I see a lot of posts on GMAT forums asking about how to get started with GMAT prep and what is the best course, etc. I think the most important first step to GMAT studying, even before you start looking at course and tutoring options, is assessing your needs. Only after understanding what you need from your study, should you start looking at your study plan options.
So, how do you assess your needs? First, you need to find out what your goal score is. You can do this by looking at the average scores of your target schools. Once you have figured out your target score, you need to figure out how close you are to that target score. You may be closer to your score than you think, especially if you have a strong math or grammar background or great critical thinking skills. You can do this by taking a full length practice test. You can get two free practice tests from GMAC here.
Once you have taken the test, you can see how far you are from your goal score and where you need help. You may not need a whole course, just part of one. For example, you may already be reaching your goal for quant and just need help with verbal (or vice versa). If that is the case, a lot of online on demand courses let you purchase just the quant or just the verbal section, or you may want to get a tutor.
Once you know what your needs are, you can use this website to look at the various course tutoring options and figure out the one that best meets your needs. This will help ensure that you are able to choose the option that is the most effective use of your time and money. Whether you choose a course, tutor or self study, you will likely have to invest some money into your studying. There is a lot of content to learn, so at the bare minimum a comprehensive strategy guide set is required.