How to Choose: Self-Study, Class or Tutor?

by , Jun 27, 2010

ThinkerSummer is here again and more people are ramping up to study for the GMAT. Ive been getting a lot of questions lately about whether to study on ones own, take a class, or work with a tutor and, if so, how to choose, so thats what were going to talk about in this 2-part series. In the first part, below, well discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the three primary study methods; in the second part, we will discuss how to choose the best instructor for you (if you decide to take a class or work with a tutor).

Choosing a Primary Study Method

There are three primary study methods: working on your own (possibly with friends, but without the help of a professional), taking a class, or working with a private tutor. There is no one method that is better for everyone. There are benefits and drawbacks to each situation, so deciding which one is best for you will depend upon your specific learning style, goals, needs, and preferences.

Regardless of study method, there are certain things that you will need to know, have, or do. You will need materials that teach you the content tested on the exam, as well as techniques and methodologies for answering the different kinds of questions on the exam. You will also need practice materials, both individual practice problems (which can also be grouped into practice sets) and full, adaptive practice tests. You will also need some kind of syllabus (an outline of what to study and when). If you work with a company, that company should provide a syllabus and materials for you. If you work on your own, you will have to determine your own syllabus and decide what materials to use.

Studying on your own is typically the least expensive option and allows you to work on your own schedule. You also have to develop your own study program, which some people view as a benefit and some view as a drawback. Developing your own plan can be a benefit if you have past experience with developing study plans, including diagnosing your strengths and weaknesses, understanding your own learning style, choosing the best books and online materials to address your particular issues, planning your time wisely, sticking to a schedule, and, most importantly, teaching yourself. You can also use this previous article, Developing a Study Plan, to help you with this task. (The rest of this 2-part series will focus on taking a class or working with a tutor, because the article linked in the last sentence already discusses how to work on your own.)

Taking a class is more expensive than studying on your own but less expensive than tutoring. A course will provide you with a comprehensive set of effective materials and a syllabus to follow. Using a class syllabus will be somewhat less flexible than developing your own (with or without the help of a tutor), but you can (and should!) customize the class syllabus to some extent, spending additional time in weaker areas and moving on more quickly to advanced material in stronger areas. A good instructor will also be able to address different learning styles in the classroom (though not for each person on every single problem). Finally, you will be learning directly from an expert and you will be able to ask the expert questions; your teacher will become familiar with your strengths and weaknesses over the length of the course and will be better able to assist you as a result.

Tutoring is the most expensive option, so expensive that cost is the primary drawback to tutoring. A tutor will provide you with or recommend a comprehensive set of effective materials and will customize a syllabus based upon your particular learning style, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. You will also have the flexibility to set your own schedule, as you can when studying on your own. Again, you will be learning directly from an expert; further, because the expert is working with you one-on-one, she or he will quickly learn what your needs are and customize the lessons accordingly. As a result, tutoring is typically the most efficient study method (though a cost-per-efficiency-unit measure might be rather high!).

In the second part of our two-part series, well discuss how to choose a particular course instructor or tutor, one who matches your learning style, motivates you to attend class, and shows you how best to study and think about the GMAT.