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Beginner's Guide to the GMAT
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GMAT Resources (Beginner's Guide)

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Note: Today's article is the seventh in a series I'm running throughout January and February called "The Beginner's Guide to the GMAT." Here are parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.

Over the last year and half, I've written quite a bit about various GMAT resources on this site. In the context of the Beginner's Guide, however, I thought I could wrap things up in a more concise summary.

If you've been shopping for GMAT prep books lately, you know there is a staggering array of choices. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these are not very helpful.

Theoretically, there are two types of resources: those that are instructional in nature, and those that are tilted more toward practice material. Of course, many books are (or attempt to be) both; few have only one or the other.

Instructional Books

What disappoints me is how few GMAT books are comprehensive, and even how many of them give misleading instruction. This is a big part of why I created Total GMAT Math, which is comprehensive, and which presupposes only a small amount of previous math knowledge.

The Manhattan GMAT subject-area books are a decent effort toward this end, for both math and verbal. Other than that, there is very little of quality on the market. Many other books that claim to teach a lot of techniques and strategies don't really offer much.

Practice Questions

This is where you should be focusing. GMAC, the organization that creates the GMAT, has published several books with practice questions written by the same people who write the test. (Many of these questions used to be on the test itself.)

GMAC publishes three books:

Between them, they contain well over 1,000 practice questions. That's all you should need.

If you do need more, I've published several sets of practice questions that are carefully and closely based on actual GMAT material. If you need still more, just about every test prep company offers something; Kaplan's questions are probably the most realistic, but they aren't great, and it goes downhill from there.

Practice Tests

Many students operate on the assumption that they need to take lots of practice tests. That's not true. Elsewhere, I've written extensively about the reasons why.

Again, GMAC comes to the rescue. They offer two practice tests which employ realistic questions and the same algorithm that is used on the GMAT itself. The scoring isn't 100% predictive, but most of that is due to the vagaries of the text experience, not any flaw in the software.

As with practice questions, every test prep company offers practice tests. I've written about the flaws in their efforts, and I think they are severe enough that it isn't worth taking more than the two GMAC practice tests.

Overall Approach

Different people have different responses to my claim that 1,000 practice questions and two practice tests is enough. Some of you are probably aghast that I'm suggesting that you do one thousand questions; others probably expected I'd suggest 10 practice tests instead of two.

In general, though, this is an approach that works. Coupled with a sensible study plan (for more details on that, start here, it's enough. If your math skills need a fair amount of brushing up, Total GMAT Math is a handy resource, but you hardly need to run off to Barnes and Noble and come home with a stack of books you can barely carry.

What's more important than the number of questions that you use is how much you get out of them. Here's a longer article about how to do practice questions. The key is to make sure, when you are finished reviewing a question, that you are 100% confident on that specific topic. If you're not, you've wasted an opportunity, and you probably won't be ready for a similar question if it appears on your GMAT.