The Best GRE Study Materials to Help Raise Your Score

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Your GRE scores are an important part of applying to grad schools, and to get the scores you want, you’ll likely need to do some studying. There are tons of GRE study materials out there, some that are great, others that aren’t. Using low-quality prep resources can cause you to study the wrong materials and feel unprepared on test day, which can really hurt your score. High-quality study materials are key to doing well on the GRE.

That’s where we come in. We’ve created a guide that compiles all the best GRE study materials available. Whether you’re looking for official practice tests, help with a specific section of the GRE, or the best material to use for a quick study session on your phone, we’ve got you covered. In addition to going over which resources you should use, we also explain what to look for in GRE prep materials and how to create the best study plan for you.

 

What Do the Best GRE Study Materials Include?

Unfortunately, not all GRE study materials are created equal. Some are a great way to prepare for the test, while others will give you a false idea of what the GRE will be like, which can make your studying less effective. Using high-quality study resources is key. Below are the three qualities the best GRE study materials include. Use them as a guide when you’re deciding whether to use a particular resource.

 

High-Quality Practice Questions

In order to be well-prepared for the GRE, you will need to have a good understanding of the questions you’ll be asked. This means answering a lot of practice problems. Good practice problems cover the same content that the GRE does and have a similar difficulty level and format. The closer the practice questions are to those on the GRE, the better prepared you’ll be for the real test.

 

In-Depth Answer Explanations

Even if a resource has the highest-quality practice problems, you won’t get a lot out of it if it doesn’t have strong answer explanations. Understanding what you did wrong and how to find the correct answer is key to learning from your mistakes and improving your score.

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Practice tests with brief or even no explanations for the answers typically aren’t the strongest resources. High-quality resources will explain why a certain answer choice is correct and the other choices incorrect for all or most of the practice questions.

 

Similar Format to the Real GRE

The best practice tests also have a similar format to the GRE. The GRE has three major sections: Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning. High-quality practice resources will have questions for each of these sections, follow a similar format to the real test, and be computer-based.

Many practice resources are much shorter than the actual GRE, which can make it hard to learn how well you handle testing for several hours. Not every resource you use has to include a full-length practice GRE, but at least some should, and those that are shorter should still follow the format of one or more GRE sections.

 

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All of the Official GRE Study Materials

Official study materials are the best to use since you can be sure they’ll meet each of the three criteria listed above as they’re made by the same people who make the real GRE. Below are all the Official GRE Study Materials available. Make sure to prioritize them during your studying (more tips on how to do this in the final section of this guide).

Be aware that official materials tend to focus more on providing practice problems and less on giving tips and strategies for answering practice questions. The practice problems are high-quality, but you’ll likely need to use other materials listed further down in this guide to get test-taking strategies and tips for answering questions.

 

PowerPrep II

PowerPrep II is one of the best GRE study materials available, and, as an added bonus, it’s free! Simply download the software, and you’ll have access to two complete practice GREs as well as overviews of each section of the exam.

The exams are very similar in format to the real GRE which is great for giving you an accurate sense of what expect on exam day. You should absolutely take them at some point during your studying. You have the option of either taking the exams timed or not timed, and answer explanations are included.

 

Practice Test PDFs

Two PDFs of practice GREs are available:

  • Previous paper-based GRE PDF (2009 to May 2012)
  • Current paper-based GRE PDF (June 2012 to present)

These exams are also a high-quality resource; however, since they are only PDFs, they won’t be as close to the real GRE format as the PowerPrep tests. Also, they reuse some of the questions from the PowerPrep II tests. We recommend doing the PowerPrep tests first, since they are the better resource, and taking these after for additional practice.

 

The Official GRE Guide

ETS has also come out with an official GRE study book which you can purchase or get from the library. In addition to explaining the exam and offering practice problems, this book contains two complete practice tests, available both online and on the computer. It’s a good resource if you’re looking for more official practice questions.

You can learn more about this book by checking out our in-depth review of the Official GRE Guide.

 

Analytical Writing Prompts

ETS has made every potential Analytical Writing prompt available for you to view online for free. There are a total of 328 prompts (152 Issue and 176 Argument), which should be plenty for you to study from. There are no scoring guidelines (although see below for a potential option), but in any case, this is a great resource to have. With so many official prompts, there’s no reason to study unofficial Analytical Writing prompts.

 

ScoreItNow!

ScoreItNow! is a service where you can get your Analytical Writing essays graded by the same computer grading program used to grade essays for the real GRE. It costs $20 to get two essays scored. This isn’t an essential thing to get, but if you’re struggling with the Analytical Writing section or how to score your essays, you may find it useful to get an official score for a few of them.

 

Retired GRE Exams

Another resource for complete, official practice GREs is to use GRE exams from the old (pre-2011) version of the test. They can be found in the old GRE prep book ETS uploaded to their website.

The GRE has undergone some significant changes since then, so not every part of the old exams will be relevant. Below is more specific information on which parts you should and shouldn’t use for each section of the exam.

  • Analytical Writing: The Analytical Writing prompts in this GRE PDF are significantly different from the ones currently in use, so don’t bother writing essays in response to them.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: You can use all the Quantitative Reasoning questions from this exam for your studying since this section has not undergone any major changes in content. Just be aware that questions from this practice test focus less on data interpretation and real-life scenarios than current GRE Quantitative Reasoning questions.
  • Verbal Reasoning: This section has undergone the most changes, so there’s significant part of the old exam that is no longer useful for studying. You should only use the following sections for your studying:
    • Section 2: 4-6, 17-27
    • Section 4: 2, 5, 17-27

 

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The 4 Best GRE Prep Books

Prep Books are often one of the best tools to use for your studying, and it’s highly recommended that you purchase one if you’re planning to study on your own. While official study materials give great practice questions and exams, they often don’t give a lot of guidance on how to approach the GRE and answer questions more easily. A good prep book will help you understand how to do this. This section explains several of the best GRE prep books and who they’re most useful for.

This section only discusses unofficial GRE prep books, since the only official prep book (the Official GRE Guide) was discussed above. Below are the best of the best GRE prep books. Check out our complete guide to GRE prep books if you’re looking for more options!

 

Best Book for a Comprehensive Review of the GRE: Manhattan Prep GRE Set of 8 Strategy Guides

Price: About $90 for the set of eight books, individual books are about $13-$15.

The set includes eight books to help you review GRE content and practice questions. Six of the eight books focus on 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.

If you don’t want to buy the complete set, you can also purchase the books individually. You can also check out our in-depth review of the Manhattan Prep GRE Set.

Pros:
  • Gives a very thorough and in-depth review of GRE format and content. It’s definitely the most comprehensive GRE prep book set available with lots of content review, practice questions, and strategies.
  • Practice problems include in-depth answer explanations to help you understand why a particular answer is correct.
  • Purchasing the set gives you access to six high-quality online practice tests.
Cons:
  • The set focuses most on Quantitative Reasoning, so if you’re looking for specific help in Analytical Writing or Verbal Reasoning, you may have to use other resources.
  • Because the set is so comprehensive, it can feel overwhelming to study. You’d need to devote a significant amount of time to GRE Review to get through the entire set.

 

Best One-Stop-Shop GRE Book: Barron’s GRE, 21st Edition

Price: About $11

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If you’re looking for a prep book that will help you with each section of the GRE, and you don’t want or need the depth Manhattan’s set of eight books provides, Barron’s GRE is the best single book to help you prepare for all sections of the GRE.

This book contains five parts. The first goes over the format of the GRE and gives overall test-taking strategies. Each of the next three parts covers one section of the GRE (Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning) in-depth. The final part contains two full-length practice tests with answer explanations.

Pros:
  • High-quality practice questions, particularly for an unofficial resource.
  • Useful tips and strategies for each section to help you raise your score.
  • Large vocabulary section with 3000 words and their definitions.
Cons:
  • This book doesn’t include practice questions or tips for some of the hardest GRE questions (such as particularly challenging Quant questions), so if you’re aiming for a perfect or near-perfect score, it may not get you there.

 

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

Price: About $15 for the standard edition, about $22 for the premium edition.

Princeton Review’s GRE book devotes a section to each of the three main sections you’ll see on the GRE, as well as a section on overall test format and strategies, and a final section with practice tests. The regular version of the book comes with two complete practice tests, while the premium edition comes with four practice tests. All include answer explanations.

Pros:
  • One of the best reviews for the Analytical Writing and Quantitative Reasoning sections available. Clear and thorough explanations of what questions will be like and how to answer them.
  • Practice problems for Analytical Writing and Quantitative Reasoning are very similar to real GRE questions.
  • High-quality practice tests with strong answer explanations.
Cons:
  • The Quantitative Reasoning section is pretty weak, particularly the practice questions which were not very similar to real GRE questions.
  • The Quantitative Reasoning practice questions contain some errors, and a few of the answer key responses are incorrect.

 

Best Book If You Struggle With Quantitative Reasoning: McGraw-Hill’s Conquering the New GRE Math

Price: About $19

If you haven’t studied math in awhile or have never felt that confident in your math abilities, McGraw-Hill’s GRE Math book can help walk you through the math concepts you need to know and help you feel more confident about the Quantitative Reasoning section. This book breaks down each type of math question you’ll need to know and uses clear explanations and practice problems to help you understand how to solve it.

Pros:
  • Gives clear explanations of the math concepts you need to know for the GRE.
  • Offers useful strategies for attacking and solving the different types of questions you’ll see on Quantitative Reasoning.
  • Has many practice problems, along with in-depth answer explanations.
Cons:
  • Doesn’t cover some of the more difficult math problems you’ll see on the GRE, so if you’re aiming for a top score in Quantitative Reasoning, you’ll likely need to use other resources to reach that goal.
  • Only focuses on the Quantitative Reasoning section, so you’ll need other materials to prepare for Analytical Writing and Verbal Reasoning.

 

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The 3 Best Online GRE Practice Resources

There are many unofficial online GRE study materials out there, of varying quality. Below are some of the best online practice resources for you to use. These resources are usually practice quizzes and exams as opposed to content review and test strategies. All of the resources below are free.

 

Manhattan Free Practice Test

In order to access this test, you’ll need to register for a free Manhattan GRE account, but once you do you’ll have access to a high-quality practice GRE.

Pros:
  • This exam has a format very similar to that of the real GRE. The section order and timing are the same as the real exam.
  • The practice questions themselves are similar to the real GRE in terms of format and content tested.
  • The answer explanations are very robust.
Cons:
  • The bright green bar at the top of the computer interface is a little bit distracting.
  • You can’t access the test until you make a (free) Manhattan GRE account.

 

Kaplan Free Practice Test

In order to access this test, you’ll need to set up an account with Kaplan and add the item to your cart and checkout, but don’t worry, you won’t need to pay or enter any payment information. After you do that, you’ll have several weeks to access your free test from your Kaplan account homepage.

Pros:
  • This practice test has the same number, order, format, and timing of sections as the actual GRE.
  • The computer-delivered interface is very similar to the one you will see on the GRE, with mark and review features, a timer in the corner, and even similar colors and fonts.
  • After you complete the test, you can get a pretty robust analysis of how you did compared to others on the different sections and questions.
Cons:
  • You’ll need to create an account before you can access the test.
  • The answer explanations are pretty brief.

 

McGraw-Hill Practice Tests

McGraw-Hill offers a diagnostic test (with one Verbal and one Quant section) and six practice tests that have two Verbal and two Quant sections. They don’t have any Analytical Writing practice questions.

Pros:
  • A high number of practice questions.
  • Timing for Verbal and Quant subsections is correct (30 and 35 minutes for 20 questions each, respectively).
Cons:
  • The browser pop-up for actually taking the practice tests doesn’t have a scroll function, so for longer questions and explanations, you’ll need to manually zoom out your browser to see everything.
  • The questions are a bit easier than what you’ll find on the actual GRE, particularly the math questions.
  • There are no Analytical Writing questions.

 

4 Other Great GRE Study Resources

This section includes other helpful GRE study resources beyond those listed above. These resources often focus on a specific topic or section of the GRE, and they shouldn’t be your only or even your main study resource. However, they are good supplementary material, particularly when you don’t have a lot of time at the moment but want to get a bit of studying in.

 

Khan Academy

Khan Academy and ETS have worked together to identify which of Khan Academy’s math videos will help you most on the Quantitative Reasoning section. If you are struggling with learning math concepts and/or learn better from videos as opposed to just reading explanations, this may be a great resource for you.

We also have a guide that walks you through exactly how to use Khan Academy to help you prepare for the GRE.

 

West Texas A&M GRE Math Study Session

This free online resource for the GRE Quantitative section offers content review, practice questions, and practice Quantitative sections. It’s a good resource to use if you’re looking for more Quantitative review.

 

GRE Vocab Flashcards

Vocabulary is another important part of doing well on the GRE. We’ve created flashcards for the 357 most important vocab words you need to know for the GRE. Each word includes a definition, and the guide gives tips on how and when to study vocab for the GRE.

 

Ready4GRE

This free GRE app is available for both iPhone and Android. There are two structures you can follow. The first, called Smart Guide, has a step-by-step structure where you practice one lesson then, once you’ve passed it, move onto the next lesson in the program. The other structure, Browse Topics, let’s you move from lesson to lesson at any time and in any order.

In addition to the lessons, this app gives you your estimated Verbal and Quant scores, has over 600 vocabulary flashcards, and measures your strengths and weaknesses in each section. It isn’t the best review source out there since it isn’t as close to the real GRE as many other materials, but it’s a good place to start your studying or do a bit of studying at a time on your phone. You can also check out our GRE app guide for other apps to help you with your studying.

 

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Our Top Tips for Creating Your GRE Study Plan

The previous sections have covered all the best GRE study materials out there, but now it’s time to understand how to use them. Follow the four steps below to make your GRE prep more efficient and help you achieve your best score.

 

Take and Analyze a Practice Test

Early on in your studying, and ideally before you even begin, you should take a GRE practice exam so you can get an idea of how you’re currently scoring. This is a good time to use one of the PowerPrep tests or another official exam. It’s better to take it on the computer since that is likely how you’ll be taking the real GRE so your practice test score will be more accurate. Also, take this test timed and with only the breaks that are given.

After you’ve either received your grades (if the exam was graded automatically) or graded the test yourself, look over all the questions you answered incorrectly. Where did you do well? What areas did you make the most mistakes in? Analyzing your performance will help you figure out which areas you need to target in your studying and help you decide on which study materials you need.

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For example, if you’re pretty happy with your Quantitative score but really want to improve Verbal Reasoning, you may want to look into purchasing the Princeton Review GRE prep book, which has a strong Verbal section, and using additional related resources such as vocabulary flashcards.

 

Set Goals for Yourself

Part of your study plan should also include regularly setting goals and tracking how well you meet those goals. You could have daily, weekly, or monthly goals depending on your schedule and what works best for you. Some example goals include understanding a new topic by the end of the week or raising your score five points by the end of the month.

You should also have an overall goal score for each section of the test. You can create your own goal scores by seeing what average GRE scores are for the programs you’re interested in. Learn more about how to set a GRE goal score by reading our guide. Setting goals helps you keep yourself accountable while also giving you an easy way to track your progress and make sure you’re on the path to getting the GRE score you want.

 

Take Regular GRE Practice Tests

Throughout your studying, you should be taking regular practice GREs to monitor your progress and ensure you’re still on track to meet your goals. You should take one practice exam at the beginning of your studying (as mentioned above) and one towards the end to get a good idea of how well you’ll do on the actual GRE.

In addition to those two exams, try to fit in at least 2-3 practice GREs, spread out regularly, so you can see where you’ve made improvements and what you still need to work on. Remember to keep pinpointing your mistakes so you can focus your studying on the areas where you most need it.

 

Space Out Official GRE Study Materials

As we mentioned earlier, official GRE prep materials are the highest study resources out there for the GRE. Because of that, you want to make the most of them. You should spread these out evenly throughout your studying; don’t use them all at the beginning or save them all for the end. Regularly seeing official prep resources will help you have an accurate idea of what the real GRE will be like and about how well you’d score on it.

A good plan is to take one PowerPrep test at the beginning of your studying and the other near the end, then spread the rest of the official materials throughout the rest of your studying.

 

Review: Where to Find the Best GRE Study Materials

Studying is an important part of doing well on the GRE, and studying is most effective when you’re using high-quality GRE prep materials. Whether you’re studying with official practice tests, prep books, online resources, or a combination, you want to make sure those materials have high-quality practice questions, in-depth answer explanations, and tips and strategies for the exam.

While you’re studying, be sure to take an initial practice test, set goals for yourself, take regular practice tests, and spread out official practice materials.

 

What’s Next?

What GRE score should you be aiming for when you take the exam? Learn what a good GRE score is based on the schools you’re interested in.

It’s important to properly register for the GRE so you get the test location and date you want. Read our step-by-step guide to GRE registration for everything you need to know.

Not sure if you’re preparing enough for the GRE? Learn how hard the test really is and get an estimate of how challenging it’ll be for you.


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Author: Christine Sarikas

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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