Burn all your other prep books! Well, I could confidently say this were money not an issue. The Manhattan Test Prep GRE series is so good, the rest of the books out there are basically a joke. That is not to say Manhattan GRE is perfect, though it comes close in the math portion.
Of course, money is an issue. Unlike Barron’s, Kaplan, and Princeton Review, Manhattan GRE is not a single book but a set of eight books, consisting of 1,500 pages. This arboreal decimation explains the price.
So perhaps it isn’t completely fair to compare the Manhattan GRE series to the rest. However, if you are serious about your score, and do not flinch at the price tag, then don’t waste your time with the other books.
The Layout of Manhattan Test Prep Books
Each book is based on certain concept areas you’ll find on the GRE. For instance, a complete book is dedicated to algebra. Another covers quantitative comparison and data interpretation. Within each book, concepts are broken up into chapters. Before moving on to a new concept/chapter, you can test your newfound skills with plenty of relevant practice questions. Other prep companies treat most concepts superficially and provide few pertinent practice problems.
Because Manhattan GRE is spread across a series of books, each book does not feel cluttered. While this may sound trivial, having to stare at an unruly forest of facts and figures can quickly drive one batty.
Finally, the end of each book has easy, medium, and difficult practice sets, consisting of the different revised GRE question types. By the time you get to the end of each book, you will have been exposed to the range of concepts tested on the Revised GRE, and been given ample opportunity to practice.
The Manhattan GRE Approach
With these books you will actually learn. Manhattan GRE does not resort to cheesy gimmicks or “tricks.” You will have a solid grasp of the fundamentals. The books also do not lull you into a false sense of complacency by dumbing down the test.
The Manhattan GRE Voice
The voice used throughout the series is direct and engaging. Explanations are also clear and will probably not leave you scratching your head, the way you might after reading other prep books. Basically, you feel like you are working with a smart, patient tutor.
Comprehensiveness of the GRE Prep Books
While I’ve already mentioned this a few times, I want to point out that Barron’s, Kaplan, and Princeton Review do not cover every concept and only cursorily cover many important concepts. The Manhattan GRE series covers almost anything you will see quant-wise on the test (I noticed that parabolas – an uncommon question type seen only on harder questions – were absent).
They also offer a code at the back of each book so that you can go online to take 6 new practice tests, complete with explanations! The material online is slightly more accurate than in the book, especially when it comes to text completions and sentence equivalence (I discuss this further below). I’m assuming this is because the material online was probably easier to update as they learned more about the new GRE.
Taking price into account, you may want to just pick one or two of their books to purchase– particularly question/concept types you want some extra practice on– since you only need one book to get access to their online practice tests.
The Not-So-Good Parts
The Math section, which comprised of six of the eight books, is excellent. Every concept is covered and practice problems abound. However if you are looking for a high quant score, you may already know much of what is covered in these books. You will definitely want a greater number of difficult questions.
The flaws in the verbal section, namely the text completions/sentence equivalence, are more salient. Most text completions rely on obscure words (the way the old GRE did) rather than twisted sentence structure. The Revised GRE has intentionally done away with this approach, focusing instead on a student’s ability to grasp the big picture. Manhattan GRE’s focus on tough vocab, however, may unnecessarily intimidate students and, paradoxically, leave them unprepared for the actual exam.
Manhattan GRE Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence, 4th Edition
Here’s a more in-depth review of Manhattan GRE Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence (a book that I’ve long groused about).
Some words are far too obscure to show up on the current GRE, and many of the practice sentences are far too difficult to help those just starting out. In this recent edition MGRE has edited some sentences and removed a few difficult words (yay, no more myrmidons!). I commend them, given that every other GRE test prep book will remain unchanged — typos and all — until the polar ice caps completely melt, or the GRE changes.
Yet, in this edition MGRE does not go as far as they should. There still are obscure words — lucubrate (which is sprinkled throughout the book) and obtundity come to mind. Also tough vocabulary (though not necessarily obscure words) seems to attend every question as though the only thing the GRE tests is difficult vocabulary and not one’s ability to pick up on the general context of a sentence or paragraph, and pick amongst relatively easy words.
Most significantly, MGRE doesn’t replace questions with improved ones–questions that better reflect ETS Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence. Instead, MGRE gives us the same questions, albeit with more GRE-like language and less debatable distractors. (I spotted only one question that had been completely changed). Finally, the difficulty level of the questions and the problem sets is still far too difficult for even those at an intermediate level. The helpful strategies MGRE tries to instill would have been much better served by questions that are toned down in language and tough vocab. Likewise, an easy and medium problem set with questions that are actually easy and medium– so students can build up their skills — would have greatly improved this book.
That said, the sentences in this book will be good practice for those who are already high verbal scorers and want to improve their vocabulary, while tackling tough sentences. And for any who want to get a better feel of some of the academic language on the test, they could do far worse than trying to wrap their heads around the twisted syntax and orotund style found in many of the practice questions.
I should mention that there are some excellent questions in the mix, ones which are reflective of the GRE and will prepare you for the nuance found on the actual test. But there are also many so-so questions, a few of which are plagued by a surfeit of overly difficult words, instead of relatively familiar words in which the test-taker must pick up on a subtle distinction in meaning.
So if you are looking for a step-by-step process to become more adept at Text Completions and Sentence Completions with questions (and answer choices!) that are indicative of the real test, MGRE is not the best place to go. If you are already strong at verbal and want some extra practice–and won’t freak out over some of ridiculously difficult words–than you’ll get some mileage out of the MGRE book.
Magoosh GRE vs. Manhattan GRE (Magoosh GRE + Manhattan GRE?)
Basically, we recommend Manhattan GRE to those of you who enjoy studying from books and are looking for a good score. For those looking for a more personalized experience or top percentile scores, we recommend Magoosh GRE, which offers everything from the basics to highly advanced practice (the latter is missing from the Manhattan series.) Magoosh is also a great way to establish a solid foundation of skills for the GRE, and it also offers support for any questions you may have.
Magoosh is also better for video learners, i.e. those who want to hear and see something explained. For example, here’s a video lesson from Magoosh on special right triangles. We have similar videos for every practice question as well. Additionally, the Magoosh team responds to the questions you send to us quickly (definitely not available from any prep book!) to complete the “tutor experience”.
Lastly, Magoosh is better for those who enjoy studying on their mobile devices since you are able to answer questions and watch videos from any internet-connected device.
If price is not an issue and you’re a “book learner,” the Manhattan GRE series is the best prep book on the market. Taking price into account, you may opt for another means of prepping.
This is the eighth in a series of new GRE book reviews.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.