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Given that so few books exist that actually contain GRE example essays, both guides from Vibrant Publishing are welcome. These guides aren’t perfect, but using them isn’t going to hurt you. The thing is these guides also might not help you much, depending on how you use them.
There is a decently crafted essay response to a number of GRE essays. The author breaks down his approach in a quasi-outline structure. You’ll get to see how to think on both sides of the issues, and in doing so get a better sense of how to actually formulate an essay around such ideas.
It seems that only one person wrote these essays. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the style does get monotonous. Speaking of style, the GRE does offer style points. The writing here is very matter-of-fact and dry—dare I say boring. Indeed, style is not at all mentioned.
Come to think of it, the book doesn’t spend any time talking about the different scores and what the scorers are looking for. It just offers one possible response, and I don’t even think the essay graders would give the essay a ‘6’. Sure, the essays are very, very long—and the computer grader might be impressed—but a lot of the writing isn’t that sophisticated and a lot of analysis of a ‘6’ isn’t quite there (some of the essays are just thick with detailed examples—and tedious personal examples—but very little insight). To get a sense of what I’m talking about compare the ‘6’ essay found online to one of the purported ‘6’s in this book.
Had the essay used different writers—those with different styles—and shown essays at the ‘3’ and ‘4’ level, with ways to improve them, the guide would have been more helpful. Had it focused less on summarizing examples, and focused more on how to incorporate analysis, this guide would have been more helpful.
I concede that it is much harder to teach style and analysis than it is to teach structure, which this book does relatively well. So, yes, by following the essay format in this book you will write decent, example-heavy essays. Though you might be putting a cap of a ‘5’ on your essay, which, for many, is all they are looking for anyhow. So if you are writing ‘3’ and ‘4’ essays this book might be helpful. But if you are looking to confidently crack a ‘5’/’5+’, you might not get much from this book.
Finally, I should not that the essays lack a little verisimilitude. They are too polished and too long. 800+ words, error free, in 30 minutes is a feat few can achieve—not that the test writers expect you to do so, anyhow. So don’t be discouraged by the length or by the polish.
The two books should be used to get a sense of how one writer creates a ‘5’-ish essay. The notes at the beginning of the essay will also give you an idea of how to think about the essay before diving in. However, the essay scorers are looking for more than what this book discusses. So sub-5 scorers might want to use this book a supplementary source for example essays, but make sure you get a more comprehensive take on the essay from any one of the many other resources out there.