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ETS’s Old GRE Material: Practicing to Take the General Test 10th Edition (Big Book) Book Review

I’ve been hearing a very popular question from the community aimed at old ETS materials, namely the Big Book/10th Edition GRE guide: Can I use them to prep? Given the review I posted yesterday—that praises, without reservation, ETS’s content for the new GRE, this question makes sense. After all, the new GRE is not vastly different from the old one.

Before answering this question, it is important to note the difference between the Big Book and GRE Practicing to Take the General Test 10th Edition. The former is out of print, and only available used for hundreds of dollars. Yes, it sounds all very black market. The latter book is available on Amazon for only $11.95. It contains five of the tests found in the Big Book, which contains a whopping twenty-seven tests.

The short answer to this question is yes. But, the longer answer is that you do not want to make the Big Book the foundation of your prep (that should be The Official Guide for the Revised GRE).  However, for an abundant resource of reading passages and sentence completions, The Big Book can be helpful. For one, you’ll have passages written in the same ETS vein. The answer choices are written so as to be very misleading—which will definitely help prep you for the actual New GRE.

However, my endorsement of these books is not without a few caveats. As far as the passages are concerned, they won’t completely prepare you for everything you will see on test day. Some of the passages on the new GRE are written in a more straightforward, non-academic language, similar to what you’d usually find in The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, etc.  Also, the flavor of some of the questions has changed – after all, both the Big Book and 10th Edition are based on content that is twenty years old.

As for Sentence Completions, the Big Book will be helpful, up until a point. The current Text Completions are far more varied, and not only in terms of the number of blanks (one to three), but also in the way that they are written. Some are fiendishly convoluted and wordy, others deceptively straightforward. The sentence completions from the Big Book, while still difficult, mostly lack this syntactical and stylistic variety.

But, they still make for great practice. Just as importantly, the vocabulary words you’ll find in the sentences and answer choices are words you’ll have to know for the test. This mostly holds true for the antonym section. So, while the antonyms are no longer part of the new test, they are still a great way for you to learn and strengthen your vocabulary.

As for the analogies, don’t worry about them. Some of the vocabulary will only come up on analogies, e.g. a pylon, and the logic employed isn’t really analogous—pardon the pun—to the content on the new GRE.

For the quantitative section, the Big Book will not be as helpful. Over the years, the math has become much more difficult. On the other hand, if you are struggling with math, and are only looking to break 500, the Big Book or The Official Guide will provide helpful practice. Even then, the range of question types on math is limited compared to what you’ll encounter on the new GRE.

Finally, the strategies and exercises at the beginning of the book, and the explanations the 10th edition provides for one of the tests, are without exception awful. I’ve had students literally throw the book against the wall when trying to wade through the morass of inscrutability that are the explanations.

That said, is it worth paying upwards of $150 for a copy, only to use it on certain parts of the test? Unless you are really starved for content, I would say no. It is much better to pick up the slimmer—but so much cheaper—11th Edition guide (it’s only 21.00). Again, this guide will only be extra prep, and should not be the foundation of your studies.

Content: C+

Strategies/Explanations: D-

This is the seventh (and last!) installment in a series of new GRE book reviews.

By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

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