Part 1: Studying for the GMAT shouldn’t be like “pulling teeth”

You just sat down in the chair, you feel a bead of sweat rolling down your forehead, you’ve got a million thoughts running through your brain: You should have prepared more! You should have taken it more seriously! Is it too late to cancel this appointment and just run out of here? You can delay the appointment until next month, but that will only prolong your agony, won’t it?

Where are you, at the dentist’s office or at the GMAT test center? Could be either one, right? If you haven’t flossed in months you’re likely to have a painful hour or two in the reclining chair. Or, if you haven’t prepared sufficiently, you’re likely to be sweating serious bullets for the next 3.5 hours, with an itchy finger hovering over that “CANCEL SCORE” option.

It’s probably safe to say that either of these experiences figures somewhere in the lower/left quadrant on the graph of “things you’re looking forward to.”

Now, have you ever had a dentist appointment where the dentist peers into your mouth, looks around, declares you’re “in good shape” and actually lets you leave, unscathed? It’s quite nice, isn’t it?

It’s possible to have a similar experience with the GMAT, though it will require a little more than just brushing and flossing. Here’s how to do it:

STEP ONE: Decide on a strategy.

Here are your likely options:

Preparing for the GMAT using practice tests and printed materials is necessary but usually insufficient for success. Unless you plan to become an expert on the nuances and particular challenges of the GMAT, it just makes sense to leverage external expertise. Similar to your decision to attend business school, the rationale of “buying expertise” is that you can accomplish a great deal more in a much shorter period of time.

Mass-Market Test Prep Firms
A Google search quickly reveals a whole slew of these firms, each one slicker, cheaper, and promising greater results than the last. There is definitely some value here, and some MBA candidates have found such services highly effective. But just as you might think twice about attending, say, a discount dental clinic at the local college, you might wonder about the quality of the service you’ll receive. These places rely on “volume” as their business model and try to cram in as many clients as possible. And like the second-year dental student who may or may not have previously performed the delicate procedure you’re about to undergo, mass-market tutors tend to be test-taking savants who themselves were able to ace the exam, but who may or may not have any idea how to teach you to do the same thing – alas, “acing” and “teaching” are two very different skillsets.

Each mass-market test prep firm has its strengths, weaknesses and areas of focus. Some concentrate on the high performers, some on the lower; some use materials that mimic the actual test, some intentionally do not. The common denominator, though, is that mass-market test firms, no matter how much they claim not to, necessarily take a “one size fits all” approach to GMAT prep – it’s Taco Bell vs. Chipotle, because it’s a lot less costly when all the tacos look and taste exactly the same.

My cousin Joseph knows his way around a jackhammer. He spends his days on behalf of the City of San Francisco drilling all manner of things, from concrete to pavement to small boulders. Now, Joseph is a great guy, and I love him to death, but I absolutely would not let him drill… in my mouth. Would you?

Here’s the thing: Just because someone knows a lot about math doesn’t mean he or she is going to be great at GMAT math. The latter is specifically designed to test your quantitative ability with respect to business operations, and no matter how brilliant the physics grad student you found on Craigslist may be, chances are she isn’t going to be much help in raising your GMAT quant score.

And as you found out the hard way in undergrad, when the TA turned out to be a far more effective teacher than the highly esteemed, award-winning professor, subject matter experts tend to suck at teaching 100-level material — which is actually what you need for the GMAT. You don’t need to provide proofs in quantum mechanics; you just need to know what happens when two trains leave the station at the same time, traveling in opposite directions…

GMAT Tutors
As with any service, there is within the universe of GMAT tutors a wide range of competence, skill and effectiveness. Unfortunately, just as with choosing a good dentist, there really isn’t a single standard by which GMAT tutors can be judged – there’s no “CNET” rating system, for example, despite some decent attempts. So you’re left to your own devices in separating the wheat from the chaff. And with average GMAT scores rising annually, it’s never been more important to get the best possible help. In our next blog post (Part 2 of this series) we’ll tell you how to do just that.

In the interim, if you have immediate need for a highly customized, high-value test prep resource, please take a few minutes to check out our test prep offering at The MBA Exchange or contact us directly.