One of the single best sources for GRE prep is The Official Guide to the GRE. Published by the writers of the GRE themselves, ETS, which stands for Educational Testing Service, the book is 400+ pages of practice questions, very similar to the ones you’ll see test day.
Of course slogging through 400+ pages is definitely not a good idea. Below are a few practical pointers to help you get the most out of this invaluable resource.
Start at the beginning
This sounds very obvious; however, many people may be tempted to dive straight into a set of questions, or, even more pluckily, the full-length test at the back of the book. However, there are many helpful tips as well as information concerning the GRE you may not know about. So start from the beginning – you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do practice questions.
Do the easy and medium practice sets (skip the hard one)
Near the beginning of the book, there are three practice sets for the verbal section and three practice sets for the math sections. For each section, there is an easy, medium, and difficult practice section. Do only the easy and medium sets, leaving the hard set for a point further down the road (remember there are only so many questions written by ETS – don’t burn through them at the very beginning).
Do not try to understand everything in the math review
The math review in the middle of the book takes up almost 100 pages. Do not try to understand every single concept here – at least at first. What ETS doesn’t tell you is the likelihood that any given concept will show up. Frustrated by the parabola or the absolute value graph (especially with the intersecting line bit)? Don’t worry. You most likely won’t even see an absolute value problem, let alone an absolute value graph. And parabolas? Well, they are like the Loch Ness monster of the GRE. They are only rumored to exist on the actual test.
On the other hand, you will want to pay careful attention to the statistics portion. Any number of these concepts will show up test day.
Finally, make sure to refer back to the math review if there are concepts that you don’t quite understand while going through the easy and medium problem sets.
The Official Guide is great for questions, but only marginally useful for tips and strategies
ETS does not go out of its way to come up with the most effective ways for solving problems, making sure to drop other helpful hints along the way. That’s what Magoosh is for! Oftentimes the math review is tedious and doesn’t, paradoxically, capture the essence of the test questions (which are a whole lot trickier than a simple review of fundamentals would have you believe).
Use the test wisely
ETS only provides two tests—the paper-based one at the end of the book, and the PowerPrep software.
You want to spread these tests out if you can. Of course do not take the test at the back of the book right before you take the exam. There are many valuable lessons you can learn from your performance on this test.
Pay attention to the vocabulary
Don’t worry – I haven’t forgotten the verbal section. In terms of vocabulary many of the words used here are ETS pet favorites. That is not to say that many will show up on the test, but you will at least get an idea as to the level of these words.
Also, pay attention to the vocabulary and the way it is used in sentences. Notice the writing style used by ETS. It is much more sophisticated than that used by the folks over at Kaplan, who in all likelihood employed some brain high schoolers to cough up Text Completions. Anyhow, going into the test you should know every vocabulary word used in this book.
The Official Guide is an excellent resource for test questions. Use these questions wisely. Also, do not get bogged down by all the particulars in this book.
Finally, the Official Guide is not the only source you’ll need to do well on the GRE. Far from it. As much as possible, supplement your studies with the invaluable resources contained in our GRE study plans.