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Resource Review: Kaplan GMAT Books

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Kaplan is one of the leading providers of GMAT prep. They publish three different books designed to help you get ready for the test--are they up to snuff? Let's take a look.

Kaplan GMAT, 2007 Edition: Premier Program

In many ways, this book is just a different version of the text Kaplan gives to students who enroll in their classes. That isn't necessarily a bad thing--just something to be aware of if you're already enrolled in the course. The methods are the same, and I spotted at least a couple of practice questions that looked familiar.

Kaplan is famous in large part due to its 3-step (and 4-step and 5-step) methods, and of course you'll find plenty of those here. I'm not sure how useful they are outside of the classroom setting. These methods are designed to be your entire approach for each type of question on the test, and I don't think there's enough explanatory material in the book to get you to that level of confidence with them.

There are plenty of practice questions, though not as many as you might expect in a nearly 600-page book. They are split into content areas, and the back of the volume has a full-length practice test. Probably the most useful part of the book is the CD-Rom, which contains several full-length adaptive tests. Buying the book also gives you access to more practice on Kaplan's website.

Practice tests are great, and Kaplan's are the best unofficial ones I've seen, but that endorsement comes with a caveat. Kaplan has always had trouble calibrating its scores to actual GMAT scoring, and despite some recent adjustments, still hasn't nailed it. Use the adaptive practice tests to get used to testing on the computer and doing so under time constraints. Don't live and die by the test scores.

Overall? Kaplan could probably produce a much better book than this. In an effort to reach everyone and produce a comprehensive prep volume, they've compromised one too many times and come up with something that isn't exhaustive for anybody. If you're preparing entirely on your own, flip through this one in a bookstore and see how much you think the methods will help you. If you're not convinced, you should skip this one.

Kaplan GMAT 800, 2006-2007

GMAT 800 is a very popular book. Whoever at Kaplan came up with the name ought to get a raise and an immediate promotion to the head of the marketing department. Everybody wants an 800, and we'd all like to think that working really hard through the materials in one book will get us there.

Of course, that's ridiculous. This book claims to have the "hardest problems," and while it has a few, that's just not true. A better title would be "GMAT 720." That's not to say the book isn't worthwhile. It probably does have more difficult problems than any other popular book on the market--it certainly contains more than any other Kaplan book or the Official Guides.

I am disappointed, however, with the way material is distributed in this book. The hardest questions on the GMAT aren't equally divided among every content area: there's more difficult Data Sufficiency than Problem Solving and more probability than algebra. However, there are only a handful of probability questions in this book, and the Problem Solving/Data Sufficiency split is heavily weighted toward the former. There are indeed more Problem Solving questions on the GMAT, but high-scoring students aiming for the top need Data Sufficiency practice more.

If you are scoring 650 or better and aim higher, this is a great book to have. However, don't put too much stock in the tips--they aren't explained terribly well, and in my opinion they aren't even the best methods to do some of their problems. (I should know: I wrote some of them.) If you can comfortably do every question in this book in a reasonable amount of time, you may not get a perfect score, but you'll do very well.

Kaplan GMAT Math Workbook

For years, Kaplan produced a math workbook that covered both GRE and GMAT material, which was an endless source of confusion for students. While those two tests have a lot of similarities, the question types and difficulty levels merited separate books, and Kaplan has finally provided that.

I hadn't seen this book before this week (it was published just this month) and I was impressed. It's not designed for the very high scorer, though I've worked with very few students who wouldn't benefit from it. The best aspects of this book are the content drills--problem sets that aren't GMAT-style questions, but ensure that you know the basics, such as dividing fractions and manipulating exponents.

There isn't a great deal of helpful explanatory material, but the math tutorials are quite a bit better than the equivalent chapters in The Official Guide for GMAT Math Review. If you're at a very remedial level in math, you probably need a tutor and/or a couple friendly algebra and geometry books, but if you remember the basics, this volume should be enough to get you up to speed.

Best of all, there's more practice in this book than just about any other GMAT resource. With about 600 questions, it'll quickly show you where your strengths and weaknesses lie. I strongly recommend this book for anyone currently scoring a 550 or less, or anyone just starting out who is uncomfortable with the GMAT Math they've seen so far.

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.

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