Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course (Book Review)

Nova's GMAT Math Prep Course - image by Magoosh

I purchased this GMAT book so I could take a closer look at it and give it the full review it deserves. Read on to get my verdict, along with my breakdown of the pros and cons of Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course.

Nova's GMAT Prep Math Course (Book Review) -magoosh

Who should get Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course?

First of all, this book only has math in it, so it doesn’t prepare you for Verbal or Integrated Reasoning at all.  As far as the math goes, this book is a collection of problems, nothing more.  It contains essentially no formal instruction and relatively terse explanations.   We would not recommend this book for someone struggling with math, for someone who hasn’t done any math in several years and who feels very rusty with math. This book will not contribute a great deal to your understanding of important GMAT Math strategies, such as estimation.

Given all that, to whom would we recommend this book?  Well, this book is an incredibly large and thorough collection of math questions, some of them very hard.  Suppose you are already a math nerd, perhaps someone who majored in, say, something like physics or mechanical engineering.  Suppose you have a large amount of time until you take the GMAT, say 6 months, and you have already worked exhausted the math in the OG and other sources, and you just want a giant bucket of math problems against which to sharpen your teeth—then, this is precisely the book for you! 

The verdict? This is a potential source of extra GMAT math practice for serious students who want more math practice. But Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course also has some major downsides you should be aware of before you decide to buy it.

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The Pros of Using this Book

We’ll start with the advantages of this book.

When the advice and tutorials are good, they are really good. One thing I especially like is the fact that this book devotes an entire chapter to practice with graphs, charts, and tables. I’ve had so many students ask me for a good collection of infographic-based GMAT-quant practice. And with Nova, I’ve finally found one. Students will also really appreciate the detailed answer explanations, which show multiple alternate ways to tackle problems. A number of other very helpful tutorials await readers in the pages of Nova’s GMAT Math Prep course.

The practice questions also cover a very GMAT-like range of concepts. And most of the practice questions are close–if not perfectly matched–to what you’d see on test day.

The Cons of Using Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course

To begin with, when advice or material is “off” in this book, it’s way off. Here’s what we mean.

Inaccurate Information

For example, this book tells you that the first five questions in the GMAT Quant section are especially important to your score and that you need to take extra time on them. This is a myth that the makers of the test have repeatedly tried to debunk. Nova also says that defined function problems (where a special symbol is a stand-in for a math operation) are common on the GMAT. This is debatable at best.

More glaringly, the advice in the “Elimination Strategies” chapter is pretty much all incorrect. Do not eliminate an answer that repeats a number from the problem, or eliminate an answer that says there is not enough information… and really, do not follow any advice from that section of Nova’s GMAT Prep math course.

Quality Issues

Editing and organization leave a lot to be desired here as well. The book is riddled with typos, especially in the math notations. This can make some practice problems confusing. Moreover, the assigned difficulty levels for the problems are off. You’ll find some surprisingly hard problems labelled as easy, and some easy problems inexplicably categorized as “very hard.” Problems are miscategorized in other ways as well. There’s a factorial problem in the function notation practice set, to give just one example.

Another issue is that question quality is less than perfect. Certain practice problems do not follow GMAT conventions. The wording of the problems can be more convoluted than it would be on the GMAT. And sometimes the geometric figures can be blatantly not “to scale.” On the real GMAT, Problem Solving geometry figures will always be to scale, unless otherwise noted. On occasion, you’ll also see answer choices that are very close together in value, while the figures in real GMAT answer choices are more likely to be spaced apart.

Harder Than the Actual GMAT

Most worryingly, this book deliberately includes a number of problems that would be harder than anything on the GMAT. In the introduction, the book says you need to master harder-than-GMAT problems in order to do well on the test. But in reality, the opposite tends to be true. A focus on any sort of non-GMAT-like problems—too easy or too hard&mash;will be a distraction from preparing for real testing conditions. The overly hard problems and harder-than-average mix of problems in this book can be… well… a problem.

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Nova’s GMAT Math Prep Course Review Summary

For math nerds who have no doubt about their mathematical abilities, and just want more problems to practice, this book is a wonderful resource.  For the much larger portion of the population, who does not feel quite as confident with math and actually needs to learn some of the fundamental math, I would not call this book the go-to source.  These folks can find much more support in the articles on this free blog.

This book is just one of many possible resources you can use as you reach for your GMAT target score. For a full list of the books and resources Magoosh recommends, be sure to check out our Best GMAT Books and Resources page.

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