Comparing the Best GMAT Prep Courses in 2021

Researching the best GMAT prep courses can be overwhelming, and by the time you’re finished sorting through all the information available, you haven’t even started the real work of earning your target GMAT score.

Not only do you have to choose between all the test prep companies on the market, each with conflicting reviews and divergent teaching methods, but you also have to find a course format that suits your needs—

The pros and cons of each approach to GMAT prep are not always clear, and it can be difficult to see through the flashy marketing associated with the big name brands to get a straight answer about which service is right for you.

At Menlo Coaching, we know your time is too valuable to be spent sifting through pages and pages of service descriptions and reviews looking for consensus; that’s why, with busy-test takers in mind, we created this breakdown of the best GMAT prep courses in 2021.

Starting with our GMAT prep course comparison table, you’ll see at-a-glance stats on the top performers in the field. Once you’ve oriented yourself, you can read in-depth analyses of the benefits and drawbacks for each prep course, with a final conclusion to help you determine the best GMAT prep course for your profile and your budget.

GMAT Prep Course Comparison Table

Menlo Coaching Kaplan Princeton Review Magoosh Manhattan Prep Target Test Prep
Format Self-paced & live instruction Self-paced & live instruction Self-paced & live instruction Self-paced only Self-paced & live instruction Self-paced only
Unofficial practice questions 0
assigns only real GMAT problems
5,000+ 2,570 1,300 1,500+* 2,500+
Non-MBA related test services 0 80 17 9 1 0
Live courses taught per year** 8 ~180 ~60 N/A ~115 N/A
Ready for test day in… 10 weeks 6 months 4 months 1 year 6 months 6 months
Instructor pay rates?*** $160/hr+ $29/hr $29/hr $25/hr $100-108/hr N/A
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For high-performing students looking to break 700+ For students who want basic prep aimed at a mass market audience For students targeting a low- to mid-range score For students with very limited budgets and lots of study time For students looking to go beyond (parent company) Kaplan’s basic offerings For students looking for self-guided prep only
Read more Link Link Link Link Link Link
Menlo Coaching
Format Self-paced & live instruction
Unofficial practice questions 0
assigns only real GMAT problems
Non-MBA related test services 0
Live courses taught per year** 8
Ready for test day in… 10 weeks
Instructor pay rates?*** $160/hr+
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For high-performing students looking to break 700+
Read more Link
Kaplan
Format Self-paced & live instruction
Unofficial practice questions 5,000+
Non-MBA related test services 80
Live courses taught per year** ~180
Ready for test day in… 6 months
Instructor pay rates?*** $29/hr
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For students who want basic prep aimed at a mass market audience
Read more Link
Princeton Review
Format Self-paced & live instruction
Unofficial practice questions 2,570
Non-MBA related test services 17
Live courses taught per year** ~60
Ready for test day in… 4 months
Instructor pay rates?*** $29/hr
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For students targeting a low- to mid-range score
Read more Link
Magoosh
Format Self-paced only
Unofficial practice questions 1,300
Non-MBA related test services 9
Live courses taught per year** N/A
Ready for test day in… 1 year
Instructor pay rates?*** $25/hr
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For students with very limited budgets and lots of study time
Read more Link
Manhattan Prep
Format Self-paced & live instruction
Unofficial practice questions 1,500+*
Non-MBA related test services 1
Live courses taught per year** ~115
Ready for test day in… 6 months
Instructor pay rates?*** $100-108/hr
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For students looking to go beyond (parent company) Kaplan’s basic offerings
Read more Link
Target Test Prep
Format Self-paced only
Unofficial practice questions 2,500+
Non-MBA related test services 0
Live courses taught per year** N/A
Ready for test day in… 6 months
Instructor pay rates?*** N/A
Tutoring discount w/ prep course
Video reviews from real clients
100% genuine GMAT homework
Summary For students looking for self-guided prep only
Read more Link

*An estimate based on this Amazon review that reports ~900 practice questions in the test banks included with Manhattan Prep’s GMAT prep bundle, along with six practice tests at 90 questions per test.

**Based on the average number of courses on offer each month.

***Based on salaries reported on Glassdoor. Data collected July 27, 2021.



In-Depth Analysis of the Best GMAT Prep Courses

As you can see in the comparison table above, test prep companies have many differentiators. If you’re still unsure about which service is right for you, continue reading for a complete analysis of GMAT prep course offerings. We cover the most important elements of each program, giving you a detailed evaluation—including a final verdict—for each entry.

Menlo Coaching

Overview

Menlo Coaching’s GMAT Prep Course, created by expert tutor Chris Kane, is specially designed for the top 20% of test-takers who are aiming for elite scores. The curriculum famously teaches students to “spot the con,” or to determine where difficulty really lies in a problem. In this way, Chris teaches students to solve problems for which the correct answer typically appears unlikely or counterintuitive at first—a crucial skill for success on the GMAT. 

Chris developed the Menlo Coaching GMAT Prep Course curriculum based on his 20-years of teaching experience, incorporating new techniques and approaches to GMAT study that solve the issues most frequently reported by his students. After logging 20,000 hours of classroom experience, teaching 5,000 students, and building a successful and highly sought-after test prep company from the ground up, Chris partnered with Menlo Coaching, eager to continue helping high-achieving students earn competitive GMAT scores.

Menlo Coaching’s VP of Test Prep, Chris Kane, has been teaching the GMAT for 20 years.

Chris pairs proprietary learning methods with official GMAT content, ensuring that students make the most of their prep time and, come test day, are familiar with the strategies that will work on actual GMAT questions.

Pros

The Menlo Coaching GMAT Prep Course is ideal for those who need to optimize their study time: only 10 weeks in duration (5 weeks of live instruction followed by a recommended 5 weeks of reinforcement and timed practice), the GMAT Prep Course is one of the shortest programs on the market. Rather than locking students into a 200+ hour schedule, Chris pushes students to study efficiently, develop quickly, and with each lesson, come closer to their target scores.

Cons

The GMAT Prep Course is demanding, and maximum effort is expected. If you’re aiming for a mid-range score or aren’t willing to dedicate yourself fully to GMAT study, other test prep options will be a better fit.

Likewise, if you have fundamental gaps in your math and grammar skills, you might be asked to work through some remedial study before you can enroll. This may be a burden to some, but vetting the incoming students ensures that the quality of the course remains high while the pacing remains fast.

Of course, there is no denying that Menlo Coaching’s GMAT Prep Course is near the top of the test prep price range, and for those on a tight budget, enrolling in a course with Chris might be out of reach.

As a less expensive alternative to the full course, Menlo Coaching also offers an on-demand package, which includes all content available via live instruction: self-guided students will have access to 35 hours of video instruction from Chris Kane, along with all written curriculum materials and proprietary Refresh Modules. This is an attractive option for students with a particularly busy schedule, but do note that, as with any self-guided approach, you will not benefit from the motivation that comes with work in a group setting, and you will not experience the cooperative and supportive environment Chris creates in the classroom.

Key takeaway 

When shopping for GMAT prep courses, you want to purchase a product that will prepare you effectively for the live GMAT exam. Menlo Coaching’s GMAT Prep Course is designed to do just that, cutting through much of the fluff, add-ons, and flashy marketing associated with other major brands. Though more expensive than other options, the Menlo Coaching GMAT Prep Course uses the most efficient curriculum on the market, with the highest return on investment when all is said and done. If you’re a serious student aiming for a 700+ score—one who wants to put in the work and then be done with the GMAT forever—Menlo Coaching is your best bet.  

Magoosh

Overview

Though it is perhaps a misnomer to call Magoosh’s GMAT prep service a “course,” it is certainly the reigning champion in terms of name-recognition and accessibility. Magoosh directly appeals to the widest audience of GMAT test-takers, enticing them with free trials, a large library of content, and affordable pricing. Reviews are unanimous in naming Magoosh the “best deal” out of the many GMAT prep courses available—but the question remains as to whether you want to go cheap when purchasing your test prep.

Pros

Magoosh is built around convenience—it’s self-study, and it’s self-service. On-demand video lessons and a bank of practice questions are available through the duration of the subscription, or for a little more than a year. The interface is easy-to-use, offering students a pleasant (albeit entirely self-directed) online learning experience. 

Cons

An undeniable drawback to Magoosh is that there are no instructors. The “prep course” service is self-study only, and unless you are a highly motivated student, it might be difficult to stay on-pace without the accountability provided by a live instructor and classmates. 

Similarly, their self-study program simply lacks the expert deconstruction of official problems required to improve. For newcomers to the GMAT, Magoosh provides an elementary crash course, but will it be enough to get you beyond an average score? A common theme across reviews for Magoosh suggests not; consider these headlines from the Magoosh reviews page on GMAT Club:

Needed to start from 0 on Quant, Magoosh was ideal⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Best GMAT Prep to start from basics⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Helped me get my basics right⭐⭐⭐⭐
A viable product to begin with⭐⭐⭐⭐
Good to brush your basics⭐⭐⭐⭐
Good for Math, but still too basic if you want to hit 700⭐⭐⭐
Good basics but needs refreshing⭐⭐⭐
Good starter kit⭐⭐⭐
Good for fundamentals, bad for high score⭐⭐

In short, the service is fine if you’re aiming to build up your basic familiarity with GMAT concepts, but is not adequate in itself for those seeking elite scores. 

The reason for this comes down to an unhelpful focus on content rather than on analytical reasoning. Newcomers to the GMAT who sign up for Magoosh will be impressed by the extensive library of practice questions at their disposal; but what these newcomers do not realize is that the GMAT tests higher-order thinking and is not a content-based test. 

As a result, questions that revolve around memorizing math formulas or grammar rules—a central theme of the Magoosh content library—will not help you earn a satisfactory score. You may feel like you are making good use of your GMAT prep time by drilling content-based questions, but this kind of prep will not pay off on test day. The real reason most companies produce so many content-based questions is that they are cheap and easy to produce, not that they are effective.

Key takeaway 

The price at Magoosh is incredibly low, and for those on a strict budget, their service is attractive. But don’t sign-up just yet. Consider the fact that studying with Magoosh is a significant time commitment—underscored by their “1 year of access” to the platform—and that your time will not be well spent. By choosing the lowest paid option, you might be saving money, but in exchange you must resign yourself to hundreds of hours of studying math and English content rather than focusing on real GMAT strategies that will earn you a high score.   

Kaplan

Overview

As one of the “original” test prep companies, Kaplan is a well-known brand in the field of GMAT prep (and beyond, with over 80 tests supported by the company). Unfortunately, Kaplan’s attempt to incorporate every conceivable academic and vocational test into their product line undermines their ability to provide true specialist instruction. By offering prep for exams ranging from the GED to police academy entrance exams to interior design certifications, Kaplan focuses on appealing to the largest possible audience. 

In fact, when Kaplan announced the purchase of Manhattan Prep in 2010, the company all but confirmed a suspicion that their instructors, too average for higher-performing students, needed to be supplemented with a “premium” option. Now, Manhattan Prep serves as an alternative to Kaplan, especially for those students who require prep that goes beyond the mass-market instruction offered by its parent company. 

Like Magoosh, Kaplan offers self-guided courses with on-demand video and a large question bank; but they also run live courses, and they produce a series of proprietary textbooks that you’ve likely seen online and in bookstores. 

Pros

Most positive reviews of Kaplan’s GMAT prep courses comment on the large test bank on-offer, including “Qbank,” a question and answer portal that adapts its difficulty to the abilities of the user. This seemingly endless source of GMAT questions helps students log many hours of review, and in turn, boosts their confidence on test day (the real one).

Cons

A word of caution: through endless review sessions of Kaplan-written questions, supported by study with Kaplan-written materials and instruction from Kaplan-trained teachers, students run the risk of getting too used to the “Kaplan ecosystem.” If 140 hours of Kaplan training still yields a low score on the GMAT, it is very likely that the student has been trained to behave in a way that is not useful on the actual GMAT—leaving them in need of “deprogramming” by an instructor with genuine GMAT knowledge. 

If you’re still enticed by features like the QBank, consider this: MBA.com has thousands of high-quality official problems that will help prepare you for the GMAT—and for free. Kaplan’s proprietary questions, produced at a fraction of the cost of the real thing and priced high, will keep you preoccupied—and stationary. 

Key takeaway 

Kaplan is a name you’re probably already familiar with, and depending on your aptitude, you might have success with their prep materials—likely more success than you would with Magoosh. Nonetheless, their proprietary approach to curriculum design, emphasis on the “Kaplan ecosystem, and the huge number of tests on offer might not sit right with the serious GMAT student. If you want to focus on the GMAT and push your score to the absolute limit, Kaplan is not an ideal option.

Kaplan’s laundry list of course offerings.

Princeton Review

Overview

Princeton Review is well-known for its series of textbooks and for their GMAT prep course’s “700+ score guarantee.” Package options range from self-paced study with on-demand video to classroom instruction supplemented by a few hours of private tutoring. Much like Kaplan, Princeton Review also features an adaptive study bank that prompts you with questions based on your level of performance. While not identical, Princeton Review and Kaplan share many features.

Pros

If the large test bank and corporate structure of Kaplan is appealing to you, then you will likely find another attractive option in Princeton Review. Between the two however, we’d recommend Kaplan, especially in light of Princeton Review’s low standards for tutoring hires and their questionable, proprietary practice tests.

Cons

On the point of the company’s lower hiring standards, consider the following screenshot, taken from one of Princeton Review’s job postings. Note the highlighted passage: the minimum GMAT score requirement for Princeton Review’s instructors is 650, which is a lacklustre score in general, and frankly, an inferior score for an instructor. Other GMAT prep companies, such as Menlo Coaching or Manhattan Prep, aim to hire only those tutors who have mastered the GMAT, with a 99th percentile score. If Princeton Review is willing to settle for a 650, they are necessarily compromising on quality.

Another, more common criticism of the Princeton Review relates to the difficulty of their practice tests. Consider the claim of this client, who wrote that the Princeton Review practice tests are “geared to depress your score.”  While this specific claim is hard to substantiate, it seems more likely that the former client failed to understand the compromise that comes with studying in a “proprietary” environment. 

Remember that the Princeton Review’s curriculum, question bank, and practice tests are designed to test your knowledge of the Princeton Review’s GMAT—not the actual GMAT you’ll encounter on test day. Students who enroll in a self-guided (or worse, live class) will spend all their time learning the Princeton Review approach to Princeton Review GMAT questions—not genuine material.

So when a student performs well on a Princeton Review practice test, only to take the real thing and score much lower, it is less likely that there is a conspiracy in the works, with the Princeton Review actively trying to depress scores; what is more likely is that the fundamental flaw of the Princeton Review model has reared its head, and the student has spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of study to learn a system that has little in common with the real GMAT exam.

Key takeaway 

Like Kaplan, Princeton Review is a behemoth in the world of test prep. You’ve likely seen (or even used) other study materials produced by Princeton Review in your lead up to the business school admissions process, and you will continue to encounter their marketing across any additional research into GMAT prep courses. For test takers with mid-range score targets, Princeton Review might be a fine choice; but given the dubious quality of their practice tests, if you are going to go the route of Big Test Prep, go with Kaplan.

Manhattan Prep

Overview

What began as a “boutique tutoring” firm has morphed into a large test prep company (currently a subsidiary of Kaplan) that offers GMAT, GRE, LSAT, and Executive Assessment instruction. Manhattan Prep prides itself in its selectivity for tutors, only working with those who possess “99th percentile scores and substantial teaching experience.” 

In addition to hiring quality instructors, Manhattan Prep also produces its own line of textbooks, distributed digitally and in print to serve the widest possible audience. 

With Manhattan Prep, there will never be a shortage of test prep reading material.

Pros

By exclusively using 99th percentile tutors, Manhattan Prep guarantees that their instructors are top-notch performers on the GMAT; but this does not always translate to top-notch quality in the classroom, and within the cohort of 99th percentile scorers, there is no doubt that some tutors will be better than others. At Menlo Coaching, placing in the 99th percentile is a baseline requirement; on top of that, demonstrable success in the classroom and proven teaching experience is a must. And by paying +40% higher than Manhattan Prep, Menlo Coaching ensures that top teachers, not just top scorers, make it into the classroom.

Cons

As is the case with many of the test prep firms covered here, Manhattan Prep’s growth over the past few years has led to an unavoidable shift in focus. What was once a tailored approach has been adjusted for scale—now, Manhattan Prep markets to multiple segments of the test prep industry; their textbooks, not tutors, determine the curriculum; and many instructors are spread across multiple content areas rather than specializing in just one test, such as the GMAT.

Key takeaway 

While Manhattan Prep is nowhere near as large as Kaplan or Princeton Review, their courses and textbooks are still very much “one size fits all.” Not to mention, they are the second highest priced service of all the different courses covered here—and for what you get, the steep price tag is not justified. 

Target Test Prep

Overview

Target Test Prep is an on-demand, digital platform for GMAT study, built for self-service students who prioritize flexibility over the demands of live instruction. Their course is made up of over 1,200 lessons, broken down into 40 chapters, and “accessible on all devices”—underscoring both the serious time commitment required from TTP and the importance of accessibility to their customers. 

Unlike other services that offer complete coverage of GMAT topics, TTP began as a quant-centric prep platform; and while verbal materials are now included with all purchases, they are still in a beta (or “pre-launch”) phase. Some reviews do mention the use of the TTP verbal material, but the majority speak to the effectiveness of their quant materials only. 

Pros

TTP is well-known for their low-stakes trial, giving users five days of full access for only $1. Compared to Magoosh and Princeton Review, where free trials are limited in scope, this offer should be appealing for potential customers. 

Cons

Beyond the $1 free trial, however, TTP blends in with the competition: TTP checks off the expected features of an on-demand GMAT prep platform, including pre-recorded videos by GMAT instructors, an extensive question bank, and “intelligent” error analysis to identify weak points in a student’s prep. 

But as a self-service product, there is little to differentiate TTP from a service like Magoosh, and as GMAT test prep goes generally, TTP follows the same pattern as other large prep companies. 

A prime example of this similarity comes in TTP’s use of proprietary practice problems. From the student’s perspective, these questions appear difficult at first; but after some instruction in TTP’s “pro tips,” students will find an answer every time, and they’ll begin to feel like they’re learning something. 

To achieve this effect, TTP follows the standard formula pioneered by the other companies: pay question writers low sums to produce problems that validate the company’s own teaching strategies. It’s a neat trick—but on test day, when those “realistic” questions (to use TTP’s own descriptor) are replaced with real questions, their methods and techniques can begin to fall apart. 

Key Takeaway

Target Test Prep is a popular, on-demand option for GMAT prep, and in terms of quality of materials, it surpasses Magoosh in quant. But TTP’s lack of proven verbal material is a strike against the platform, and its lack of truly distinctive features makes it difficult to declare a clear winner between the two self-service options. 

The hard truth for GMAT students is that self-service apps completely divorced from the classroom context will never be able to compete with the kind of instruction on-offer from highly skilled GMAT teachers leading a class week-to-week. For this reason, TTP and options like it are, at best, passable introductions to basic GMAT concepts. But their impersonal nature, disconnected from the human experience of teaching students live, reduces their effectiveness as a long-term study option. 

If you’re still seeking GMAT instruction designed around your schedule, consider the Menlo Coaching on-demand package; users get the benefit of instructional videos pulled directly from the classroom, including all lessons and homework review sessions. Beyond the expert content from Chris Kane, the energy and motivation inherent in the live classroom environment will make a positive impact on your self-study—and all at your own pace.


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