A lot of students who take up GMAT are working professionals who have not been in touch with studies for over 4 -5 years. When these students begin with prep, they may face several challenges such as recalling the basics, adjusting to a new schedule, and finding the motivation to devote 2-3 hours to prep every day after work. A common dilemma that these students face is deciding what would work better for them – self-preparation from books or online courses?

Both books and online courses have their own pros and cons. Some students find it better to prepare on their own while others find online learning platforms to be more interactive and convenient. Although your style and pace of learning, self-discipline, and preferences in general play a role in deciding which option is best for you, there are several other aspects that you must consider before beginning with GMAT prep. Let’s discuss –

Self-prep for GMAT or Learning from Online cases? Which option is better?

The 3 Stages of GMAT Prep

Before you jump directly into prep, it is important to understand what the test expects from you. You must already be familiar that GMAT is a test of logic, which means that GMAT will never test your understanding of the basics such as Prime numbers, tenses, or geometry. Instead it will test your ability to accurately apply those concepts in different questions. This implies that GMAT prep does not really involve ‘studying’ and is rather more focused on ‘preparing’ for the test. Your GMAT prep should thus unfold in three levels or stages discussed below –

Level 1 – Learning Concepts

This is the stage where most of your learning takes place. If done properly, most students are able to push their score to 550-600 mark at this stage. You should mainly focus on learning concepts such as grammar rules and mathematical formulae and self-prepare with the help of books and online videos.

Level 2 – Identifying the Right Methods to Solve Questions

Right method here means an approach that helps you maintain consistency. A lot of students tend to learn multiple methods and usually find themselves recalling the methods and deciding which method to use while solving the questions. Not only is it time consuming, your chances of making errors also increase. Instead, you must identify one standardized method to solve questions on GMAT.

Level 3 – Fine Tuning

As the name suggests, at this stage you fix the dents and fill the gaps. Up until now, you have learned concepts and practiced questions. Now, you must identify the areas you are weak at, understand why you are weak, and then strategically work on those weak areas and strengthen them.

Now that you know how to go about your GMAT prep, it is time to identify which resource will best accompany you during prep, books or online courses –

Self-preparation for GMAT

Students who choose to self-prepare are primarily dependent on books, videos, and GMATCLUB. While it is great to have multiple resources to refer to for preparing for GMAT, you are likely to struggle when you reach the level 2 of prep, i.e. to maintain consistency. Multiple resources mean you will be learning multiple methods. Identifying a standard method out of the lot and finding solutions that teach you to follow this method correctly can be a challenge. This is where self-preparation can prove to be ineffective during the stage 2 of prep.

The difficulty does not end at the stage 2 alone. The lack of consistency in the stage 2 impacts the stage 3 as well. A number of mistakes that you make while practicing questions may be because you were following the wrong approach and not because you have gaps in your understanding of concepts. So, while you invest more time in revisiting concepts, the root cause of errors may still stay put because you are not following the right method, and you might continue getting stuck in the 550-650 range.

When is Self-Preparation Helpful?

Self-preparation is great for students whose target score is 600-650. By learning concepts, practicing questions on GMATClub, and referring to OG, you can easily reach up to a 650. However, this does not imply that you cannot aim a high score of 700+ through self-preparation. There are some exceptional students too who manage to score up to 750 on GMAT through discipline and self-preparation. However, if you are not confident about self-preparation, you can always look for other options to prepare for GMAT, a common yet effective alternative being Online resources.

Preparing from Online Resources

A common issue with self-preparation is that you are mostly on your own during prep. This is where self-prep ceases to work for many students. Also, some students thrive when they have access to guided learning instead of having to discipline themselves on their own. With online resources, you enjoy a multitude of benefits such as following a study-plan created especially for you, seeking guidance when needed, and interactive learning unlike reading from a book.

One of the most remarkable benefits of online courses is that it spares you the struggle of finding resources. With everything at one place, carefully arranged in the right order of learning, all you really have to do is directly jump into prep. If that wasn’t enough, just like books, online courses offer the flexibility to go back to a lesson again and again, until you master it.

How to select the best online course?

There are several options for online courses available out there and identifying one that would be the most suitable for you can be a bit difficult. However, there are certain features you must look for in an online course.

An effective online course should have the following features-

A standardized course – Ensure that your online course is created mentors who ensure consistency in the methods taught. Learning a standardized method and following the right strategy to solve GMAT questions is one of the pre-requisites for anyone who is struggling between accuracy and time during solving questions.

Helpful Read – Learn Why Skill Is More Important Than Accuracy

Detailed Solutions – As already discussed above, the primary issue with self-preparation is the lack of consistency. Ensure that you choose an online course that provides detailed solutions for practice questions, saving you the struggle of identifying the right methods from multiple resources.

Doubt resolution support – When selecting an online resource for GMAT pep, students should choose one that offers doubt clearing sessions regularly. Some online courses also provide access to online forums where students can discuss topics and solve problems.

Personal Mentor for Guided Learning – If you struggle with concepts, feel the need of constant motivation during prep, or would simply like to seek guidance from a  mentor, choosing an online course that provides a personal mentor can prove to be a commendable decision.

Personalized Study Plan – Most online courses provide students with a study plan that can help shape their prep journey. However, an online course that builds a customized study plan based on your preparation time, learning pace, target score, and strength and weaknesses adds value to your prep.

Need a Personalized Study Plan? Get it here!

Real-time Improvement Modules – Many students claim that they struggle with piled up doubts by the time they reach the end of prep. This is because they do not focus on addressing their weaknesses right away. Preparing from an online course that offers improvement modules on completing a topic helps you immediately work on weak areas.

And finally…

Know your target score. If your dream B-school needs a 720 on GMAT, self-prep may not be enough, especially for underconfident students. If you need guidance from time to time and cannot do without a mentor, choose an online course. However, those aiming for a 650 on GMAT can manage with self-preparation with some added effort and dedication.


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