How to Use the ETS GRE Official Guide – Full Review


Are you studying for the GRE and wondering if the ETS’ Official Guide to the GRE General Test is a good study resource? Does the fact that the book is official mean it’s the best GRE prep book out there? Or does it just mean it lacks a lot of tips and tricks because ETS doesn’t want to give their secrets away?

We’ll answer all those questions and more! This guide will give an in-depth look at what information the Official Guide to the GRE includes, the pros and cons of the book, who should use it, and how you can get the most out of it.


What Makes a Good GRE Prep Book?

Before we dive into the GRE Official Guide, let’s first discuss the four characteristics that make a prep book exceptional. I’ll refer to each of these four throughout this guide to give you a more complete understanding of what the Official Guide to the GRE’s areas of strength and weakness are.


Effective Method of Teaching GRE Strategy and Content

One of the most important qualities a good prep book should have is the ability to teach you new information and skills in a logical and effective manner. This may involve tips for solving specific types of problems, explaining the logic behind correct answers, and teaching new information in a clear enough manner that you feel confident in your knowledge of it.

You won’t get a top score on the GRE if you don’t understand the topics it asks questions on, so being able to learn this type of information from your prep book is critical.


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High-Quality GRE Practice Questions

After you have a solid grasp of the topics the GRE covers, you then need to test that knowledge and see how well you actually understand the material. This is where practice questions become important. Answering practice questions is necessary in order for you to have a good idea of how well you understand the material, which subjects you know well, and which subjects you need to continue studying more.

A high-quality prep book will have hundreds of practice questions that are similar to those found on the actual GRE. These practice questions should also be organized by skill and competency level to make your studying more effective.


Full-Length GRE Practice Tests

In addition to practice questions, a high-quality GRE prep book will also contain several full-length practice tests. Full-length practice tests are important because they give you the most realistic idea of how well you’ll do on the actual GRE.

The total test time of the GRE is 3 hours and 45 minutes. During your studying, you should take at least one full-length practice GRE to see how taking an exam for several hours straight affects your score. Taking additional practice GREs can help increase your endurance and help you avoid running out of time or making careless errors towards the end of the exam.

You can use your practice score to decide how much you need to study and which subjects to focus on. You can also use additional practice tests to track your progress and ensure you’re meeting your goals. The best GRE prep books will have two or more practice GREs with in-depth answer explanations.




Guidance on Developing a Study Plan

You’ll likely spend hours, and sometimes dozens of hours, studying for the GRE, and it can be hard to know how to structure all this study time.

High-quality GRE prep books will give you advice on how to create a study plan, how much to study, which subjects to study, and how to improve your weak areas. Doing this will make your studying more effective and help you see results sooner.


What Is the Format of the GRE Official Guide?

The Official Guide to the GRE General Test (3rd Edition) is 608 pages long and can be purchased on Amazon for about $28. It also includes a CD which contains two computer-based practice tests.

This book is organized into nine major sections:

1. About the GRE Revised General Test: The first section of the book goes over the structure and content of the GRE and provides some test-taking strategies for both the computer-based and paper-based test.

2. GRE Analytical Writing: The second section explains the two essays on the Analytical Writing section, along with an explanation of how they are scored and strategies to use during this section.

3. GRE Verbal Reasoning: The third section gives an overview of the Verbal Reasoning section and explains each of the Verbal Reasoning question types.

4. GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions: The fourth section contains six Verbal Reasoning question sets, organized by difficulty (easy, medium, hard) and question type (discrete questions and reading comprehension questions), along with an answer key and explanations. There are a total of 51 practice Verbal Reasoning questions.

5 & 6. GRE Quantitative Reasoning and GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions: The fifth and sixth sections follow a similar format to sections three and four, but for Quantitative Reasoning. There are four sets of Quantitative Reasoning questions, comprising a total of 50 questions.

7. GRE Math Review: The seventh section gives a review of the four most commonly-tested math subjects on the GRE: arithmetic, algebra, data analysis, and geometry. For each topic, the main skills and concepts are explained, and there are practice problems to help you test your knowledge.

8 & 9. GRE Practice Test 1 and GRE Practice Test 2: The eighth and ninth sections each contain a complete practice GRE as well as an answer key, score conversion table, and answer explanations.

In total, the Official Guide to the General GRE contains overviews of each of the three exam sections, four complete practice tests (two paper-based and two computer-based), and several dozen additional practice questions.


4 Benefits of the Official GRE Guide

Now that we’ve covered the basic format of ETS GRE book, let’s discuss what the GRE official guide does well.




Clear Structure

The organization of this book is clear and easy to follow, so if you’re looking for specific information, you’re likely to find it quickly. For each section of the exam, the ETS Official Guide to the GRE first gives an overview of what the section includes, explains the different types of questions you’ll see, gives tips for answering the questions, then provides a set of practice problems. The information builds on itself and gives you a chance to test your knowledge, making it easy to read through the book or find specific information.


Official Source

Because the ETS Official Guide to the GRE was written by the same people who write the real GRE, it’s an official source and you can be sure that the information and sample questions accurately reflect the real GRE. If the Official Guide to the GRE says certain types of questions will be asked on the GRE, you can be confident they will be. If you see a particular set of practice problems, it’s likely similar questions will be asked on the real exam.

Some unofficial prep books will give advice or sample problems that don’t accurately represent the GRE. This can hurt you because you’ll end up learning information that either isn’t accurate or isn’t very useful, and you won’t be as well-prepared for what’s actually on the GRE. With this book, since it’s an official source, you can avoid that issue.


High-Quality Practice Tests

Perhaps the best aspect of the ETS GRE book is its practice questions and full-length practice tests. The book contains four full-length practice tests as well as additional practice questions, and, since it’s an official source, all of these questions accurately reflect the types of questions found on the real GRE.

The ETS GRE book comes with two computer-based practice tests and two paper-based practice tests. The computer-based practice tests are particularly useful because you’ll likely take the real GRE on the computer, so these tests help you prepare specifically for that.

With each of these practice tests, you can feel confident that your score will give you an accurate idea of how well you’d do on the real GRE. Be aware though, that the two computer-based practice tests are available to download for free, as are a few of the additional practice questions, so you can have access to some of this material even if you don’t purchase the book. This is discussed in more detail in the next section.


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Strong Analytical Writing Section

One of the most helpful sections in the ETS Official Guide to the GRE is Chapter 2, which focuses on Analytical Writing.

This section gives an in-depth explanation of how to approach each of the two essays. Additionally, for both parts of the Analytical Writing section, it gives six sample essays. The first essay for each prompt would have received a score of 6 (a perfect score), the next a 5, and so on down to a score of 1. After each essay is an explanation of exactly why each essay got the score it did, what was good about it, and what could have been improved.

By reading this section, as one book reviewer on Amazon commented, “[Y]ou have a very good sense of what the ETS thinks of as “a good essay” and “a bad essay.”


4 Drawbacks of the Official GRE Guide

OK, so now you know what’s great about this book, but what about what’s wrong with it? We explain the four major drawbacks of the Official Guide to the GRE below.



Lack of Tips/Strategies

Because this book is produced by ETS, it gives an accurate explanation of what is on the GRE, but, on the flip side, the ETS wants you to solve the questions the “official” way and not use tricks or shortcuts.

As such, the ETS GRE book doesn’t include many tricks for answering questions, and, when it does, they’re often pretty obvious or not particularly helpful. For example, under “Tips for Answering” for Reading Comprehension questions, the book’s primary tip is to “read all the answer choices before making your selection.” This is pretty basic information that everything should already know before they take the GRE. Other GRE prep books give advice on how to skim reading passages, where to underline, which order to answer the questions in, etc.

The fact that the Official GRE Guide doesn’t include that information is likely its biggest shortcoming since many people reading GRE prep books are looking for tricks to make answering GRE questions simpler.


Little Explanation of Basic Math Concepts

The book’s Quantitative Reasoning section also has some specific drawbacks. While the book does a good job of explaining the types of questions on Quantitative Reasoning, there isn’t a lot of advice on how  to solve these problems, particularly if you’re struggling with basic mathematical concepts. An Amazon reviewer commented, “This book assumes that you already have a decent understanding of mathematical concepts in Geometry, Algebra, and Statistics.” Another reviewer noted that the book, “takes for granted that test-takers will be able to perform particular operations.”

If you’re feeling wary about the math portion of the GRE, you may not find a lot of help in this book. Chapter 7 does have a math review, but it’s dry and difficult to get through, and it assumes you already have a pretty solid knowledge of math and just need a refresher. For example, multiple example problems with right triangles are given, but special properties of right triangles are never discussed, even though knowing this information is often required to answering the problem. Also, as mentioned above, no special tips or tricks are given to make solving math problems easier, as are often found in other prep books.


A Lot of the Official GRE Guide’s Material Is Available Free Online

Some of the Official Guide to the GRE’s best resources are available online, so you may not even need to purchase the book. The information available online includes:

This is certainly not all the information the book provides, or even most of it, but it is something to keep in mind if you’re debating whether or not to purchase the book.


Little Guidance on How to Structure Your Studying

In total, the Official GRE Guide devotes less than half a page to advising you on how to develop a study plan and organize your studying, and the information it gives is pretty basic.

If you’d like to have more guidance on how and when to study, how to create a study schedule, or how to set study goals, you’ll likely need to use another resource.


Is the Official Guide to the GRE the Right Prep Book for You?

So, should you use the GRE Official Guide as part of your studying?

As mentioned above, the most valuable resource from ETS GRE book is its practice problems and full-length practice exams. They give an accurate and in-depth look at which types of questions will be asked on the GRE and how they’ll be worded. This is important information to know because you want to come in one test day knowing exactly what to expect from the GRE.

However, many of these problems, including the two computer-based practice exams are freely available online, so you don’t need to purchase the book to have access to them.

Additionally, this book comes up short in other ways, particularly in terms of offering tips and strategies to help solve problems more easily and an explanation of different mathematical concepts. If you’re looking for ways to answer problems more quickly and easily, and/or you want help understanding math concepts tested on the GRE, you’ll likely need an additional prep book to help you out with this.

In general, the Official Guide to the GRE has a large number of high-quality practice questions (some of which can be found online for free) which you can use to test your knowledge of concepts, but it isn’t a great resource for learning how to answer those questions quickly and easily in the first place. If you’re feeling pretty confident in your knowledge of the topics the GRE tests and are just looking for a lot of high-quality practice problems beyond what’s available online, this is probably the best prep book to get. If you want to strengthen your test-taking skills and knowledge first, you’ll likely want to use other GRE prep books either in addition to or instead of this one.


Tips for Getting the Most Out of the Official GRE Guide

If you decide to purchase the Official Guide to the GRE, be sure to follow these three tips in order to get the most out of the book.




Make Use of the Practice Tests

The ETS GRE book comes with four complete practice GREs, two paper-based tests and two computer-based tests. These practice tests are made by the same people who make the actual GRE, so they’ll give you a very accurate idea of what to expect on test day.

Because these full-length practice tests are such a valuable resource, you’ll want to make the most of them, especially the computer-based tests since you’ll likely be taking the GRE on the computer. The scores you receive on these practice tests will let you know about how well you’d do on the real GRE, how much you’ve improved, and where your strengths and weaknesses are.

You should take each of these practice tests under realistic testing conditions in order to get the most accurate scores from these tests. This means, for each test you should:

      • Take it all in one sitting
      • With the same timing and breaks you’ll get for the real GRE
      • With minimal distractions
      • Using a calculator only on the Quantitative Reasoning questions that allow it

The closer your practice tests are to the real GRE, the more accurate and useful your practice scores will be.


Study the Different Question Types

For each of the three main GRE sections, this book describes the main question types within the section and gives advice for answering that question type.

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This is useful information because it gives you a comprehensive overview of the types of questions you’ll see on the GRE. By studying the question types, you’ll be aware of every kind of question you could be asked on the exam. Again, this information is written by the same people who write the actual GRE, so you can be sure it’s accurate.

Additionally, you can use this information to more accurately pinpoint which types of questions you need to work on. If you only know that you need to improve your Verbal Reasoning score, that’s a lot of studying you’ll need to do, and not all of it may help. If you can identify that you do well on Reading Comprehension questions but struggle with Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions, that allows your preparation to be a lot more focused and effective.


Supplement With Other Resources for Additional Strategies and Explanations

As mentioned above, the Official Guide to the GRE does not give many shortcuts for answering problems or review introductory information on many subjects tested on the GRE, particularly math.

If you’re running out of time and need to figure out how to answer questions more quickly, struggling with understanding mathematical concepts, and/or can’t figure out how to solve certain types of problems from the explanations in this book, you’ll likely need to supplement your studying with other materials.

Other GRE prep books focus more on these areas. Princeton Review, Manhattan Review, and Barron’s are some popular publishers, but read online reviews of different GRE prep books or stop by a bookstore and flip through a few different books to figure out which book does the best job of covering what you’re looking for.


GRE Official Guide Review: Conclusion

The Official Guide to the GRE is the only GRE prep book designed by the same company that makes the real GRE. The book contains four complete practice tests (two computer-based and two paper-based), as well as explanations of all the question types found on the GRE and practice problem sets.

The practice problems and full-length exams found on this book are the highest-quality you can get since they’re official, and the book also thoroughly explains the content and question types found on the GRE. However, the book contains very few helpful strategies for solving problems, and much of its content can be found for free online.

This book is best for people looking for additional practice problems who either don’t need or have another book for test-taking tips.


What’s Next?

What are the best GRE books to help you prepare for the exam? Check out our list and find the best GRE prep book for you!

Taking the GRE soon? Get step-by-step instructions on how to register for the exam to make sure everything is ready come exam day.

What’s the scoring process for the GRE? Check out our guide for in-depth analysis of how the GRE is scored.

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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.