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Last Updated On: May 7th, 2021

According to the ETS Web site, the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE General Test “measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.” To put it in simpler terms, it measures your verbal reasoning, vocabulary, and reading comprehension skills. But the GRE rarely puts things in simple terms, which is why the test can be challenging.

What types of questions does it include?

The revised GRE includes 2-3 Verbal sections with 20 questions each, with 30 minutes for each section. The test is adaptive between but not within sections. If you do well on the first section, you will get more difficult questions for your second section and will be able to obtain a higher score (possibly the highest score, 170). If you don’t do as well, you will get easier questions on the second section, but your score will be capped at less than 170, even if you get every question correct. There are three types of questions:

Text completions: These are fill-in-the-blank sentences or paragraphs with one, two, or three blanks each. Each question has one correct answer. These questions are usually in order of difficulty.

Sentence equivalence: These are “fill in the blank” questions, except you have to choose the two answer choices that would best plug into the sentence (out of six, and no partial credit). They are not always in order of difficulty.

Reading comprehension: Half of the questions in the verbal section pertain to specific reading passages. There are three types of questions: Multiple Choice, which are traditional questions with one answer; Select All That Apply, for which multiple answers might be correct; and Select in Passage, for which you must click on a sentence or part of a passage that answers the question. Passages are usually between 100-450 words long and are about a variety of academic topics. They tend to be written in a dense, non-straightforward way, which requires focus and concentration from even the most advanced test-takers. Questions and passages are not in order of difficulty.

To what extent is it a vocabulary test?

Like the old SAT, the GRE is largely a test of vocabulary knowledge. The text completions and sentence equivalence questions specifically test vocabulary, while the reading comprehension passages also include many difficult words.

Though no one can predict exactly which words will be on the test, GRE words are chosen for their prevalence in academic texts and can usually be applied to a variety of contexts. There are many lists of “GRE words” out there, and studying them will certainly not hurt your score. Word lists and flashcards can be useful; however, they should not be the only strategy you use to improve your vocabulary. The revised GRE requires a deeper understanding of vocabulary words in context. While memorizing lots of short definitions can be useful, it may not provide enough vocabulary knowledge to perform well on the test. Test-takers should focus on not only learning new words, but also on how to use those words in a sentence. They should be able to recognize how a word’s meaning can change within the context of a sentence or reading passage.

How can I improve my vocabulary for the GRE?

Reading challenging texts is an excellent way to improve on all parts of the Verbal Reasoning section. Good reading material includes newspapers, such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times; high-quality magazines, such as The Economist and The New Yorker; and high-quality literature. It’s also useful to read academic journals and professional publications in the field in which you are applying for study (such as psychology and education); this type of reading can prepare you for other aspects of the graduate school application process. While you read, don’t just gloss over difficult vocabulary words. Take time to mark or write down words you don’t know, look up their definitions, and make sure you understand the word in the context it is being used. Then, keep your eyes open for that word in other contexts to better understand its shades of meaning.

How can I improve my reading comprehension skills?

Significantly improving your reading comprehension is not something that can be done overnight, or even in a few months. The more time and effort you put into it, the better. There are, however, some steps you can take to raise your score. Besides reading a lot, you should practice with GRE passages and questions. Give yourself timed Verbal Reasoning practice tests so you get used to the pacing of the test. Then, review the answers and explanations. Look for patterns in the questions that you miss, and try to identify your errors. A tutor can identify these patterns and explain the strategies that would work best for you.

How should I pace myself during the test?

Not every test taker has time to comfortably complete the test. It is important to take practice tests to get used to pacing and decide on the best approach, depending on your base score and the score you are trying to achieve. Though the questions vary in their difficulty, they are all worth the same number of points within each section. It is wise to skip time-consuming questions (like a confusing reading passage followed by only two questions) and mark them to return to later if time allows, because an easy question is worth just as much.

What else can I do to prepare for the test?

Working with a tutor can provide the personal help you need to raise your score. LA Tutors are experts on the content and structure of the test, and they know test-taking strategies and study techniques that can help you get the best score possible. Contact LA Tutors today to get started!

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