ETS Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test 3rd Edition Book Review

The ETS, also known as the maker of the GRE, released its newest ETS GRE book–the 2nd edition–back in 2012. That’s five long years since we’ve last seen any changes to the official guide. Surely, the 3rd edition that recently hit Amazon “bookshelves” would offer a trove of new questions, giving us deeper insight into the test?

Alas, the answer is a definitive ‘no’. There is not one new question and indeed very little different from the ancient 2nd Edition guide. I shouldn’t grumble too much since ETS did offer both new verbal and math guides a few years back, but still…

For some of you this point–whether the 3rd Edition is different from the 2nd edition–is moot. You’re new to GRE prep so it doesn’t really matter whether there are “new” questions; they’re all new to you. Also, I don’t want you to come away with the wrong idea. So let me just come out and say it: the GRE Official (2nd or 3rd edition) is the single most important resource. How well you do test day will likely be reflected by how well you use this book. Yep. It’s that important.

ETS Official Guide to the GRE: New vs. Old

But the two books aren’t exactly the same. While there are no new questions, the editors decided to beef up the math review section. Specifically, there is a more robust strategy section that most new to the GRE or who struggle with math will surely find helpful. Otherwise, there are no significant differences between the 2ndEdition and the 3rdEdition.

Well, there is one other difference, almost a quirk, and it has nothing to do with what’s in the book. For whatever reason, the 3rd Edition is only available (at least for now) on Amazon. So if you go to the site, you’ll only see the 2nd Edition for sale. Therefore, if you’re dying for that extra math strategy section (which I’ll talk about in more detail below), you’ll want to head over to Amazon.

What’s inside the latest edition?

Again, for many new to GRE prep, you just want to know what’s inside this book and how it can help you.

You will also get access to two PowerPrep tests (one new, one old) via a practice CD in the back – though you can access these on the ETS website for free. Neither of these tests overlaps with the two tests at the back of the book. That’s right – if you have yet to take an official GRE practice test, there are a total of four fresh tests waiting for you!


The ETS Official Guide is Indispensable

…but it’s not the perfect solution.

Sure, the questions are the best prep out there—they are written by the test makers themselves. But the explanations are somewhat lacking, a fact which isn’t too surprising given that ETS does not make revenue from writing lucid explanations. People tend to buy the book for the practice questions.

The Math Review section in the book gives you a thorough review of concepts you’re likely to see on the GRE. Most of the other books — Barron’s, Kaplan, and even Manhattan GRE — do not cover concepts such as parabolas or absolute value graphs (not that either of these is very likely to show up test day).

User-friendly, helpful tips and strategies are not as abundant in other books–that’s why the new math strategies in the 3rd Edition give a high-level overview how to approach questions and how to improve your learning.

One complaint I have is that the practice questions for reviewing fundamentals in this book, don’t prepare you that well for the real GRE. Which is fine if you are new to the test. But even then, I’ve seen students spend far too much time trying to complete the practice questions in the math review section only to miss out on precious time prepping on actual GRE questions (oftentimes these questions are more about “tricks” than about the raw fundamentals.)

To reiterate: the 3rd Edition ETS Official Guide, like the 2nd Edition guide, is not an all-in-one guide. You will want to supplement this book with one that helps break down this test. And this especially goes for the math section.

The Official Guide to the GRE General Test Grade

Prep: A+

You should really buy it.

Strategies/Explanations: C+

But don’t worry! That’s what Magoosh GRE Prep is for! Plus, we now have free video explanations for all of the practice questions in the second edition of the Official Guide here. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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  • 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!