Last time, we talked about how to decide whether to study on your own, take a class, or work with a tutor. If you choose either of the latter two options, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re picking the best program and instructor for you—GMAT prep is too expensive to suffer through a bad program.
How to choose a particular class (including instructor!)
Most companies offer some kind of free event designed to allow you to check out their program before you commit. Take advantage of anything free to help you make your decision.
First, do your homework before you show up for that free event. Take a practice test and try to diagnose your own strengths and weaknesses. Most companies (including mine!) offer a free practice test. (Don’t use up one of your two free GMATPrep tests from mba.com—the official practice test made by the test makers. Save those for later in your study.)
Research some business school programs to determine what you think your goal score needs to be. Talk to friends who took a course or worked with a tutor and ask whether they would recommend that course or tutor and why. (The “and why” is critically important—it may be that your friend liked a particular class for some reason that doesn’t matter at all to you!) Develop a list of questions that you would like to ask of any teacher and program you consider.
Next, develop a “short list” of companies or even specific teachers and then take advantage of whatever free offerings you can. Many companies will host free information sessions. Some (such as Manhattan Prep) will allow students to attend the first class of a course for free. Ideally, you want to see your instructor in action, so look for any free live or taped event that features the instructor in the class that you’d potentially attend.
One caveat: if the class sells out, you won’t be able to get a seat. Before the first class, call up the company to ask how many seats are still left. (If it’s close to selling out, they’ll tell you, because they want you to sign up!) Alternatively, get ahead of the game by observing potential instructors a couple of months before you want to start. Then, you can sign up for a later course with the same instructor at your leisure.
Arrive for class early and, if the teacher is free, chat a bit to get a feel for his or her personality and approachability. (Though don’t be offended if she or he needs to get ready for class and asks you to wait until after class to talk. We often have a lot to do in the 30 minutes before class starts.) Feel free to ask about his or her credentials, teaching style, and so forth. Give the teacher a short summary of your situation (current scoring level, goal, any deadlines) and see what the teacher has to say. (Remember that others are going to want to talk to the teacher, too—so give them a chance, too.)
Then take some notes. Was the instructor approachable? Did you feel comfortable asking questions and was the instructor happy to answer your questions? Did the instructor answer thoughtfully and even ask you some additional questions in order to clarify your situation? Did the instructor’s teaching style work for you? Do you feel you could learn well from this person for the duration of the course? Would you look forward to this teacher’s class?
Also, take notes when you interact with non-teaching staff at that company. Are they friendly and approachable? Do they listen to what you say and go out of their way to try to help? If you have any technical or other problems, how quickly and effectively are they resolved?
Repeat the above for however many classes you’re considering, then make your best choice.
How to choose a tutor
Choosing a tutor is even more stressful than choosing a class. First, you’re paying a lot more for this service. Second, you may feel that you can’t say no to the first tutor you talk to—he’ll feel bad or maybe he’ll get in trouble with his company if you don’t want to work with him.
Any tutor or company that tries to pressure you into a decision is not the tutor / company for you. You don’t need to feel badly about asking to work with someone else; a good company knows that sometimes two people just don’t click and that’s okay.
The company (or tutor) should be able to give you a bio or other information that will let you know the tutor’s experience before you officially agree to the tutoring. Feel free to google the tutor’s name to see if you can find any comments online from (happy or not-so-happy) past students.
You should also be able to have a short email or phone conversation (perhaps 10 to 15 minutes—be careful not to take advantage of the tutor’s time) with the tutor before you officially meet for a paid tutoring session, and the tutor should ask you some questions about your strengths and weaknesses and / or give you some kind of pre-work to do before the first meeting. For example, I ask my students to take an MPrep practice test, if they haven’t already, so that I can review their results and map their strengths and weaknesses before we begin.
Finally, at the first session, your tutor should ask you enough questions to become familiar with your full situation. How long have you been studying? What have you done so far? What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are? What is your goal score? When do you want to take the test? Do you have any deadlines you have to meet? That is, the tutor should be developing a strategy for your specific needs, not just applying a one-size-fits-all approach.
If you’re going to do some tutoring, make sure that you have the funds to do at least three separate sessions. The real value comes from the tutor’s ability to diagnose you and learn how you think. The more you work together, the better a good tutor will be able to understand how your brain works, allowing him or her to figure out the best ways to help you learn what you need to know.
(1) There are benefits and drawbacks to any kind of study: self, course, or tutor. Know your own learning style, goals, needs, budget, and preferences so that you can make the best choice for yourself.
(2) If you decide to take a course or work with a tutor, give yourself some time to make a good choice. Ask lots of questions and, if possible, observe the person teaching before you make a decision. Pay attention to how you feel: do you think you can learn well from this person? Do you think this person will teach you how to study well, for all of those times when you’re studying without the teacher? Would you actually look forward to class or tutoring with this teacher? If so, you’ve found the right instructor.