How to Choose: Self-Study, Class or Tutor? (Part 2)

by , Jun 28, 2010

ThinkSummer 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, found here, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of the three primary study methods: on your own, with a class, or with a tutor. In the second part, below, we will discuss how to choose the best instructor for you (if you decide to take a class or work with a tutor).

How to Choose a Particular Course Instructor or Tutor

If you do decide to take a course or study with a tutor, it is important to find the best teacher and program for you. You will be more excited to go to class and learn if you both like your teacher personally and trust that she knows exactly what shes doing. In addition, you need to ensure that the teachers style is one that works well for you. Finally, youll still be spending the majority of your study time without the instructor, so you need to feel confident that the teacher is showing you how to learn and study well.

Take a practice test and try to diagnose your own strengths and weaknesses. Research some business school programs and 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 doesnt matter at all to you!) Develop a list of questions that you would like to ask of any teacher you consider.

Next, develop a short list of companies or tutors and then take advantage of whatever free offerings you can. Many companies will host free information sessions. Some will allow students to attend one class of a course for free. Most will allow students to take one free practice test. Take notes when you interact with office staff. 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?

If possible, attend a free session taught by the person who would be your class teacher or tutor. Look for the teachers bio on the website or ask the office for a copy. Arrive early and, if the teacher is free, chat a bit to get a feel for his or her personality and approachability. 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). After class, ask more questions; offer information about your strengths and weaknesses and any particular concerns you have, and ask the instructor what she or he would recommend.

(Note: I recommend arriving early to ask some questions because lots of people will stick around to ask questions after class. Youre more likely to have the teacher to yourself before the session starts. Do be aware, however, that the teacher may still be getting everything in place to teach that class and may ask you to wait until after class; dont be offended if this happens. :) )

Then go home and 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 instructors 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 teachers class?

Tutor-Specific Requirements

If you want to work with a tutor, you should definitely have access to a bio or other information that will let you know the tutor's experience before you officially agree to the tutoring. In other words, you should be able to check the person out and decline to work with that tutor if you don't want to for any reason. You should also be able to have a short email or phone conversation (perhaps 15 minutes) 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 work to do before the first meeting (for example, I ask my students to take an MGMAT test, if they haven't already, so that I can review their results before the session).

Finally, either before the first session or at the first session, your potential tutor should ask you enough questions to know your situation to a certain extent: 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 situation, not just applying a one-size-fits-all approach.


  1. There are benefits and drawbacks to any kind of study: self, course, or tutor. Know your own learning style, goals, needs, 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 work with him or her. 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 youre studying without the teacher? Would you look forward to class or tutoring with this teacher?