Princeton Review’s Cracking the GMAT Premium 2018 is one of the most popular GMAT prep materials out there, but does it live up to its reputation? With all the GMAT prep materials on the market, it’s not always easy to know which ones to choose.
I’ll help you through the process, beginning with a guide to the traits to look for in a GMAT prep resource, followed by an in-depth review of Princeton Review’s Cracking the GMAT Premium 2018, including its pros and cons, who would benefit most from it, and how best to incorporate it into your overall GMAT prep.
What Makes a Good GMAT Prep Book?
Before we get into the specifics of Cracking the GMAT Premium 2018, it’s important to know what makes a GMAT prep resource worthwhile. Your study time is precious, and you never want to waste it with practice materials that won’t give you what you need. Let’s go over the main criteria to look for when you’re selecting GMAT prep materials.
#1: Realistic, High-Quality Practice Questions
The practice questions in tests, drills, and quizzes in your chosen prep materials should be as close to what you’ll see on the GMAT as possible in terms of tone, content, length, and difficulty. This might seem obvious, but many prep materials skew towards easier or more difficult practice questions, and it’s important to know that before you invest in a resource.
It’s also best if the practice questions are also organized by difficulty and specific content area, so you can choose which ones to target based on your specific needs and current skill level.
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#2: Full-Length Practice Tests
The best GMAT prep books will include full-length practice tests to help you build knowledge of the test, familiarity with its content and format, and stamina. Stamina is especially important, as the test itself takes about three and a half hours.
In particular, the practice tests in the prep resources you select should be computerized adaptive tests (CATs). The GMAT is a CAT, meaning it is completed entirely on the computer and adapts to your skill level in real time as you take the exam, using an algorithm. Many prep books include one paper-based test within the book itself, as well as multiple CATs on either an accompanying CD or a companion website.
#3: Helpful Test-Taking Strategies
Succeeding on the GMAT requires strategy in addition to skills and knowledge. A useful GMAT prep resource will include test-taking strategies to deal with common obstacles like timing, guessing, and anxiety. You should look in particular for tips that are specifically relevant to the GMAT.
It’s also best if a wide variety of test-taking strategies are included, so you can pick and choose the ones that work best for you and experiment with all of them.
#4: Clear, Relevant Content Review
To succeed on the GMAT, you need a solid understanding of some fundamental math and grammar concepts. You also need to know exactly how those subject areas will crop up on the GMAT, as they’re tested in the same ways on every exam.
Therefore, a worthwhile GMAT prep resource will include an extensive math and grammar review, showing you not only the skills you’ll need to brush up on or develop, but how they’ll be tested on the exam. It’s also best if the book works through a variety of specific examples of each one.
#5: Guidance on Structuring Your Studying
The highest-quality GMAT prep resources will break down each question type in detail and thus allow you to identify and target your own strengths and weaknesses.
Some prep resources include drills and full-length practice tests, but the answer explanations are not in-depth enough for you to see exactly where your thinking fell through or where you made a careless mistake. A high-quality GMAT prep resource will help you pinpoint exactly where you’re going wrong and how to avoid that issue in the future.
Cracking the GMAT: The Basics
Princeton Review’s Cracking the GMAT Premium 2018 is available for $19.99 on Kindle and $19.57 in paperback. The book begins with a brief overview of each section of the test, information about how the GMAT is scored, and logistical info about the exam.
Your purchase of the book includes access to six full-length computerized adaptive practice GMATs, available online in the companion website, along with video tutorials and business school advice.
The bulk of the Princeton Review GMAT book is devoted to test-taking strategies, primarily POE (process of elimination) and PITA (plugging in the answers), which are two key ways to tackle each question type. Cracking the GMAT takes the reader through examples of how to apply these strategies to a variety of GMAT question types, and how to avoid the common traps you might encounter along the way.
Additionally, there are warm-ups and drills that accompany each chapter’s strategy to help you build the skills necessary to succeed on the exam. In total, the book contains about 180 practice questions in addition to those on the computerized adaptive practice tests that accompany it.
Cracking the GMAT ends with a series of practice question “bins,” which are collections of practice questions divided by difficulty and question type. You’ll select which bins will be most useful to you during practice sessions based on your performance on the 60-minute diagnostic practice test (which appears after the strategy chapters) in Cracking the GMAT. Each practice question is accompanied by an in-depth answer explanation.
Cracking the GMAT: Pros and Cons
Every GMAT prep resource has upsides and downsides. Let’s go over the main pros and cons of Cracking the GMAT 2018 edition.
Princeton Review’s Cracking the GMAT’s greatest strength is that it offers a comprehensive overview of the GMAT in plain English. If you’re looking for a straightforward explanation of the ins and outs of the test, Cracking the GMAT is one of your best bets.
This book also goes into detail about specific options for tackling the various GMAT question types, helping you get to know each question type and learn how to recognize it. Similarly, Cracking the GMAT helps you get to know the common “traps” on the GMAT and get to see inside the mind of a GMAC author, so you know more about what to expect. If the format of the GMAT makes you nervous or seems confusing, Cracking the GMAT is a great first step to assuaging those fears.
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Cracking the GMAT also offers several sample templates for GMAT essays that you can choose to follow as you prepare for the analytical writing assessment. This is an especially unique feature and is particularly helpful if you struggle with the essay section of the exam.
Finally, the Princeton Review GMAT book is a great resource for extra practice, including drills that test your mastery of specific strategies (good if you know what your specific weaknesses are) and six computerized adaptive practice tests. The book isn’t expensive at all for how much it offers in the way of practice.
The test-taking strategies in Cracking the GMAT are helpful, but they sometimes rely a bit too much on “tricks.” While tricks are helpful, they are never as important as gradually building the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed on the exam. There’s no quick fix to doing well on the GMAT.
Another downside of Cracking the GMAT is that many of the practice questions tend to be on the easier side. If you’re a high scorer looking for a challenge, this book won’t be enough; there are materials out there with more difficult practice questions.
Finally, both the math and grammar reviews could be more comprehensive and in-depth. While Cracking the GMAT does a good job of providing a comprehensive overview of the exam, the nitty-gritty specifics of each section get a bit lost in the shuffle. If you need a detailed math or grammar review, you’ll likely need to supplement this resource elsewhere.
Is Cracking the GMAT Right for You?
Cracking the GMAT is especially helpful if you’re looking for a better understanding of the GMAT format and the different kinds of strategies you can use for each question type. In particular, it’s helpful for beginners who are just starting out in their prep, since you’ll walk away from Cracking the GMAT knowing just what to expect on the test.
The Princeton Review GMAT book will especially help you if you’re looking for an in-depth look at the integrated reasoning section. Many prep materials don’t devote a lot of time to the integrated reasoning section, especially because it’s newer and a little less well-known than other sections, so the strategies you’ll find here are particularly valuable.
In terms of specific sections, Cracking the GMAT is better for improving fundamental math skills than for improving verbal skills, as the grammar review is slightly less in-depth than the math review. Non-native English speakers and those who struggle with the verbal and/or writing sections will need more assistance in those areas, possibly from resources like the PowerScore Verbal Bibles, which focus solely on the verbal section.
Like I said before, this book isn’t the best resource for especially high scorers looking to give themselves a final boost. Many of the practice questions available in this book are on the easy side, making them ideal for low-to-mid-range scorers or beginners who have only taken an initial diagnostic GMAT. 700+ scorers will benefit from supplementing Cracking the GMAT with other, more challenging practice questions and strategy guides, such as those offered by Manhattan Prep.
How to Use Cracking the GMAT
Cracking the GMAT is best used shortly after your first official diagnostic test to get an overview of each section of the exam. It’s a quick, straightforward read, so it’s a helpful resource to quickly get your bearings in terms of the GMAT before you begin your regular study sessions. Find more information about taking a diagnostic GMAT at the beginning of your prep here.
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As you continue your practice, you can try out the strategies offered in Cracking the GMAT in your study sessions and see which ones work for you. As you implement and experiment with each strategy on practice quizzes and tests, you’ll gradually develop a methodical approach to the test that will help you feel confident no matter what kinds of questions or “trap” answer choices you encounter on exam day.
Once you’ve used a diagnostic GMAT to get an idea of your error patterns, the drills to work on specific skills in Cracking the GMAT can be used to hone in on your weakest areas. Set aside time in your study sessions each week to complete drills that are specifically related to skills you need to brush up on.
Cracking the GMAT’s practice bins and variety of practice questions make it an excellent source of additional prep. It’s always good to take additional computerized adaptive practice tests and to answer high-quality practice questions beyond the official GMAC materials, and the answer explanations offered in Cracking the GMAT are in-depth enough to help you accurately gauge your progress as you seek to raise your score.
Looking to understand more about the GMAT format? Check out our GMAT study guide.
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If you need a more comprehensive math or grammar review before the GMAT, Khan Academy may help you. Our Khan Academy article will show you how to effectively use this free resource.