Superficially, McGraw-Hill does a good job of approximating the actual Revised GRE. It has reading passages, followed by a series of questions. The two-blank and three-blank Text Completions have the requisite three answer choices for each blank, and math problems have numbers and, sometimes, variables.
Only when you look more closely do you realize that McGraw-Hill’s book is based on a different test. Which test? Well, as somebody who’s been tutoring GRE students for 10 years, I can’t really say. But I know it’s definitely not the new GRE.
Reading Comprehension questions are very tame, gentle even. I could imagine having a group of 7th graders read through some of the passages with more than a modicum of success. Sure, there are a few difficult questions, but these tend to be poorly written and require the test taker to make some inferential leaps, a no-no on the real exam. In fact, you would be better off just reading the daily paper (or maybe staring at the wall) than using these passages to prep. Not only will you be lulled into thinking that the Revised GRE will be much easier than it actually is, but by following McGraw-Hill‘s logic, you will begin employing reasoning that will only get you the wrong answer on the actual test.
Particularly troubling are the 5-answer, multiple-answer Reading Comprehension questions. These do not exist in the new GRE. However, McGraw-Hill blithely lumps a few in there.
Many publishers dumb down text completions so that a middle-schooler can understand them. While that is sometimes the case here, the author makes an attempt at academic language, though the prose is usually more stilted than it is nuanced.
The answer choices, or distractors as they are called in test-speak, can usually be eliminated a little too easily. Other times, the word that fits in the blank is a little too obvious, especially for ETS standards (i.e. flora and _____; that’s right – it’s fauna). To make a question difficult, the author sometimes resorts to choosing very difficult vocabulary words, instead of making the actual sentence itself difficult to understand.
It is important to note here that GRE Text Completions will not be difficult because of esoteric words – most of the words used are the typical ones encountered on GRE vocabulary lists. It’s the sentences themselves that are difficult, and the answer choices themselves that are misleading, so that even if you know the definition, you’ll misinterpret the sentence. Of course, McGraw-Hill doesn’t really seem aware of this.
The math terrain looks familiar – circles, pie charts, and fractions. However, a person looking only at McGraw-Hill could conclude that the new GRE math isn’t all that difficult. In fact, the math is at the level of the SSAT, a standardized test for 7th and 8th graders. The questions definitely lack the complexity, and “trickiness”, of those found on the actual exam. For those starting out who need some practice these questions are okay, but that person should remember that these questions are in no way indicative of those seen on the actual test.
Strategies and Explanations
While the content may be the most salient flaw, it is hardly redressed by the rest of the book. The strategies tend to be so general and common-sensical that they would only be helpful to a person who has never taken a standardized test (really, McGraw-Hill? Do we need to spend half a page discussing the importance of relaxing during the test?).
Strategies are usually discussed over the course of a few pages. Examples are then offered, but they do not really highlight the application of any of these techniques.
The explanations at the back of each test aren’t very helpful. They tell you why an answer is the answer, though often unconvincingly. Never do the answers tell you why your answer wasn’t right in the first place. Without knowing this, you will have difficulty improving.
After the ordeal of going through the entire book, I can imagine students thinking, “well, the questions were pretty easy…but I don’t feel like I really get it”.
Of course, when those same hapless student sit down to take the actual GRE, they will definitely feel they do not get it. Unfortunately, by then, it will be far too late for them to do anything about it.
This is the first in a series of new GRE book reviews.