, you can answer 200 questions online, and those looking for an extra math challenge can try 40 advanced math questions with detailed answer explanations.
Unfortunately, because access to online tests and questions expires after a year, you should probably buy a new, rather than used, copy of the Kaplan book. You’ll also be able to watch video lessons recorded by Kaplan faculty.
The main downside of this book is that it lacks the specialization of books like the Manhattan Prep strategy guides. While its 600+ pages contain thorough review, they don’t break down each concept and question type in the same level of detail as a more specialized guide.That being said, Kaplan does offer math and verbal-specific workbooks for just about $13 apiece.
Some students also say that the Kaplan guide is not the best resource for breaking into the 700s. While it will improve your score, it’s not the best book for scoring in the very top percentiles.
PowerScore Verbal Guides, $24.99 each
PowerScore offers four guides for the Verbal section: the PowerScore Reading Comprehension Bible, the PowerScore Sentence Correction Bible, the PowerScore Critical Reasoning Bible, and the PowerScore GMAT Verbal Workbook. Each guide costs $24.99 on Powerscore.com, but you can purchase the three bibles all together for $69.99. (Unfortunately, PowerScore doesn’t yet offer guides for the Quantitative sections.)
These guides offer great, in-depth reviews and practice for those looking to improve their Verbal performance and boost their time management skills. They break down each question type, teaches specific strategies, and shows you how to avoid common pitfalls and errors. If you find yourself repeating the same mistakes in the Verbal section, then the PowerScore Verbal Trilogy could be an excellent resource for breaking through and making real improvement.
These guides are best for drilling skills, answering practice questions, and learning strategies. However, they don’t go over the fundamentals. You’ll need a solid foundation in Verbal concepts before studying from these books.
Beyond paper books, prep companies also offer some helpful online resources. Below are the best unofficial online materials.
Best Online GMAT Study Materials
These are the best online GMAT practice resources. The free GMAT study materials aren’t always very reliable, but most of the options below include at least one free practice test, plus additional practice tests available for purchase. Some also offer online GMAT prep courses or other study materials.
Veritas Prep offers realistic, excellent GMAT practice tests, one for free and six additional for $48. The tests are computer-adaptive and look very similar to the real GMAT.
If you need accommodations, you can adjust time settings to get 50% or 100% extra time. At the end of the test, you’ll be able to review your performance and read over detailed answer explanations.
These practice tests are great for supplementing your other GMAT study materials and getting extra test-taking practice.
Manhattan Prep offers one free computer-adaptive practice test online and six more for $49. You can follow the typical time limits or set a time limit per question to give yourself an efficiency boost. The questions look like the real thing, but the visuals of the exam don’t match what you’ll see on test day.
These tests are a decent option for getting additional test taking practice and answering all the GMAT question types at various difficulty levels. Just remember that the actual GMAT will look different from the Manhattan Prep tests in terms of visuals and formatting.
Kaplan offers high-quality, computer adaptive practice tests that include every question type on the GMAT. Each question comes with both written and video answer explanations. You can take one practice test for free, buy four more for $149, or eight more for $199. The questions accurately resemble real GMAT questions, as do the visuals of the tests.
The main downside of Kaplan’s practice tests is the high price point. However, the price includes access to over 1,500 practice questions and the Kaplan GMAT prep app that lets you study from anywhere on your phone.
While practice tests, question banks, and prep books are your main options for GMAT study materials, you may also be interested in supplemental study tools, like apps and flashcards. Let’s look at a few supplemental GMAT study materials that can help you get ready for the test.
Supplemental GMAT Study Materials
There are some supplemental GMAT study materials that help you insert a little bit of prep into your daily routine. Check out the best apps and other supplemental GMAT study tools.
This app links with the GMAT Prep Software to track your progress, plus it includes 50 practice questions of all types. You can create question sets and answer them casually or under time limits.
The app also comes with a six-month subscription to the above-mentioned Integrated Reasoning tool. If you’re looking for extra GMAT practice through your phone, then the official app has the best practice questions.
This app has about 1,000 practice questions and 100 flash cards to help you get ready. A scoring tool tells you what you got right and wrong and whether or not you need to improve your speed.
This free tool is a useful way to insert a little extra prep into your day, but by no means should it be your only source of GMAT prep. Note that users have noticed a few spelling errors in the questions.
Anyone looking to brush up on math formulas and concepts may appreciate the Magoosh app, which contains 425 flashcards testing a range of GMAT math concepts. The app has an easy to use interface and is good for people who want extra math practice on the go.
While this app won’t give you thorough math lessons, it’s a good way to remind yourself of key math formulas while you’re on your lunch break or taking the subway to and from work.
GMAT Question of the Day, Free
GMAT Question of the Day is a great free study tool offered by a variety of GMAT prep companies. You can find them online or sign up for a daily email.
As the name indicates, GMAT Question of the Day is a study tool that simply gives you one GMAT question to answer every day. Some study tools actually provide two questions, one math and one quantitative.
These study tools don’t tend to include AWA or Integrated Reasoning, instead sticking to math and verbal (usually critical reasoning or sentence correction questions, not reading comprehension) problems.
Again, these supplemental study tools are a good way to insert a little extra GMAT prep into your day, particularly those days when you don’t have time for more comprehensive study. They’re not sufficient as your only GMAT study materials, but they will help you learn, uncover weak spots, and stay engaged with the exam on a daily basis.
Once you’ve decided on and collected all your GMAT study materials, how can you use them in an effective way? Consider these five tips for designing your GMAT study plan.
How to Create Your GMAT Study Plan: 5 Key Tips
There’s no one-size-fits-all GMAT study plan, as the most effective study plans are customized to your unique profile as a test taker. You need to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and put effort toward the areas where you can improve the most.
A person with excellent verbal skills will likely need to focus more on prepping for the Quantitative section, while someone who uses math and graphs in their daily life may want to hone in on Verbal prep. The step no one should skip is writing down a clear study plan with specific steps to meet their goals.
As you design your study plan, consider these five tips.
#1: Make Studying a Routine
It’s tough to make time for studying, especially if you’re simultaneously working a full-time job or juggling other professional and personal commitments. To meet your studying goals, try to make a routine of studying.
Rather than trying to squeeze in studying time at random, set aside a specific time on the same days each week. Then, stick to your plan! By turning studying into a routine, you’ll optimize your ability to develop skills while ensuring that you don’t fall short of your goals.
#2: Take a Diagnostic Practice Test
Before you get going with studying, you should set aside three and a half hours to take a GMAT practice test. Nothing will get you familiar with the exam like taking an entire practice test.
You’ll learn about the test and realize questions about it you didn’t know you had. Beyond familiarizing yourself with the test, you’ll get a sense of your initial scoring level.
Don’t have high expectations for this first test. Rather, you’re using it to identify your weaknesses and all of the areas where you can improve. Then, you can use your results to inform your plan going forward.
#3: Target Your Weak Areas
Don’t waste valuable study time going over and over question types and concepts that you already know. Instead, you’ll see the most progress if you focus your efforts on your weak areas.
Find out where you’re lacking and what confuses you, and work extensively there. By targeting your weak areas, you’ll see the biggest score improvements.
Your diagnostic practice test will help you identify these areas of confusion so that you can direct your attention toward them.
#4: Take a Practice Test Every Few Weeks
As mentioned earlier, many students take a practice test every few weeks to become better test takers and to gauge their progress. You can see whether your scores are getting better and reassess your strengths and weaknesses.
Doing well on the GMAT doesn’t have much to do with memorizing facts and figures. Instead, you need to be a skilled test taker. Taking practice tests will help you develop your test taking skills, as well as learn how to answer certain question types, practice managing your time, and try out different strategies.
#5: Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes
While you should write out a specific study plan before you start, you shouldn’t be afraid to make changes to it. Consider the study plan a living document that you can revise as you go along.
If you find your progress has stalled, you should reflect on what you’ve been doing and what you need to alter. By taking practice tests as you go along, you can measure your improvement, or lack thereof, and use these reports to amend your approach.
In closing, let’s go over what you need to remember about the best GMAT prep materials and how to use them to get ready for this important exam.
Best GMAT Study Materials: Final Thoughts
Before you can start studying for the GMAT, you need to collect GMAT prep materials.
Official materials will always contain the best practice questions and offer the most accurate assessment of your scoring level, so everyone’s first step should be downloading the free GMATPrep Software from MBA.com. This excellent resource features two full-length practice tests, 90 practice questions, and a full math review. Because the software is made by the test makers, it has the most realistic practice questions, plus it uses the official scoring algorithm.
While official materials should definitely be a part of your GMAT arsenal, you may also supplement with unofficial books and practice tests. Third parties like Veritas Prep, Manhattan Prep, and Kaplan offer excellent resources. Beyond practice tests, they give thorough content review and test-taking strategies. But remember that as tempting as those free GMAT study materials you find online might be, you should make sure that they are really worth using, with practice questions of various difficulty levels, computer-adaptive practice tests, and a realistic experience of the test.
By taking time to study in the months leading up to your test date, you’ll be able to tackle all of the material and make significant progress toward your target GMAT scores.
Did you know that you can find a lot of GMAT material online for free? Check out this full list of free GMAT practice tests available around the web.
Once you’ve collected your GMAT study materials, what do you do next? This guide has 23 key tips for preparing for the GMAT.
The GMAT is a scary test, but how hard is it, really? Check out this guide to learn just how difficult the GMAT is and how you can tackle the challenge.