Best and Worst GRE Books to Prepare From in 2015
Every day I get many emails, texts, Facebook messages and visits to my office, loaded with queries related to which are the best books for GRE preparation for students in Pakistan. So I decided to write this post – although I do not think there is one single book that prepares you well for the GRE, however a combination of books can be used to ensure that you do decently on the GRE exam. Unfortunately I am yet to see one single book that is all encompassing and that outshines the rest, but every book has its own strengths when it comes to teaching GRE concepts. I would like to state a fact that all books except the GRE official guides are only good enough to teach the concepts but nearly all of them lack good quality GRE level questions; those can only be found in the official guides.
The Best Books
Manhattan Guides – 4th edition
I would advise you to start by preparing from the Manhattan GRE guides (6 Math books and 2 Verbal books). Each book is dedicated to a certain topic of the GRE and at the end of each book there are three sets of practice questions broken down by the order of difficulty – easy, medium, and hard. This is a great book to learn GRE concepts and techniques, and apply them to some really good questions. Explanations of concepts and questions is extremely clear – regardless you must go through all of these 8 guides in depth and spend as much time as you can in understanding everything.
The only drawback is that the 6 Math guides teach you very well but they do not contain many hard questions that will help you get a top quant score – for an average student with little Mathematics background, going through these books would get them a score between 154 and 160 on the GRE.
Another weakness of the Manhattan guides are prevalent in its 2 verbal guides where the questions on the text completions and sentence equivalence rely a lot on hard vocabulary rather than the difficult structure which the GRE actually tests. However, the verbal books are good in terms of giving you sound techniques and reasonable reading practice and techniques. I would say the verbal books would get an average student something in the range of 148 to 155 on the verbal section.
Verdict: You must thoroughly go through all 8 guides and Manhattan books should be the starting point of your GRE prep if you are an average Math and Verbal person.
ETS official Guides, 2012 and 2014 editions
Needless to say, the 3 ETS GRE official guides are the most reliable when it comes to best practice questions for the GRE since the official test makers write them. Moreover the old official guide includes two full-length GRE paper-based tests, along with hundreds of other real questions.
The new official guides (two of them, one for math and the other one for verbal) contain tons of new high quality questions. The new guides not only contain a lot of new questions but they also give 3 practice tests (1 section each) at the end.
Verdict: Do these for practice at the end of your GRE prep.
GRE Big Book
In a way this is the oldest official guide written by the ETS – it follows the old GRE pattern (the one followed before 2011). However the book is definitely worth extra practice but you should not use it as the foundation of your prep. The book contains lots of GRE reading passages and sentence completions along with ample quant practice; but only use it if you have extra time on hands. Skip the antonyms and analogies sections of this book, as they are no longer part of the current GRE exam. The Math practice questions are also easier so you should not bother doing the math unless you are a little weak on Math.
Verdict: Great preparation book for the reading passages and sentence completions.
5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems – Manhattan Prep
With around 2000 questions, Manhattan 5LB GRE book is a great practice questions resource for GRE prep. Generally it is exceptionally good on the quant section (especially probability, statistics, inequalities and word problems) but lacks on the verbal section (a lot of focus on vocabulary on the text completions and sentence equivalence) just like the 2 verbal guides I discussed above. Nevertheless you should use it to practice after you are done with learning all the tricks and concepts from the 8 guides.
Verdict: Make sure you do all the quant questions from this book and the reading comprehensions on the verbal section.
Barron’s 1100 Book for Vocabulary, Magoosh Flashcards, Manhattan 500 Advanced Words
I think Barron’s 1100 Words, Manhattan 500 Advanced Flashcards and the 1000+ Magoosh Vocabulary flashcards are an exhaustive list of words that would completely prepare you for the GRE vocab. All of these are pretty solid. In these word lists you don’t immediately get to see the definition of the word. For instance in Barron’s you see a contextual usage (in a paragraph) of that word that you can read to deduce the meaning of the word. There are other fun exercises such as matching words, weekly quizzes and fill-in-the-sentence exercises to help you reinforce your vocabulary.
Magoosh has an app that let’s you look at a word and then decide whether you know it or not. If you don’t it recycles the word randomly later on and keeps on showing it to you until you don’t actually know it. A very impressive way to building vocabulary – Magoosh’s sentences for each word is also culled from diverse sources. Manhattan offers simple but very frequently seen words on the actual GRE. These three sources have many words that are common so essentially you will be learning around 1200-1400 new words if you do all of these together.
Verdict: These 3 are excellent vocabulary tools for self-study and used are much more effective than any other vocabulary list.
2 Power prep Mocks, 6 Manhattan Mocks, 6 Barron’s Mocks
Of course there are no better full-length adaptive mock tests than the 2 provided by ETS in their software, the power prep. Still, I think they are not reflective of the difficulty level of the actual GRE Math section. The Math on the power prep is a lot easier than that being tested nowadays. Therefore if you do well on the power prep Math, do not think it is indicative of your actual performance. The verbal sections on the other hand are almost the same level as that of the actual GRE.
The 6 Manhattan tests are the best in terms of the difficulty level of the Math and better than power prep on the quant section. The verbal sections are not that representative of the actual GRE; Manhattan focuses too much on vocabulary that is not tested on the GRE rather than testing complex structure or passages. Nevertheless overall they are far better than any other unofficial practice tests.
The biggest problem with Barron’s 6 GRE Practice Tests is that they are paper based and not computer based like Manhattan and Power prep.
But it definitely contains quality questions although Math is easier and verbal passages little too hard than the actual GRE. However definitely the third best resource for full-length tests after Power Prep and Manhattan.
Verdict: For any ambitious GRE test taker, these 3 resources are a must have for full-length GRE mock practicing after you are done with all your prep. Make sure you start doing all of these 15-18 days before your actual test.
The Average Books
Nova’s GRE Prep Course Book and the Nova GRE Math Bible
Nova GRE prep course contains a math section and a verbal section whereas the Nova GRE Math Bible only includes the Math section. The math sections in both of these books are almost the same with little differences in the questions, hence you can follow either of the two books or both – it is upto you. Nova is a really good book only for quantitative comparison practice questions and techniques – nothing else. Do not do anything else from Nova as the verbal section includes outdated questions from the old GRE and the 4000-word vocab list is impractical for the new GRE.
Verdict: Use the Nova GRE Prep Course and the Nova GRE Math Bible only for Quantitative comparison questions, especially the hard ones – nothing else on this book is worth spending time on.
1,014 GRE Practice Questions, 3rd Edition by Princeton Review
This is a really good book for extra GRE practice but it has a lot of errors, which makes it very frustrating for new GRE students. Other than that I do recommend this book because some of the questions especially on the Math section are of very high quality – the verbal is a little lacking but definitely there are a few text completions and sentence equivalence questions which have a very convoluted structure.
Verdict: A good book and one must do all of it for some extra GRE practice, particularly its Math.
Princeton Review – Cracking the GRE with 4 Practice Tests, 2014 Edition
Overall, this book is not that great and I would definitely not advise you to read all of it. However the strategies it offers on the verbal topics, the Text Completion/Sentence Equivalence and Reading Comprehensions are very effective. However I would not recommend you to practice any questions from this book, as they are very easy and much lower in difficulty than the actual GRE. Unless you are a very basic GRE learner, I would not ask you to spend much time beyond learning the strategies from this PR book. For someone who is very bad at Mathematics or wants to first practice on basics of verbal, he or she can definitely spend a few weeks finishing this guide.
Verdict: For the more determined and advanced learners, they should go through the verbal strategies only.
Barron’s GRE, 20th Edition
Barron’s is the most widely used and the most readily available book in Pakistan. It is a decent book at best and has some really good questions on the reading passages and the quantitative portion. Stay away from any of its strategies but definitely do all of its questions except the text completion and the sentence equivalence, which are below par the actual GRE. Barron’s Math is a bit advanced for the average student and it is better to do these questions at the end of your preparation for some extra practice. Moreover the AWA strategies are really good and you must use those to write your essays.
Verdict: A good book for extra practice on quant and reading passages especially for harder questions – AWA also a must do.
The Worst Books
Kaplan – GRE Premier 2015 with 6 Practice Tests
Holistically, Kaplan is a below average book for your GRE prep. But the reading passages and the questions are definitely good. Do not read any strategies from this book as they are useless – Princeton is a much better book for that. For extra practice on reading comprehensions Kaplan is definitely a great book.
Verdict: Do the reading passages only and skip the rest.
McGraw-Hill’s GRE 2014 Edition, McGraw-Hill’s Conquering the New GRE Math, McGraw-Hill’s Conquering the New GRE Verbal and Writing, McGraw-Hill’s 6 GRE Practice Tests
The name is misleading – I honestly think this is not a GRE book. All of these books contain very basic non-GRE like questions and strategies to solve them are also irrelevant to what you would need to do reasonably well on the exam
Mastery of the concepts from these books will definitely not help you do any way near average on the actual GRE exam. As a GRE tutor, I would only recommend this book to my students who find basic Math and English a daunting task. These books have hundreds of basic questions that would help you only if GRE Math and English is a tall mountain to climb.
Verdict: Not at all recommended for serious GRE contenders. Definitely recommended for very basic learners.
Gruber’s Complete GRE Guide 2015
Gruber is a very ugly looking book in terms of layout and content. The math section does not reflect the question level that you would see on the actual GRE exam. Just like McGraw this books can be used for basic practice but it will not get you competitive score. Moreover the strategies discussed in this book are also not very helpful. The Verbal section of Gruber’s is even worse. The reading passages are as if taken from a local Pakistani English newspaper and lacks severely on dense passages.
Verdict: Only useful for those who want to first work at the very basic level.
GRE for Dummies Premier 7th Edition
It is not a dry book like Barron’s or Gruber – it has been written in a very student friendly manner but unfortunately it is not a GRE book. The questions are very easy, probably easier than any aforementioned GRE book.
Verdict: Don’t waste your time on this book unless you want to revise some school level Math or do some very easy English passages and completions.