That ‘Book Heavy’ Study Plan is Likely NOT Going to Get You to Your Score Goal

By max On Sep 5, 2016 In  Quant Verbal IR Study Plans General GMAT 


When it comes to studying for the GMAT, there are LOTS of different resources for you to choose from. As such, assembling the perfect combination of study materials can be a tricky task. What materials should you start with? What’s the ‘best’ way to learn the basics? How can you be efficient so that a 3-month study plan doesn’t balloon into a 6–month to 12-month study plan? Advice can come from so many different sources that you might not be sure whose advice to follow. Clouding the issue even further is that, for most of your life, you learned from books. There was never a question of whether there actually was a better, faster, more effective way to learn or not – you were given a book, taught out of a book and (likely) never given any other choice. When it comes to studying for the GMAT, your ‘built-in bias’ is almost certainly going to hurt your studies and limit your progress – that ‘book heavy’ study plan you’re using is almost certainly NOT going to get you to your score goal.

The reasons why a ‘book heavy’ plan likely won’t be enough to help you hit your score goal can be grouped into a few categories: the historical data/statistics, human nature and the limits of what a book can present:

The “Statistical Problem” with a Book Heavy Study Plan

I’m going to preface all of this by stating that I’ll be assuming certain ‘generalities’ about the pool of GMAT Test Takers in any given year. While the 200,000+ people who will study for (and likely take) the GMAT this year have individual goals, needs, timelines, etc., I can’t speak to every individual. Some of you will use a book heavy study plan and hit your goal score, but statistically-speaking, most of you won’t be able to hit your goal in that way.

Historical data from GMAC helps to prove this point. To start, the average GMAT score has remained remarkably consistent over the years (540-550) – it hasn’t changed in any meaningful way. The same can be said for the 90th percentile – it’s still right around 700-710. These data points have remained relatively stable for over a decade. As a GMAT Expert and professional in the field, the most common score goal that I hear falls into some variation of “700+.” Since roughly 90% of those 200,000 people CAN’T score at that level, that leaves only 10% (approximately 20,000 Test Takers each year) who CAN. The math gets even ‘worse’ at the higher levels. The 99th percentile is right around a 750, meaning that only about 1% (or about 2,000 people) can hit that mark each year. This happens EVERY year and includes groups of people who attempt to study for the GMAT for the 2nd or 3rd time.

Think of the commonalities of that HUGE group of people… What study approach did those 180,000+ people probably use? What materials did they focus on? Books are everywhere, they’re incredibly cheap (relative to the other non-book resources available) and easy to access. IF studying in that fashion consistently led to a 700+ score, then the statistical data would show a huge shift in the percentiles and the average GMAT score would greatly increase. That has NEVER happened though. By extension, that book heavy study approach that those MILLIONS of Test Takers have used over the last decade did NOT lead to a 700+ score. The data proves it.

To that end, what are YOU going to do that those MILLIONS of Test Takers didn’t do? They spent a LOT of time working through the same books – and there’s a good chance that you’re focused on some of that same print material…

Think Hard About How YOU Actually Learn BEST

Here, we have to start with some rhetorical questions:

If you were going to learn to play a musical instrument, what do you THINK would be the best way to learn? Would it be from a book? Wouldn’t it be easier to see and hear an Expert walk you through the process? If that Expert could show you the proper technique, give you tips, show you tactics, etc., and present all of that information in a multi-media format, wouldn’t THAT be ideal? How much faster would you likely learn, as opposed to having to process a lot of written words and try to duplicate the one (often technical) approach that is provided from a book?

The reason why ‘multi-media’ learning almost always works better than ‘book learning’ is that more of your senses are engaged. That higher level of engagement helps you to pay more attention and creates stronger memory and reference points (you’ll actually be more likely to recognize details in other questions that remind you of questions that you’ve already worked through). Most GMATers don’t realize that that higher level of engagement is actually necessary when training to face the GMAT. There are too many ‘little things’ that can be missed if you try to study from a book that you almost have to question why someone would purposely choose to study in that way.

The Limitations of the Print Format

Due to the economics involved in publishing books, there are certain built-in limitations as to what any individual book can contain. To start, nobody wants to carry around a gigantic book (much less multiple gigantic books), so books have to be designed to be ‘relatively’ thin (even though many books still turn out BIG). A sizeable part of each book is committed to the raw ‘content’ of the GMAT that has to be explained and a sizeable number of practice questions also have to be included. Books almost always follow an academic ‘design’, so explanations to those practice questions tend to be step-heavy and technical. Most writers don’t want to explain a question 2 or 3 times (even though most GMAT questions can be solved in 2-3 different ways), so the one explanation that is typically offered is the (often long-winded) technical one. By their design, books are not going to show you the Tactical way(s) to answer a GMAT question because that is not the academic ‘norm.’ Thus, you’re left working with a thick, overly-technical book that isn’t designed to focus on the Tactics, patterns and little ‘secrets’ to the GMAT. While some of those little tips tend to be sprinkled into some books, the larger pool of tips and advice are never given the proper emphasis because the book format doesn’t allow it.

By working in an overly-technical fashion, you will end up taking far too long to answer GMAT questions. In turn, this will create pacing issues that will limit the number of questions that you can properly handle on the GMAT – and THAT will limit how high you can score on this Test.

Given all of the data behind how most Test Takers study and score on the GMAT, the limitations inherent to books in general (and a book heavy study plan in particular), and the nature of how the human brain best learns, you really have to question why anyone would choose to base the bulk of their studies around this type of approach. There are faster, easier, more efficient options that greatly increase the chances of hitting one’s score goal – you just have to put in the necessary investment to research the options and choose the one that best fits your personality, timeline and budget.

To that end, we’re here to help.

GMAT assassins aren’t born, they’re made,


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