GMAT Prep: Pencil-and-Paper or Computer?

Definitely pencil and paper.

The vast majority of your GMAT prep work should be done with a pencil and paper, especially early in the process. Practicing with the software shouldn't come until much later.

Your First Objective

Your first objective is to learn the GMAT curriculum. It consists of basic math and verbal concepts and contains nothing beyond high school, but it's tricky and you've forgotten most of it.

On the math side, you have stuff such as percentage calculations, algebra, geometry and basic statistics (combinations, permutations and probability). On the verbal side there is grammar, logic and reading comprehension.

There are no higher-level concepts such as calculus or trigonometry, but there's a lot of review work, and that's better done in pencil-and-paper format.

Why Pencil-and-Paper Works Better

Two Reasons:

1. Physical Interaction

There is a visual/spatial dimension to learning. By that I mean that physically interacting with the curriculum (by writing directly on the problems) helps test takers to internalize it. Visual memory is our strongest form of learning, so it's important that you watch carefully what you write.

2. Time Efficiency

It takes much longer to solve a problem presented by computer than to solve the same problem presented on paper. This is borne out by the GMAT exam itself. When the GMAT switched from pencil-and-paper to computer, the timing of the exam remained roughly the same. What few test takers realize, however, is that the test writers cut the number of questions in half. In other words, you now have twice as much time to solve a problem on the computer as you had in pencil-and-paper format. That adjustment had to be made because problem solving on the computer is slow and inefficient.

In solving practice problems at home, why would I want to work at half the pace? Transcribing the problem from the screen to a paper before solving it, and then entering the answer on the screen only interferes with the primary objective, which is to learn the curriculum.

Buy the Official Guide

The Official Guide for GMAT Review is the only book out there with real practice problems taken from actual tests. You'd have to be crazy not to use it as the core of your practice curriculum. You can read test prep company books to learn techniques if you like, but for actual practice problems, you would be crazy not to use the Official Guide.

The Official Software

Only after you've internalized the GMAT curriculum by doing hundreds of practice problems should you download the official software from MBA.com and take the practice tests. It's important that you learn how to interact with a computer-based exam so you'll feel comfortable on test day, but it's more important that you internalized the GMAT curriculum, and that's better accomplished in pencil-and-paper format.