Article for MBACenter Magazine 7/2/2003


Advantages of Preparing for the GMAT Online


by Sean Selinger, founder of 800score.com




Online courses are a practical tool for GMAT preparation. To get the best results, expect to invest 50 hours in test preparation



Preparing for the GMAT through the Internet has become increasingly popular over the last few years since 800score.com pioneered the concept of the online GMAT course in 1999. E-learning is particularly well suited to the GMAT for a variety of reasons:

1. CATs aren't paper friendly

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test (called a CAT). This means that the test adapts to your performance and delivers easier or more difficult questions depending on your performance. The test gradually adapts to your skill level. These dynamic tests cannot be simulated in a book, which means that paper and pencil GMAT tests don't adequately prepare you for the GMAT.

2. Exercise your eyes

On test day you'll have to stare at a screen intensely and focus for nearly four hours. Taking a timed high-pressure test on a screen is an unusual experience. You constantly have to feverishly copy material from the screen onto scrap paper (while making no errors) to do your calculations. The best way to prepare for this awkward experience is to do your preparation on a computer.

3. Too much material

The GMAT covers an enormous amount of material. Most of the early algebra through geometry and probability that you learned as teenager is covered. That is about four years of mathematics, plus grammar, essay writing, and instruction on how to speed-read through reading comprehension. All of this content amounts to hundreds of pages of material, an unwieldy amount to put into a book.

Websites, however, can easily organize several hundred pages of material so that you can breeze through sections you know. Moreover, a good course will link to other websites that offer supplemental in-depth content in the areas where you need more help. Books cannot offer such a range and depth of information.

4. Too many skill levels

When you take the GMAT, there is no point in asking the student next to you "Did you think that was hard?" Since the CAT is adaptive, top students and low scorers take different tests with different content and strategies.

This problem is particularly unnerving to people who take a GMAT classroom course. The reality is that unless the students in the class are at your skill level you will be wasting much of your time. A high level class will dwell on things like statistics and quadratic equations, while a low level course will emphasize easy algebra. The problem gets worse when you consider that you might just remember much of geometry from high school while the students in your class think Pythagoras is the name of a Greek restaurant. And there is the dreaded opposite scenario, where everyone knows what an appositive phrase is, and you are left clueless as the class moves on to idiomatic expressions.

All of these factors conspire to make the GMAT an individualist's test that favors disciplined self-study with occasional tutor support. Classroom courses do have value for confidence building and for students who don't have the will power to study for 50 hours before test day. Then again, if you do bomb, you can always tell yourself: "I did the best I could; I even blew $1000 on a course."

5. What support is available?

When you first learned how to solve binomial equations you could rely on a high school teacher to help you. Now there is no high school teacher. This means that at 11 P. M. when you are studying, no one is there to provide an answer. Online courses with 24-hour tutor support provide help in these circumstances.

6. Getting your essays graded

One of trickier parts of preparing for the GMAT is the AWA essay. You can read about how to write an essay, but the best preparation is taking practice essays on a computer under timed conditions. 800score.com offers an essay grading service where you can submit the essay for evaluation through the Internet. Often these initial efforts are weak, but with constructive feedback on content, grammar, and expression, they quickly improve.

7. Convenience

When you sign up for an Internet course, you can begin as soon as your credit card is approved. Online prep courses also allow you to log into the course wherever you have access to the Internet, such as home, work or school. International students find Internet courses attractive because in many countries they do not have easy access to GMAT prep books or courses.

A good online course will make much of its material downloadable or deliverable via email so that you can use the course on a plane or train where you are out of Internet access. You should also be able to print out the material in a print friendly format so that you can read the materials even when not on a computer.

In summary, online courses are a practical tool for GMAT preparation. To get the best results, expect to invest 50 hours in test preparation. Most students use an a la carte approach to their GMAT preparation and combine online, books and maybe even a classroom course. This approach exposes students to the broadest range of strategies and materials.

On a final note, the Internet is still the Wild West and you should not sign up for a course from a non-established company. Building a good GMAT course is an ongoing activity and it takes years of dedication to make a good product.

Good luck on test day!

www.800score.com