There are tons of GMAT books on the market (have you read our reviews?), and new GMAT study material is always being released, along with the odd new edition of an established GMAT prep book. The trick is knowing when you need the hot new edition, and when you’re okay with the one being resold on Amazon for 80% off (or the one lurking in your parents’ closet).
When I was in college I hated buying textbooks. Balancing my limited student budget was already a stretch, and then classes would start and BAM there went another $100, $200, even $300, just to buy the books I needed to take the classes that I had already paid to be in.
I hated buying these expensive books so much that I would spend hours and hours scheming about how I could get them for cheap or for free: I’d hunt down people who’d already taken the class and try to cut them deals for their used books. I’d sign up for obscure eBook free trials so I could download PDFs of the books I needed (and probably some computer viruses too). I’d even ask to borrow my professors’ copies for a few hours and just take photos of every single page on my phone.
But the simplest way to save money was to buy older editions of the books I needed.
Sometimes buying older editions of textbooks was fine; maybe the current edition on our class syllabus just had a new foreword, and I could borrow a friend’s copy for the day and then be in the clear. But sometimes it became a problem. I once bought an old version of a Statistics textbook that ended up having an entirely different set of math questions than the ones we were supposed to do for homework–total waste of money.
The trick was to know when I could get away with a used book (or an iPhone photo of used book) and when I actually needed to dish out the money for the new edition. If I knew for sure that I really needed the new book, dropping the cash on it didn’t hurt quite so much.
The GMAT is a lot like this. So how important is it to get the latest GMAT books?
Is last year’s GMAT study material truly outdated?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 gravitate towards the newest GMAT books – after all, you’re trying to give yourself the best shot at scoring well on the test – and last year’s editions become little more than tinder. That’s perfectly reasonable; 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 can probably guess my stance on this, based on my college textbook anecdote: You do not always need to buy the newest editions of the GMAT study materials. 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.
So you don’t need the newest GMAT books?
Well…here’s the caveat: 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 Integrated Reasoning 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 Integrated Reasoning is (for the time being) 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 practice material changes similarly rarely. Of course, look for the differences between editions before you buy, 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 bookmakers 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, it can pay to buy an older official GMAT prep book instead — check out a site like Booksrun for used copies. Used GMAT study resources from GMAC are 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?
In 2016, GMAC launched a pilot program for a reformatted version of the GMAT. The pilot program went well, and the new experimental format for the test has now become the standard.
Basically the GMAT now includes a “Select Section Order” feature for all test-takers. This change (as the name suggests) allows you to decide which order you want to take the GMAT sections in.
As you can see, even though this is a big change for the GMAT, it doesn’t actually affect the content on the test. Subject material, question format, and difficulty haven’t changed. It just allows test-takers to choose the order in which they take the sections of the test.
Because the content has remained the same, the formatting change definitely doesn’t make pre-2017 GMAT books obsolete. If you’re taking practice tests in older print books, you can simply skip around and go through the sections in the order you choose. The CDs that come with the older books could become outdated, as they don’t have a “pick your order” option, but this is a pretty minor inconvenience – especially since web-based platforms for GMAT test practice (such as our very own Magoosh GMAT) should be able to adapt pretty quickly.
So to answer the big question…
Do you need to buy this year’s newest GMAT book? No, you do not!
A combination of older print books and updated online GMAT prep should be fine, as long as the print books were published after 2012. You can use the money you save to buy even more GMAT prep material, put it back in your savings, or, you know, be like me and spend it all on Spotify and fancy juice.
Happy studying! 🙂
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2014 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. Special thanks to Molly Kiefer for her contributions to this post.