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Barron’s 1100 Book Review

If you’ve been a fan of this blog—or if you’ve been simply following the recommendations—you’ve heard me mention an excellent source for vocabulary: Barron’s 1100 Words You Need to Know.

So it may come as a surprise that I’m reviewing the book only now. The truth is I am definitely remiss in never doing a complete review. Of course, I could have just decided not to do one, but given I keep recommending the book I should have a pretty solid reason for doing so. This review provides the justification.

 

The Barron’s 1100 method

One of the worst ways to study vocabulary is by reading a list with vague definitions. Some students balk when I tell them this, saying that they have learned words this way. But often this “learning” is little more than the ability to cough up a definition.

Barron’s 1100 is a corrective to a straightforward list. First off, when you first see a word, you don’t immediately get to see the definition. What you do see is a  paragraph that incorporates the daily words. In short, you have to infer the meaning of the words based on the way the words are used in the context of the paragraph.

Of course, Barron’s wouldn’t leave you hanging. For the five words that comprise each daily lesson, there is a matching exercise. Here, you will be able to match the word with the correct definition (after reading the paragraph you should have a pretty good idea which definition to match with which word). The reason Barron’s doesn’t just provide the definitions next to the words is we would all be tempted just to read the definition, instead of trying to figure out the words ourselves. And that’s is the important the part that helps the words stick a lot better. Otherwise, you might as well just be reading a word list.

End of the week quizzes and a fill-in-the-sentence exercises help reinforce words. Barron’s 1100 also functions as a pre-web wordnik.com, which provides dozens of example sentences for any words. Barron’s 1100 has example sentences culled from diverse sources, such famous novels, respected newspapers/magazines, and Shakespeare. (I also recommend going to nytimes.com and entering your word in the search box. Trust me—any word in the Barron’s book will, in all likelihood, have several example sentences from 2013 alone).

 

Not perfect but close

While the process outlined above is great for letting words sink in, one shortcoming in Barron’s 1100 book is certain words are vaguely defined. Meaning, you won’t be able to really get a sense of how a word functions in a sentence based on the definition. Even the paragraph and the example sentences at the back aren’t enough to help you really get a comfortable grip on the word.

In such instances, I recommend supplementing Barron’s 1100 with wordnik.com. Not only will you get more example sentences—lots more—but you’ll also get more definitions for any word (wordnik.com collects definitions from a few respected dictionaries). I also recommend going to nytimes.com and entering your word in the search box. Any word in the Barron’s book will, in all likelihood, have several example sentences from 2013 alone.

The good news is you should be able to understand a majority of words based on using only Barron’s.

I also recommend that you do not laborious plod through each week, without ever reviewing prior weeks. Develop some system in which you are constantly returning to previous weeks words.

Finally, Barron’s—for whatever reason—provides an idiomatic expression at the bottom of each page, e.g., “to heat humble pie.” Ignore the idioms—they will in no way help you on the GRE.

 

Takeaway

The Barron’s 1100 book is an excellent vocabulary tool for self-study. Because it makes you work for the definition, Barron’s 1100 is much more effective than any ordinary vocabulary list. When you’re done learning them, you can always try to incorporate them into your vocabulary games.

 

Grade: A-

 

About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

14 Responses to Barron’s 1100 Book Review

  1. Kunal September 28, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for all the book reviews and preparation information, my GRE preparation is mostly based on your review and tips.

    Was just wondering hows the Barron’s Essential Words for the GRE 3rd ed. is compared to the 1100 words you need to know book. Which one should I go for in between these 2?

    Couldnt find any comment about the essential words book on the website.

    Thanks a lot!
    Kunal

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 2, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

      Hi Kunal,

      Glad you have felt the tips useful. Personally, I prefer the 1100 Words You Need to Know, since it offers more dynamic exercises for the self-studier. Ultimately, it’s up to you. If you feel the Essential Words fits your study style better then go for that.

      Hope that helps :)

  2. Ravi September 16, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    Would you recommend this book or Barron’s 3500 word list?

    I happened to come across Barron’s 3500 word list, which in addition to high frequency words also contained some commonly use words and I thought this would serve as a good memory refresher.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 17, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      Hi Ravi,

      I would definitely definitely recommend this book over Barron’s 3500 word list. That word list is no good for the current GRE. It is just one vague definition after another, in alphabetical order. It does not discriminate between important words (except for a few).

      Hope that helps!

  3. Subhasis June 30, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I can not lay my hands on the 5th edition of this book, but have been able to collect the 4th edition. Could you please let me know if there has been significant changes between these two editions and whether it would not be wise to use the 4th edition?

    I went through the 4th edition and found it to exactly comply to the book structure that you described – each day of each week having 5 words and to use them to fill sentence gaps, then trying to match them to meaning, finally writer telling us the meaning etc.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

      Hi Subhasis,

      Typically, the two editions vary little–if at all–from year to year. They may catch a typo, but otherwise the books are virtually identical. So, go ahead, and use the 4th edition :).

  4. Sarika June 15, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    Hey Chris!
    It goes unsaid that you guys are doing an awesum job:)
    There are so many posts here,i think the last time i posted my comment was lost.I need major help!plz!my exam is on july 18th 2013.and i can dedicate the entire time on studying.I am equally bad in math and verbal,i mean am quiet ok with verbal but my vocab seems terribly bad.I happened to read many posts and im quiet unsure which book is right for me.Ive been using magoosh lessons and am almost done with the questions as well(allthough not entirey)
    Please tell me which all books to use considering my time constraint(have just a month)
    right now am using:
    *Magoosh
    *ETS.
    which one to buy for vocab?Nova,Kaplan,barrons1100?or just magoosh free book?
    Also im quiet unsure where exactly i can find the answer to my question here to you Chris:(:(
    Need major help on these.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 18, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      Hi Sarika!

      Sorry your prior comments seem to have gotten lost :(.

      I’ll definitely do my best to answer your questions :).

      For more material, now that you’ve mostly finished Magoosh, I’d recommend Barron’s 1100 Word You Need to Know. This is for vocabulary–an area in which you can grow. I’d also recommend exploring this blog, as there are many practice questions and tips.

      If you still need more practice, use the Manhattan GRE series. You only need to buy one book to get access to all of the 6 practice tests, which can be helpful.

      Finally, I encourage you to read a lot more, and not just learn vocab. I elaborate on a lot of this in the Magoosh vocab ebook:

      http://magoosh.com/gre/2012/gre-vocabulary-ebook/

      Good luck :)

  5. Evelyn May 17, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Hey Chris, which edition are you referring to?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

      Hi Evelyn,

      I’m referring to the 5th edition, the one with the glossy, red cover.

      Hope that helps!

      • Padmini September 1, 2013 at 8:54 am #

        Hi Chris, I think Barron has come up with 6th edition for their Barron’s 1100 word you need to know… This book has a blue cover… Which one should I look out for- the 5th one in red or the 6th edition in blue.

        Thanks,
        Padmini

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele September 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

          Hi Padmini,

          I haven’t actually seen the 6th edition (the blue one). Usually, they make very few changes between editions.The book has actually been out for 45 years, and I don’t think it really changes much. Thus, either edition should be fine :).

  6. Jones April 16, 2013 at 12:39 am #

    Hey Chris, I don’t know how relevant my post will be with this post, though I think you can help me out my problems regarding verbal section. I am scoring 160 on average in verbal section, whereas my target score is 165 or more.The thing is that when I use timer , I feel nervous and lose concentration worrying about time and make hasty decision which makes me suffer in the last. But when I don’t use timer, I am doing great.What do you suggest for me to sort out this problem?
    Thank you
    Jones

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 16, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

      Hi Jones,

      Well, that is a tough one! I would say that you have to keep training with the clock hovering over your head. No matter how awesome you are without a timer–even if you nail consistent 170–it’s all for naught if your score with the timer is significantly lower.

      The obvious way to become better with timer is practice. More specifically, you should learn to catch yourself when you start noticing the timer and your pulse quickens. Learn to reign in your emotions and your visceral reactions. I recommend taking a few deep breathes from your stomach. Of course your visceral self will tell you that you are wasting your time and that you need to hurry. But that is the exact voice that you have to ignore if you want to regain control and focus.

      Hope that helps!


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