I absolutely love food. My dad has always said I need to make sure I marry someone who has the budget to feed me. However, I don’t just want any food, I have a deep desire to eat authentic cuisine. Sure, I can get tacos at Chipotle, but will it really compare to eating them on the beach in Rosarito, Mexico?
There is a difference between food and authentic cuisine just like there is a difference between all test prep books and those that will truly help increase your GRE score. The most indispensable books are the ETS Official Test Prep Guides (ETS writes the GRE). In addition to introducing you to the Official GRE Guides, I will discuss the other best GRE test prep books. If you only have a couple of weeks to prepare for the GRE, I would not bother with any books outside of ETS’. However, if you have given yourself more than a month to study, there are definitely additional resources that can supplement your prep!
This book will provide you with a comprehensive breakdown of everything you will need to know about the GRE. At the beginning of every chapter, there is a description of what skills the GRE is measuring in that section along with overall strategies. You will be provided with Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning practice questions that truly reflect what you will see on test day. There is also a chapter to help you refresh on important mathematics topics.
Some questions will have an answer key and explanations, and some only an answer key. This is actually a good thing; it will force you to think through questions you missed on your own without relying on someone walking you through the correct answer.
The book will also prepare you for the Analytical Writing section and provides numerous sample essays for students to review along with a reader’s commentary.
I have not actually weighed the Manhattan Prep 5 lb. Book of Practice Problems, but judging by its size I would say it is in fact 5 lbs. There are so many practice questions that even if you are simply focusing on Math or Verbal (but not both) I would still recommend this book. The Verbal Reasoning (VR) chapters are explicitly broken up by types of VR questions and the Quantitative Reasoning chapters are divided into math concepts (ie. Functions, Number Properties, Word Problems, etc).
It is important to know that although this book is filled with practice problems and test-prep strategies scattered throughout the explanations, teaching students overall approach is not emphasized. Also, there are no chapters designated to help students brush up on their mathematical skills. If you know you need help with Algebra 1, Geometry, and Data Analysis content, this book will not necessarily teach you. Once you have brushed up on your math, this 5lb. book will provide you with an abundance of practice problems.
Here is the thing about the GRE Math section, the questions are challenging but for reasons that most students are not aware of. Although the math questions are intricate and tricky, they are still meant to be answered within one minute and forty-five seconds. The hardest part is identifying the strategy that will allow you to answer the question that quickly.
A lot of test prep books out there rant and rave about their “realistic” practice questions that are “super” challenging. Yes, many of them are in fact hard to answer. However, what makes them difficult is not necessarily what makes the GRE math questions difficult. Hence, this is the only book that will truly present you with the type of math questions you will see on test day.
Although Kaplan does focus on test-prep strategy, referred to as “The Kaplan Method,” it really does not compare to the ETS Official Guides. Their questions are simply not crafted in the same way as those on the GRE. With that said, Kaplan does go into more depth with their math content review than ETS’ Official Guides. If you know you really need to brush up on Algebra, Geometry, and Data Analysis (or math was never your strong suit) the Kaplan GRE Math Workbook can help you learn the fundamentals.
Studying for the GRE Math section is a bit different than the Verbal section. For the Math section, you must know a little about a lot. The Verbal section, on the other hand, might not require you to learn or memorize a ton of new information (minus vocabulary words if you don’t have strong vocab) but it does require you to be very good at one thing: reading comprehension.
Therefore, when it comes to Verbal, quality matters over quantity. Going through countless practice problems will not necessarily increase your verbal score like it might your math score. Additional books outside of ETS’ Official Guides are often less useful for Verbal than for Math. If you know your reading comprehension skills are below average, and this book won’t be enough, then just start reading. Read anything! Personally, I recommend The Economist.
This book includes a comprehensive breakdown of the Verbal Reasoning section and focuses on test-taking strategies and how to identify claims, sentence structure, and false answer choices. The chapters are broken up by question types and provide practice questions classified as easy, medium, and hard. There are also mixed practice sets and examples of Analytical Writing essays.
Many students focus on trying to memorize every possible word that can appear on the test. There are plenty of resources out there that claim they have the “complete list of GRE vocabulary words.” ETS has never released a complete list of vocabulary words they filter through when writing the GRE. Hence, these “complete lists” are not complete. With that said, they can still be useful. Just note, if you do not have strong reading comprehension skills, knowing vocabulary words will not be very helpful. Building your reading skills is much more important than memorizing vocabulary words.
Overall, anytime you are reading or studying for the GRE Verbal Reasoning section–no matter what book you are using– if you do not know the definition of a word I advise you look it up and compile a list of flashcards.
In addition to the notecards you should be making, Magoosh offers flashcards that can easily be downloaded onto your computer free of charge.
There you have it, a description of the best GRE test prep books. The goal is to maximize your time and future score. Hopefully, this article helped you determine what will be an “authentic” resource for you to use on your GRE test prep journey.