So, you have to take the GRE. You have looked around and figured that the best option for you is to either do a Self Prep or start with a Self Prep and then follow it up with a few expert one-to-one sessions. You need a list of resources to help you. Here’s the top 10 books for GRE prep
If you haven’t figured out whether you want to join a Prep Class or go it alone, you can read this post.
Let us understand what PREP means
Most people confuse Prep with Practice, but PREP is
Knowledge + Skills + Practice
Practice is important but is actually the least important of the three, yet most aspirants focus on it the most. Practicing without being clear on the basics or without knowing what is being tested is a very inefficient way of prepping. Once knowledge and skills are in place, even a little practice goes a long way.
So let us look at the Top 10 Books for GRE Prep in 2020 across the categories of Knowledge, Skills and Practice
You need to know the basics for the quantitative and verbal sections. This brings us to our first set of the top 10 books for GRE Prep
1. ETS GRE MATH REVIEW
The ETS GRE math review is the best and obviously most authoritative guide on what’s required on the GRE quantitative section.
This book is FREE to download and you can download it here.
The PDF is 198 pages long and has all the basics you will need. If you are particularly weak in math, I suggest you print out a copy and use it. Alternatively, if you buy book numbers 6 or 7 (and you must) both come with the math review.
2. Barron’s Essential Words for the GRE
50% of the GRE verbal section is directly about vocabulary (TC and SE). A good vocabulary can also aid in a better understanding of the remaining 50% (RC). To crack the GRE, you’ll need a solid hold on vocabulary and its application in context. Barron’s Essential Words for the GRE is a must have. It’s a book you must underline, scribble in and read cover to cover. It starts with a Pre-Test and then familiarizes you with 800 of the most common vocabulary words used on the GRE and their definitions along with usage in multiple contexts.
Pros: Everything, including the price (Indian edition is Rs. 350)
Cons: The word roots and Prefix/Suffix section aren’t the best. But even if you skip it, it won’t matter.
3. McGraw-Hill – Conquering GRE Math
If you are particularly weak in math and want a very basic book to start with after you have used the ETS Math Review, then you can’t go wrong with this book.
There are review sections for number properties, algebra, arithmetic, word problems and geometry. There are simple to medium level math questions followed by three full-length GRE math sections.
PROS: It’s a book from the ground up and includes step-by-step approaches to all question formats, including multiple choice, numeric entry, quantitative comparison and data analysis.
CONS: This book is intended to boost your basic math skills, therefore you will not find difficult questions in this book.
Now, that you know the basics of the quantitative and verbal sections on the GRE, you need to focus your prep on test taking skills.
Test taking skills fall into 2 categories
1. Strategies to attempt specific question formats
For example, how to attempt quantitative comparison questions, MCQs, etc
2. Strategies to solve certain types of questions
For example, use numbers instead of fractions to simplify calculations. Backtracking as a strategy, process of elimination, etc
This brings us to our next set of books
4. Manhattan Prep GRE Set of Strategy Guides
The word strategy is right there in the name so this set of 8 books are entirely focused on test-taking strategies for the 8 core areas of the GRE.
Buying any one of the 8 guides gives you access to 6 Manhattan Prep GRE full length tests.
Each guide sold separately is quite expensive (Rs. 1700 – 2300) but some online stores have the set at a lower price.
You don’t need to buy all 8. The most important of the guides are
- The Fractions, Decimals, & Percents GRE Strategy Guide
- The Reading Comprehension & Essays GRE Strategy Guide
- The Text Completion & Sentence Equivalence GRE Strategy Guide
Buy the one that you are most weak in.
A word of caution: there is a 2019 combined version called GRE Math Strategies and GRE Verbal Strategies, the bundle sells for Rs. 6000 (much lower on Amazon) but is a badly pared down version of the 8 guides. The Math strategies book is a victim of extremely poor editing and an absolute waste of time. DO NOT BUY.
PROS: Great book with detailed strategies.
CONS: Ironically enough, the biggest problem is also the excessive detailing. The target audience bar is set quite low so you will find a lot of spoon feeding on very simple concepts.
Also, they are quite expensive.
5. GRE Prep By Magoosh
The Magoosh GRE Prep Program is an online course that is video based and comes with a question bank and mock tests. It’s priced quite high at around $129 but this book is priced at a fifth of that and if strategies is what you are looking for, this book has plenty.
The book includes over 130 high-quality practice questions along with strategies, approaches, tips and tricks. This book is a testament to the fact that you need prep more than practice. It is already worth the money, now add in a comprehensive overview of the GRE and a chapter on the analytical writing section and you have a winner.
PROS: Loads of tips, tricks and strategies
CONS: Only 130 questions, but very high quality ones.
Basics done. Skills mastered. Strategies chosen. Now, it’s time to practice.
Practice is the component that most test takers focus on and if you were to look for the key difference between the high scores and low scores it is that high scores belong to those who prep and the low scores to those who only practice.
There is an obsession with quantity. The idea that solving 1000 questions is better than solving 500 questions is a very flawed one.
Here’s the truth about practice
Basics + Skills + 700 Questions.
Yes, that’s right. You only need 700 questions for your GRE prep. I am not saying 1200 is bad, I am saying it’s unnecessary.
You need 100 high quality questions each on sentence equivalence, text completion , and reading comprehension. You will also need 100 high quality questions each on Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Statistics & Data Analysis
300 + 400 questions
This brings us to our last set of the top 10 books for GRE prep
6. The Official Guide to the GRE General Test by ETS
Surprisingly most use this book as a prep guide and that’s problematic. The Official Guide is a fantastic book for practice. It has more than 300 actual GRE questions. And it has 2 GRE PBTs. It’s an invaluable resource for practice. Like most official guides, it provides actual questions and unsatisfactory solutions. It also has questions categorized as Easy, Medium and Hard which helps you understand the kind of questions to expect and which ones the GRE considers the hardest.
PROS: 300+ actual questions from the GRE Test + 2 official PBTs
CONS: Solutions to most questions aren’t very clear or complete.
7. The GRE Verbal Review Questions and The GRE Quantitative Review Questions
The 3 books, viz, the official guide, the Verbal Review and the Quantitative Review are bundled and sold as the SUPER POWER PACK. It is priced lower than if you bought the books individually. The GRE verbal and quantitative review questions books have 150 questions each on the respective GRE sections. If you buy the SUPER POWER PACK, you will get more than the required 700 practice questions.
8. Kaplan’s GRE Prep Plus 2020
Kaplan’s GRE Prep Plus 2020 covers the basics, teaches you some skills and strategies too but most importantly provides enough practice. You get 6 practice tests (1 in the book and 5 online).
There is also an online quiz bank.
Each practice test you take comes with analytics, you’ll get a detailed breakdown of your individual performance and you will also be able to see what percentage of students got the question right thereby helping you determine your own strengths and weaknesses.
9. Manhattan Prep’s 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems
As the name suggests, this book is quite hefty. It contains 1,800+ practice questions.
This book is clear about its intentions from the start, it’s a book only for practice. There are questions and there are solutions.
Frankly, this book is the very definition of overkill. Do the math, if you spend 5 minutes per question (solving it, looking up the solution, etc) you would need 150 hours to go through this book. So, yes, it’s overkill!
However, a lot of students like it for the exhaustive coverage.
The math questions are better than the verbal questions but overall most questions are much tougher than what you get on the actual GRE. If you are one of those aspirants who take a lot of comfort in extensive practice or only get confidence from solving a copious number of questions, then this is the book for you.
10. Barron’s 6 GRE Practice Tests
You probably won’t find this book on a lot of lists but this is the best mock test book out there. Yes. Truly.
This book has 6 tests that are in line with the format of the GRE CBT but are on paper. The questions are the closest you will get to the actual GRE. Not only is each question quite closely matched to actual test questions but also each test provides a complexity similar to the real test.
A Final Note
You don’t need to buy all of the top 10 books for GRE Prep listed above.
If you are planning to spend no more than Rs. 5000 then you must buy
- GRE SUPER POWER PACK
- Barron’s Essential Words for the GRE
- GRE Prep by Magoosh
- Barron’s 6 GRE Practice Tests OR Kaplan GRE Prep Plus 2020
Links to buying the Top 10 books for GRE Prep
Links to buying the books are NOT affiliate links. The author is merely providing this list based on his experience, the author is not affiliated in any way to any of the books endorsed above. In fact, most of them are his direct competitors in the test prep space.