The topic of standardized tests might seem a bit dull, but within the test prep industry it is nothing of the sort. The battle amongst the biggest and most well-known test prep companies is real, and those leading the charge are Manhattan Prep and Kaplan.
Both companies have books, online programs, and private GRE tutoring to offer future graduate and MBA hopefuls. This article will break down Manhattan Prep vs. Kaplan GRE books and courses, providing you with an overview of what they have to offer along with a comparison of their content and tone (if you would like to go straight to the book review, click here).
I have noticed that many similar articles reviewing test prep materials will announce a grand “winner.” I will not be doing that. My goal is to help you decide which book(s) and courses are a good fit for you in order to maximize your time and score. This will depend on where you are in your studying and what you need to work on.
Manhattan Prep is known for stressing test-taking strategy in a non-stressful way. Their instructors are not only experts, they are also easy to listen to for three hours long. This is extremely important, especially for anyone who struggles with fundamentals such as reading comprehension. The last thing you would want is to listen to an instructor who is boring, unable to convey information simply, or arrogant. Manhattan Prep prioritizes hiring fun and compassionate teachers who will spend a lot of time teaching GRE strategy.
Kaplan will not focus as much on strategy. They do have “The Kaplan Method,” which is a bullet point list of test-taking tips they recommend. They do not go nearly as in-depth as Manhattan Prep with how to move efficiently throughout the GRE. For example, Kaplan might tell students to “read a Verbal passage in order to get the main idea.” This would be their strategy. However, Manhattan Prep would dedicate time to telling students how to actually read and get the main idea.
Therefore, if you are a student who already has strong reading fundamentals, you might prefer Kaplan to Manhattan Prep. Spending a lot of time learning strategy is only good for students who do not already know it. If you are the type of person who would get frustrated in the above scenario and think “okay, I know how to read and get the gist so move on people,” then Manhattan Prep might not be the company for you.
Manhattan Prep makes an effort to incorporate convenience into their programs. Students are offered monthly payment plans to cover the cost of tuition, course materials are shipped to their doors, and it is pretty easy to sit in on make-up classes. Also, many of the programs come with the Manhattan Prep Strategy Guides and the Manhattan Prep 5 lb Book of Practice Problems. These are the best GRE prep books you could work through outside of the ETS Official GRE Guide. Overall, Manhattan Prep programs focus on quality over quantity. They have good books and good teachers.
If you are the type of person who really like quantity, you might prefer Kaplan. One aspect to Kaplan that I found to be wonderful is their options for the self-paced programs. Instead of offering only one option, as do many companies, they have several for students to choose from. They range from packages made up of quizzes to programs that include 18 hours of video instruction and multiple full-length practice exams. Kaplan offers options for students to be able to purchase resources that will aid them in a specific area of the GRE.
Both Manhattan Prep and Kaplan have written thousands of GRE like practice questions and created full-length GRE like exams. Almost every GRE instructor I know will agree that Manhattan Prep has the best GRE practice questions, outside of ETS, on the market. There is no other company that has been able to come as close to mimicking the intricacy of the ETS writing style then Manhattan Prep.
With that said, I believe Kaplan provides better practice questions for students who need to build their math fundamentals. Kaplan has truly mastered teaching students algebra, geometry, and data analysis in an easy to learn way. Their practice questions range in difficulty and will focus on content first, rather than GRE style questions. The provided explanations are in-depth yet also straightforward.
Manhattan Prep’s self-paced online course offers videos that are highly interactive and adapt to what students need to work on. The program is made up of three levels that cover Math and Verbal that increase in difficulty. At the end of each level, students take a full-length practice test. Each level is made up of three components: Learn It, Drill It, Prove It.
In the Learn It section, there will be an instructor walking students through the topics, which definitely trumps simply listening to a voiceover. The Drill It section will start with very basic questions that will allow students to feel comfortable with the underlying strategies before moving on to GRE type questions in the Prove It section. As a GRE teacher, this is exactly how I structure my lessons with students.
If you have strong reading comprehension skills, and simply need to focus on GRE math, this class will be more economical than the GRE Complete Course.
Although this course does cover all portions of the GRE General Test, the emphasis will be on advanced mathematics topics–seeing as a high Quantitative Reasoning score goes a long way when applying to an MBA program.
It does appear that Kaplan’s courses go on sale. I am currently writing this article in April, and many of their programs are discounted. Also, Kaplan has an abundant amount of resources for their students: from The GRE Channel providing live instruction to the QBank that provides customized quizzes. If you are looking for diverse prep options, Kaplan is the company for you.
As mentioned earlier, Kaplan offers several self-paced programs for students to enroll in. This is a very economical way to prepare for the GRE by targeting your biggest needs. I have always felt that Kaplan has one of the best books for students who need math fundamentals help, and their online prep class is no different. In order to prepare for the Quantitative Reasoning section, Kaplan offers the Rapid Review Live, Math Foundations, or an Advanced Math course.
Another add on to the self-paced courses is a proctored exam called “The Official Test Day Experience.” This provided the opportunity for students to take a full-length GRE at a testing center. The entire experience will mimic what you will go through on your actual test day.
There are so many self-paced options I can’t possibly list all of them and what they include! Click here to visit Kaplan’s website to get the break down.
The cost of the books are pretty similar and can usually be found on Amazon at a discounted rate. Therefore, you will want to make decisions based on the book layout, style of writing, and content–does the book emphasize test-taking strategy, difficult practice problems, reading/math fundamentals, or a little of everything?
There are two Manhattan Prep Strategy Guides that can be purchased together or separately: the Verbal Strategy Guide and the Math Strategy Guide. Combined, they will prepare you for the entire GRE.
An automatic pro to Manhattan Prep GRE 5 lb. Book of Practice Problems is carrying it around will eliminate arm day at the gym. This book will provide you with 2,000 practice problems via the book and one-year online subscription you will receive, explanations of practice problems, over 1400 vocabulary words and idioms, and a Math and Verbal Diagnostic Test.
If you are preparing for your GRE but do not feel you need a complete walkthrough of test-taking strategies, Kaplan’s GRE Prep Plus might be a better resource for you than the Manhattan Prep Strategy Guides.
This book will not necessarily be enough for you to conquer the GRE Quantitative section, but it will help you build your math fundamentals if you don’t already have them (which has to be your starting point). If you focus on GRE practice problems without understanding the algebra, geometry, and data analysis concepts that appear on the exam you will likely feel defeated.
I do feel that Manhattan Prep’s books differ in content enough from Kaplan that they are not interchangeable.
One of the wonderful aspects about the material Manhattan Prep puts out is the clarity in which the books’ titles reflect what you are purchasing. The GRE 5 lb Book of Practice Problems is literally 5 lbs of practice problems; the GRE Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Strategy Guides are truly guides to help students learn and master GRE test-taking strategy.
I always tell my students to think big then small. Learn how to approach the GRE as a whole, then learn skills for the individual sections, then focus on categorizing questions and types of answer choices. Manhattan Prep takes this same approach. The GRE Strategy Guides will thoroughly teach you how to conquer the GRE strategically and help you build critical reading skills.
If you have already mastered test prep strategy (perhaps you have taken a GRE prep class, are a natural standardized test taker, are not far from your target score, or have a tutor) Manhattan’s Strategy Guides might be a bit unnecessary. The amount of time you would spend reading the thorough explanations of strategy could be better spent going through practice problems. If this is the case, Kaplan’s GRE Prep Plus is probably a better fit for you.
The proportion of practice problems to strategy explanations is a bit more balanced with Kaplan. They do cover strategies, known as “The Kaplan Method,” at the beginning of the sections. However, the strategies are pretty surface level in my opinion.
For example, Kaplan will advise you to “read the passage strategically” and offer a little detail on what that entails, while Manhattan will dedicate an entire chapter to an in-depth explanation. Kaplan will provide you with quick bullet-point summaries of the method they would like you to implement, walk you through a couple of examples, and then take you to practice problems.
Note that, Kaplan does not have an equivalent resource to Manhattan Prep’s GRE 5 lb Book of Practice Problems, so there is no need to do a comparison.
The tone of Manhattan Prep Strategy Guides is very conversational. They are probably the closest thing to having a tutor without actually hiring one. The strategies are also conveyed in thoughtful and clever ways to help students understand how and when to use them. This is something I appreciate.
For example, have you ever been sitting in class listening to your professor give a lecture that clearly leaves them excited, but you are left feeling completely lost? Then, after 45 minutes of wanting to cry–or scream–they finally say something that leads to everything making sense. You are usually left thinking, “Why didn’t you just start with that? I wouldn’t have been confused for the last 45 minutes!”
There is a proper way to lay out information in order to optimize learning. Information needs to be presented in a manner that allows concepts to build on top of each other. The most important contributor to doing well on the GRE is understanding the strategies that need to be implemented throughout the exam. However, teaching strategy, especially through text, is not something many companies have mastered.
The Manhattan Prep Strategy Guides are easy to follow, with a slight blog-like feel and humor to the text. Even though an abundance of information is relayed throughout the books, they do not feel overwhelming.
Also, the books don’t simply focus on what you should do on test day, they emphasize what you should not do. Often, telling a student what they should be doing will not trump the bad habits they have already internalized, whereas pointing out the bad habits and explaining why it is not beneficial will. This is something Manhattan Prep emphasizes more than Kaplan.
The tone of Kaplan is not as conversational as Manhattan Prep and strategies are not necessarily presented in the most creative ways. They are more of quick bullet points at the beginning of the chapters. The “Kaplan Method” can be considered a little ambiguous. As mentioned earlier, if you do not need much help with GRE approach, this is a good thing.
Although Kaplan does not explain strategies as well as Manhattan Prep, Kaplan does a wonderful job explaining math concepts. For those students who have not solved a math problem in years, or never liked math to begin with, the Kaplan GRE Math Workbook will be an essential resource for you.
Kaplan’s math book has a great layout with the answer key separate from the explanations. I appreciate this because it is always important to attempt a missed problem several times on your own before looking at someone’s explanation. Also, I feel the book gets to the point and it provides a formula sheet. Overall, if you need help with math concepts, Kaplan will help you with math concepts in an easy-to-learn manner.
Hopefully reading this article has helped you decide which books and classes will be your GRE prep “winners.”