Barron’s GRE 21st Edition Book Review

Oh Barron’s GRE 21st Edition… when it comes to finding updates in your GRE books, we find you quite barren (No? It almost works, okay. I’ll stop now.) That one of the most noticeable changes from Barron’s 19th edition to the 20th edition was that the phrase “New GRE” on the cover was replaced with “GRE” did not bode well for those hoping that the 20th edition would be an upgrade over the 19th edition. Less has changed between the 20th and 21st editions.

The sections and the questions are identical; the spare explanations are equally spare. If you have the 19th edition, then buy this book for the 3000-word vocabulary list. But if you have the 20th edition, don’t bother spending more money. You’ll basically get a new font and format.

barron gre, barron's gre book review, barron's gre 21st edition

(It’s like a “Spot the Difference” game)

Barron’s GRE Book

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 era of the old GRE, learning 3,000 words made some sense — the old GRE was more vocabulary-centric. But when it comes to the current version of the 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 Magoosh flashcards as the fundamental approach to learning vocabulary. Use the app and study on your phone instead of wasting time making flashcards for rare words. There are other effective techniques to build off of flashcards techniques, which 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 20th edition, which is basically the same as the 19th. For the review of that book, read here: Barron’s New GRE 19th Edition Book Review

Barron’s GRE 21st Edition Grade

Grade: C+

This book is basically the same as the 19th edition, which was released before the “new” GRE had even debuted. The good news is that the 21st edition is currently selling for about $11 (US) on Amazon, so it certainly won’t break the bank. But there are better options on the market.

Better GRE Prep Books

Speaking of which … don’t settle for sub-par materials! Each year, we update our post of the best GRE books, which includes our top choices of prep materials on the market. Here’s a brief list of the top 6 books that we recommend:

  1. Magoosh: FREE GRE eBooks
  2. ETS: The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test, Second Edition
  3. ETS: Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions & Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions
  4. Barron’s 6 GRE Practice Tests
  5. ETS: Practicing to Take the GRE General Test, 10th Edition
  6. Manhattan: Manhattan GRE Series


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Most Popular Resources


  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

2 Responses to Barron’s GRE 21st 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

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply