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How to Study for the GRE (Part II) — The Bad

Update: This is an older post about books/software for the “Old” GRE. For reviews on study material for the Revised GRE, click here.  

Surely some practice is better than no practice at all? Well, think again.

There is a proverbial yarn of monkeys in a room full of typewriters. Give them an eternity pumping away at the keys and they will never produce Shakespeare. They could very well cough up REA.

For years, REA’s glossy covers have been festooning bookshelves. Sadly, for years the unsuspecting have been duped into judging a book by its cover. Inside, questions that barely resemble those from the GRE await. Words are spelled incorrectly, and the answers do not make any sense (the explanations are even more suspect!). Using REA could end up subverting the very logic-based thinking required to do well on the GRE.

REA is not the only offender, though it is probably the most egregious example. McGraw-Hill, Peterson’s and Arco (not the gas station, though it may as well be) are all guilty of producing these paper-based travesties sure to bring down your score.

Even a basic analogy, in which parts of speech are consistent, has been thoughtlessly bungled. Really, this isn’t too difficult. If answer choice (A) is a verb, then the rest of the answers have to be verbs. Yet this fundamental fact seems to have escaped them. And weak bridges (which are never correct answer choices) are actually the answers.

I could carry on about analogies alone, but this shoddiness applies to other sections as well—the verbal section is full of vocabulary words that don’t even exist (they’ve misspelled them for ten years running). Indeed, typos abound on every page, whether it is a circle with impossible dimensions (a radius, after all, is always half the diameter), or a reading comp passage written by one of the aforementioned simians.

The worst part is these companies release the same typo-riddled material year after year. Instead of editing what’s inside, they just change the cover, adding 8th Edition and a different photo of a smiling, unsuspecting student.

But you get the point—no need for me to belabor this anymore. Simply put: if you’ve been using any of these materials, walk to the nearest trash receptacle, pop open the lid and cast these glossy abominations off into the septic Lethe.

Unfortunately, The Bad doesn’t end when the flap of the garbage can closes. The Internet is flush with practice questions and tests written by those who adhere to the same standards as the publishers mentioned above. This is not to say every source is bad, but, like much of the Internet, buyer beware applies here as well.

One way to test the integrity of a source is to look for numerous typos. If an entity is selling material and they haven’t even taken the time to proofread it…well, stay clear.

Another sign is if the questions are nothing like what you’ve seen from the reputable publishers. Some computer-based tests will focus excessively on only one question type. A student of mine downloaded a CAT that consisted of more than 50% combination and permutation problems, a type of problem seldom outside the harder questions.

Finally, on the antonyms, analogies and sentence completions, if you notice the answer choices do not have consistent parts of speech, well…it’s probably the monkeys.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

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