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Truly, Barrons creates some of the most helpful educational books, but this GRE book is not the most user-friendly guide to ETS's new graduate exam.
Here are a few things you need to know before you purchase the Barrons edition:
1. Barrons' Quantitative Section: If you're not comfortable with math, you must consider purchasing either Cliffs Math Review for Standardized Tests (Cliffs Test Prep) or Gruber's Complete Preparation for the New SAT, 10th Edition--I'll explain later. Though Barrons does a fantastic job of including difficult math questions, which helps prepare you for the new GRE, the explanations are vague and sometimes inconsistent. Those who are comfortable with math--meaning those who know the basics and rules of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry--will of course love Barrons' take on the new GRE, solely because this book simply reviews concepts of math quickly rather than going into detail and giving step-by-step solutions. Again, for those who are not comfortable with math whatsoever, you'll have a better chance of doing well on the GRE if you take your time with either the Cliffs Math Review or Gruber's version. Both give comprehensive reviews and show step-by-step solutions, without leaving out an iota of fact. Surely, you might think that the Gruber's book is completely useless because it's an SAT book. Nonsense! Both the old and new GRE test your knowledge on 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th grade math. In fact, SAT math is much more difficult--especially the way it's written--than GRE math (go figure), but supplementing a GRE guide like Barrons with Gruber's or Cliffs will, without a doubt, help. Plus, you'll have a number of questions and diagnostic tests at your fingertips. Keep in mind that the Cliffs review is easy to read, compact, and far more detailed and useful than Gruber's, but Gruber's has some great practice tests for brushing up on your math skills. Again, they're great supplemental materials to accompany any official GRE guide.
2. Barrons' Verbal Section: Princeton Review offers better tips for taking apart some of the most tricky verbal/reading comprehension questions. However, Barrons' vocabulary review (the verbal workout book which is a separate guide) includes a plethora of information on common GRE words and tough text completions, reading comprehension passages, and sentence equivalency questions. Also, take a look at Princeton's Cracking the New GRE with DVD, 2012 Edition (Graduate School Test Preparation) or the Kaplan Premier for the New GRE. Both are essential to any self-designed GRE review package. They give loads of examples, "trigger" tips on recognizing keywords and understanding the verbal section, and you'll have fun doing them. It's like having a funny and intelligent tutor encouraging you to do well in a timely fashion--that's how both guides, especially Princeton, are written. This is not to say, however, that the Barrons guide went totally wrong with the verbal section. Their breakdown of it is okay, simply put: mediocre. If you're strong in the verbal section, than this won't be so much of an issue for you. Another book you should buy is 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary by Wilfred Funk and Norman Lewis. It's a pocket guide and tests your vocabulary over thirty days. Of course, don't be alarmed if you bomb the first diagnostic test; it was meant to destroy you, but when you spend time with this well-written guide, your vocabulary will eventually grow--all because of the guide's solid and comprehensive examples.
3. Barrons' Analytical Writing Section: It'll suffice, and that's all. Remember, there really is no way to grade this section when you're your own editor. Get someone else to grade your essays, preferably someone who writes better than you. If not, get a friend to review your essays. I can't say much about this section because it's difficult to "practice" writing if you don't do the following: write, write, write, and write every single day! No GRE guide, unless you take a prep course with people, can effectively assess your writing skills. Your best bet is to read anything you can get your hands on that either presents or poses an argument (The Economist, Times, and The Atlantic); this, of course, will help you better setup your own essay. Memorize transitional phrases, may close attention to punctuation, and read academic journals for college students--most of which consist of argumentative essays. Also, the stronger you are in the verbal section, the better chance you'll have at scoring high in the analytical section.
Here's some general information and advice you may want to consider:
1. Don't cram. Yes, some people can study and prep for this exam within a month, but anyone who sits for the GRE should really pace themselves before exam day. Take 2, 3, or 4 months studying. Take more if you think it's necessary; do what's best for you. Each day, allocate an hour to studying math and verbal and write a blog or write in a journal to get yourself accustomed to writing if you aren't already (read as well). Also, don't base your decision on reviews that say, "I bought this book. It was great. I studied in a month. I scored high on both sections. Yay for me." Congrats to them, but everyone is different. Again, do what is best for you. If you can't study on your own, take a course. If you can't afford a course, attempt to study on your own--no excuses.
2. The GRE is not the end of the world for you. In truth, the exam is not that difficult when you realize that it is the way in which the GRE is PRESENTED and WRITTEN, via equivocal questions meant to trick you, that makes the GRE seem evil. Any exam is conquerable so long as you put in the necessary time to study. Moreover, the GRE is the not the sole factor that determines whether or not you'll get into graduate school (this is not true for those who are going into the sciences. You must, of course, love all things quantitative. In turn, graduate programs in the sciences will love you too). This exam is merely something that measures the amount of information you can recall, not what you practice on a daily basis, though ETS says otherwise. They're wrong. A cashier has yet to ask, in the form of a word problem, how to pay for a shirt that was once $30.00 but now 45% off or ask for the percent increase or decrease of an item over a certain period. If you've met someone like this, lobby to get them fired.
3. Breathe. If you're put off and afraid of standardized tests, have no fear. Here are some guides which have helped me cope with the GRE (maybe, they'll help you too): As a general guide and for practice tests, I use Cracking the New GRE with DVD by Princeton, Kaplan's New GRE 2011-2012 Premier with CD-ROM, and this Barrons edition. FYI, I use them for their practice questions. For specific sections that need further explanation, such as the verbal and math sections, I use Funk and Lewis' book for vocabulary, Kaplan's vocab box for their nifty cards, and Cliffs' stellar Math Review for Standardized Tests (Cliffs Test Prep). Again, Princeton's breakdown of the verbal section is particularly good. Granted, this is quite a hefty load of GRE material. But consider the following...there's no perfect GRE guide. One book may do a better job of explaining, for example the math section, than another that has--let's say--a better verbal section but lacks a solid math section. Get books that have particular strengths. Don't settle for just one that's merely a general review, unless you only need a review. Supplement, supplement, supplement! And, invest in materials that will give you the big pay-off: substantial scores.
And no, using so many materials isn't that confusing. Again, use some guides for their strengths in particular sections, and then use overly general guides for their diagnostic and practice exams. Switch them up. By the way, always consult the ETS website. They have downloadable content. The more questions you do, the more comfortable you'll be on exam day. Expose yourself to as many questions as possible.
If you're a well-rounded college student, then all of what I've written won't matter as much. Good luck to anyone taking the GRE.
P.S., the reviews for the latest Princeton Review for the New GRE are total bull. Seriously, you don't have to be smart to realize that no book is perfectly outlined and written. One word: supplement! Excuse any errors I may have made.