For most prospective MBAs, the first step that they make in researching the GMAT is a Google search. Most (if not all) test takers will turn to search engines to try to understand what this test is really about. The large majority of them will eventually land on an online community much like the Beat The GMAT forums, where students can not only learn more about the GMAT, but also constructively interact with people who share a common purpose: beating the GMAT and crafting that perfect application to the business school of their dreams.
However, not everyone actually realizes how useful online forums can be when preparing for the GMAT. Most people simply browse through a few pages of a GMAT forum and probably never come back, not knowing that they have just stumbled upon a hidden treasure.
So, how do you use GMAT forums to your advantage? What makes these sites so special as compared to the thousands of other sites that will appear when Googling for GMAT?
1. A community to support you
Unlike most online sites out there, forums offer an organized platform for interaction. This is, I believe, a key factor in your use of GMAT forums: you can actively exchange ideas with students such as yourself and achieve a great sense of belonging to a community. There's a constant exchange of ideas on a variety of GMAT and MBA topics, which ensures that there's always something new to read or post.
Another element that adds to a forum's success is the fact that you can find members who are friendly and eager to help. While you will see the occasional trouble maker, moderators usually ensure that conversations on forums are civilized and adding value. The GMAT forum's appeal is centered on helping you succeed, by offering you support and guidance.
2. Recognized experts
When you visit an online forum, it will probably take only a few minutes for you to weed out the best contributors. They are either marked accordingly (such as on beatthegmat.com) or have received a large number of 'thanks' from other members. The experts' presence on forums is extremely useful since it means that you can tap into their knowledge of the GMAT by simply asking them a question. You're also guaranteed to receive a reply, since star contributors have earned their position by doing just that: helping out other members with valuable and time-tested advice.
3. Trusted recommendations for almost anything you need
Forums cannot afford to be inaccurate or biased because this would make them less valuable to visitors such as yourself. Resources that are officially recognized by forum moderators or experts as being worthwhile will almost always help you in your GMAT prep.
Think about reviews in online stores: a dishonest prep company will have its staff writing rave reviews about its products. If a test taker buys into these recommendations, he loses on two levels. First of all, it's hard to receive a refund on a used book, so you lose some money. Second, wasting your time is even worse: you might have spent too much of your scarce time studying from the wrong materials, which is a common mistake test takers make. This mistake is particularly upsetting because it can affect your final score and thus reduce your chance of MBA admissions.
However, you won't see as many biased reviews in an online forum. Administrators and moderators strive to present you with objective reviews of the resources you might use for the GMAT, from books or flashcards, to prep courses. Aside from their natural desire to be of assistance, forum leaders know that if they are biased in their official reviews, the reputation of the forum will ultimately suffer.
4. A compilation of free materials
Most forums will have some sort of archive for free preparation resources. This archive is especially structured and designed to help you make the most of the free materials available for the GMAT: flashcards, error logs, documents written by successful members, etc.
Besides these, there's another free resource that forums provide: detailed explanations to problems.For instance, GMATPrep, the free prep software from MBA.com, does not provide explanations to its questions. Thankfully, all of these questions have been solved in online forums. Just do a quick search on a GMAT forum and you'll surely find an explanation.
One extra hint: if you plan on enrolling for a prep course, be sure to check out Beat The GMAT for promotional codes. These codes guarantee savings when you sign up for a course!
Your turn to contribute: being an active member
Once you've decided to become a member of a GMAT forum, you can take full advantage of its resources. Do not forget, however, that the forum expects you to give back as well, by following the house rules and by supporting the new batch of fresh GMAT converts. The strength of the forum rests upon its contributors!
Among the simplest rules are those concerning etiquette. On Beat The GMAT, moderators will swiftly delete any comments containing profanity or spam, and they ban some members for disruptive behavior. This is why it is important to show your support even to those who are asking seemingly silly questions. Remember, you were once as new to the GMAT as they were!
The community also truly appreciates good contributions and you'll often be thanked directly if you provide valuable feedback or post interesting questions. These help keep the conversations clean and productive, both for you and for other members.
After you're done with the test, be sure to share your GMAT prep experience with the community. Your experience might inspire other GMAT hopefuls. And after your successful GMAT experience, be sure to stick around forums like beatthegmat.com to share tips with other applicants/experts for your MBA application!
About the Author:
Dana is a finance student and a moderator for the Beat The GMAT - GMAT & MBA Community, one of the world's largest online resources for GMAT prep and MBA admissions advice.