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Kaplan GMAT Review
Our in-depth review of the Kaplan GMAT prep course
When admission to an elite MBA program is on the line and a GMAT score will make or break the decision, students often turn to Kaplan. This is for good reason – Kaplan’s curriculum is robust, their online content is first-rate in terms of substance and delivery, and they provide a mountain of study material. But do all of these great study tools justify the price tag? We take a close look at all of the features of the Kaplan GMAT prep course in this detailed review.
When it comes to course options for students, Kaplan offers a fairly traditional suite of choices, including a Self-Paced course, Live Online course, and an In-Person program. You have to love the self-explanatory names of Kaplan’s courses compared other test prep companies (e.g. Ultimate, Complete, Premium). They definitely don’t try to hide the ball in giving you a selection among course formats.
The aptly named Self-Paced course is Kaplan’s on-demand, online only course designed for students who want a flexible study plan. There are no live classes, and content can be accessed anywhere and at any time. The Self-Paced option is generally priced at around $600, and falls in the middle of the pack in terms of cost when compared to other test prep companies.
For those students seeking live classroom time, Kaplan offers its standard Live Online course. This package includes a live class component, though it is conducted via scheduled webinar sessions instead of in-person. The Live Online Course costs about $1,250, which is on the more affordable end of live courses across test prep firms.
Finally, when it comes to Kaplan’s In-Person course, there is a twist. Rather than offering its own in-person program (as Kaplan does with almost every other test they cover), Kaplan has partnered with affiliate Manhattan Prep to provide in-person class sessions. In fact, the partnership extends beyond just class time.
The students purchasing this course from Kaplan actually get access to all of Manhattan Prep’s online materials and coursework, including their award winning Interact lessons. This is really more of a Manhattan Prep course option than it is a Kaplan option. In any event, this prep package will run you around $1,400.
Course options and pricing current as of date of publication.
Review of Kaplan’s Coursework and Curriculum
It is apparent from the moment you open Kaplan’s online GMAT portal that you’re getting a vigorous and well-developed curriculum. Under the “Study Plan” section of the online platform, Kaplan’s lesson plans are broken out across the four sections of the GMAT – quant, verbal, integrated reasoning and AWA. Then within each of these four sections there are modules for every GMAT topic, such as algebra, sentence correction and geometry. These modules are then broken down by individual lessons on subtopics, such as systems of equations, verb errors and triangles. Basically, it’s your classic drill-down structure.
At the topic level, each module follows the same structure – Before Class > Class Session > After Class. The “Before Class” portion of the module is a quick primer video (usually right around 10 minutes in length) that previews what you can expect to learn in the coming lesson. Think of this as a quick refresher from your undergrad and high school classes.
The lesson itself then takes place in the “Class Session” section of the module. This consists of a series of video-based lessons of remarkable quality, each covering a subtopic. The video instruction is delivered in the form of a digital whiteboard that constantly updates with new content, notes and graphics. More often than not, your instructor will appear onscreen before the whiteboard and walk you through the concept, breaking down the material into digestible chunks. From time to time, the instructor will bust out a marker and make notes on the screen between you and them on some invisible pane of glass in a neon blue ink.
This makes for a really cool visual and I personally found it to be super effective in terms of material retention. Between the digital whiteboard, enthusiastic teacher delivering their lesson onscreen, and the luminescent marker notes, I was engaged just about the whole time and my attention hardly wavered. Not only that, I was just plain impressed with the production quality of the video lessons. They were very sharp digitally and well-designed. This was definitely one of the more engaging video formats I have seen.
Beyond the quality of the content delivery, the substance of the material is spot on as well. It is clear that Kaplan’s curriculum experts know their stuff, because they cover every nook and cranny of the GMAT. Every topic and subtopic are covered from multiple angles and you are given strategies to tackle the varying problem types (sometimes multiple techniques per problem type).
In the “After Class” session, you are given a quick 5 or 10 question quiz to test what you just learned. Assuming you paid attention to the videos (which, as mentioned, isn’t hard to do), you’ll do just fine on just about every quiz. Following the quiz, you are usually given some wrap-up reading to do in your prep book or a downloadable PDF. From beginning to end, Kaplan’s “learn it, drill it” course structure results in a very effective means of content retention.
Turning to the practice portion of their coursework, Kaplan’s Qbank acts as the driving force of your extracurricular learning. The Qbank is a custom practice problem tool provided to students to create custom quizzes based on topic, question type, difficulty, etc. The Qbank contains 2,300+ questions and is a great opportunity to zero in on your weaknesses. You can create targeted practice problem sets and ratchet up the pressure with timing requirements to ensure improvement.
Accompanying each question in the Qbank is a written problem explanation. These explanations break down the problem, analyzing the aspects that make it difficult, and explain why each answer choice is right or wrong. All in all, these explanations are well-articulated and very clear, though not as detailed as those offered by other test prep companies.
I found the Qbank to be a very effective means of creating focused practice sessions and was impressed with the overall functionality of this tool. In my mind, such tools are an absolute must in helping you improve on your weaknesses, and Kaplan’s delivers. On the other hand, I found the associated problem explanation with each practice question to be just okay. Don’t get me wrong, they are clear and get the job done. I would just like a little more detail in some instances, and maybe even some video explanations like those offered by Magoosh.
For those students wondering about the quantity of study material provided by Kaplan, all of the lessons, practice problems and study materials discussed above total to more than 140 hours of work. There is 44+ hours of video instruction and 5,000+ practice problems – and that doesn’t even cover the material in the prep books and the classes (both discussed below more fully).
In short, there is a heck of a lot of material to study here. Even studying 40+ hours per week, it would take weeks to complete all of Kaplan’s coursework. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality, quantity and design of Kaplan’s lessons and coursework.
Kaplan GMAT Practice Tests
One of the most important aspects of any prep course, and one of the biggest considerations when determining which GMAT prep course is best, is the quality and quantity of practice tests. Fortunately for Kaplan, they deliver in both categories. Offering 9 full-length, computer-adaptive tests, Kaplan is bested only by Princeton Review with respect to the number of practice GMAT exams they provide.
The top marks don’t stop with the quantity of practice tests offered. Kaplan also offers some of the highest quality practice exams around. Like the practice questions offered through their Qbank and quizzes, Kaplan’s practice test questions replicate real GMAT questions in an impressive fashion. It is clear their GMAT experts have spent hundreds of hours fine tuning the material on their practice exams.
Moreover, the test taking software on Kaplan’s digital platform is a dead ringer for the official GMAT technology. The real GMAT has this 1990’s type feel to it, and Kaplan does a great job mirroring that. It may not sound like much, but these tiny details can have big effects. If you’re used to some fancy testing software, then are given a retro platform on test day, you’re going to be thrown for a loop. So this is a small, but important detail.
Finally, following each practice test you’re given a helpful score report which details your performance across subtopics. The score reports allow you to zero in on the subjects in which you need improvement and where you can speed up your pacing. These reports are a valuable part of your study plan and should not be discounted.
Kaplan GMAT Books
With the purchase of any GMAT package, Kaplan will ship you a couple of hard-copy prep books. These books generally track with and supplement the core curriculum (live online and on demand). These books contain content instruction, strategies and practice problems.
I personally love the Kaplan GMAT prep books. They are detailed, well-written and to-the-point. In addition, I just plain like old school prep workbooks, as I am fond of dog-earing pages, highlighting key concepts and taking notes. Whether I return to these notes later is questionable, but it helps me with material retention, so I appreciate the print books.
Along with your hard-copy prep books, Kaplan will also send you an MBA admissions guide. This booklet is full of great resource material on MBA applications and business schools. That said, don’t think you’re getting some MBA bible. I think better information can be found on various MBA forums and through other books on Amazon, but as far as add-ons go, I really like this little extra from Kaplan.
User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX)
Like most other aspects of the Kaplan course, the user interface and experience across their digital platform is by and large first-rate. The look is professional and clean, with snappy responsiveness. In addition, the layout is incredibly easy to navigate. There are just four self-explanatory sections in the header – Study Plan, Recommendations, GMAT Channel, and Qbank. You really can’t mess that up. In addition, the usability is great with simple drop-downs and easy to find tools.
All of that said, I do have two small gripes with the Kaplan UI/UX. The load speed of the custom quizzes through Qbank proved to be really slow at times. Sometimes it took 5+ seconds for the quiz to load. That doesn’t sound like much, but in today’s day and age, it feels like an eternity and is a little annoying. Additionally, I do not like that every lesson, quiz and other resource pops out into a new browser tab. By the time you’re done with a study session you have like 30 tabs open. I would much prefer the content you’re opening pop open in the same window with a simple ‘back’ button when needed.
Kaplan GMAT Classes
As referenced above, Kaplan offers two types of live courses – a Live Online course and an In-Person course. The Live Online course is conducted through scheduled webinar sessions and students tune in to watch their Kaplan instructor provide the lesson. The classes are attended once or twice per week in three-hour blocks and students participate through chat and video.
The In-Person course on the other hand is conducted in partnership with Manhattan Prep. Kaplan essentially outsources all of its in-person sessions to affiliate Manhattan. Why they do this rather than having their own in-person class, I do not know. In any event, for a full recap of the Manhattan Prep classes, check out our Manhattan Prep GMAT review here.
With respect to Kaplan, I took the Live Online course to see how their version of a live course differed from Manhattan Prep’s (having already taken Manhattan Prep’s class). All in all, the lessons were solid and the instructor very knowledgeable. But all things considered, just comparing straight classroom experiences, I would opt for the Manhattan Prep In-Person course over the Kaplan Live Online course.
Note that I am biased towards in-person classes over live online ones. I think the face-to-face instruction and peer interaction improves the learning process. With that said, the Manhattan Prep course is just more powerful and has a better overall feel. You get 9 additional class hours with Manhattan Prep and the classes have more of a workshop than lecture feel.
Be that as it may, the Manhattan Prep In-Person course is more expensive, and the Kaplan Live Online course definitely holds its own. For some students, the In-Person class may not even be an option if they do not live near a city with classes. So if you prefer to learn in a group environment or need the structure and commitment of a live class, I would not hesitate to upgrade to Kaplan’s Live Online version.
Looking beyond the base curriculum and practice material, you will find that Kaplan offers some fantastic additional resources. Supplemental resources generally vary greatly across GMAT test prep companies and few offer any of true value, so this really helps Kaplan to stand out.
The most important resource offered by Kaplan is its “official test day experience.” This exclusive pass allows you as a Kaplan GMAT student to take one of your 9 practice GMAT exams at a real Pearson VUE test center. This gives you the ability to practice just like it is game day. Simulating exam-like conditions is critical to effective practice and there is no better way than in an actual test center. Kaplan suggests taking this practice test roughly two weeks before you plan to take the real GMAT, and I believe that is a good recommendation.
Also of great note is Kaplan’s GMAT Channel. The GMAT Channel gives students access to additional video instruction on particular subjects. In each lesson, a Kaplan teacher will pick a certain topic and dig deep into it. This instruction goes well beyond the typical lesson you would get in the core curriculum and attacks the finer details of the subject. The teacher provides the lesson from a webcam and students watch live, chiming in with answers and questions.
If you need extra help in a particular area, these videos can offer a real bonus learning experience. however, if the video of the day covers something, you’re already strong on, it won’t do much for you. All in all, the GMAT Channel is a great resource that contains some awesome, detailed lessons.
Kaplan Private Tutoring
If you’re struggling to grasp a concept or just need help on overall test taking strategies and techniques, Kaplan offers private tutoring with one of their GMAT experts. These private tutoring sessions are personalized to your needs and your Kaplan tutor (who is usually a 98th percentile or better scorer on the GMAT themselves), will let you drive the session where you want to go. You tell them where you’re struggling and need help, and they’ll target that issue.
With respect to pricing, Kaplan is on the more expensive side of tutoring costs. Their packages range in price from around $2,500 (10 hours) up to $5,000 (40 hours). This equates to a price per hour of roughly $125-250. $125/hr doesn’t sound bad, but remember you need to spend $5k to get there. One thing to keep in mind with all of this is that if you purchase a Kaplan private tutoring package, you will also get full access to one of their Live Online courses. So it’s not just tutoring you’re paying for in that price, it’s tutoring + prep. Pulling out the price of a full Live Online class, the hourly rates become much more reasonable.
In terms of quality of tutoring, Kaplan is right up at the top of the best list. Their instructors are all masters of their craft, have undergone rigorous training with Kaplan, and are generally vetted to be empathetic communicators. This all translates into effective and needle-moving tutoring sessions.
Online Content Access Periods
Access to your online materials will generally vary with the course option you purchase. The Self-Paced course will allow access to digital study material for up to 6 months from the date of purchase. Conversely, the Live Online course generally ties your access period to the length of the course. And the In-Person course in partnership with Manhattan Prep allows access to Manhattan’s corresponding materials up until 3 months after the end of your class.
Whichever course you purchase, these periods are all generally middle-of-the-road in terms of duration compared to other companies. Magoosh offers one year of access, while Princeton Review grants just 4 months of access. In any event, the Kaplan access periods should be plenty to get your GMAT studying done in time.
Kaplan’s GMAT Mobile App
I won’t spend too much time on the Kaplan GMAT mobile app because there’s just not much to discuss. Along with your Kaplan GMAT course purchase, you will get access to 500+ flashcards through the Kaplan mobile app. These flashcards cover topics across all 4 sections of the exam and allow you to study on the go.
Having said that, this app isn’t nearly as strong as others we have seen, such as Magoosh’s. Rather than tying the available content in the app to your coursework, you get some simple flashcards. These flashcards aren’t bad by any means – in fact I kind of like them – its just that they pale in comparison to other apps.
I would much prefer to see this app connected to your online material and allow you to work problems and watch lessons. But if you’re on the go and need some quick-hit studying to complement your core work, this mobile app isn’t a bad prep aid.
Does Kaplan Have a Score Improvement Guarantee?
Kaplan does offer a money back guarantee if your score does not improve after taking their course. There are some restrictions around having to take all practice tests and watch all lessons (there are technicalities with every companies’ policy), but generally speaking, this is a nice safety net. Just be careful to check whether Kaplan will honor that guarantee for the In-Person though, as that course is provided by partner Manhattan Prep who doesn’t have such guarantees.
What is Kaplan’s General Refund Policy?
Kaplan offers a fairly generous refund policy with respect to its GMAT courses. They will generally give you 100% of your tuition back if you are not satisfied with your course and if you call within 3 days of ordering. They will also give 75% of your tuition costs back up to 7 days after purchase. Take note that these amounts do not include shipping. And like the score guarantee, make sure to double check this policy with respect to the In-Person course.
Verdict: Kaplan GMAT Prep Course
The long and the short of it is that when you purchase a GMAT prep course from Kaplan, you are getting a top flight prep product with respect to quality and quantity. Not only does Kaplan offer a best-in-class suite of 5,000+ practice problems and 140+ total hours of instruction and practice, but you also get a set of detailed prep books and access to its valuable GMAT Channel. There is a reason the Kaplan course options cost what they do.
We weren’t crazy about their practice problem explanations, finding them to be average as compared to others’; nor did we find there to be anything particularly special about the live classes. But balanced against the scope and strength of the other aspects of this prep course, those small gripes are easily outweighed. Kaplan’s GMAT prep package packs a punch when it comes to video-based instruction, practice problem depth and general curriculum. In our collective opinion, the high price tag of Kaplan’s course is justified, and we think it would make for a formidable prep option for most every student.
How much does a Kaplan GMAT prep course cost?
The Kaplan GMAT prep packages range in price from around $600 to north of $2,500 depending on format, level of access and whether tutoring is involved.
How many total hours of coursework do I get with Kaplan?
Kaplan provides over 140 total hours of instruction and practice across its digital content and books.
How many practice problems do I get with a Kaplan GMAT prep course?
Kaplan offers students access to 5,000+ practice problems between its Qbank and quizzes.