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Barron’s GRE 20th Edition Book Review

That one of the most noticeable changes from Barron’s 19th editions to the 20th editions is that the phrase “New GRE” on the cover has been replaced with “GRE” does not bode well for those hoping that the 20th edition would be an upgrade over the 19th edition. The sections and the questions are identical; the spare explanations are equally spare. So why then even buy this book, if you have the 19th edition? Well, there is one added feature to the book itself: A 3000-word vocabulary list.

Before you run out and start gobbling up the words, let me share a few thoughts. First off—and if you’ve been reading this blog you’ve heard me say this many times—word lists are the single worst way to go about learning vocabulary, especially long tedious word lists in alphabetical order. And at a whopping 3000 words, Barron’s list, starting with abase and going to zenith, is definitely long.

Back during the old GRE, learning 3,000 words made some sense—the old GRE was more vocab-centric. But for the current GRE learning this many words might not only be overkill but you might cause you to burn out somewhere around jaded, which is under Word List 28 (out of a total of 50). In which case, you will miss many of the high-frequency and relatively high-frequency words from the rest of the alphabet. Sure, you may very well complete the entire list, but in doing so you are not being as targeted and time efficient as you could be.

Of course that’s all assuming that you do the very time-consuming thing of taking those 3,000 words and turning them into flashcards. See, if you simply read a list, hoping that the words will stick, you are likely to be left crestfallen. What will most likely happen is you will remember words for a only a short while. By the time you’ve gotten to jaded, abate will have long abated, not to mention words as recent in the alphabet as fulminate.

So use flashcards as the fundamental approach to learning vocabulary. There are other effective techniques to build off of flashcards—techniques I talk about elsewhere on the blog. Nowhere, though, do I mention the static list. That is not say Barron’s list is completely useless. If you already have a very strong vocabulary, let’s say you recognize about 85% of the words on the list, then skimming through the Barron’s list and picking out some words you don’t know can be helpful—as long as you turn them into flashcards. Finally, Barron’s has marked off 320 words as essential. It even recommends that you turn these into flashcards. I do too. As long as you don’t get bogged down in the quagmire of words that is the Barron’s GRE 3000-word list.

If you were wondering about the rest of the book, it is exactly the same as the 19th edition. For the review of that book, read here: Barron’s New GRE 19th Edition Book Review

Grade: C+

(only because it is the exact same book as the 19th edition, a book released before the new GRE had even debuted)


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2 Responses to Barron’s GRE 20th Edition Book Review

  1. Barrons February 4, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    I highly disagree with this “biased” review. The author should exercise restraint in writing such biased reviews, esp. because he writes for a respected website, read by millions of students worldwide.

    GRE = good vocabulary + math. This has not changed even with the new format. It is true that the synonyms, analogies and antonyms are removed. Yet, the RC and sentence correction still tests your vocabulary. All the students can reap advantage from thoroughly reading the wordlists. GRE is an important exam and everybody has to do the time to achieve extra marks.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele February 4, 2014 at 3:16 pm #


      I appreciate your candor. I’ll start off by saying that I’m clearly biased–indeed it is difficult not to be. But I don’t think my bias stems from a unswerving need to tout our product above all the others. Quite the contrary. I want students to do as well as possible–even if that means improving/removing our questions. Sadly, there is a lot of material or methods that may be harmful to students. Like many reviewers who try to edify their audiences, whether they are movie critics or an Amazon review for a vacuum cleaner, I want to lead my audience in the right direction (often that is in the direction of a competitor such as Manhattan GRE, which offers excellent flashcards). Like many critics, my opinions may sometimes seem rather pointed. But that is only because I hope to disabuse students of certain less-than-ideal approaches to the test.

      In the case of vocabulary, I want students to become adept at recognizing how words function in context. See, I am definitely a proponent of vocabulary and understand its importance in the GRE verbal section. However, word lists that offer a mere definition do not adequately prepare students for the rigors of the GRE Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. You mention that students have “to do the time”. I completely agree with you–learning words in context takes more time than learning a list. That is not to say learning a list is easy or won’t help. It will help and it will require effort–it just won’t make students as successful as they could be test day.

      Finally, I’m amenable to talking more about word lists and their potential efficacy (which, again, I concede they have to some extent). I’d even be open to moderating some of my comments if they turn out to be inaccurate pedagogically. My goal is to make sure students are using the best resources and methods available.

      -Chris Lele

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