Best GRE Prep Books 2017-2018: Expert Reviews

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There are dozens, if not hundreds, of GRE books on the market.  So how are you supposed to find the one that’s best for you?

In this guide, we’ll first go over what makes a good GRE prep book. Then, we’ll provide recommendations for the eight best GRE prep book options for a range of skill levels and needs. Finally, we’ll close out with some other recommended resources for your GRE prep.

 

What Makes a Good GRE Prep Book?

At the most basic level, a good GRE prep book will help you get a higher GRE score. However, there are some key characteristics that make a GRE prep book particularly likely to help you get that higher score you’re aiming for:

 

Realistic GRE-Like Questions

Good GRE books will have practice questions that are as much like real GRE questions as possible. This will allow you to become familiar with the style of GRE questions and practice the specific skills you need to develop for GRE success. Of course, the ideal is actual, real GRE questions—but you can only get those through ETS. Barring that, a good GRE prep book will have questions that really resemble and test the same concepts as GRE questions.

 

Comprehensive Answer Explanations

The best practice questions in the world only have limited utility if they aren’t accompanied by solid explanations of how to arrive at the correct answer. So the best prep books won’t just have answer keys, they’ll have thorough, in-depth explanations of why particular answers are correct. This enables you to easily understand what you are struggling with and what skills and strategies to target in further practice.

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Sound Test-Taking Strategies

A good GRE study book offers clear, consistent, actionable advice on how to navigate the test. It should give you strategies for time management, making educated guesses, and quickly identifying correct answers. Ideally, there should be both overall and section-specific strategies.

 

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Hone your strategy like a poker player hones theirs.

 

Clear and Cogent Content Review

The best, most comprehensive GRE study books will include clear, detailed content review sections to help you brush up on your skills for the different GRE areas. This should include help with GRE vocab and GRE math.

 

Guidance on Creating a GRE Study Plan

Ideally, a GRE prep book should help you make a study plan. It will offer sound strategies for planning and spacing out your studying in a way that will help you use your time efficiently and maximize your score improvement.

 

Full-Length Practice Tests

GRE test prep books should also have full-length practice tests, so you can practice getting the full test-taking experience. In a perfect world, these will be computer-based, since the GRE is (usually) computer-based.

 

Of course, all GRE books can’t be all things to all people. A good GRE prep book doesn’t necessarily have to have all of these qualities to be valuable, but it does need to fulfill one or more specific purposes in your prep plan in a high-quality way. For example, you might have one prep book that’s full of amazing practice questions, and another that has a particularly good conceptual review of math. They can both fulfill a valuable and necessary function in your study plan!

 

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Make sure your plan includes snacks.

 

The Best GRE Prep Books

We’ve combed through the GRE study book pile to give you the best GRE books out there. Each GRE book listed is best for a specific purpose or audience—consider the one(s) that best line up with your needs!

 

Most Like the Real GRE: Official GRE Super Power Pack

The ETS Power Pack gives you three GRE books: the Official Guide to the GRE General Test (3rd Edition), Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions (2nd Edition), and the Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions with Analytical Writing Practice (2nd Edition).

All these books are made by ETS, the makers of the GRE test. Broadly, the Official Guide orients you to the test overall and to each section, provides practice questions for Verbal and Quant, a math content review, and two practice tests. The Official Practice Question books for Verbal/Analytical Writing and Quant reprint some of the same orienting information but give additional official practice questions.

This set also comes with a CD with practice tests, but those tests are the same as the Powerprep II tests, so save yourself the trouble with the CD and just download Powerprep II directly for free.

 

Price

About $40 for the entire pack; about $27 for the Official Guide, about $13 for the Official Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions, and about $12 for the Official Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions. However, note that the most recent editions are very similar to the previous editions of all of these books, so if you can find the earlier editions for cheaper, you might want to go with those.

 

Pros

  • ETS prep materials have one major advantage over all other prep material: they include actual, real GRE questions. Other prep books and companies do their best to imitate GRE format, content, and style—and sometimes they get pretty close. But only ETS can give you official GRE questions. This makes the Power Pack a hugely valuable practice resource, because using ETS questions gives you the most GRE-like experience. And the closer your practice is to the real GRE, the more prepared you’ll be to face real GRE questions on test day.

 

Cons

While ETS has one really enormous pro, there are some drawbacks to their material to be aware of:

  • Most of the information on test strategies and tips is available for free online on the GRE website. This is also true of the entire math content review section. So just don’t expect that you’ll be getting anything new there.
  • This GRE book isn’t going to teach you a whole lot in the way of tricks and strategies—you’ll need to use other resources for that. ETS doesn’t want to present the GRE as a system that can be beaten, because it’s their test, and to do so would undermine their self-styled image as the makers of a test that’s highly predictive of graduate school success.
  • Some (but not all) of the practice questions can be found online. Additionally, there’s some (but not complete) overlap in practice questions among the books.
  • Unfortunately, the Kindle edition is riddled with formatting errors—so get this one as a print book.
  • The answer explanations are not particularly thorough; it’s not always clear how the correct answer was reached.

 

Why get this GRE prep book?

In spite of its drawbacks, I recommend that most students at least get the Official Guide. This will get you the two additional practice tests beyond the Powerprep software. Official ETS tests are a great—and scarce—resource that make the Official Guide worth it just for that.

If you feel you really need all the official ETS practice questions you can get your hands on (which is totally reasonable!) the Powerpack is the way to go. Just be aware that most of the content review and orienting information is available for free online. The primary value you’ll get out of these is the questions themselves.

 

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Only ETS questions get the official *seal* of approval.

 

Best GRE Prep Book for Practice Problems: Manhattan Prep’s 5-Lb Book of Practice Problems

Manhattan’s 5-lb Book of Practice Problems provides over 1,000 pages of practice problems and comprehensive explanations. Purchase of the book also grants you access to an online bank of additional questions—bringing the total number of questions you have access to north of 1800.

Note that this is not a book of practice tests. While there are some sample GRE sections that you can take under timed conditions, the majority of the book has practice questions segmented by section and skill. There’s also no content review here, other than the review inherent in the answer explanations.

 

Price

Around $16 (Kindle and paperback)

 

Pros

  • Tons of GRE-like questions sorted specifically by different skills, section, and difficulty level. This allows you to drill very specific areas of weakness.
  • Very thorough, step-by-step answer explanations to help you know exactly how to arrive at the correct choice.
  • Access to online question banks will help you practice answering the questions on a computer, which is how you’ll take the real GRE.
  • Ideas for how to address example Analytical Writing prompts.

 

Cons

  • Note that there are many more Quantitative questions than Verbal or Analytical Writing questions. This is not necessarily a con, but something to be aware of.
  • It’s possible to get bogged down in the sheer volume of questions here. Don’t feel like you need to complete every question in the book.
  • Some of the lower-difficulty math questions may be overly straightforward given how much the GRE likes “tricky” questions.
  • There’s a vocab list in the back without definitions. This seems a bit out of scope given that the book is really meant to provide practice problems specifically.

 

Why get this GRE book?

Get this book if you need targeted, GRE-style practice questions beyond what ETS offers.

 


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Got a swimming pool of questions, gonna dive in it.

 

Best GRE Books for a Comprehensive Program: Manhattan Prep GRE Set of 8 Strategy Guides

The set includes a whopping 8 GRE books on content review and prep (most are fairly slim, but still). Six of the eight books are on the major math content areas and question types: Algebra, fractions/decimals/percents, geometry, number properties, word problems, and a guide to the quantitative comparison and data interpretation question types. The other two books are on Verbal and Analytical Writing. One book is on reading comprehension and writing GRE essays, and one is on text completion and sentence equivalence questions.

Every book starts with the same “Intro to the GRE” chapter before getting to the main content. This is a little repetitive within the context of the set so I imagine these intro chapters are included so that those who buy the GRE books individually can get oriented to the test.

If you don’t need the entire set, you can also buy the books individually. However, getting the whole program is the best value. Purchase of this set (or any one Manhattan Prep book) gives you access for 1 year to six online section-adaptive GRE practice tests.

 

PRice

About $96 for eight books; individual books for $12-15

 

Pros

  • This is an extremely thorough and in-depth book-based GRE prep program. It is absolutely the most comprehensive prep book system on the market, with robust content review, tons of practice questions, and strategies for approaching each section.
  • The practice problems have very comprehensive and in-depth answer explanations.
  • This set gives you access to six online, section-adaptive tests. This is really amazing practice for the real GRE, which is also section-adaptive. Once you run out of ETS practice tests, these are a valuable resource.
  • Test-taking strategies (and section-specific strategies) are useful in approaching the test.

 

COns

  • As you can tell from the difference in pages devoted to the various topics, this set is more comprehensive for Quant than it is for the other two sections. This is something to keep in mind if you anticipate particularly struggling with Verbal.
  • There are a few typos in the math practice problems.
  • This review may actually be too comprehensive; it’s possible to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content. You really have to be aware of where you spend your time to get the most out of every hour of prep.
  • Some of the test-taking strategies may be overly specific. You should try out the strategies they suggest to figure out what works best for you and tweak your overall strategy as necessary.

 

Why get this GRE book?

If you have a lot of time to devote to a comprehensive prep program and you want it to come pretty much predesigned, this Manhattan Prep GRE set is a great investment. If the test is in three weeks, don’t bother—you’ll just be overwhelmed by all of the content.

You may also want to buy a subset of the books to target a specific content area or section. For example, if you’re good on Quant but want to dig in on Verbal, you could buy the two Verbal-focused books. This will also give you access to the six section-adaptive online tests.

 

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If you want a complete, balanced GRE prep meal, Manhattan Prep may be the way to go.

 

Best GRE Prep Book for Verbal and Analytical Writing: Princeton Review: Cracking the GRE

The Princeton Review’s GRE prep book has five parts. The first section provides an overall orientation to the test and general strategies. The second part goes over the Verbal section, the third part goes over the Quantitative section, and the fourth part goes over Analytical Writing. The fifth part of the book has additional practice problems and two practice tests.

The regular edition of the book comes with access to two additional practice tests online, and the premium edition grants you access to four online tests. Read on for my thoughts on whether it’s worth it to spring for the premium version.

 

Price

About $16 for the standard, and about $22 for the premium

 

Pros

  • This GRE prep book has some of the best overall content review for the Verbal and Analytical writing sections that I’ve seen. This book is great for preparing for these sections in particular.
  • Similarly, this prep book does a great job with Verbal practice questions that look and feel like real GRE Verbal questions, and provides thorough answer explanations for the Verbal section.
  • Students liked the test-taking strategies offered in this book, and found the overall approach to the test as something that can be tackled with techniques to be encouraging and helpful.
  • The purchase of this book gives you access to complete online practice tests through the Princeton Review portal (2 for the regular version, and 4 for the deluxe version). These online practice tests give detailed score reports—including for the writing section.

 

COns

  • Many students were very frustrated with the math section, and the math practice questions in particular. While some liked the content review, almost everyone felt that the questions were written in a frustrating and confusing way.
  • Additionally, there are some typos and mistakes in the math questions and math answer keys.
  • There seems to be intermittent difficulty in accessing online content, which may be frustrating if you want to be able to do practice tests on the computer.

 

Why get this GRE prep book?

Get this book for Verbal content review and strategy, Verbal practice questions, and Analytical writing strategy. Don’t bother with the math section practice problems. If you think you’ll need a lot of practice tests, it might be worth it to spring for the deluxe version, especially if you’re nervous about taking a computer-based test. But most students should be fine with the standard version.

 

Unfortunately, medieval-style illumination is not currently part of the Verbal section of the GRE.

 

Best GRE Prep Book If You Struggle With Math: McGraw-Hill’s Conquering GRE Math

This guide offers a fairly comprehensive breakdown of the GRE Quantitative section, with a focus on the more basic math skills you need to know. The book provides an overall orientation to the section, in depth-breakdowns of the different question types, and a content review section to help you review and learn the math concepts you need to know for the GRE.

 

Price

About $10 digital, $13 paperback

 

PRos

  • Offers clear, simple explanations of GRE math concepts.
  • Provides solid, easy-to-follow strategies for attacking the GRE Quantitative section and its various question styles.
  • Gives tons of GRE-style practice problems targeted to specific question types and concepts.
  • Has robust answer explanations.

 

Cons

  • This book won’t get you up to 170-scoring level on its own; the math in the practice problems just isn’t quite difficult enough, though the questions mimic the look and feel of GRE problems. This was the most common complaint among reviewers.
  • Sometimes the formatting of the practice questions is a little bit awkward.
  • McGraw-Hill offers a percentage breakdown of how many of certain question types you can expect to see on the test that doesn’t seem completely accurate, so take that with a grain of salt.

 

Why get this GRE prep book?

This book is best aimed at those who anticipate really struggling with the Quantitative section. So get this book if you need a lot of help with basic GRE math. Once you feel you’ve mastered the material in the book, you have two options:

  1. Take the test confident in your ability to at least lock down a mid-range score, aware that you won’t be fully prepared for the most difficult questions. This will likely be fine for those going into humanities-focused programs.
  2. Move on to another, more robust GRE prep book after this, like Manhattan Prep.

 

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Does math look like this to you? You might want McGraw-Hill.

 

Best GRE Prep Book If You Are a Top Math Scorer: Nova’s GRE Math Prep Course

This GRE book is primarily a conceptual review of the math concepts underpinning the GRE, with practice problems for those concepts. It offers progressively arranged chapters on the essential concepts that build off of each other. Each chapter has practice problems related to that concept, sorted into “easy,” “medium,” “hard,” and “very hard.” There is also an index of math concepts and a diagnostic test at the end.

 

Price

Kindle edition about $8, paperback about $26

 

Pros

  • There are a huge number of practice questions, closely targeted to specific concept-based math skills.
  • The difficulty level of questions is marked as “easy,” “medium,” “hard” and “very hard,” which will help students get a sense of where they are struggling.
  • Strong math students will find the conceptual explanations and answer explanations in this book clear, straightforward, and intuitive.

 

Cons

  • This book is a little on the old side and still describes the GRE sections as being out of 800 points.
  • The consensus among test-takers was that the hardest questions in this GRE prep book are far, far more difficult than what you’ll encounter on the GRE. While doing questions that are somewhat harder than the GRE may help you clinch that 170, there probably isn’t much utility in laboring over the “Very Hard” questions.
  • Not all of the questions do a good job approximating the GRE “style” of question. However, these questions still provide valuable skills practice that will help you succeed on the test.
  • Both conceptual and question explanations are somewhat brief—too brief for those without a strong math foundation. They also assume an underlying level of math knowledge that not all students taking the GRE have.
  • This GRE study book really doesn’t provide much in the way of strategy, so look elsewhere for that.

 


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Why get this GRE prep book?

Get this book if you are already quite good at math and are just tuning up for a score in the 90th percentile and above. In this case, this book will help you quickly review concepts and provide you with tons of practice problems to help you fine-tune your skills. However, if you don’t already have that strong math foundation, you’ll find this book frustrating.

 

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Time to bust out that abacus and get down to business!

 

Best GRE Book One-Stop Shop: Barron’s GRE, 22nd Edition

Barron’s GRE is a five-part prep book that aims to be a complete guide to all parts of the test. The first part goes over the GRE format and provides overall test-taking strategies. Parts two-four go over the Verbal, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative sections, respectively. The fifth section has two full-length practice tests with answer keys.

The Verbal section includes an extensive vocabulary section, and the  Quantitative section includes a fairly robust math content review. Buying the GRE prep book also gives you access to some online content, including video lessons and additional practice problems.

 

Price

Paperback version costs around $18.

 

Pros

  • Barron’s really shines in the practice question department. The questions do a great job mimicking the GRE style and cover topic areas the GRE actually addresses.
  • In general, content review is clearly written and comprehensive.
  • There’s a hugely robust vocab section with 3000 words and their definitions.
  • Barron’s also offers some very useful strategies to address the test and its sections.

 

Cons

  • The Barron’s questions may not quite reach max GRE difficulty level, so if you’re hoping for the 165+ score range on each section, this may not be the best prep book choice for you.
  • A select few of the test-taking strategies are a bit self-contradictory or confusing. Select what makes sense to you, and be sure to test out any strategies for a few practice sessions before you use them for the GRE!
  • The math section is formatted somewhat awkwardly, making that section a little hard to navigate.

 

Why get this GRE prep book?

If you don’t have a whole lot of time and you’re hoping to make a few points of score improvement in your overall score, Barron’s is a good choice. It’s a well-rounded prep book with good questions and decent content review.

However, the content probably isn’t advanced enough for those who anticipate or want top scores (165+ on either section). It’s also probably too brief for people who need a lot of help. But for people in the middle score range who just want a bump, this is a great, affordable option.

 

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Barron’s is the general store of GRE prep books.

 

Best GRE Vocab Resource: Manhattan Prep’s Vocab Flash Cards

I know, I know—flash cards aren’t a prep book! But flashcards are a much better way to study vocab than a book. The holy grail of the GRE flashcard world is definitely Manhattan Prep’s GRE flashcard sets.

 

Price

About $12 each for 500 Essential Words and 500 Advanced Words

 

Pros

  • Word selection is excellent, with vocabulary words from a variety of disciplines and at a variety of difficulty levels.
  • Each card has a ton of info about each word: the definition, a great example sentence, related words, and a “more info” section with interesting facts. All of this information really helps you to learn vocab holistically and not just memorize the words—you’ll be better-equipped to think about how to approach unfamiliar words on the GRE after really spending time with these GRE flashcards.

 

Cons

  • Honestly, I have nothing bad to say about these except that you have to spend money on them.
  • Also, definitely get the hard copy version—there’s not much point to Kindle flashcards.

 

Why get this resource?

If you have the money to spend on flash cards, get these! Start with the essential set and then move on to advanced. You can also supplement with our 357 GRE flashcards. Also, see our guide to our preferred flashcard studying method, the waterfall method!

 

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Flashcards: much better for learning vocab than a dictionary.

 

Other Study Tools to Consider

In addition to GRE test prep books, what other study resources and strategies should you consider?

 

ETS Powerprep II Software (Free!)

This is an essential resource for anyone who is taking the GRE. It offers two complete section-adaptive, timed GRE tests, as well as some untimed practice sections to help you get acclimated to the format and feel of taking a computer-based test. This is the absolute closest to the real GRE experience you can get—you’ll even get a projected score at the end! So this is truly an essential resource for all test-takers.

 

The ETS Analytical Writing Question Bank (Free!)

ETS has published all possible topics for the Analyze an Issue and the Analyze an Argument tasks. While it doesn’t make sense to necessarily look over every single one of these in-depth, glancing through them to note common patterns and themes will help you a lot on test day. It also means that whenever you want to practice the Analytical Writing section, you have access to real GRE topics to do so!

 

Free Online Practice Tests

We’ve already discussed that there are free resources and practice problems available online through ETS. When you’ve exhausted those, there are some other places you can look for non-official practice problems and tests. However, most of these are not of the highest quality, which the possible exception of Manhattan Prep.

  • GRE Practice Tests from Varsity TutorsWhile these tests don’t really mimic the style of GRE questions, they will help you drill the skills you need for the GRE Verbal and Quantitative sections. Consider these best for testing your core skills as opposed to getting good at confronting GRE-style questions.
  • McGraw-Hill GRE Practice Tests: McGraw-Hill offers multiple GRE practice tests (with Verbal and Quant but no Analytical Writing) for free on their website. There are also some videos explaining concepts covered on the test.
  • Manhattan Prep Practice Test: Even without the purchase of any Manhattan Prep materials, you can take one free practice test through Manhattan Prep. Especially since this is a computer-based test, it’s a great resource beyond the Powerprep tests.

 

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We also feel wonderful about free GRE resources.

 

Additional Vocab Resources

Even if you get the Manhattan Prep flash cards, you will probably still want to supplement your vocab studying with some additional tools. Here are some of the best:

  • NYTimes Word of the Day: This NYTimes blog gives you a word, an excerpt from an article and a mini-quiz on usage every day! A fun and manageable way to get exposed to some new words.
  • We offer our own free set of 357 GRE flash cards of words you need to know for the GRE!
  • If you’re an auditory learner, try VocabAhead’s vocabulary videos.

 

Additional Online Resources

 

Reading!

One of the best things you can do for your own GRE Verbal performance is to read—a lot. But not just anything—read a wide variety of difficult material in many disciplines. News articles from reputable sources are great. But also try philosophy, academic articles in different disciplines, challenging essays, classic essays and literature, and so on. This will help you a lot with learning how to parse a variety of difficult and dense writing styles quickly.

 

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Teddy bear knows how to improve his score.

 

8 Best GRE Prep Books: Overview

With so many GRE books on the market, how can you know which ones are worthwhile? We compiled the best GRE books for different studying purposes. To recap:

  • Most like the real GRE — the Official GRE Power Pack
  • Best for practice problems — Manhattan Prep’s 5-Lb Book of Practice Problems
  • Best for a comprehensive program — Manhattan Prep’s 8-book set of GRE Strategy Guides
  • Best for GRE Verbal and Analytical Writing — Princeton Review’s Cracking the GRE
  • Best if you struggle with math — McGraw-Hill’s Conquering GRE Math
  • Best for top math scorers — Nova’s GRE Math Prep Course
  • Best one-stop shop — Barron’s GRE, 22nd edition
  • Best vocab resource — Manhattan Prep GRE vocab flashcards

We also listed some other resources you might consider. Happy studying!

 

What’s Next?

Confused about GRE scores? Check out our guides to how the scoring works and GRE percentiles.

Looking ahead? Make plan to take the exam with our guides to GRE test dates and GRE registration.


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Author: Ellen McCammon

Ellen is a public health graduate student and education expert. She has extensive experience mentoring students of all ages to reach their goals and in-depth knowledge on a variety of health topics.

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