Best GRE study guide

Test Prep

The GRE began in 1936 when the deans of Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia University asked their students to take the test.

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Which GRE study guide is best?

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a standardized test developed and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS) that many graduate schools use as a requirement for admission. The GRE tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing and critical-thinking skills.

Some schools put more emphasis on results than others, but you should use a study guide if you want to prepare appropriately for this test. If you are looking for the only official GRE study guide published by ETS, the Official GRE Super Power Pack is your top choice to help you prepare to get a high score.

What to know before you buy a GRE study guide

Sections

The GRE is taken either on paper or via computer with a duration of about 3 hours and 45 minutes. While both versions of the test have six sections, they differ in that the computer-based one is a multistage test in which the test taker’s performance on earlier sections of the test determines the difficulty level of the next sections. There are three sections to the test that count toward the score.

  • Verbal section: This section assesses reading comprehension, critical reasoning and vocabulary usage.
  • Quantitative section: This section assesses basic high-school-level knowledge of mathematics and reasoning skills.
  • Analytical writing section: This section assesses writing skills through two essays: an “issue task,” in which the test taker writes an essay about a selected topic, and an “argument task,” in which the test taker is presented with an argument and must critique the logic of the argument and make suggestions about how to improve it without providing their own personal opinion.

The essay topics come from a list of questions ETS makes available on its website.

The computer-based GRE includes an experimental section that does not appear on the paper-based test. This section includes new test questions ETS may use in the future. It does not count toward the score, but the test taker will not know which section is the experimental one, so they must do their best on every part of the test.

Benefits

When preparing for a standardized test like the GRE, just knowing the subject matter well may not be enough. Familiarizing yourself with the format and timing of the exam is essential to getting a high score. GRE study guides can help you prepare for the test as you recreate the testing conditions. You can use them to track your progress and identify your test-taking strengths and weaknesses to target areas in which you need improvement, and set goals to achieve better scores.

Types

Most GRE study guides offer a combination of testing tips, instruction, practice questions and answer explanations that provide details not only about why the right answer is correct but why the wrong answers are incorrect. Some include vocabulary flashcards for on-the-go studying. Most guides also offer full-length practice tests that allow you to simulate the actual testing conditions so you can practice not only the academic aspect of the test, but more practical things such as stamina, managing taking breaks and any other problems you may not anticipate if you take the test without a “dress rehearsal.”

What to look for in a quality GRE study guide

Updated editions

Be sure the GRE study guide you choose is updated for the year in which you will be taking the test. Outdated versions may not reflect changes made to the test.

Authenticity

Since ETS does not license its past test questions to any other company, its test guides are the only sources that have truly authentic test questions. However, many companies have successfully replicated sample test questions that mimic those of the actual test. Look for guides that have questions formulated the exact way as the actual GRE to make your practice sessions as worthwhile as possible.

Number of questions

When you practice for the GRE, you need a study guide that challenges you as much as possible. Look for guides that have many sample test questions and exams to maximize your exposure to as many questions as possible.

Strategies and tips 

Since you’re preparing for a test without an actual teacher, you need a guide that gives you as many strategies as possible for answering the questions. Books that offer tips are like guides whispering in your ear as you take the test.

Sets

Some GRE study guides consist of multiple books that specialize in particular sections of the test. These are great tools to zero in on sections of the test in which you need extra practice. They also help you focus on preparing for each part of the test separately, so you can become an expert on each one.

How much you can expect to spend on a GRE study guide 

You can expect to spend $10-$60, depending on how many books are in the GRE study guide.

GRE study guide FAQ

What is the difference between the GRE General Test and the GRE Subject Tests?

A. The general test is described above. There are also four subject tests that are exams that specifically test knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, physics and psychology. Highly-ranked master’s and doctoral programs require or recommend these tests, but they are not the same as the general test, so be sure you purchase the correct study guide if you decide to take them.

How far in advance should you prepare for the GRE?

A. Most companies recommend you prepare for the test two to four months before you take it, spending a few hours each week studying.

What’s the best GRE study guide to buy?

Top GRE study guide

Official GRE Super Power Pack

Official GRE Super Power Pack

What you need to know: Published by ETS, this three-book bundle is the only official GRE study guide.

What you’ll love: With three different books specializing in different aspects of the test, this guide has four real past GRE tests, hundreds of actual practice test questions with answers and explanations, tips and test-taking strategies. It also includes work with the two essays, along with sample responses with scores and comments from the authority on the test. This study guide also is available in a Kindle edition.

What you should consider: Some people felt the explanations of the questions were not helpful.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top GRE study guide for the money

Princeton Review GRE Prep

Princeton Review GRE Prep

What you need to know: The Princeton Review is one of the most respected names in study guides, so you have a great chance at getting excellent results with this book.

What you’ll love: This expanded 2022 edition contains five full-length practice tests, including two in the book and three online so you can practice both versions of the test. With drills for each section of the test and detailed score reports for the online practice exams, this book is sure to help you go into the GRE feeling prepared. Also available in a Kindle edition, it has techniques for avoiding traps, pacing yourself and guessing logically. It comes with a $100 discount on a Princeton Review online GRE course, if you choose to enroll.

What you should consider: If you don’t use the online components, you will have less test prep material with which to work.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems

5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems

What you need to know: This bestselling book includes an online companion of lessons from Interact for GRE, the company’s interactive, on-demand learning platform.

What you’ll love: With more than 1,800 practice problems, you will be able to review every aspect of the test. It contains a cheat sheet of key math rules and micro drills to zero in on individual skills. The questions are grouped into practice sets with explanations to help you understand the answers. This book is available in a Kindle edition.

What you should consider: Some people felt that the explanations of the answers to the questions could have been stronger.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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Lorianne Palinkas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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