The Ultimate Guide to Picking a Private GMAT Tutor

Hey GMATters,

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Picking a private GMAT Tutor is a difficult and costly decision. These tutors charge tremendous amounts of money that you, the client, intend to exchange for GMAT success.

In other words, you are renting their brain to download its contents. How easy that is depends on a number of different factors.

This guide is designed to help you find the right tutor for you (hint: it’s probably not me because I’m too damn busy).

1) Qualifications

It might seem pretty obvious that you want your private GMAT tutor to have a stellar GMAT score.

This can be a fatal mistake.

While a mid-700s GMAT score is essential, a high score does not make someone a good teacher. A 770-scorer will not inherently teach you better than a 740-scorer. Sorry.

What do I look for?

Quite simply, teaching experience. GMAT is a complicated subject and your private tutor needs to be someone with a good few years (3-5 minimum) of experience teaching other people, reading people’s needs, and understanding how to communicate most effectively with students.

This doesn’t have to be experience teaching GMAT—it could be anything from tutoring while at university to spending a couple of years in the trenches as a high school teacher.

If you find someone lacking actual teaching experience, it’s likely a cowboy who just recently got a decent score and wants to make beer money.

Run–don’t walk–away.

What’s a decent score for a private GMAT tutor?

As schools become more selective, higher scores have become more important.

In 11+ years of experience as a GMAT tutor, I’ve met excellent GMAT tutors who scored anywhere from 720 to 780.

Look at it this way:

One in particular took a few years and ratcheted his score from 720 to 770, ultimately getting a free ride at a very reputable UK business school.

This is actually a good thing: hard work and persistence are qualities you are looking for in a private GMAT tutor!

That’s actually exactly how business schools look at GMAT scores. It’s not necessarily “the higher the better” for these schools. They are much more interested in how someone fits into the dynamic of the incoming class.

Someone able to score a 760+ is not necessarily a “well-rounded” person and might just be the old, fabled “brain on a stick.”

The question is not whether this person knows how to score high on the GMAT.

The question is: “can this person effectively teach me how to score high on the GMAT?”

With every rule comes an exception (especially on the GMAT!): two of my colleagues in London are 780-scorers. They both come from extensive experience as Secondary (high school) teachers. I couldn’t recommend them higher as private GMAT tutors.

Check them out here:

Chuck Dreyer: http://www.gmattutorlondon.com/
Philip Linnell: http://www.gmattutor.london/

This guy says he got an 800!

Statistically speaking it is almost certain that he is lying.

If approximately 30 people out of the roughly 250,000 who take the GMAT every year get an 800, the odds that your dude here is one of them are sow low that I would invariably ask to see an OFFICIAL score report (the one on watermarked paper).

This guy says he got 800 three times!

Did he? That’s amazing. By the way, I have a bridge to sell you…

Has your private GMAT tutor taught for agencies?

Most have at some point or another. This is particularly useful because that means your tutor will have classroom experience.

If balancing the demands and queries of 12-20 people at once is ‘Nam, then teaching a dedicated, receptive private GMAT student is tug-of-war at a 4-year-old’s birthday party.

Is your private GMAT tutor dedicating at least half-time to GMAT tutoring?

Working as a private GMAT tutor often pays well enough that it is often the tutor’s primary paying gig. That benefits you because it means that the tutor has the time and headspace to devote to your particular concerns.

Why? Usually the tutor is a writer or a musician or is working unpaid on a start-up.

If your tutor, say, works at a bank and only tutors at night I would be suspicious. How do you know the lesson won’t be cancelled the next time she has to pull an all-nighter? How do you know she’s not thinking about office politics rather than your question about Combinations?

Buy her a pint and pick her brain, but don’t spend hundreds of dollars per hour on her.

2) Curriculum

Does your GMAT tutor have some sort of curriculum in place? Can he describe exactly what material he’s going to guide you through in some sort of reasonable detail?

That is, can he provide some sort of realistic roadmap for how to raise your score given your situation?
This can be told over the phone.

Don’t deal with someone who can’t pitch you properly on the phone. He won’t be able to communicate effectively with you in private, either.

This brings us to the next point.

3) Materials

Don’t work with anyone using “big box retailer” books. They start with B, K, P, and V. I think you’ll be able to figure it out from there.

Of course there is yet again an exception that proves the rule:

–Manhattan GMAT books are excellent

–Jeff Sackmann’s GMAT Hacks books are excellent

However, there is a caveat: all GMAT questions are not created equal. GMAT questions are incredibly precise little machines—written in a very specific style, which you need to learn to score well!–any question that is not an Official question is not helping you wrap your brain around that style.

Recognition of the Official style and comfort with it is the only way you’ll ever score well on the GMAT.

In short: make sure that your private GMAT tutor backs up Manhattan or other materials with Official GMAT questions.

These can be from the Official Guides (tutors should have the last few editions available for perusal), from the Exam Packs 1 and 2 available on mba.com, or the Paper Tests also available on mba.com.

Furthermore, beatthegmat.com and gmatclub.com also have resources of compiled Official questions that can be used (often they require editing since they’ve been compiled by non- native English speakers, but they’re usable as-is).

A note on Official materials

The explanations that GMAC commissions for their Official materials are quite poor. If your tutor relies on those explanations, I would be worried.

Using proprietary materials – did your private GMAT tutor write his or her own questions?

In short: it’s not a reason to choose a tutor.

Some tutors write their own material and some don’t. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not any sort of advantage.
The quality of the question writing varies, but let’s look at it from a different perspective: writing GMAT questions takes a lot more time than teaching GMAT.

The actual writers of the test make less than good private GMAT tutors—sometimes significantly less.

From a practical standpoint, it’s unlikely that a tutor would spend his time writing questions when he could be tutoring. It’s very likely that a tutor who claims to have written his own questions will have farmed them out to a student who works for cheap.

That means the questions are probably not great. Just saying.

Using computer-based systems

Manhattan’s online exams and question banks are excellent, providing great feedback and explanations. They do not, of course, provide Official questions.

Magoosh is widely considered the best bang for the buck when it comes to online GMAT preparation. Its questions aren’t as hard as Manhattan, but their style is much closer to Official questions.

Avoid others, especially “adaptive” courses that do not let you pick your own question topics (that one starts with an E). Freedom to choose what to study is essential to learn effectively.

4) Bedside Manner

One of the most important parts of your relationship with your private GMAT tutor is whether you get along.

This isn’t about shared politics or whether you’d even want to hang out with this person on any sort of social terms.

Rather, is this someone you can develop a communication, a rapport, with?

A lot of this can be determined over the phone. Speak directly to your prospective tutor. Tell the tutor a couple of things you’re having problems with.

See if she offers you any free advice. Is she able to give you an example that makes sense easily, without a pen and paper in front of you? A few nuggets of wisdom cost nothing.

If the GMAT tutor is cagey and tries to make you pay before dispensing any useful information, this is a bad sign.

A note on trial sessions

Any private GMAT tutor will have a policy regarding trial sessions. Some require you to pay for any session you book, while some will offer a one- or two-hour session as a trial.

My personal policy is to offer the first hour as paid with a money-back guarantee. The lesson costs up-front, but if the student is dissatisfied he or she gets the money back.

Strict policies are a response to the many “tourists” who will do trial sessions with every private GMAT tutor in town and try to get a full set of lessons that way.

Don’t believe that happens? Remind me not to tell you about the Easter Bunny.

In short, “trial” or “no trial” is NOT a reason to choose one tutor over another.

Does your prospective tutor take on anyone and everyone?

Private GMAT tutors are often flooded with work. Luckily we have the luxury of choosing our clients.

It is not in the interest of a tutor to take on a client with whom she doesn’t have good rapport or who will almost certainly prove to be a drain or otherwise a pain in the ass.

Your GMAT tutor needs to be firing on all cylinders or you’re not getting your money’s worth. As a client, it is not your responsibility to deal with the bullshit that bad clients can put your tutor through.

The important thing to note here is that your tutor must have strict boundaries and be able to say “no” to potentially bad clients.

The way to tell a tutor’s policy on this is simple. It’s likely on his or her website, but if not simply ask “do you ever refuse to teach anyone?”

Any tutor worth his or her salt will tell you YES and perhaps even give an example.

Does the tutor sound desperate?

Again, private GMAT tutors—especially in major metropolitan areas–rarely suffer for a lack of work.

If this person is really trying painfully hard to close a sale, there’s probably a reason.

Look for the tutor who is confident enough in her work not to need your custom.

Does the tutor claim to be able to work miracles?

Be wary of anyone who claims to get a 420 to a 700 in three weeks. Just saying.

However, if a tutor tells you he CAN’T work miracles but that he can guide you and it’s all down to your hard work, you have likely found a winner.

Is the tutor willing to recommend other tutors?

If he’s being precious about you as a lead, forget him. That’s just desperation all over again.

If he is happy to offer trusted colleagues—other folks in the game within your region—then you have found someone secure in his abilities.

Does this tutor say he or she is “the best?” Does this tutor slag off other tutors to you?

Is that really necessary? Maybe she needs to shut the hell up. There are plenty of charlatans out there, as I’m sure you’re able to tell by now. I still won’t name names.

Whether this tutor actually is “the best”—best out of what? The Westminster Dog Show?–should be obvious from testimonials.

If statements like this don’t turn you off immediately, ask for references from previous clients (at least three).

Does this tutor watch the clock relentlessly during lessons?

If he’s staring at his watch, chomping at the bit to let you out at 1:57 when the lesson actually ends at 2:00, I’d be worried.

If you find someone not willing or ready to take a few extra minutes to wrap things up, chat, and give you some guidance on homework, avoid this person.

5) Price

This depends entirely on location.

Remember that online private GMAT tutors can charge whatever they choose—they are not bound to clients from any particular pricing ecosystem. Many of these actually tend toward New York prices, which tend to be the highest worldwide.

However, in any case this tutor should charge significantly less than what you would pay through an agency.

Figure out what the reasonable average is within your area. If you’re not in one of these areas, the price could easily be less.

London: £65-90/hr

New York City: $200-300/hr

Los Angeles: $150/hr

Sydney: $130-150/hr

Continent (Paris, Frankfurt): €100-150/hr

Chicago: $75-125/hr

Can’t I find a good tutor for cheaper?

Eh, maybe. It’s not impossible but it’s not likely.

If you find someone working online from Kansas who’s charging $30/hr my first question would be what she’s doing in fucking Kansas.

I mean I’m from Kansas, but I don’t live there. Jeez, not even Dorothy actually stayed there.

More importantly, CAVEAT EMPTOR.

Buyer beware. If you find someone charging $40/hr in a place where $200/hr is normal, I would suggest you tend more toward the higher price.

Why do private GMAT tutors cost so much?

After all, someone needs to be able to justify herself at a high price. You want a private GMAT tutor who has the confidence to price herself at a point that proves her worth.

If she thinks she’s worth $40/hr, you’ll get tuition worth $40/hr. Is that going to get you a
700?

Because the sky is blue.

(Ask a silly question…)

Look at it this way:

Business school is an investment. Arguably the most important part of that investment is the name of the school—the quality of the pedigree you will receive.

Ultimately, spending a couple grand on a private GMAT tutor can get your GMAT score up to a level that means you can go to a significantly better business school.

Getting a better pedigree will be worth incalculable amounts more AFTER THE FACT. If price is still an issue, please don’t call me. You’ll get what you pay for.

6) Conclusion

Hiring a private GMAT tutor can seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Talk to the person and ask questions.

An incredible amount of your potential relationship with this tutor will be totally evident from a 15-minute chat on the phone.

Make sure your tutor is someone trustworthy with whom you can easily develop rapport.

If in doubt of this, talk to the one who charges a couple of bucks more per hour. This often makes all the difference.

Good luck choosing a GMAT tutor, and as always, good luck on the exam!

PS Skimmed right to the bottom? Grab a PDF copy of the Ultimate Guide to Picking a GMAT Tutor here!




About the author

Rowan Hand Head Coach Rowan Hand has been a GMAT tutor and content developer for more than 10 years. Rowan has coached hundreds of clients in private and group classes. Former clients have gone on to Harvard, LBS, INSEAD, Wharton, and other excellent business schools.