The Princeton Review’s Cracking the GMAT book is very sparse on fundamentals and heavy on process of elimination, i.e. nifty test gimmicks. Of course when one reads this book, one may think that they are actually “cracking” the test: the questions are very easy, and Princeton Review almost seems to be nudging you smugly saying, “See how easy this is.”
But the GMAT is not easy, and cannot be reduced to simple estimation and process of elimination. While both are useful techniques, to an extent, Princeton Review (TPR) attempts to predicate its entire pedagogy on what it fondly dubs POE: Process of Elimination. Buyer Beware: The GMAT is far more difficult and requires learning the actual fundamentals and concepts behind the test.
First off, let me preface both the verbal and math write-ups: this set up is particularly suited to books that take the time to delve into each section. TPR skims the surface in each section, sometimes wasting an entire page with a single problem, and some annoying blurb in the margins telling us how the B-school student likes to wake up at 6:45 and watch CNN.
What is clearly missing from every section is also the easy-of-use and organization found in the Kaplan books. Nonetheless, I’ve maintained the structure to highlight the different sections of the test and how TPR handles them.
The only section on the verbal that TPR comes to semi-decent is the Critical Reasoning section. The different question types are introduced. One learns how to take a part an argument. And one learns how to spot wrong answer choices. One doesn’t, however, get much practice. We learn the eight question types, but we do not even get eight practice questions.
Doing well on Sentence Correction requires learning both the fundamentals and advanced aspects of English grammar. To achieve this aim, the Manhattan GMAT has a 300-page book. TPR not only tries to dispense SC wisdom in a mere twenty pages (many of which do a poor job maximizing space).
To be fair, I could see this section being helpful to an absolute beginner. But even that person would need to learn far more grammar than that provided here, and would, at the very least, want more practice after learning about a specific grammar concept (If there is a section on Parallelism it would be nice to have some practice questions).
Again, TPR makes everything seem much easier than the test. Passages seem as though they were lifted from the encyclopedia. True, that level of reading can be warranted when a book is trying to impart a specific approach. Even then TPR techniques are too general: at times I feel as though I am reading an SAT guide.
With TRP, unlike Kaplan, I do not feel l have learned much I can directly apply. Sure, get the main idea of the passage and avoid extreme language in the answer choices…but really there is so much more to the GMAT than that. Terms such as ‘yin-yang’ tend to be more distracting than helpful.
That is not to say nothing is helpful here. But for Introduction to the GMAT, Kaplan does a far better job.
For an absolute beginner, meaning somebody whose mind goes numb as soon as somebody so much as says the word ‘fraction’, TPR offers an unintimidating, straightforward approach to basic math. You get math drills, i.e., practice questions to help you learn the basics. Techniques such as “Picking Numbers” are introduced.
Unless you are looking to score about ‘500’, the math in this book will not help you attain a competitive score. Nevertheless, many of us are rusty in Math, and in that sense, TPR provides a better primer than Kaplan (which already presupposes a decent level of math knowledge).
The usual suspects: you’ll learn everything from mean, median, and mode to combinations. Again, everything is at a basic level to help reacquaint you in case you haven’t seen many of these concepts in awhile.
Sure there is an entire section on Data Sufficiency, and even a section on advanced Data Sufficiency. The latter is not advanced, but targeted more at the medium-difficulty level. Again, same advice: if you are just beginning this will be helpful. That said, Kaplan does a far better job of introducing this tricky section. It essentially provides a framework to build off. TPR provides practice problems but not much of a framework.
Much like the questions throughout the book, the test questions are a dumbed-down version of what you’ll see on the GMAT. That is not to say that these questions are poorly written. In fact, if you have a copy of this book, especially if you are just starting off, doing these practice questions wouldn’t hurt. The explanations are clear enough (though sometimes TPR can be a little vague why they are eliminating a given answer – besides saying use POE (process of elimination)).
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA)
TPR provides a decent introduction. Indeed if you are only looking to score about a ‘4’ the templates TPR provides may help you do so. I would have liked to see some example essays. Nonetheless you can’t really fault any publisher for giving short shrift to the AWA, as most are concerned only with their score.
- Provides a decent math refresher for those who haven’t seen math in awhile.
- Makes the test unintimidating (which is a pro for those who are already stressed out enough at the prospect of taking the GMAT).
- Focuses far more on techniques than on fundamentals
- Questions are far too easy compared to those found on the GMAT
- Seems somewhat disorganized and in many sections does not provide a coherent framework
- Nothing here at all for anyone looking to break 600
- Large book creates an illusion of content, an appearance belied by the relative dearth of material