Burn all your other GRE books! Were money not an issue, I could say this with confidence. The Manhattan Test Prep GRE series is so good that the rest of the books out there are basically jokes. That is not to say that Manhattan GRE is perfect (though it comes close in the math portion).
And, 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 comprising 1,500 pages. This arboreal decimation explains the price.
So perhaps it isn’t 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 GRE concept areas. For instance, an entire 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 or chapter, you can test your new 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, the individuals book don’t feel cluttered. While this may sound trivial, staring an unruly forests of facts and figures can quickly drive one batty.
Finally, the end of each book has easy, medium, and difficult practice sets that cover 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. Nor do the books lull you into a false sense of complacency by dumbing down their practice tests.
The Manhattan GRE Voice
The books’ voice is direct and engaging. Explanations are clear and won’t leave you scratching your head the way other prep books tend to—you feel like you’re working with a smart, patient tutor.
Comprehensiveness of the GRE Prep Books
Though I’ve already mentioned this, 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 might 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 free online practice test. The material online is slightly more accurate than in the book, especially when it comes to text completion and sentence equivalence questions (I discuss this below). I assume that this may be because the material online was easier to update as they learned more about the new GRE.
If cost is an issue, you may want to just pick one or two of their books to purchase—probably those that cover question and concept types you want 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 comprises 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 more difficult questions.
The flaws in the verbal section, namely on text completions and sentence equivalence, are more salient. Most text completions rely on obscure words (the way the old GRE did) rather than labyrinthine sentence structure. The Revised GRE has scrapped the difficult-vocab approach in favor of focusing on a student’s ability to grasp the big picture. Manhattan GRE’s focus on tough vocab may unnecessarily intimidate students and, paradoxically, leave them unprepared for the exam.
Manhattan GRE Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence, 4th Edition
Here’s a more thorough review of Manhattan GRE Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence (a book I’ve long groused about).
Some of the words in this book are too obscure to show up on the current GRE, and many of the practice sentences are too difficult to help beginners. In the 4th edition, MGRE has edited some sentences and removed a few difficult words (no more myrmidons!). I commend them—every other GRE test prep book will, it seems, continue to be published unchanged, typos and all, until the polar ice caps completely melt (or the GRE changes).
Still, MGRE doesn’t go as far as they should in the 4th edition. Obscure words remain—lucubrate and obtundity come to mind. Tough, if not obscure, words attend seemingly every question, ignoring the fact that the GRE also tests one’s ability to parse tough sentence structure before choosing from among relatively easy words.
Most significant, the 4th edition doesn’t replace old questions with improved ones that better reflect ETS Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. 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 problem sets is still too high for even those at an intermediate level. The helpful strategies MGRE tries to instill would have been better served by questions that are toned down in terms of diction and 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 students already strong in verbal who want to improve their vocabulary and tackle tough sentences. And for those who want to get a better feel of some of the academic language on the test, they could do worse than trying to wrap their heads around the twisted syntax and orotund style of these practice questions.
Let’s be clear: there are some excellent questions in the mix, ones that reflect the nuances of real GRE questions. But there are also many lackluster questions that value the brute force of overly difficult words over more subtle distinctions in meaning.
If you’re looking for a step-by-step process to become more adept at Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence with questions (and answer choices!) that simulate the real test, MGRE is not the best place to go. In contrast, if you are already strong at verbal and want some extra practice—and won’t freak out over devilishly difficult words – than you’ll get some mileage out of the MGRE book.
Magoosh GRE vs. Manhattan GRE (Magoosh GRE + Manhattan GRE?)
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. Furthermore, the Magoosh team is at the ready to respond quickly to questions you send us! That’s definitely not available from any prep book!
Finally, Magoosh is better for those who enjoy studying on their mobile devices — you can answer questions and watch videos from any internet-connected device.
If price is not an issue, and if you’re a book learner, the Manhattan GRE series is the best prep book on the market. If price is an issue, you may want to 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.