How Much Should You Spend on GMAT Prep?

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You can prepare for the GMAT for free, and you can spend thousands of dollars. There are plenty of options in between, as well.

Every once in a while, I see the question on a GMAT forum: "Do I have to spend any money at all on GMAT prep?" The answer is no, you don't have to spend a dime. Especially with the amount of prep material on the internet (or even just on this site), you can learn just about everything you need to know for free.

Whether that's a good idea is another question entirely.

In my eyes, when you pay for a GMAT book, tutor, or prep class, you aren't paying for knowledge, you're paying for efficiency and quality. You only prepare for the GMAT once, so you don't have a lot of experience. Someone like me, on the other hand, has been doing it for years and has seen what works and doesn't work for hundreds, even thousands of students.

That means that prep materials can save you time.

For instance, there's a huge amount of material and hundreds of practice questions in my book Total GMAT Math. You could find most of the material somewhere for free online, whether in a public-domain algebra textbook or buried in a test-prep forum. You can also get thousands of free practice questions from various internet sources.

If you spend enough time scouring for those sources and plowing through those questions, you could probably prepare for the GMAT pretty well. But is that a good idea?

If you do that, you're going to spend a lot of time on two things:

  • Looking for material
  • Working on the wrong material

If your time isn't worth anything, that's ok. Maybe 500 hours of free GMAT prep is okay with you even if you could've purchased just as much GMAT prep for a couple hundred dollars.

Again: You're not buying knowledge, you're buying time.

What About Budget?

Of course, the amount of money you can spend on GMAT prep will influence your decision, as well. Fortunately, you don't have to spend that much to save a whole lot of time.

Consider some GMAT prep options, in increasing order of cost:

  1. Self-study with free online resources ($0)
  2. Self-study with a few books ($20 - $200)
  3. Self-study with an online course ($250 - $1000+)
  4. Take a classroom course ($1000 - $2000+)
  5. Work with a private tutor ($varies)

Some people have a hard time studying for the GMAT without some kind of external motivation, like a classroom teacher or tutor. That's fine. However, that's most of what you're paying for.

A classroom course may help motivate you, but it doesn't save you much time. If all you need is to brush up on a few difficult topics, you might spend 20 hours in a classroom learning almost nothing directly relevant to your situation.

Optimizing For You

We can put these two factors together. To oversimplify, let's say there are four types of GMAT students, defined by whether they have a small or large budget and whether they need a lot or a little external motivation.

  1. Low budget, little need for motivation.
    You can get all the materials you need for a small amount of money (under US$100), and since you don't need someone supervising your progress, that's ok. I do recommend spending some money. A $50 investment can save you a lot of time.
  2. Low budget, needs motivation
    This is trickier. Your budget limits your prep options, so you'll probably need to get support from unconventional sources. You might consider putting together a study group, or frequently posting your progress on a GMAT forum so that the community keeps you accountable.
  3. High budget, little need for motivation.
    You don't need a tutor to hold your hand, but a good tutor can be helpful in building a study plan that will maximize every hour you spend doing GMAT prep. Many people in this category end up taking a classroom course and not finding it very valuable.
  4. High budget, needs motivation.
    Much of the test-prep industry exists for your benefit. Make sure you find a class or tutor that can work with your schedule and keep you engaged in the learning process. You may spend $1,500 or more in the process, but if that's what it takes to help you do the work and earn your best GMAT score, it's probably worth it in the long run.

What category do you fit into? Is there any way you could take advantage of your personal characteristics to better prepare for the GMAT?



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Math

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Quant section. It's "far and away the best study material available," including over 300 realistic practice questions and more than 500 exercises!
Click to read more.