There are tons of GMAT books on the market (have you read our reviews?). New GMAT study material is always being released, along with the odd new edition of an established GMAT prep book.
Is last year’s GMAT study material truly outdated?
Each year, there’s a new wave of GMAT books crashing onto our bookshelves at Magoosh. Publishers are keen to be as up-to-date as possible, as close to the current version of the GMAT as possible, and so they regularly churn out new editions of their prep books. A few bits of text get switched out, some practice sets get augmented with new questions, and, if we’re really lucky, an extra practice test makes an appearance. Naturally, test-takers prefer the newest GMAT books, and last year’s editions become little more than tinder. That’s perfectly reasonable. If you’re browsing Amazon, looking at “GMAT Prep: This Year” and “GMAT Prep: Last Year,” there’s barely even a question as to which one you should buy. It’d be a shame to spend all your time on money on material that’s not even relevant to what you’ll see on test day, wouldn’t it?
You may have guessed at what I’m about to say by my tone so far. More often than not, the newest edition of a GMAT book is essentially identical to that of the year before. The covers tend to change noticeably (thrilling new colors!), but the contents stay unabashedly unaltered. Simply put, you can’t assume that a new GMAT book is better than an old GMAT book. Often, they’re equally helpful.
But there is a caveat, of course: sometimes the test does change, and so the books have to change, too. And when that happens, it’s vital that you start with the most up-to-date material. In the case of the GMAT, the last major change was the addition of the “integrated reasoning” section in June of 2012. Books from before that update are, without question, inferior to newer books. And even today, companies are adding new I.R. material to their offerings as that section becomes gradually more important to test-takers and admissions offices.
Yet, for the most part, if you’re looking at GMAT prep materials published in 2015 and other resources published in 2014 or 2013, whether it’s from Manhattan GMAT or from GMAC themselves, most of what’s inside will be the same. That’s largely due to the nature of the test. The GMAT is standardized because admissions offices need to be able to compare scores across different versions of the test, including question banks used across different years. By nature of being standardized, the test cannot change drastically without public acknowledgement of the change. You might note that this is precisely why I.R. is, at the moment, not taken very seriously by most test-takers or admissions committees; because it’s a new section, it’s not possible to compare current applicants to those who took the test before 2012.
Because changes to the GMAT make the new scores harder for schools to use, GMAC changes the test as little as possible. And because the test doesn’t change particularly frequently, practice material changes similarly rarely. Look for the differences between editions before you buy, of course, and don’t buy books that are from before the last public change to the GMAT, but in general, it’s not so important to have the most recent edition—it’s likely the same as last year’s.
What’s the best GMAT prep book to buy new?
While GMAC changes their exam as little as possible, small changes to the test occur each year: minor shifts in content, slight changes in question format, that sort of thing.
Many independent publishers of GMAT books don’t check for these smaller changes. And even when GMAT book makers do check for tiny, subtle changes to the exam, they may not notice changes. Or they may misinterpret or exaggerate small changes to the test, creating updated materials that aren’t quite GMAT-like.
Still, there is one source for GMAT books that will accurately show any small recent changes to the exam: the GMAC itself. Every year, GMAC releases a new set of the three official GMAT books: The Official Guide for GMAT Review, The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review, and The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review. Because these books are made by the same company that makes the GMAT itself, they will perfectly capture any minor changes that are made in a given year.
Still, buying the very newest official GMAT guide isn’t all that important. In fact, sometimes it can pay to buy an older official GMAT prep book instead. Used GMAT study resources from GMAC is plentiful and affordable. With the money it takes to buy a brand new official GMAT prep book, you could purchase multiple used GMAC-created GMAT books from the last few years. This gives you a lot more practice material to work with.
New changes to the GMAT: Will they make current GMAT study material and GMAT books obsolete
You may have heard rumors of GMAT updates for 2016. GMAC has launched a pilot program for a reformatted version of the GMAT. If the pilot program goes well, this new experimental format for the test may become the standard.
It’s important to note, however, that the changes in the pilot program don’t affect the actual content of the GMAT. Subject material, question format, and difficulty haven’t changed. Instead, the GMAT’s potential new format will allow test-takers to choose the order in which they take the sections of the test. This means that in the future, GMAT test-takers may be able to choose to take either Verbal, Quants, IR, or AWA first, and choose which section to take second, which to take third, and so on.
This change will not necessarily make pre-2106 GMAT books obsolete. In practice tests in older print books, you could simply choose skip around and go through the sections in the order you choose. The CDs that come with the older books could become outdated though. Older GMAT study material on disks doesn’t have a “pick your order” option. So if this change goes into full affect, it might make older GMAT books with CDs slightly outdated. Fortunately, web-based platforms for GMAT test practice– such as our very own Magoosh GMAT— should be able to adapt pretty quickly. A combination of older print books and updated online GMAT prep will still make for good test prep, even if the pilot program changes become the standard.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2104 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.