So…this is very interesting. Did the GRE math just get much harder? According to ETS’s Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions, that seems to be the case.
Maybe old age?
After going through the Quantitative Comparison questions in this guide, the ones that are arranged in the Mixed Practice sets, my brain was pretty taxed. Even the medium range questions seemed subtler than what I remembered the difficult questions, those in previous ETS materials, being. Was I becoming old, my synapses slowing down as I enter middle age? Possibly. Yet, just to assess the extent of my neural decrepitude, I went back to the online practice tests, the ones that have been available for the last few years. Even with a fatigued brain, it was surprising how much more straightforward these questions were. Dare I say: easy.
A couple of theories
So what’s up? Well, a few things. First off, I don’t know if the mixed sets accurately parallel the way questions would unfold in the actual taking of the GRE. Would #5 in the Quantitative Comparison actually show up as a #5, which is presumably in the medium range? Then there were the problem sets at the beginning of the book, each one covering some mathematical topic. They didn’t seem staggered the same way in terms of difficulty. Doing five relatively tough questions in a row feels a lot different from doing only the couple waiting at the end of an actual GRE section.
If the questions aren’t accurately portraying the test—even the hard section—are they meant to frighten students? Not really, since there is always a good reason for any schadenfreude on ETS’s part. One explanation is the GRE wants to flex its muscles against the GMAT: Who dare says that the GMAT is tougher than I! (Actually I’ve said this on numerous occasions). If business schools get the drift that the quant section has become more rigorous, then perhaps the rumor going around—b-schools, despite accepting the GRE, still value the GMAT more—might be squelched.
Another explanation is that test prep is working: more people are taking high quality test prep and becoming more proficient at math. Suddenly a 150 is the old one 160.
Or, perhaps, whoever is taking the test has just gotten a whole lot smarter thus making an average score that much harder to attain (hmm…could it be all those students applying to b-school?)
At least this factoid should be reassuring: many of the student testimonials on the Magoosh homepage say that the Magoosh questions were actually harder (though a few do say that the real test is harder). My conclusion: The test hasn’t suddenly got harder; this book has chosen some of the tougher questions.
What About the Review?
I know, this is supposed to be a book review, extolling the merits—and the flaws—of the reviewed work. But when that book in question happens to be an ETS books, it’s really about the questions. And when the questions have gotten a whole lot harder, that’s the real news.
Yet perhaps there is some other news as well. Unlike, the book of Verbal Reasoning practice questions, the math guide doesn’t just cut and paste from the Official Guide. There is an entirely new section and helpful strategies. These strategies seem much more useful than those in prior ETS guides. This book also references the specific strategies when going through questions, so you can refer back to them.
The explanations still leave something to be desired. For instance, the most straightforward approach is often not given. Instead, you’ll find yourself spending lots of time deciphering the explanation itself, often without really understand the question that much better.
Whatever your take on the increased level of difficult may be, this book is still indispensable to your prep. Remember: any questions released by ETS are the best prep, since they are engineered in a way that few—if any—test publishers can truly match. So go through every question (and try not to become discouraged), and remember to still do old ETS practice tests and questions. And by old, I mean those from the 2nd edition of the Official GRE practice guide. Indeed, you’ll probably want to start with that book first, using the Quantitative Reasoning practice questions to prep with once you’ve built up your skills.
Interested in learning about this book’s partner? Read my review of ETS’s new Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions book.