Why You Shouldn’t Use Just the Official Guide to Prepare for the GMAT

The GMAT is your ticket to business school, and since it’s created by the Graduate Management Admission Council – the same group that also puts out the Official Guide for GMAT each year – it makes sense to use the Official Guide as one of your study tools.

But notice how I said one of your study tools…

That means that the Official Guide isn’t the only thing you should rely on to get a top-notch score.

Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you need to supplement the Official Guide for GMAT with other study materials and strategies.

The GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test

The fact that the GMAT is a computer adaptive test (CAT) is a pretty strong argument against using nothing but a textbook-based study aid to prepare for the test.

In a nutshell, a CAT adapts the difficulty level of the questions to each user, using their performance on past questions to tailor upcoming questions to their ability level. If you get a question of intermediate difficulty right, you’ll get a more difficult question next. However, if you get an intermediate question wrong, you’ll get an easier question next.

That means that following a static set of questions printed in a book isn’t going to prepare you for the changing dynamic of the questions presented to you during the GMAT.

The GMAT Requires More Than Just Content Knowledge

There are plenty of content-based questions on the GMAT. But there are a lot of other skills you need to have honed by the time your GMAT date rolls around.

The test requires you to demonstrate command of reading and writing abilities, quantitative and verbal skills, and be able to analyze information to come to the correct answer.

But there’s also a requirement that test-takers be proficient in examining data, using logic, and demonstrating critical reasoning skills as well.

What’s more, the GMAT is administered in standardized testing centers in environments that are impossible to duplicate when preparing for the exam with nothing but the Official Guide.

In other words, though the Official Guide has plenty to offer, it’s geared more towards content knowledge than anything else.

A Book Cannot Replicate an Online Test

So, what does all that mean?

One thing – a book will never be able to fully prepare you for a CAT like the GMAT. There’s simply no way you can replicate the adaptive questioning or the environment in which the GMAT is taken, even if you use the GMAC’s own Official Guide.

You need something else…

The question is, how should you prepare?

The answer is simple – use an online preparation course on a computer with an adaptive mechanism that gives you constant feedback on how to improve.

If you study with the Official Guide, you’ll find that it explains why correct answers are correct. From a preparatory standpoint, this isn’t good practice. Instead, good online preparation has several other components:

Explains the Approach

Instead of telling you why a correct answer is correct, good online preparation for the GMAT should involve getting an explanation of how to find which approach to answering questions is forecast to solve the questions correctly before actually applying that approach.

Demonstrates How to Get the Correct Answer

Again, rather than simply telling you why an answer is correct, it’s helpful for an online GMAT preparatory program to show you how to arrive at that answer. Think of it like show and tell – the program demonstrates how to get the right answer and tells you the approach you can use to arrive at that answer.

Offers Shortcuts

There’s nothing wrong with learning shortcuts that help you remember content or figure out the best way to tackle a question. The Official Guide doesn’t offer shortcuts of these kind, which is why you need to supplement it with additional study aids that do.

Scans Alternative Solutions

Since the GMAT is an adaptive test, you need to incorporate an adaptive study aid into your studies. Study aids that scan alternative solutions and find the one that best fits your unique way of thinking (i.e. examPAL) are the way to go.

Builds Practice Sessions

As noted earlier, the time you spend studying for the GMAT can’t be working from a book that doesn’t replicate the adaptive nature of the test. Instead, using an online study prep that builds practice sessions according to your past achievements and shortcomings allows you to discover what concepts and skills you have down pat and which ones you need to brush up on.

Monitors Your Progress

As comprehensive as the Official Guide might be, it doesn’t have the tools needed to monitor your progress as you continue to study. In other words, you are studying a bit blind, with no feedback to help you determine what your areas of greatest need might be.

By supplementing the Official Guide with active preparation materials, you can get the support you need in areas of difficulties while at the same time be challenged in areas in which you’re successful to reach a higher level of performance.

Interconnects Different Topics

Again, studying in the vacuum of a book in which questions are organized by topic is not the way to prepare for a test that is constantly adapting to your performance (and changing question topics as well).

By using a study aid that connects the many different topics in a section (i.e. using what you learned about “expressions and equations” on a question about “solids”), you’ll be better prepared for the actual GMAT on test day. This applies to verbal questions too – you can rely on the study aid to take into account your difficulties with reading comprehension and ensure that those problems don’t interfere with your performance on long quantitative word questions.

Final Thoughts

The Official Guide for GMAT is a great study tool for the GMAT, but it isn’t the only thing you should rely on to get the score you need.

Part of that is because the Official Guide simply can’t replicate what an online, adaptive test is like. Another part is that the explanations the Official Guide offers for each topic tend to be brief and extremely technical. What’s more, the Official Guide generally lacks the tools you need to use to solve the questions to the best of your ability.

That means that in the Official Guide, the GMAC is trying to prepare you for a test without actually giving you all the resources you need to prepare.

Don’t rely on the Official Guide as a standalone study aid. Supplement it with online materials and adaptive materials, and you’ll be in a stronger position to do well on the test.