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GMAT Test Prep Company Profile Series: Manhattan Review


Today, as we near the conclusion of our GMAT test prep company profile series, we’ll take a closer look at Manhattan Review, a New York City–based test preparation firm that has grown to include locations around the globe.

Manhattan Review was founded in 1999 by Dr. Joern Meissner, then a doctoral student at Columbia Business School (CBS). While lecturing on advanced quantitative subjects to MBAs at Columbia, Meissner received requests from students to assist their friends, who were frustrated with conventional GMAT preparation options. He created original lectures focused on presenting GMAT content in a coherent and concise manner – a departure from courses delivering basic knowledge interspersed with so-called “tricks.” Meissner’s approach immediately proved highly popular with GMAT students, inspiring the birth of Manhattan Review.

The company today provides classes in 60 cities in 10 countries and has developed connections with leading business schools around the world, hosting joint events on a monthly basis.

Meissner is currently a tenured professor at Lancaster University Management School in the United Kingdom, leading a team of eight doctoral students. Manhattan Review is today led by CEO Tracy Yun, a CBS graduate with almost a decade of experience in mergers & acquisitions, turnaround & restructuring and litigation consulting.

Yun, who scored in the 99th percentile on the GMAT and is passionate about education, jumped at the opportunity to work at an educational services company. As the only female CEO among the top test prep companies, she hopes to set an example for female MBAs as a successful entrepreneur and head of a small growing company. A transcript of our interview with Yun follows.

Clear Admit: How many GMAT tutors do you have? Who are they? What are their qualifications? What markets do they serve?

Tracy Yun: We currently have about 75 instructors located across the United States, Europe and Asia. The majority of our GMAT instructors have either an MBA or a PhD. Through Joern’s connections with the faculty of business schools worldwide, we are able to recruit a lot of talent through referrals from various professors, and they bring high-quality instruction to our classes.

Regarding the quality of a test prep program, we believe it depends not only on the effectiveness of instructors but also on the effectiveness of the entire learning process and experience. This includes many factors such as class size, level of interaction between instructors and students, teaching material and method (dynamic lecturing vs. Socratic Q&As vs. PowerPoint presentations vs. scripted teaching), after-class support, the availability of different course and tutoring options for students at different levels and more.

Our founder is a business school professor teaching MBAs. So our business is grounded in adhering to the best teaching practice and principals. The GMAT prep business is not just a test prep business; more importantly, it is a people business since the majority of test takers are young professionals with work experience.

Our philosophy in hiring teachers is not just about high test scores, whether or not they graduated from Ivy League schools, and so on. More important to us is their ability to connect with students and motivate students to increase their confidence level. The majority of our instructors are in their 30s and 40s. Great instructors need to get a good sense of fulfillment from teaching in front of an audience and from seeing the positive impact their teaching has on individuals’ lives. Therefore, they need to be responsible, mature and experienced – not just another young graduate out of school with a top GMAT score. So we pay special attention to an instructor’s life experiences and the stage of his/her life.

We believe if a screening process is well designed with a set of rigorous hiring criteria on all fronts, a very well-trained and highly experienced person can easily narrow the pool to a small number of qualified candidates. We also do not feel it is an effective hiring process if the acceptance rate is very low after all the interviews. Rather, we preset our standards with great specifics to qualify applicants from the get-go. So a good percentage of the instructors we interview work for us and deliver great teaching performance. Some students have left comments on the BusinessWeek forum complimenting on the quality of our instructors. That is because we are very good at finding the right instructors for us and for our students.

We offer very competitive teaching rates, but we do not believe compensation should be the sole or predominant way to incentivize an instructor. Rather, finding a way to make it the best fit for both parties in the long run is more effective. For example, we are able to work with our instructors in terms of their preference of teaching subject, schedule, location, the type of courses and the level of students. Since we offer a wide variety of test prep courses and career skills building workshops, many of our lead instructors enjoy teaching various subjects. Since our instructors are often very senior in their corporate or academic careers, they find this variety more interesting and rewarding. That is why we are able to retain many top-notch instructors. Students can check out their bios on our website. Many of these instructors worked for larger test prep companies but opted to stay with us and found a home with us.

All of these factors contribute to our very low teacher turnover rate. Many of our instructors have stayed with us for years and never left – or sometimes they’ve left and rejoined after trying things on their own. Sometimes they move around the world, and we are able to offer teaching opportunities in their new locations. They love the flexibility!

For locations such as New York and Los Angeles, we also have different math and verbal teachers per course to optimize our students’ learning experiences from two experts.

We do not use PowerPoint slides a lot in our classroom teaching. We prefer for our instructors to develop solutions in real time in front of the students and tailor their answers to each class. Moreover, we believe in the positive impact of technology on effective learning. For example, in New York, we made a significant investment in an interactive whiteboard where students can vote remotely and instructors can see the distribution of the answers with a click. Our teachers do their own preparation while using our teaching guides as a roadmap. That way there is a balance between our standardized material and that individual instructor’s preferred content from all the course books we offer. Teachers take more ownership of their deliverables and take more pride and control in the classroom. That approach has proven to have a more effective result on students.

Our institutional clients include Bain Capital, Boston Consulting Group, Columbia Business School and many others.

We have our proprietary Turbocharge Your GMAT series, which consist of four books, two for math and two for verbal. We have included a math glossary and cheat sheet to make things handy for students to re-familiarize themselves with the high school math concepts, which may seem distant to them now.

In short, our goal is to make our students’ life easier…

CA: Describe the type of candidate you feel would be best served by Manhattan Review’s approach to GMAT prep. What sets Manhattan Review apart from other test prep companies?

TY: Our main goal is to provide high-quality content and time-efficient education. We understand that nobody who is balancing a full-time job with MBA applications has 200 hours to spend preparing for the GMAT. We look to replicate the exceptional teaching style and fast problem-solving approaches.

Generally, our techniques and strategies work well with students looking to score in the highest percentiles of the GMAT. Nonetheless, our classes and proprietary materials are extremely accessible for all student levels. A student who has not worked with math for several years, though, would want to take a long course so that they will have more time in between classes to use our materials to brush up on the basics.

I believe three things set us apart – the quality, the full spectrum and the flexibility of our offerings.

We pride ourselves on the superior quality of teaching, course materials, management and student support services, along with our global presence. We recognize that the GMAT is part of the larger process of applying to business school, which is why we also offer TOEFL and GRE preparation, as they could also be an application element. In addition, we help students with admissions advice and offer pre-MBA training in corporate finance, communication skills, etc.

Again, the most limiting factor in GMAT preparation for most people is time. It takes significantly more teaching experience and techniques to prepare a student in less time. Our preparation is tailored for busy professionals. We will teach students what they need to know in the least amount of time. Meantime, we also offer 100+ hours of online library access to our students for their self-paced study to reinforce their learning outside of the classroom.

CA: For your classroom courses, what is the class size? What opportunity do students have to interact with instructors?

TY: At Manhattan Review, we believe that a smaller class size will foster better learning. In the United States, we typically host classes with around 12 students, much like a college seminar. This provides a classroom environment that offers a perfect interaction between the instructor and students but still affords the teacher the opportunity to connect with students on a personal basis. As I said before, teachers encourage students to contact them before and after classes if they run into problems so that the support really extends beyond classroom hours. In addition, we have staff on hand seven days a week to answer questions via phone, email, chat, forum posts or in person.

CA: In terms of your online courses, do students have an opportunity to interact with one another? With instructors? If so, how? Is there a class size limit?

TY: We keep the online classes small as well, around 12 students. Our WebEx Training Center online classroom software creates an environment where students can chat and discuss problems among themselves and with instructors. They can also share whiteboards by writing their solutions, thoughts and questions on the board in different colors. There is also a voting system where they can submit their multiple-choice answers within a time limit, just like in a real GMAT test. Our online courses are conducted by our lead instructors. Each has a different way of engaging students and explaining solutions, which means that our 100+ hours of online live recordings can prove to be an effective way of assisting students study in depth at their own pace.

CA: Evolution of the curriculum? Offerings? How does the curriculum differ from one offering to the next?

TY: Joern created the original syllabus and lectures with time-efficient preparation on his mind. Our team of master test-takers and experienced business coaches continually expands and improves on his original work to assure that Manhattan Review offers the most time-efficient and cost-effective preparation available for the GMAT. We update our course books each year to ensure continuous improvements and relevancy.

Our course consists of a mix of lectures and exercises in each session, with ample time allotted for answering sample questions and receiving personalized attention from the instructors. We purposely minimize the use of PowerPoint presentations because we have found that they can never be as dynamic as the actual development of a solution in front of a student’s eyes.

The course is structured so that both the novice and expert test-takers will learn valuable techniques for eliminating wrong answers and choosing correct ones. Each question is discussed in depth with a step-by-step analysis of the thought processes required to arrive at the correct solution.

CA: How does a student determine which offering is best for him or her?

TY: The best offering for each student depends on several factors: their strengths and weaknesses, when they plan on taking the GMAT, how quickly they absorb information and how much practice for each topic they require.

To best determine which program is the best fit, we first ask the students to answer some questions regarding their work schedule and when they plan on taking the exam. Then we ask them to take a diagnostic test to determine their initial level.

In general, we offer Long, Intensive, and Crash courses. Each course covers both the math and verbal portions of the GMAT exam.

Our 1-week Intensive course is great for the student who has limited time to take the exam and can handle an intense workload. Our weekend Crash course is designed for extremely busy working professionals and others who can benefit from intense preparation over just a weekend in four 4-hour sessions. Our six- or eight-session in-person Long courses and nine-session online Long courses are great for the student who wants more in-depth, hands-on work and an extended study schedule. Due to the duration of these courses, students can come to every class with more questions for the instructor, allowing them to receive more answers. We also offer in-person private tutoring at a very competitive rate of US$125/hour. Students can request a set number of hours, and our tutor will work around their schedule and their strengths and weaknesses.

CA: Is there anything new on the horizon? Expansion to new markets? New services or tools for students?

TY: Yes, to round out B-school applicants’ experiences outside of the GMAT, this year we have also brought our successful MBA Gate school fair from Germany to four U.S cities.

Our unique MBA Gate event has been well attended since its launch in 2000. It focuses on honing young professionals’ career building skills and providing face-to-face in-depth interaction with business schools around the world. Students can join our fairs at no cost and take our complimentary Job Interview or Presentation Skills workshops and sit down at a round table with business schools for an in-depth Q&A. In addition, we offer complimentary GMAT Strategy seminars.

You can find more details about our MBA Gate tour in New York, Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC.

CA: What is the cost of your services?

TY: Our course and tutoring prices vary by country and package. They generally range from $675 to $1650. We also offer promotional prices for early booking and institutional clients. More details on cost can be found on the Course Program page.

CA: Is the fact that Manhattan Review offers test preparation for a full range of exams other than the GMAT an advantage in any way? Do instructors who teach GMAT classes also teach other test prep classes?

TY: We absolutely believe that it is an advantage. Knowledge of one standardized test can be transferred to another. For example, Logical Reasoning and Logic Game on the LSAT can train a GMAT test-taker’s logical thinking ability and make the person score very high on Critical Reasoning. To excel at any standardized exam, one must be able to balance superb time management with thorough analytic skills. These are obviously a transferable set of strengths that can be utilized in the instruction of various tests.

Some of our instructors are master test-takers who have scored highly on all the standardized tests they have taken. Hence they do teach other subjects when the need arises.

CA: Is there anything I haven’t asked about that you think is critical to understanding Manhattan Review and its offerings?

TY: A potential student will find a lot of hype on the Internet with regard to various prep offerings. We feel that the best way to understand whether a course or a service is right for you is to talk to the people you will be studying with and find out if you are comfortable with them and whether they can inspire you to learn. To that end, we offer monthly free “GMAT Strategy” workshops. They are conducted by our instructors.  In a nutshell, we are small, focused and flexible. We offer more personalized attention and higher quality than our larger peers.

To learn more about Manhattan Review’s GMAT preparation services, click here.

Posted in: GMAT News

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