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.

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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.

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

  1. Jamiul Islam January 26, 2019 at 12:42 pm #

    Dear Chris,
    Recently, I completed a plethora of Old GRE Big Book questions, and my evaluations are as follow:

    Firstly, the value of Big book lies in its RC questions: none other than ETS can create such tricky, misleading answer choices. To seperate correct answers from wrong ones, one must have a clear concept about may be true vs must be true, one word wrong, author’s view vs some one else’s view and about big picture. Also, the critical reasoning questions will test ur concept about inference vs assumption, num vs percentage, cause and effect relations and author’s underlying assumptions.

    However, as u mentioned, the writing style of both passages and critical reasoning stimuli are very outdated: I have studied many articles of Scientific Americans, NY Times, Atlantic etc, but nowhere I saw the Big Book like writing pattern. Indeed, the passage contents are dated from 1985 to 1988, before my birth!! My opinion is that: for contents of passages, refer to ETS Official Guide and Verbal one, but for learning RC question types and tricks, read the Big Book along with current official sources.

    The Big Book’s TCs are not on a par with today’s GRE, and SE is totally missing. From quant, one should only practice the Data Interpretations.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 28, 2019 at 7:08 am #

      Thanks for sharing your experience and insights, Jamiul!

      • Jamiul Islam January 29, 2019 at 1:51 am #

        Dear Chris,

        As an example of Old vs new GRE Passages, please take a look at the following excerpts:

        Passage 1:

        In Thomas Hardy’s novels, one impulse often surrendered
        to a fresher one and, unfortunately, instead of
        exacting a compromise, simply disappeared.
        A desire to. throw over reality a light that never
        was might give way abruptly to the desire on the
        part of what we might consider a novelist-scientist
        to record exactly and concretely the
        structure and texture of a flower. In this
        instance, the new impulse was at least an
        energetic one, and thus its indulgence did not
        result in a relaxed style. But on other occasions
        Hardy abandoned a perilous, risky, and highly
        energizing impulse in favor of what was for him
        the fatally relaxing impulse to classify and
        schematize abstractly. When a relaxing impulse
        was indulged, the style-that sure index of an
        author’s literary worth-was certain to become
        verbose. Hardy’s weakness derived from his
        apparent inability to control the comings and
        goings of these divergent impulses and from his
        unwillingness to cultivate and sustain the
        energetic and risky ones.

        Passage 2:

        While the influence of British magazines in
        shaping public opinion predates the nineteenth
        century, it was during the 1800s that mass distribution
        became possible and an explosion in periodical
        readership occurred, vastly increasing magazines’
        opinion-shaping powers. The role of magazines as
        arbiters of nineteenth-century taste is seen in their
        depictions of the London theater. The magazines
        accorded some legitimacy to East End working-class
        theaters that mirrored the format of the fashionable
        West End theaters serving middle- and upper-class
        audiences. However, the magazines also depicted
        music halls—which competed for patronage with all
        theaters—as places where crass entertainment
        corrupted spectators’ taste and morals. Finally, they
        suggested that popular demand for substandard fare
        created a market unfriendly to higher expressions of
        dramatic art.

        The first one is a part of Old Big Book passage, while the second is from PowerPrep software. U will notice that both are dense, but the 1st one about Hardy’s novels is a bit difficult to understand. As I mentioned, the likes of 1st passages seem somewhat obsolete in now-a-days articles.

        Even in the Magoosh Block of ” GRE article of the month”, the dense, tough articles are somewhat different from the Hardy’s passage.

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 4, 2019 at 7:01 am #

          Hi Jamiul,

          I think that this is a good example of how the GRE changed in 2012! The old GRE, represented by the Big Book, includes more convoluted language and difficult vocabulary. The new GRE emphasizes more straightforward academic language that you will actually see and need to understand in graduate school. As we mention in this article, this is a major difference in the passages. However, practicing with such convoluted/potentially misleading passages can be helpful to improve your general RC skills, and the questions are similar in structure to what you will find on the new GRE. It is important to understand that the Big Book is based on outdated GRE material, but it can still be useful as long as you understand it’s limitations!

          • jamiul islam February 4, 2019 at 8:04 am #

            Dear Chris,
            Thanks a lot…Indeed, the Old big Book is riddled with those dense articles, which can make one pretty frustrated…

            • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
              Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 4, 2019 at 5:29 pm #

              You’re welcome, Jamiul!

              Best of luck with your studies. 😀

  2. Jay Tom September 20, 2016 at 9:48 pm #

    Is there ANY book that contains the answer EXPLANATIONS to at least the RC questions anywhere on the internet/earth?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 24, 2016 at 11:15 am #

      Hi Jay,

      Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there is such a resource for the older ETS materials. I suggest that you check out forums such as Urch for specific questions. The best way is to just google the first few words of the question in quotes and see if anything comes up!

      If you are looking for the answers and explanation for the newer Official Materials for the Revised GRE, we do have a forum the provides answers for many of those questions from our team of test prep experts: Revised GRE Official Guide Questions.. Again, the best way to find these is to google the first few words of the question in quotes 🙂

  3. Amini July 11, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    First of all I`d like to thank you for your amazing book reviews and I guess I have read most of them. Then what I realized was that for quant section something like Manhattan 5pound is good enough(Im aiming for the very best in math, in my recent mock on powerprep i got 166), though for verbal I started reading the Manhattan SE and TC book and also its RC book. But your reviews made me doubtful on them. Now Im stuck on verbal.(FYI my verbal in last mock test was 154 so just average). Can you please tell me some resources to practice verbal questions from?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 12, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

      It’s really hard for third party book publishers to create really a good, truly GRE-like Verbal section for practice. So you’ll want to rely on official, ETS-created GRE prep books for your Verbal needs. ETS’s book of official GRE Verbal Reasoning practice quesitons is good, as is the current GRE Official Guide.

      • Amini July 12, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

        Thanks a lot. And if you were to recommend any third party provider for text completion or sentence equivalence would you have any book recommendations ?

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 13, 2016 at 7:17 am #

          You’re very welcome, Amini!

          Unfortunately, we don’t actually have very many resources we can recommend for all of verbal. Text completions and sentence equivalence questions are very hard to write well, and not many sources have good practice. The best resources we know of for text completions and sentence equivalence are the Official guide practice questions (in particular, and as we mentioned before, the Verbal Guide), the ETS PowerPrep practice tests, Magoosh practice questions, and Manhattan’s 6 online practice tests (which you get when you buy any one book in the strategy series).

          After that, if you need something more, we’d recommend Barron’s 6 practice tests and/or their main GRE book. The verbal workbook is not as good, but those first two each offer about 100 TC/SE practice questions of decent quality.

          Other than that, I’m afraid we don’t have that much we recommend. Keep in mind that there’s a lot of value to be gained from repeating difficult questions, though!

          Hope these suggestions help! Happy studying 😀

  4. sama January 1, 2016 at 10:56 pm #


  5. Reza December 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Hi Chris. I red your posts about LSAT and Big book. You introduce both resources for reading comprehension. I studied some passages of each resources. I compare the passages of these resources in some ways:
    1.content,2 questions 3 answer explanation and variety.
    Big book’s content is hard because of many old GRE words, its questions are not very difficult because each question is based on one part of passages and also you can find the relevant part because its passages are not very long, big book has not any explanation for its answers but includes various topic.
    Passages of LSAT are not very difficult like big book because they are not include many GRE words like big book, its questions are very hard because ask about all content and if you do not understand all passage very good you can not answer many of its questions and questions have not any order for finding their answers in the specific place of passages, its explanations are very good for each question an finally its variety is limited.
    Is my comparison right? do you think which one of them has priority if i have time just for studying one of them an why?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 13, 2013 at 11:41 am #

      Hi Reza,

      Thanks for all those insights! I think the GRE one’s maybe have a little more vocabulary in the answer choices. With LSAT it is the passages that seem to be denser. If you had double time on LSAT, you could probably answer most of them correctly.

      As for priority, I would mix it up with both sources–doing so will make you a stronger overall test taker. The current GRE will also have difficult words and dense passages. There are of course some new question types so you might want to get the New GRE material as well.

      Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  6. Reza May 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you so much for your helpful posts. But I gave a question. What is different between passages of big book and ETS? Please compare them and say what are the best resources for reading comprehension? Do you thin The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American are better than passages of big book? Please guide me.
    All the best,

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      Hi Reza,

      So the big book is the ETS book, but is an ETS book of old GRE tests, those tests administered 20 years back. Now ETS has its new practice guide, but the passages from the big book are still great for practice.

      As for those magazines, they are not meant to replace traditional reading comp. Think of it as “weight training” for the reading comp. Meaning, when you do a sport you also want to do weight training to make yourself strong for that sport. But you still need to practice that sport. In this case, the sport is GRE and the best way to practice is with actual reading passages. But it is always a good idea to strengthen your reading brain by reading articles from the sources you mentioned.

      Hope that makes sense :)!

  7. Abdul Waheed July 6, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    I know this is a old post, but does Big Book costs 150$ ?
    Here in India it costs 4$ only, yes just $ 4 .

    Alright back to my study, I hate Rc’s 🙁

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

      That’s sooo random… I had no idea it was that cheap in India…then again, perhaps its value has plummeted since the Revised GRE test came out. Still seems to cost $100 on the major sites here. If it didn’t weigh so much, one could perhaps make a viable export business :).

  8. Niti March 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    great, will do that.. thanks a lot! 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 31, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

      You’re welcome :).

  9. Niti March 30, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    Ok, I think will buy it. How is the RC content in Manhattan GRE? I am thinking of purchasing ‘Manhattan Reading Comprehension and Essay Strategy Guide’ or ‘Text Completion or Sentence Equivalence’ book, since I am still quite weak in Verbal. I have a very short attention span when it comes to RC’s (or sometimes I do not fully understand the options also) and I score quite bad in Sentence Equivalence as well (one of the options I choose invariably turn out to be incorrect :(). Not sure which one of these should I purchase, and which of these areas should I focus more on improving since there is only a month left for my exam.
    It would be great if you could a) advise me on which area should I focus more on in terms of improvision – RC’s or Sentence Equivalence depending upon which comprises more questions and b) accordingly which one of the these books is a better one to buy from Manhattan GRE?

    Hope it is ok to come back to you, with multiple questions! Thanks a ton for your help here..:):)

    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 30, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      No problem Niti:

      1. The MGRE RC is definitely better than its TC and SE book.

      2. RC definitely makes up more of the test than SE, so if you had to focus on one definitely focus on RC.

      3. Finally for SE it is definitely a question of vocabulary. For the best SE hints/strategies out there, just use the Magoosh blog. Best of all, the posts are free :).

  10. Niti March 28, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Ok, makes sense.. Yes, it helps..:) could you perhaps also suggest some resources for the new GRE, that I could avail to practice on RC’s and verbal content (if not quants!)? I really need to improve my verbal score. Anything that is online/hard copied would be helpful..may be if you could give me a few options. To give you a bit of background, I have already practised from ETS, Barron’s and Kaplan (still to do online tests from the last book!)..

    Thanks a ton again!:)


    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 29, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      Hi Niti,

      You might want to try the MGRE series. Buying just one book gives you access to six on-line tests. I haven’t seen Kaplan’s online tests, but if the content is anything like that found in their book, your time would be much better spent with other sources.

      Hope that helps!

  11. Niti March 28, 2012 at 2:23 am #

    Hi Chris

    I am to give my GRE b April end this year, and I am curently doing a lot of practise tests, to improve my score on both Maths and Verbal. Now, during my research, I came across this book ‘Big Book’, that everyone says is good for practice since it contains actual GRE tests and will give the look and feel of the actual test as such. Do you think it makes sense to download it online, and practice from the same considering it is still the old version? Is there a newer version? I have one month in hand, as of now and I do not really know how to utilize it – need as much practice as I can right now.

    Would be great if you could advise on what would be the most useful way to practise and if you know of any resources online, that I could use for the same, if not this book? Thanks!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris March 28, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

      Hi Niti,

      Well, that’s the thing about the ‘Big Book.’ It’s for the old GRE. Things have changed significantly on the Revised GRE (unfortunately, there is no ‘big book’ of Revised GRE tests).

      I say it makes sense to download if you are struggling on the verbal and want lots (and I mean lots) or practice strengthen your vocabulary and reading comp. skills. Of course many of the question types are obsolete, so much of you prep will be more of a vocabulary building exercise than one that actually targets the question types you will see test day.

      For that you will have to use material that has the new question types.

      Hope that helps 🙂

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