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McGraw-Hill’s New GRE: 2011-2012 Edition Book Review


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

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.

Text Completions

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.

Grade: D-

This is the first in a series of new GRE book reviews.  

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.

16 Responses to McGraw-Hill’s New GRE: 2011-2012 Edition Book Review

  1. Rahul Singh April 9, 2014 at 12:52 am #

    I just gave a mock exam on I have to agree with Chris in terms of his initial assessment of the “lame” RCs and other questions. I have been giving mock exams from Kaplan and scoring 316/340. When I have the McGraw-Hill’s mock test, I felt: it can’t be that easy! I am trying to break into the ‘330 league’ and the McGraw-Hill mock tests were a disappointing option in doing so!

  2. Adi July 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm #


    Wanted to know if the harsh critique applies also to their “6 GRE Practice Tests” (2011). I got it from a friend and was wondering if it’s worth my while.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Adi,

      I have never actually seen the book, but I have yet to see any mention on it on the forums or from other students (which, for a big publisher like McGraw Hill, is usually a bad thing). According to Amazon reviewers the questions are much easier than GRE questions (which sounds like the general guide). Based on this, I’d be wary of using it.

      Hope that helps :).

  3. Sarthak June 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm #


    I’m an undergrad who’ll take the GRE in November 2012.

    It’s nice to see all this unbiased third-party advice and judgement on the various GRE preparation books that are available in the market. Really helps students to know which book is right for them.

    But I couldn’t help wondering: don’t you guys fall into any legal troubles by giving such reviews online, for everyone to see? Especially if you give a really bad grade to some product? (For example this one… I guess McGraw Hill would really hate being given a D- grade.) Don’t the publishers try to sue you for hurting their image? Or is it that they don’t know anything about this yet?

    Was just wondering…

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 19, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

      Actually, I don’t think. Essentially, anyone can come up with a blog and start maligning anyone under the sun. Of course at some point that can constitute slander, but…I think a D- is warranted. Indeed the publisher can take me to task on my specific grievances, but I don’t think there is any charge of slander. Also, in the book-market we are unbiased. We are not trying to hawk our book (we don’t have any :)). We are just recommending the best books to our GRE community, much the same way I would recommend books to the students I tutor.

      Hope that makes sense :).

  4. Raihan Syed February 10, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    Hello Chris,

    First of all, I would like to thank you for your valuable suggestions & tips for GRE takers like me. I would like to know your opinion regarding the “Gruber’s Complete GRE guide 2012” and “Nova’s GRE math prep course”.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris February 10, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      Hi, Raihan

      Great question! I just finished recording a video on Gruber that we will be posting very soon. In short, Gruber is subpar.

      The Nova review is coming soon, but in general Nova’s math – for both GMAT and GRE – is strong.

      Hope that helps!

      • Raihan Syed February 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

        Thank you very much Chris 🙂 … So can I conclude Nova’s math to be a good supplement as a workbook for ‘Barrons’ and ETS GRE guide books?

  5. Megan January 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    I bought this book a few days ago, read this review, and then exchanged it the next day for the ETS New GRE book.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris January 18, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

      Good move! Remember though that the ETS book is great for questions. If you are looking for effective strategies (though the questions are mediocre), I’d recommend Barron’s or Princeton Review.

  6. Harikrishna December 14, 2011 at 3:57 am #

    I want to know which book is best or which books are best t prepare for the new gre . Kindly let me know

  7. Huan-Lin Chang August 24, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    I regret buying McGraw’s book…

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 24, 2011 at 11:03 am #

      I have more book reviews coming out this week…stay tuned!

      And don’t despair – they are all better than McGraw-Hill, so
      you can order some other books (and or sign up at Magoosh
      for content that is much better than that found in McGraw-Hill).

  8. Arif August 23, 2011 at 10:35 am #

    Thanks Chris !!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 24, 2011 at 11:01 am #

      You’re welcome!

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