Kaplan claims to have invented test prep and, between their robust presence on college campuses, word of mouth, popularity, and history in the test prep game, they just might be right.
Kaplan offers a wide range of GMAT prep, including everything from self-paced courses to private tutoring, online free resources, blog posts, and sample exams. Their approach is a bit more generalist—you’re going to know what’s on the GMAT, but not to the depth of some of their more focused competitors like Target Test Prep. Nevertheless, Kaplan offers potential test-takers a great variety of options across a reasonable price scale.
I give Kaplan’s GMAT prep course offerings three out of five stars, and have previously graded them a C+ for accessibility, cost, and comprehensiveness when compared to GMAT prep course competitors. If you’re looking for a GMAT course that (at a minimum) will prep you to take the test and either don’t have the time or desire to really push for that hyper-competitive score or spend months of your life on question banks and practice tests, Kaplan’s GMAT prep course might be right for you. Read on to learn why.
As I mentioned above, Kaplan’s approach to test prep is pretty general. Like most of their competitors and the other test prep titans, Kaplan has identified what works for students and that is what they offer—albeit at a slightly less competitive price point than they could be.
Kaplan offers test-takers a wide range of guided prep and self-study prep course options, including:
All of Kaplan’s GMAT prep course options include 24/7 access to video lessons on the GMAT Channel, an exclusive official test day experience, and extra practice and review in the form of Kaplan GMAT prep books. I’ve reviewed Kaplan’s GMAT prep books previously here, but I particularly like the cost (they’re cheaper than the GMAC books), the quality of explanation, and the customizable online quiz bank that comes with them.
Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of the way Kaplan structures their content. Kaplan sort of assumes that you’re a recent student or graduate and that you don’t need to refresh some of the foundational topics that are key to the more difficult portions of the qualitative and verbal sections. This is not great if you are returning to school from industry, or if you have a shaky understanding of the basics in general.
Kaplan also offers their practice tests as stand-alone study materials if you’ve had enough of the question bank and just want to simulate your performance on the real thing.
Kaplan offers one free practice test, four additional tests for $149, and eight additional practice tests for $199. These practice tests are realistic and have high quality questions across the range of question types represented on the actual GMAT test. The quantitative and verbal sections are computer-adaptive, and each question has both written and video explanations courtesy of Kaplan’s commitment to video content.
Unfortunately, reviewers and test-takers have commented that Kaplan’s practice tests are radically different from the actual GMAT test. Some test-takers have even noted that the scoring system Kaplan implements can be “demoralizing,” suggesting that the practice test scores are wildly inaccurate compared to what test-takers actually received on the GMAT (differences of over 100 points in either direction).
If you’re considering Kaplan as your overall GMAT test prep, I would strongly consider that you use the GMAC practice tests (you get two free practice tests when you register for the GMAT) as your benchmark prior to the actual GMAT test.
While you might want to avoid the practice tests Kaplan offers, their materials do make up for the shortcomings of the tests in other areas.
Test-takers utilizing Kaplan’s materials also benefit from the adaptive nature of the 5,000-question online question bank. It responds to your individual needs and performance, and enables users to create personalized quizzes on topics where they need the most help.
Kaplan also boasts their GMAT Channel, which reviewers consistently bring up as one of the highlights of their Kaplan experience. Many test-takers comment that the video explanations, tutorials, and lessons on the GMAT Channel were the ideal way for them to overcome difficulties understanding material. Some people simply can’t figure concepts out by reading paragraphs over and over, and having the option to explore video explanations makes Kaplan’s offerings a lot more attractive for those folks.
Finally, Kaplan offers a score guarantee. Kaplan’s money-back guarantee allows students who are unhappy with their scores to get inquire about getting their money back regardless of the instructional plan they chose (excluding stand-alone purchases of the Qbank or Practice Pack). This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get anything back because, like a lot of “guarantees,” the terms are wildly specific, inflexible, and probably not worth a great deal of your time if things go south with your GMAT prep. Students have to complete the entirety of their chosen course, take the GMAT at the earliest available opportunity, and share their score with Kaplan within 3 months of your test to be eligible for review. Failure to meet any one of Kaplan’s score guarantee criteria immediately disqualifies you from eligibility. In some cases, students are offered the option to repeat their hours (for tutoring students) or to retake the course for FREE instead of receiving their money back, which might just be salt on the wound for folks who didn’t have a good experience to start with.
Kaplan knows what test-takers want and they provide it. It’s easy for a test-prep company to produce flashy but unproductive offerings like a mobile app that you can’t actually take practice tests on—the idea is nice, but it’s not how you’re actually going to approach GMAT test preparation. Kaplan doesn’t fall into this trap—the cool things they offer are cool because they’re helpful.
If Kaplan wasn’t aware of this, they’d probably be out of business. Outside of their generalist appeal, Kaplan has two main appeals:
This experience is invaluable to test-takers who may struggle to relate what they learned on their laptop from the comfort of their couch to the more high-stakes testing environment they’ll experience on test day. As someone who always hated taking standardized tests (ironic, I know), simulating a test experience was one of the best ways for me to know I was ready for test day.
Kaplan’s other main point of attraction is their wide range of materials, all of which include:
While this is not the same as having full access to lessons, materials, practice tests, and other study resources through a centralized app, Kaplan’s online Adaptive Qbank is available on mobile devices and is accessible when compared to other, less effective apps (if you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know who I’m talking about). The question bank is great for customizing practice at home, but if you’re looking for mobile-forward test prep options, you’ll want to look elsewhere (and honestly reconsider how you’re approaching test prep for a test that requires you to sit down for 4 hours).
Kaplan offers a huge variety of test prep and GMAT prep course options largely because they are a successful test prep company with a long history of improving students’ scores and satisfying customers. Because they don’t really have to cut costs at the consumer end to keep their business afloat, their offerings are more expensive than they need to be.
I’ve previously described them as “too big to fail” and that’s realistically true—they don’t have an incentive to offer competitive pricing or a larger variety of free materials. They just don’t need to. People know who they are.
When you consider that Kaplan’s materials and prep course options are just slightly more intense versions of the other ones (there is a sliding scale but the depth and content doesn’t really change), the cost might simply not be worth it. Some reviewers have even commented that the adaptive question bank both Kaplan and I boast as one of their main appeals gets repetitive fast, which is obviously not a positive.
GMAT prep is about where the student is. If you feel confident about the material and just want a refresher or overview of what’s on the GMAT, the opportunity to take a few practice tests, and a test-day experience to ease your mind, Kaplan is probably just fine for you.
If you’re a test-taker that maybe is starting from scratch or is at the other end of the spectrum and wants to be pushed to get the highest score possible, Kaplan does not offer the depth of content you’re expecting. While Kaplan’s explanations are thorough and offered across both video and text explanations, it doesn’t really matter if the material becomes too easy early on, or you don’t really know what’s going on at all.
Kaplan’s huge body of practice problems, exams, and review materials really just start to look like a lot of the same stuff you’ve already seen. Reviewers have repeatedly commented that, to push themselves, they’ve paired Kaplan test experiences with more difficult material offered by GMAC (the Graduate Management Admission Council) or Manhattan Prep. You might as well just start there in my opinion, and you can read my reviews of their materials here and here.
Kaplan is a name you probably already know when it comes to test prep and that is for good reason. Their test prep materials for the GMAT are thorough, diverse in instructional medium, explained thoroughly by dedicated and excellent instructors, and offered at a variety of price points.
They’re also pretty general, more costly than they need to be, and do not offer the depth of content difficulty that you might expect from a test prep book. If you’re a student applying for business school and really just want the basics of the GMAT, Kaplan’s materials might be right for you. If you need more help or really want to be pushed hard, you should probably look elsewhere (maybe even my picks for the Best GMAT prep courses). When it comes to covering the bases at an affordable price point, Kaplan safely earns three out of five stars.