You may have heard that there is no better way to practice for the GRE than by taking a mock exam, especially one written by ETS (the maker of the GRE). The extent to which this is true depends on how you use GRE books and resources like the ETS POWERPREP practice tests. Taking a test once, figuring out your score, and then hoping that your brain will avoid the same kinds of mistakes on the test is wishful thinking. Following the steps below will help you get the most out of your official ETS GRE practice test materials.
(And if you don’t yet have access to the major practice materials for this exam, you can access PowerPrep here or purchase The Official Guide to the GRE General Test on Amazon or at ETS’s online GRE Store.)
Trying to decide between buying the Powerprep Plus or sticking with the free material? Check out our quiz to see which option is better for you!
The Official GRE Practice Test
ETS (the best source for the most accurate practice material) offers a few resources. In fact, they’ve added so many resources to their test-prep arsenal over the years that it can be difficult to keep track of which are the most up-to-date and which materials overlap with others!
But we’re going to make it easy for you. For 2020, here’s a list of the most up-to-date official GRE practice tests that have original content without significant overlap between them:
- The Official Guide to the GRE, 3rd Edition (2 paper tests) (PAID)
- Paper-Based Practice Test PDF, 2011 (FREE)
- Paper-Based Practice Test PDF, 2017 (FREE)
- POWERPREP Online Tests (FREE)
- POWERPREP PLUS Online Tests (PAID—3 tests each sold separately)
However, I realize that not all of you will be starting from scratch with your ETS materials. The tests written by ETS are the best in terms of preparation. ETS creates the GRE you will see on test day, so it provides the best indicator of your score test day. However, some of the material on these tests overlap. If you’re wondering what materials the company has issued in the past few years overlap, or if it’s worth buying previous materials, here’s a quick guide to keep track:
Official GRE Practice Test Material Overlap
Official GRE Practice Test Material
Notes on Overlap/Original Content
|Paper-Based Practice Test PDF, 2011|
First edition of ETS paper-based practice test PDF. The questions do overlap with POWERPREP online.
|Paper-Based Practice Test PDF, 2017|
Subset of the material from POWERPREP online.
Official Guide 1st Edition: Paper Test
Test also appears in OG2 and OG3.
Official Guide 2nd Edition: 2 Paper Tests
One test also appears in OG1
Official Guide 3rd Edition: 2 Paper Tests
Both tests are the same as those in the 2nd edition.
Contains two free online tests mimicking the computer-based GRE test.
POWERPREP PLUS Online
Entirely new material made up of three timed practice tests (each sold individually) that you take online, with explanations for the correct answers.
Official GRE Guide Mobile App
Questions on the mobile app overlap with OG2 and OG3.
Official GRE Verbal Reasoning, Second Edition
150 real test questions from the Verbal Reasoning section.
Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning, Second Edition
150 real test questions from the Quantitative Reasoning section.
ScoreItNow Online Writing Practice (for Analytical Writing section)
Lets you write and submit two essays and receive score and feedback immediately, with 6 bonus topics included.
Confusing, right? It’s best to do as much practice as possible, so you shouldn’t worry about overlapping material too much. However, you should keep the above distinctions in mind because if you see a question that you’ve seen previously, you may get the correct answer not because you knew how to do it, but because your brain may just have remembered the answer from last time!
Should I buy the ETS POWERPREP PLUS online tests?
Ah, POWERPREP PLUS Online! These are three online tests that ETS added to its collection. Each test costs $39.95. Take careful note: There are three new tests, and they are each sold separately.
Are you debating whether or not to get the Powerprep Plus online tests from ETS? The answer depends on a number of factors, including your GRE test date and level of preparedness. Take this quiz to find out if Powerprep Plus is right for you!
Tips for studying with POWERPREP & The Official Guide
Review your answers
POWERPREP has gotten a lot better over the years. With the elimination of the CD from the third edition of the Official Guide, ETS has begun to include the correct answers and allow you to review them after you take the exam. Yup, this didn’t used to be the case! However, unless you’re using POWERPREP PLUS, you won’t get an explanation of why the correct answer is correct.
Figure out the question on your own
In a way, ETS’s decision not to include explanations can actually benefit you. Looking at an explanation can be harmful in a few ways. First off, many explanations seem more confusing than the actual question. Secondly, by relying on an explanation, you do not force yourself to really think through a question.
There are no explanations given with any of the free tests. Again, this will force you to really think through a problem. Of course the reality is, you will sometimes be stumped. If that happens…
Watch my free video explanations
If you can’t figure out a problem after trying to work it out on your own, check out my video explanations to many of the officially released practice questions here.
Find questions similar to POWERPREP and the Official Guide
Practice tests allow you to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your weaknesses by finding practice problems that test the concept with which you are struggling. Manhattan GRE and Magoosh are both great resources.
Take the tests multiple times
The PDF file is static so you the questions will not change. The POWERPREP test, however, differs slightly so that you will see a few new questions when you retake the test. Either way, if you space out enough time between tests, you shouldn’t remember too many questions. While the score will not be valid (it will probably be slightly inflated), taking an ETS test under timed conditions is the best way to prepare for test day.
Be sure to review questions, both mistakes and lucky guesses, the way enumerated above.
Additional ETS practice content
A few years back, ETS released two guides—the Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions and the Quantitative Reasoning Questions. Surprisingly, the book did not get much fanfare, and even now the book seems to be languishing on Amazon—at least compared to most GRE prep books (which I strongly discourage using).
Yet, these books provide pages upon pages of excellent practice questions. Though these books do not contain actual tests, they are filled with practice sets, often ranked from “easy” to “hard”. These sets will expose you to yet more content by ETS. In fact, this material is the most recent so it arguably provides the material that is best aligned with material on today’s test.
A good way to use this material is as warm-up for a POWERPREP test. That way you can get the synapses firing before you have to take an actual practice test.
Other GRE practice
No mock test is the same as that provided by the ETS practice test. Still, it is important to remember that some are better than others. Manhattan GRE provides six practice tests, all of which have challenging content.
Kaplan tests, judging from their book content, are a poor approximation of the real test. Princeton Review also contains questions that are suspect, too easy, or both. And those tests you find on-line…well, let’s put it this way. I ventured to a site that offered mock “GRE tests.” In the math section, almost every other question was a permutation/combination problem. On the actual test you only get one such question.
Magoosh has a variety of great GRE prep materials as well. We offer a free GRE practice test with answers and explanations, guided study schedules, and a GRE Prep book loaded with practice questions, answers, and a full-length test.
Anyhow, I hope this helps demystify and simplify what’s out there regarding official ETS practice material, along with other practice tests!
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