Best GMAT Prep Books

You have to juggle a lot of pieces when you’re preparing to apply for an MBA program. You need to decide where you’re applying, shape up your resume, identify and request references, craft a compelling personal statement, ensure your transcripts are in order, and take the GMAT. This, of course, leads to trying to decide on the best GMAT prep courses and best GMAT prep books.

Getting ready for the GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, is probably the least sexy option out of the bunch. It can be hard to make a plan, particularly if you’re still a student or if you work full-time (or both). Preparation is a multi-step process that requires focus, planning, and frankly, a willingness to take several practice tests. 

Fortunately, test prep isn’t a one-person show. Dozens of companies are out there to step in, read lines with you, and even direct the production of your GMAT preparation. Choosing which test prep materials to use is a lot like hiring a director: Fit is very important. 

It is crucial to know what you want out of your test prep materials to ensure the right fit. As you choose from the sea of materials out there, consider the following: 

  • Where you’re starting: Take a practice test (or two) and note your score.
  • Where you want to be: Is there a 200-point difference between the practice test and your ideal score?
  • How you approach test preparation: Do you motivate yourself or need structured guidance? 
  • What your strengths are: Do you crush the quantitative section? 
  • What your weaknesses are: Is the verbal section dragging down your composite? 

Reconciling your test prep vision with the materials available to you can be difficult, time consuming, and frustrating. I’ve spent years advising students on the best ways to prepare for graduate admission applications and found that the answer is often to try several options. 

Test prep is an individual process and should be tailored to fit your needs. Here are my recommendations for some of the best GMAT prep books out there, where they might fit with your goals, and some tips and tricks for working with test prep materials to maximize their benefit. 

Best in Show: Early and Overall Preparation

GMAT Official Guide 2021: Book + Online Question Bank

Written by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the GMAT Official Guide 2021: Book + Online Question Bank is my top choice for GMAT Test Prep books for overall preparation—especially if you’re just starting out.

With over 1,000 questions in the actual book and an online question bank to supplement your review, GMAC’s Official 2020 GMAT Guide Book is the best place to start your GMAT preparation. There is also a mobile app that facilitates test prep on the go. 

This guide is written by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT, ensuring that the information and practice questions align perfectly with what is expected of you on the actual test. 

What I Like: 

  • The guide is relatively cheap ($28.49 on Amazon) compared to other test prep materials.
  • The guide breaks down what is on the GMAT, which is great for first-time test takers. 
  • The questions are presented from easiest to most difficult, which both makes you feel better (who wants to start with difficult questions?) and also mirrors the adaptive nature of the actual exam. 
  • The guide has comprehensive explanations for each question written by the same people who craft the actual test—the similarities between questions and explanations are invaluable for test prep. 
  • The online question bank has additional integrated reasoning questions, which are difficult to prepare for given their mixed-media nature. 

What I Don’t Like: 

  • Both the website and mobile app function poorly, and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired. 

Runner Up: Early and Overall Preparation

Kaplan’s GMAT Prep Plus 2021

My runner up for best overall GMAT prep book is Kaplan’s GMAT Prep Plus 2021. Kaplan often notes that they “invented test prep” and the quality of their materials supports that claim. They even offer a money-back guarantee if the test prep materials don’t meet your standards.  

With detailed explanations, six full-length online practice tests, a 200-question online Quiz Bank, and over 1,200 practice questions, Kaplan’s GMAT Prep Plus 2021 is a one-stop shop for preliminary test preparation. 

What I Like: 

  • Kaplan’s version is slightly cheaper than GMAC’s at $23.99. 
  • The questions were written, reviewed, and updated by Kaplan’s expert teachers who have decades of experience working with students. They have isolated—and then explained—common reasons for incorrect answers. 
  • The online Quiz Bank is customizable by topic, letting you tailor your test prep to what you need in the moment. 

What I Don’t Like: 

  • Kaplan’s guide assumes you’re a recent student and doesn’t offer in-depth explanation for people returning to test preparation and studying after some time in the workforce. If you are struggling with basic concepts, you might need to brush up prior to utilizing this book. 
  • The question bank is fairly limited and it doesn’t take long to hit repeat questions. 

Best in Show: Advanced and Continuing Preparation

GMAT Official Guide 2021 Bundle: 3 Books + Online Question Bank

While most students might struggle to get through the 1,000 practice questions in GMAC’s Official Guide 2020, go-getters and the ever-prepared should seek out GMAC’s Official Guide 2021 Bundle. 

If you really want to hit the ground running and comprehensively prepare for the GMAT, GMAC’s Official Guide 2021 Bundle covers all the bases. This bundle packs all the punch of the Official Guide 2021 with an additional 500 original questions from real GMATs.

The real benefit is the inclusion of 600 bonus questions across the verbal and quantitative sections. These additional, focused reviews are perfect if you want to continue to build, develop, and test your skills. 

What I Like: 

  • The bundle has all the benefits of the Official Guide 2020 for just $20 more. 
  • Some test prep books offer additional questions but skimp on explanations—GMAC doesn’t! 
  • Sample essay topics, sample responses, and scoring information offer insight into the black box of the analytical writing section. 
  • The bundle (and, in less detail, the original guide) offers a comprehensive grammar and math review that is crucial for returning students. 

What I Don’t Like: 

  • Both the website and mobile app function poorly and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired. 
  • The additional questions, while helpful, resolve a problem in the Official Guide: an imbalance of questions in the verbal and quantitative sections (which are the most difficult for students). 

Runner Up: Advanced and Continuing Preparation

GMAT Complete 2021: The Ultimate in Comprehensive Self-Study for GMAT by Kaplan

My runner up for the best test prep books for advanced and continuing preparation is Kaplan’s GMAT Complete 2020: The Ultimate in Comprehensive Self-Study for GMAT. 

Like Kaplan’s GMAT Prep Plus 2020, the Complete 2020 offers a money-back guarantee if you’re dissatisfied with your experience. It also boasts over 2,000 questions, six practice tests, a larger 500-question Online Quiz Bank, and video workshops to help you strengthen your test-taking skills. 

What I Like: 

  • Kaplan’s version is very affordable at $49.99. 
  • The online Quiz Bank is large and customizable by topic, letting you tailor your test prep to what you need in the moment. It also allows you to get through more questions before you find repeats. 

What I Don’t Like: 

  • Kaplan’s guide does not offer as much comprehensive review of core concepts (such as grammar and math) that GMAC’s guide does.

Honorable Mention: Advanced and Continuing Preparation

My honorable mention for the best test prep books for advancing and continuing GMAT preparation is Manhattan Prep’s All the GMAT

Manhattan Prep is well-known in the test prep community for its comprehensive and extensive guides. Their All the GMAT bundle is just one example. 

The three-book bundle boasts two additional e-books, six practice tests, question explanations, video lessons on test and time management strategies, an online syllabus designed to keep you on track, and tons of questions to prepare you to take the GMAT. 

What I Like: 

  • Past editions have been bulky. This version has consolidated the 10 previously offered books into three easier-to-digest volumes. 
  • The online syllabus offers structure for students who aren’t as motivated to do practice problems and take practice tests on their own. 
  • The material is slightly more difficult than Kaplan’s and GMAC’s. Mastery of Manhattan content is almost a guarantee of mastering the GMAT. 

What I Don’t Like: 

  • Manhattan’s materials are by far the priciest at $98.52. 
  • The questions aren’t organized from easiest to most difficult. The material is harder than other test prep books, which may discourage some students early on. 
  • Many reviewers have noted that the materials are poorly edited. There are often typos and missing explanations to questions.

Best in Show: Pushing Yourself

GMAT Official Advanced Questions

Alone in its category, my best in show for pushing yourself is GMAC’s GMAT Official Advanced Questions book. 

The book offers test-takers 300 additional hard questions in the verbal and quantitative sections drawn directly from GMAC’s question banks. With explanations, strategies, and an Online Question Bank, the Advanced Questions allow you to push yourself to the highest score you can achieve

What I Like: 

  • GMAC acknowledges that the verbal and quantitative sections are difficult for most test-takers and has provided additional prep material. 
  • The explanations and strategies offer test-takers insight into the thinking behind some of the test’s hardest questions.

What I Don’t Like: 

  • The website and mobile app are less than ideal. 
  • At $27.55, the return on investment might not be very high for most test-takers. 

Tips and Tricks 

Applying to graduate school is expensive and test prep is a huge part of those expenses. In addition to having to pay to take the test, you’ll have to cover the costs of materials and test prep programs. Here are my tips to mitigate damage to your bank account while maximizing your potential for success on the GMAT:

  1. If you’re a current student, ask your school’s librarian for information on:
  • GMAT test prep books available at the library
  • How to have the library order books or online access codes at no cost to you
  • Whether your school hosts their own test prep classes or programs (they probably do!) 
  1. If you’re not affiliated with a college or university, lean on your public library for the same information. Most libraries have already been asked by enterprising undergraduate and graduate students to purchase test prep materials and online access codes. These materials are usually available and up-to-date. 
  2. If you work full-time, ask your employer about professional development opportunities and funding. You’ll hopefully have already asked them about tuition matching for your potential MBA, but you might be surprised to learn that they can and will subsidize test prep as well. 
  3. Consider buying older editions of test prep books (2019, 2018, etc.), as they generally contain similar if not the same information as the newest books, minus a handful of new questions, and are markedly cheaper. 

Best GMAT Prep Books: Summary

Preparing for the GMAT probably won’t be the most fun part of your application process, but finding the best test prep materials for your goals is a great place to start. Whether you’re a first time test-taker or a returning test-taker, the test prep books ranked here can you help you hit the target score you need to get into your dream school. 

Test Prep Advisor Staff

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The Test Prep Advisor staff is made up some of the world's foremost experts on standardized tests. Some of them have developed their own copyrighted techniques for preparation and others have published books that revolutionized the way people study. They all have years of experience as tutors and share a passion for helping people achieve (or exceed) their target scores.