As seen in:
Manhattan Prep
Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set
GMAT
2017 Official Guide Bundle
Princeton Review
Cracking the GMAT
Kaplan
Premier 2017
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Good

The review materials stress and hone in on every concept that is within the GMAT scope. The test questions are adaptive, mimicking the actual exam format.

These are the only review materials that feature questions from previous, officially-administered GMAT exams.

The books offer 180 practice "bin" questions, which students find to be helpful in helping them hone in on specific areas of weakness.

The Kaplan study materials are the gold standard; they give you just what you need for the exam, while excluding concepts that may be potential distractions.

Bad

The Manhattan Prep questions tend to be significantly harder than those of the real GMAT exams.

Review materials are limited. If you want to take a deep dive and really become an expert in each area, we highly advise purchasing supplementary review materials.

While the review concepts that are covered are fairly comprehensive, they are not organized in a very intuitive way.

A handful of students pointed out a few small typos within the practice test explanations, but they were not anything more than a minor distraction.

Bottom Line

These materials cover the concepts in knitty gritty detail, and if this is what you're looking for, the Manhattan Strategy Guide is a good pick.

The hands-down best investment you can make in terms of preparing for the GMAT. There is absolutely no substitute to practicing with real, previously administered GMAT questions, and this book offers hundreds of them.

We would only recommend purchasing this book if you have exhausted the GMAC and Kaplan practice exams and are looking for an extra set of fresh questions.

A useful complement to the GMAC questions, but the review materials aren't as detailed as those of the Manhattan Prep.

How we decide
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Top GMAT Prep Books

There are a number of prep materials for the GMAT, but we've narrowed down the list to the top 4:

Products we Considered

Manhattan Prep
Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set
GMAT
2017 Official Guide Bundle
Princeton Review
Cracking the GMAT
Kaplan
Premier 2017

Considerations

Review Materials

How extensive are the review materials that the books provide? Do they cover the quantitative and verbal topics comprehensively or do they only give a general review? Do they include preparation for the writing section?

Practice Tests

How many practice exams are included in the preparation materials? Some books have only 2 practice exams, while others offer as many as 8. These mock tests can play an important role in helping you rehearse your timing and rhythm before the real GMAT exam.

Proximity to Real Exam

How closely do the books emulate the real GMAT exam? Do the questions seem forced and/or inauthentic or do they mirror the real exam? Is the overall difficulty of the material easier or harder than the real exam or is it on par with the actual GMAT? Don't waste your money on exam materials that will prepare you for questions that you won't actually see on test day.

Price

Which books offers the best deal for your money? Don't waste your money on materials that won't help you move the needle on your GMAT preparation.

Considerations

Review Materials

Manhattan Prep Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set

The Manhattan Prep review materials are extremely thorough, almost to a fault. They stress and hone in on every concept that is within the GMAT scope. While this is a significant advantage for test-takers who are just beginning their preparation and are not at all familiar with the material, it can also be a slight distraction - several students have reported spending tireless hours on concepts that were never appeared on any of the previously released GMAT exams.

GMAT 2016 Official Guide Bundle

The GMAC books lie on the opposite end of the spectrum with respect to review materials. The level of preparation they provide on key concepts is limited and very high level. These books do a good job of identifying the important concepts to focus on, but if you want to take a deep dive and really become an expert in each area, we highly advise purchasing supplementary review materials.

Cracking the GMAT Premium Edition with 6 Computer-Adaptive Practice Tests

Many users have been mildly disappointed with the review materials in the Princeton Review books. While the concepts that are covered are fairly comprehensive, they are not organized in a very intuitive way, and students often have a difficult time deciding which areas to focus on.These books also tend to include superfluous prep material that is not likely to show up on the real exam.

Kaplan GMAT Premier 2015 with 6 Practice Tests

The Kaplan study materials are the gold standard. They are designed to give you just what you need for the exam, while excluding concepts that may be potential distractions. These books also include several test-taking strategies specifically engineered to give students an edge in terms of timing and strategy on the exam. Users have unanimously found the strategies for the writing assessment to be particularly helpful, and several have also praised the quantitative strategies for helping them cut down valuable minutes off of their completion time.

The Kaplan study materials are the gold standard.
Considerations

Practice Tests

Manhattan Prep features 6 practice tests which are designed to mimic the format of the actual exam. The explanations to the practice tests also tend to be extremely clear and straightforward, especially relative to the other prep books whose explanations are somewhat terse and confusing. Overall, the majority of students we surveyed find the practice tests to be significantly beneficial in their preparation for the actual exam.

GMAT 2016 Official Guide Bundle

The GMAC book includes a 100 question diagnostic exam as well as a bank of 900 questions from previous GMAT exams. The practice questions are organized by level of difficulty, which many students found useful as they ramp up their familiarity with the material. While these questions are helpful in providing test-takers with additional practice materials, they lack the format and structure of a real practice exam; luckily, the GMAC offers 2 real practice exams available to download through their website.

The Princeton Review GMAT materials provide access to 6 practice tests online. The tests are computer-adaptive, meaning that the questions become more or less difficult depending on how you answer the previous question. Students report this feature to be a significant factor in assimilating real test conditions, given that it mirrors the actual GMAT exam. Several students found the computer adaptability to be a bit precarious - going from easy to difficult quite rapidly - but for the majority of users, this was not an issue. The books also offer 180 practice "bin" questions, which students find to be helpful in helping them hone in on specific areas of weakness.

Kaplan's exam prep materials offer 6 practice tests - one in the book and five online. Similar to the Princeton Review tests, the digital exams are computer-adaptive. Students find the progression of difficulty of the Kaplan exams to be very reasonable and a lot more reliable than the Princeton Review tests - a definite bonus for those test-takers wishing to approximate real test-taking conditions as much as possible. A handful of students pointed out a few small typos within the practice test explanations, but they were not anything more than a minor distraction.

Students find the progression of difficulty of the Kaplan exams to be very reasonable and a lot more reliable than the Princeton Review tests.
Ben
Expert Consultant
Ben
MBA admissions consultant

Ben is an MBA admissions consultant with one of the country’s premium MBA admissions companies. His writing and advice on MBA admissions, test taking, and the overall graduate school perspective has appeared on CNN, Business Insider, GMAC.com, MBA.com, TopMBA.com, and many other publications.

Considerations

Most Realistic

Manhattan Prep Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set

The Manhattan Prep questions tend to be significantly harder than those of the real GMAT exams. Students often find these questions valuable in helping them master some of the more difficult topics of the exam. However, some students also find the difficulty of the Manhattan Prep questions to be draining to their confidence and self-esteem - several quantitative exercises have been reported to take even the strongest test-takers more than 5 minutes to solve.

GMAT 2016 Official Guide Bundle

As one would expect, the questions in the GMAC books are the closest in proximity to those of the real exam. Because these questions previously appeared in officially administered GMAT exams, they mirror the format, style, and difficulty of the test as much as possible. Students have reported that the questions in the GMAC books are actually slightly easier than the ones on the online GMAC exams. This is most likely because the digital questions come from more recently administered exams. Nonetheless, both sets of questions match the difficulty level of the real GMAT exam and are the best preparation tool that a student can have.

Cracking the GMAT Premium Edition with 6 Computer-Adaptive Practice Tests

Students find the Princeton Review questions to be easier than the real GMAT questions. While they can be a positive confidence-booster for some test-takers who are struggling with the material, they can mask some knowledge gaps that will become liabilities on the real exam. Few students find the Princeton Review preparation questions to be indicative of the actual exam, so if you are looking to take an authentic exam that will mirror the real thing, try a different test preparation provider such as as the GMAC.

Kaplan GMAT Premier 2015 with 6 Practice Tests

Like Manhattan Prep, the Kaplan questions are much more difficult than the real GMAT exam questions. They are designed to make students think critically using some of the most strenuous GMAT concepts, especially in the quantitative section. Many students find that once they are able to get comfortable with the Kaplan questions, they are able to breeze through the practice questions from the GMAC and the Princeton Review without any problems.

Because the questions on the GMAC Official Guide previously appeared in officially administered GMAT exams, they mirror the format, style, and difficulty of the test as much as possible.
Considerations

Price

Manhattan Prep Complete GMAT Strategy Guide Set

At $133, the Manhattan Complete Strategy Guide is a real investment. It is only really worth the cost if you are looking for an extensive supply of review materials for the verbal, quantitative, and writing sections of the exam. These materials cover the concepts in knitty gritty detail, and if this is what you're looking for, the Manhattan Strategy Guide is a good pick.

GMAT 2016 Official Guide Bundle

At its low price, this purchase is a no-brainer. We strongly recommend every future GMAT test-taker to invest in this book. These are the only review materials that feature questions from previous, officially-administered GMAT exams. We can't underscore enough how important it is to have experience with official GMAT questions before taking the real exam.

Cracking the GMAT Premium Edition with 6 Computer-Adaptive Practice Tests

The Princeton books are on sale for $12. While this isn't a huge investment, they don't provide much value beyond what the GMAC or Kaplan materials offer. The review materials are a bit disorganized and tend to cover material that won't show up on the actual exam. We would only recommend purchasing this book if you have exhausted the GMAC and Kaplan practice exams and are looking for an extra set of fresh questions.

Kaplan GMAT Premier 2015 with 6 Practice Tests

Retailing for $12, the Kaplan Premier is an extremely good deal. For this price, you get access to the best review materials available for the GMAT, as well as to 6 practice tests that come close to mimicking the real exam. While the questions don't mirror the exam as closely as the GMAC ones, they are a very close second.

These are the only review materials that feature questions from previous, officially-administered GMAT exams.

Best of the Best

While the GMAC book offers test material that most closely mimics the real exam, the Manhatan Prep Strategy Guid Set is an extremely valuable supplement. Manhattan Prep's review materials are actually more detailed and exhaustive than those of the Official Guide and will prepare you for every relevant verbal, quantitative, and writing concept on the exam. Although the questions aren't from previously administered GMAT exams, they are far more realistic and challenging than those of Princeton Review and do a good job of putting test-takers on the spot. Other than the books from the GMAC, this is by far the most helpful set of GMAT materials available.
Best of the Best
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Manhattan Prep's review materials are actually more detailed and exhaustive than those of the Official Guide.

Best Bang for your Buck

This is the hands-down best investment you can make in terms of preparing for the GMAT. There is absolutely no substitute to practicing with real, previously administered GMAT questions, and this book offers hundreds of them - both in a review and a practice test format. Because there are so many nuances to writing a test question, it is very difficult for third party test prep companies like Kaplan or Princeton Review to mimic the real exam - with the GMAC questions you can rest assured that you are training yourself on questions similar to what will actually show up on test day. If you want to do well on the GMAT, purchase this book!
Best Bang for your Buck
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There is no substitute to practicing with real, previously administered GMAT questions, and this book offers hundreds of them.
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