Princeton Review’s GMAT prep business is taking a beating in a new Yelp-like review of users put together by BeattheGMAT. The one-time leader in helping MBA candidates prepare for the GMAT exam has a rating from its own customers that puts it dead last among six major GMAT prep companies.
At the top of the heap is Manhattan GMAT, followed closely by Veritas Prep, Kaplan, and Knewton. Those four firms are closely bunched together in the ratings. Princeton Review, however, has so far earned a rating of only 3.14 and has the most critical reviews from customers of any firm.
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Customer ratings are a new addition to BeattheGMAT’s website. Unlike Yelp, however, BeattheGMAT has added some additional credibility to its customer ratings by allowing users who post reviews to prove that they in fact took the instruction they claim. To submit a “verified review,” a user must submit the course that was purchased, along with the date of the transaction as well as the e-mail used to purchase the course. BeattheGMAT then verifies that the user took the course with the GMAT prep test company. Once a company confirms that the user indeed took the course, the customer’s review receives a “verified real student” badge that gives his or her rating and opinion greater credibility.
BeattheGMAT launched the review directory in late July. “We hope to help students find the right GMAT prep course and the right GMAT teacher,” said David Park, CEO of BeattheGMAT. “We plan on doing this by creating the world’s largest directory of reviews for GMAT courses that ultimately has multiple real student reviews for every single course, location and teacher.”
Manhattan GMAT gained many of the most enthusiastic reviews from customers, including a verified review from “TestTaker81.” “With top business schools being so competitive, I wanted to score 700+ on the GMAT to maximize the strength of my candidacy,” the customer wrote. “Manhattan GMAT was the best decision I made in the GMAT process and working with them boosted my score tremendously to 720 on my first attempt. I compared every GMAT prep company by speaking with former students and reading reviews. Manhattan GMAT is by far the best investment and strongest prep program based on: 1. Superior Instructors; 2. Superior Cirriculum and Test Strategies, and 3. Use of actual Official Guide (OG) books.”
In contrast, some of the reviews from Princeton Review customers are scathing. Users say the Princeton Review course was “not worth the money” and offered “nothing you couldn’t easily teach yourself by studying thoroughly.” Wrote one verified customer of the firm: “Princeton Review is getting worse.” The user explained that he had first taken a Princeton Review course to prep for the Graduate Record Exam ten years ago and had a good impression of the firm. But in taking the company’s prep course for the GMAT earlier this year, the customer found that the teacher’s pronunciation was so poor that he couldn’t understand the person’s instruction, especially for the verbal portion of the course.
Shadna Wyse, a spokesperson for Princeton Review, said the firm isn’t taking the reviews all that seriously. She said several test prep companies, such as Veritas and Manhattan GMAT, use “grassroots” efforts using social media to market their products. “That is their form of advertising,” said Wyse. “They are getting more reviews because they push their students to do them. So someone is not going to randomly do this unless there is pushing and directing. We never push or direct anyone. We haven’t encouraged our students to go to BeattheGMAT and rate us. We can play that game, too, and maybe we should.” Wyse said their internal data on customer satisfaction shows no decline.
Competitors claim that Princeton Review has lost some momentum in the GMAT arena with the departure of Princeton Review founder John Katzman. Katzman, who founded the company in 1981, completely left the firm in September of 2008 when he was succeeded as chairman. He had earlier relinquished his role as chief executive in July of 2007.
Other customers were critical of both the study materials, the quality of teaching, and the condition of classrooms.
“Princeton’s materials just don’t go deep enough,” wrote Suzeemunkee, a verified customer of the firm. “It’s all very high-level stuff, without getting into the nitty-gritty of the concepts. Also, the structure of the course didn’t follow a natural/logical flow — it would jump from one math concept to a verbal, then to another (unrelated) math concept. It didn’t build upon the last thing that I’d learnt — as the Manhattan GMAT materials did…I wouldn’t recommend (Princeton Review) for someone who really wants to go deep into the concepts and conquer the harder stuff.”
Other users were critical of the quality of teaching. “I regularly felt slighted during the Q&A periods of my classes as seemingly more often than not I received a ‘I’ll research it and get back to you next class’ in response to my questions,” wrote Scosanford, another verified user. “I had gone into the program hoping that the $1250 I spent would go a long ways toward streamlining the process that I attacked my most nagging difficulties. Waiting a week to get answers (which, granted, usually were eventually given) is something that I could have done on my own time given a good prep book.”
He also took issue with the condition of the GMAT prep classroom in Madison, N.J. “The facilities, in both my classroom and teacher prep buildings, were pretty dingy.”
Like restaurant reviews on Yelp, not all of Princeton Review’s customers on BeattheGMAT were unhappy with the service. Several users who rated the service five stars said it was a “worthwhile investment” with a “good return.” “This course gave a decent overview of the breadth of the GMAT,” wrote “glinder,” a verified customer who was satisfied with Princeton Review. “It didn’t go into any great detail teaching any particular subject, but gave a good feel for the diversity of problems presented. It gave good tips for quickly completing problems that otherwise might bog you down. The extra practice problems and practice tests that come with the course provide lots of exposure and repetition, though nothing is as good as the actual GMAT books. Overall I was happy with the course.”
BeattheGMAT’s Park said that the average ratings for each GMAT prep company are based on all of the reviews–not just those posted by verified customers. “We’re relatively confident that most of the reviews are from real students based on our methodology,” said Parks. “We’ve been doing periodic spot checks of our reviewers and also have algorithms that filter out potentially fishy reviews.”
The address for the reviews site is http://reviews.beatthegmat.com.