Top critical review
GRE tutor review: Major flaws make this an inferior prep book
Reviewed in the United States on June 3, 2020
I've been a GRE tutor since 2008, so I've seen a thing or two. TL;DR version of this review: Book not good. Don't buy.
Normal version: Here's what I'll cover:
1. Why Kaplan (or any big brand name) creates inferior GRE material.
2. What I liked and didn't like about the book itself.
3. My tips for what you should do to prepare for the GRE.
Kaplan labors under a set of constraints that make it difficult to produce effective GRE materials. First, the goal (like any company's) is to sell as many books as they can. In order to do this, they have to portray their material as the absolute best and as a complete solution.
The second constraint is that to create a book that IS a complete solution would be cost-prohibitive. For example, to provide thorough coverage and adequate basic-level practice for every possible math concept would make the book balloon to twice or three times its current size, which would turn a lot of prospective buyers off.
Third, developing realistic GRE questions is very time-consuming, particularly for verbal. Instead, companies like Kaplan opt for quantity, not quality, since they don't want to spend a ton of money of development. Licensing official ETS questions would cost $450 per question, so even though those ETS questions would be ten times more realistic than Kaplan's, it'd be too expensive to use them.
Finally, Kaplan must pretend that ETS, the company that creates the GRE, doesn't exist. Mentioning ETS materials and suggesting their use might make some prospective buyers buy the ETS books instead of the Kaplan book, and that wouldn't be very good for sales.
The result? A book that is neither realistic nor a complete solution but that pretends to be both. This is what pisses me off! I'm an independent tutor, so I have no constraints, and am free to tell you exactly what I think works.
What I liked about this book:
1. The Kaplan strategies to answer questions are perfectly fine.
2. I enjoyed the essay section, because it provides tips on how to improve your writing from the ground up.
3. The math concepts list in the back is a handy reference.
4. I like the vocab list, particularly because it groups words with similar meanings.
What I disliked about this book:
1. The question realism is poor. Real ETS GRE questions are much more complex and usually more difficult than the ones in this book. I don't care how many questions a GRE book has inside; quality is more important that quantity.
2. The book doesn't cover critical reasoning questions other than sprinkling a few in its practice sets and tests. These questions need to be explained in depth so you know how to handle them. (I took off a full star for this flaw.)
3. The math concept coverage is very brief. Using the ETS Math Review in conjunction with Khan Academy will allow you to practice and learn these concepts in a much more thorough way (and they're free).
4. The book had the opportunity to direct you to practice with official ETS questions, but passed it up in favor of trying to sell more books. Even Magoosh, a company I have issues with, is honest enough to emphasize the importance of ETS questions.
5. This book was written by committee. No one's name is on the cover. This means no one really has skin in the game. Test prep companies contract with writers to develop books - the problem with that is that the writers don't have a tremendous incentive to write top-quality material since doing so doesn't provide them with any more recognition or reward than the paycheck they got when they were done with the assignment.
My tips for GRE prep:
1. It takes time. The two most time-consuming tasks are vocab and math. For math, you must not only learn and practice concepts at a basic level but then also accumulate lots of experience practicing with real GRE math questions (which are complicated but often provide logical shortcuts). When a random question pops up on the real test, your experience - if you have a lot of it - will help you solve it.
2. Please only use official ETS questions for verbal. No other company writes good verbal questions, full stop. I attached a screenshot of a question from the Kaplan book to show you how ambiguous some of their answers are - the answer is "apathy" but also could be "loathing" or "antagonism". (ETS questions, by contrast, are scrupulously fair.)
3. When selecting materials, remember that most people writing reviews don't have experience with multiple books, and that some people can absolutely do well no matter what product they use. Since website algorithms rank reviews by quality, make sure you dig down a few pages to read some of the lower quality reviews and see how many of them you trust.
4. Look for independent GRE prep voices on places like Reddit. Times are changing, and the big brand names like Kaplan are steadily losing ground to more independent, smaller companies.
I sincerely wish you the best with your GRE prep.