After numerous release date push backs, much to the (i) —- of serious GRE preppers everywhere, the Official GRE Practice Question guides* are now available. For those looking to become (ii) —- the latest questions ETS has been cooking up—assuming that these questions are just that—the hundreds of practice problems should sharpen their skills given the (iii) —- with which ETS has so lovingly crafted them.
(i) (ii) (iii)
(A) delight (D) unplugged from (G) sincerity
(B) edification (E) heavily indebted to (H) artifice
(C) chagrin (F) savvy to (I) specificity
Answers: (C), (F), (H)
Should you get this guide?
This is the question most are clamoring to ask. The short answer: definitely.
The reasons behind getting this guide are important. But first off: Do not buy this guide if you are looking for excellent strategies and explanations to questions. You’ll get ho-hum strategies that are taken, word-for-word and page-by-page, from the Official Guide to the GRE. Like that book, the value lies in the questions. Nothing can better prepare you than these questions—and that even includes the questions in the Official Guide. See, the questions in this newest guide best reflect what you’ll see test day.
The Text Completions have become less about vocabulary and more about teasing about context. And the wrong answers seem even more cunningly devised to lull you should your eyes wonder to the answer choices before thinking the question through.
The reading passages are longer than anything that ETS has yet to release. That is an indication that they are being a little more forthright on the content they’ve decided to share with the public, since students routinely see passages over 450 words on the actual tests (This is the first and only ETS guide that has such long passages).. And assumption questions that, up until now, were missing from the ETS practice questions are in this book—something that is also consistent with student reports.
Personally, I would have liked even more difficult questions, or at least more difficult questions than the few given in this book. The questions in the three practice sets don’t seem quite as difficult as the questions labeled “hard” at the beginning of the book. That said I learned something illuminating about the easy questions, especially in the Text Completion sections (see the section below). But still, for the most part, this book will definitely prepare those who are looking to score in the sub-160 range. My hunch is that the GRE is saving its nastiest stuff for the actual test.
The more nitty-gritty
Above was an overview. For those interested in a more nuanced breakdown, here are my thoughts:
Text Completions have become more about context and less about vocabulary. That especially goes for words in the sentence. Look at the questions below:
The sight of a single actor portraying several characters in the same scene is no longer a shock to the average moviegoer, such special-effects trickery having become so _________.
Kagan maintains that an infant’s reaction to its first stressful experiences are part of a natural process of development, not harbingers of childhood unhappiness or _______ signs of adolescent anxiety.
I would say the answers in the second question are slightly more difficult. But it’s really the sentence in which the difference lies. The clue is “harbingers”. If you know that word means “a person or thing that announces another” the question is relatively straightforward. The clue in the first sentence has more words and these words, in the scheme of things, don’t stand out too much. Granted, I don’t have the exact percentage of students who answered each question, but both are the second question in the “Easy” practice set.
What makes the first question more difficult is you have to fish for the clue. It’s subtly embedded in simple words. This theme seems recapitulated through the questions: less dry, academic prose and more flowing prose, without as many big words in the answer choices.
Of course that sounds pretty vague, so to give my observations some quantitative heft, I’ve used a nifty little tool call a “Lexical Analyzer”, which shows you how dense/difficult a given text is. The primary measure I use is the Fog Index, which shows how difficult a text is to read. The higher each one is the more difficult the text.
The first sentence: 22.72 Fog Index
The second sentence: 18.91 Fog Index
Now let’s take a sentence from the hard section. You’re probably expecting some highly dense, academic prose closed off to all but the most literary inclined. Behold this morsel then:
When she first came to France from Bulgaria, she was hardly the ______ student she later made herself out to be, since she had access to considerable family wealth.
Fog Index: 15.91.
That’s much lower. How, then, is this question in the “hard” section. One answer of course is the vocabulary. The other, though, is subtler. What about answer (A)? It works. Kind of. I mean, she actually is this really rich person and not some naïve person. The problem is just because you come from a wealthy family doesn’t mean you are the opposite of naïve. You could very well be naïve. The contrast the GRE is looking for has to be more direct and explicit. And what better way to hide that with a difficult word? Impecunious, which means having no money, you might very well have picked had you known what it means.
So that’s what makes it hard. Not just tough vocabulary, but answer choices that kind of work.
The point that I’m driving at is that the test seems to be changing in terms of Text Completions. Vocabulary, while still important at the higher-levels, doesn’t seem to be as important at the lower levels. And how difficult the sentence is to understand doesn’t determine whether it is an ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ question. In other words, if you are not that strong at verbal—and may very well end up with the “easy” verbal section test day—cramming vocabulary words at the expense of improving your reading skills may be foolhardy. So don’t throw the flashcards out yet, but don’t focus on the advanced words, and, most importantly, start reading The New York Times and The New Yorker (aldaily.com is a good trove of light academic reading—if there is such a thing).
Sentence Equivalence and Reading Comprehension
Don’t worry—I haven’t forgotten Sentence Equivalence and Reading Comprehension. It seems, however, that those two sections haven’t changed as much, with a few exceptions. With Reading Comprehension the answer is pretty indisputable once you hunt through the text. The text though, at least as far as the density of ideas goes, seems a little a more challenging (sadly, there is no nifty calculator for idea density and the nuance in these ideas). If you don’t carefully parse out these ideas, the wrong answers, as always, are very good at tripping you up. Yet, I don’t think the wrong answers were quite as sneaky as in previously published GRE material. Meaning that understanding the text and thinking about the answer to the question before looking at the answers should likely lead you to the correct answer. Again, since the ideas in the text are subtler, doing so will be no easy feat.
Sentence Equivalence seems about the same level, and perhaps a little easier, than Sentence Equivalence questions from the Official Guide. One thing I did notice more of, and what might actually make the SE more difficult, are answer choices that work perfectly but don’t actually have a matching word, i.e. a word amongst the other answer choices that creates a synonymous sentence. What are not nearly as common are questions with two pairs of synonyms, only one of which works, of course. What I’m wondering, with the Reading Comprehension and Sentence Equivalence, is did the GRE place a red herring, something that leads us astray from the ineluctable fact that the test is going to be more difficult, at least as far as Sentence Equivalence goes? Perhaps, but only for those students who will get the most difficult section (the 160+ scorers).
For the rest of us, this guide is going to have all we need in terms of difficulty. The 150 questions might be the single best way to prep for exam day. Yet, since we don’t really know how indicative these questions are of what is actually on the test—though I think the overlap is significant—you’ll still want to prep using all available ETS material.