Feeling vexed by the GRE Verbal section? Or just not sure how to maximize your score? You’ve come to the right place!
In this total guide to acing GRE Verbal, we’ll give a comprehensive overview of everything you need to know to get a great score. We’ll start with a quick bird’s-eye-view of the section, and then go in-depth on each question type. After that we’ll go over how to prepare for the test—with a special section on addressing common weaknesses. Finally, we’ll suggest some strategies for success on test day and provide a couple of extra tips for those of you who are going for that perfect 170!
The GRE Verbal Section: An Overview
The GRE Verbal Reasoning section tests your high-level reading and language skills. You’ll be asked vocabulary questions about choosing the appropriate word(s) for a given sentence based on context, and reading comprehension questions that have to do with parsing the main ideas and interpreting the details of complex passages.
Like the Quantitative section, the GRE Verbal Section is a 40-question test split into two 20-question subsections. It’s scored on a scale from 130-170, in one-point increments.
The GRE is section-adaptive, which means your performance on the first 20-question subsection determines the difficulty of questions in the second 20-question subsection. If you want a score towards the higher end of the scale, you need to be able to access that more difficult second subsection.
Each 20-question section will have the following approximate question breakdown:
- About 10 questions on vocab, split between sentence equivalence and text completion questions.
- About 10 questions on reading comprehension, split between traditional multiple choice, multi-answer multiple choice (select all correct answers from a list), and select-in-passage questions.
We’ll do a deep dive on each of these question types in the next section.
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GRE Verbal Questions: All 5 Types Explained
In this section, we’ll explain each GRE Verbal question type, provide an example and explanation, and give tips on how to approach those questions.
GRE Verbal Vocab Questions
There are two kinds of vocab questions: sentence equivalence and text completion.
Sentence equivalence questions give you a sentence with one blank, and you need to pick two words from a selection of six that could both complete the sentence and give the sentence the same general meaning.
Here’s an example of a sentence equivalence question from the ETS website.
Directions: “Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences that are alike in meaning.”
Question: Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as __________.
The key signal word here is “although,” which lets us know that the second half of the sentence is going to offer a counterpoint to the first half. So though the work has “pioneering ideas” [point], one would not characterize the work as pioneering overall [counterpoint]. We’re looking for synonyms of pioneering to complete the sentence, then.
“Orthodox” and “conventional” are antonyms of pioneering—let’s eliminate those. “Eccentric” is tempting, but a work can be strange without being pioneering, so it’s not quite right. “Original”—that could definitely work. “Trifling” means frivolous or inconsequential, which isn’t right. That leaves “innovative,” which is definitely a synonym for “pioneering.” The only answers that really work, then, are “original” and “innovative.”
GRE Verbal Tips for Sentence Equivalence
- While a lot of the individual words might make seem like they make sense in the context of the sentence, the two words have to give the sentence a similar meaning. If you’re pretty sure of one word, that can help you narrow down your choices for the other word; you can eliminate any choices that would make the sentence mean something totally different.
- However, don’t assume that just because you’ve found two synonyms that you’ve got the right answer; the makers of the GRE often put in multiple synonym pairs to trip you up! In the question above, “orthodox” and “traditional” have similar meaning, but they aren’t the right choices because the sentence doesn’t really make sense with them.
Text completion questions give you a sentence or short passage (up to six sentences) missing one to three words. You’ll need to select the word(s) that best complete the passage.
For passages with one missing word, you’ll select the correct word from five choices. For passages with two or three missing words, each blank will have three possible answer choices. In all cases, you’ll select the word(s) you want to choose by clicking on them. For single-blank questions, this will just be from a list; for multiple-blank questions, you’ll have a table where each column represents your choices for a particular blank.
Here’s an example of text completion from the ETS website so you can see what this looks like in action.
Directions: “For each blank select one entry from the corresponding column of choices. Fill all blanks in the way that best completes the text.”
Question: Vain and prone to violence, Caravaggio could not handle success: the more his (i)__________ as an artist increased, the more (ii)__________ his life became.
|Blank (i)||Blank (ii)|
The key phrase here is “Caravaggio could not handle success.” This indicates that the rest of the sentence is going to elaborate on how he handled success poorly. So the blank in the phrase “the more his <blank> as an artist increased” is going to be a synonym for “success.”
Temperance is definitely wrong—it means “restraint” or “abstinence from alcohol.” That leaves “notoriety,” which means “fame,” but with a potentially negative implication (think “notorious”). It’s tempting, but “eminence”—fame with the implication of skill or success—is a better synonym for “success.”
Since we know Caravaggio could not handle success, we are looking for a negative word to describe his life once he became successful for the second blank. “Tumultuous” (meaning “chaotic,” like a tumult) is the only choice that’s clearly negative. (“Providential” means “lucky”—think “providence,” like “divine providence”—and “dispassionate” means “detached.”) So, the correct answer is “eminence” and then “tumultuous.”
GRE Verbal Tips for Text Completion
- A really important thing for text completion is word valence. What do I mean by this? Word valence is whether a word has a positive or a negative tone overall. You can usually figure out whether a word should have a positive or a negative connotation from sentence context, even if you can’t exactly figure out the word is. For example, in the above question, in the first blank, “the more his _______ as an artist increased,” it’s pretty clear from context that this should be a positive word. This actually helps us pick between “notoriety” and “eminence” even though they have similar meanings—“notoriety” has a negative valence, while “eminence” has a positive one.
- If you aren’t familiar with a word in the list, try to think if you know any similar words. For blank (ii) above, you may not be familiar with “tumultuous,” but have you heard the word “tumult”? Or maybe you don’t know “providential,” but you know “providence” and you have a sense that it means protection or care. Any information you can leverage about words you do know can help you figure out the right choice when you aren’t totally sure what all the words mean.
GRE Verbal Reading Comprehension Questions
There are three kinds of reading comprehension questions: multiple choice, multiple-answer multiple choice, and select-in-passage. All reading comprehension example questions come from ETS and are based on the following example passage: (See passage and questions from ETS here).
Reviving the practice of using elements of popular music in classical composition, an approach that had been in hibernation in the United States during the 1960s, composer Philip Glass (born 1937) embraced the ethos of popular music in his compositions. Glass based two symphonies on music by rock musicians David Bowie and Brian Eno, but the symphonies’ sound is distinctively his. Popular elements do not appear out of place in Glass’s classical music, which from its early days has shared certain harmonies and rhythms with rock music. Yet this use of popular elements has not made Glass a composer of popular music. His music is not a version of popular music packaged to attract classical listeners; it is high art for listeners steeped in rock rather than the classics.
Multiple choice questions are pretty straightforward, at least in format.
Directions: Select only one answer choice.
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Question: The passage addresses which of the following issues related to Glass’s use of popular elements in his classical compositions?
- How it is regarded by listeners who prefer rock to the classics
- How it has affected the commercial success of Glass’s music
- Whether it has contributed to a revival of interest among other composers in using popular elements in their compositions
- Whether it has had a detrimental effect on Glass’s reputation as a composer of classical music
- Whether it has caused certain of Glass’s works to be derivative in quality
This question wants to know what the passage says about “issues related to Glass’s use of popular elements in his classical compositions.” Let’s go through the answers to see if any are supported by the passage.
Choice (A) says “how it [Glass’ use of popular elements] is regarded by listeners who prefer rock to the classics.” If you look back up at the passage, you can see that the passage doesn’t mention people who prefer rock music at all. Choice (A) can’t be correct; let’s move on. Choice (B) refers to Glass’ commercial success, but again, the passage doesn’t mention anything about Glass’ profits or popularity. Choice (C) discusses Glass’ effects on other composers. Other composers aren’t mentioned—just popular musicians Brian Eno and David Bowie.
We are left with choices (D) and (E) as the only possible answers at this point. Choice (D) talks about Glass’ reputation as a composer. The passage doesn’t say anything explicit about his reputation; for all we know, everyone but the author hates Philip Glass. This leaves (E)— “whether [Glass’ use of popular elements] has caused certain of Glass’ works to be derivative in quality.” If you look in the passage, the author asserts about Glass’ symphonies based on works by Eno and Bowie that “the symphonies’ sound is distinctly his.” This does address whether or not the works are derivative by asserting that they are not. (E) is the correct answer.
Tips for Multiple Choice Reading Comprehension Questions:
- Rely on evidence from the passage. This is the most important strategy for ALL reading comprehension questions. There might only be a few words in the passage that directly address the correct answer, as in the above question, where all we get on the issue of whether or not Glass’ works are derivative is the phrase that the “symphonies’ sound is distinctly his.” This is sparse—but it’s there, and it is responsive to whether or not his works are derivative. There will always be concrete evidence of some kind in the passage to support the correct answer. Don’t get tricked by answer choices that aren’t directly contradicted by the passage but that don’t actually have any evidence present—ETS loves to include choices like this.
- With that said, don’t try to absorb every detail of the passage on a first pass-through. We’ll discuss developing a strategy to address passages later in the article, but it’s far better to read passages for main ideas first and then look back at the passage for more details when you are trying to select the right answer.
Multi-Answer Multiple Choice
In multiple-answer multiple choice GRE Verbal questions, you’ll be given three numbered choices and need to select all that apply.
Directions: Consider each of the three choices separately and select all that apply.
Question: The passage suggests that Glass’s work displays which of the following qualities?
- A return to the use of popular music in classical compositions
- An attempt to elevate rock music to an artistic status more closely approximating that of classical music
- A long-standing tendency to incorporate elements from two apparently disparate musical styles
Since we need to pick each statement that applies, let’s consider each of them separately.
First, does Glass’s work display “a return to the use of popular music in classical compositions”? If we look back at the passage, we can see that the very first phrase is “Reviving the practice of using elements of popular music in classical composition” about Glass’s work. (A) is correct!
Let’s move on to (B). Does Glass’s work display “an attempt to elevate rock music to an artistic status more closely approximating that of classical music”? You might think the answer is yes because Glass is an artistic composer who uses rock elements. But it’s critical that we actually look back at details in the passage. Then we’ll see that it says that “this use of popular elements has not made Glass a composer of popular music.” If Glass doesn’t compose popular—i.e. rock—music, then he can’t be attempting to “elevate” rock music. He’s simply incorporating rock elements in classical music, which already has “artistic status.” So (B) isn’t correct.
Moving on to (C), does Glass’s work display “a long-standing tendency to incorporate elements from two apparently disparate musical styles”? We know that Glass incorporates rock elements into his classical compositions. So he does “incorporate elements” of “disparate musical styles.” But is it a “long-standing tendency?” The passage says Glass “revive[d] the practice,” which had “been in hibernation.” This suggests that there was a history of combining musical styles. That could be described as a “long-standing tendency.” (C) is also correct. That leaves us with (A) and (C) as our answers.
GRE Verbal Tips for Multiple-Answer Multiple-Choice Questions
- You have seven possible answer choice combinations for these questions (A, B, C, A&B, A&C, B&C, A&B&C), but don’t be overwhelmed by this. Consider each statement individually and assess it on its own merits without considering any of the others. For other question styles, comparing answer choices is smart because there will be one best answer. For this kind of question, it’s much better to treat each statement as a mini-question of its own. Does the statement apply to the passage? Yes or no?
- For a statement to be correct, every part of that statement has to be correct. For example, in the above statement (C), we didn’t just have to determine if Glass combined disparate elements of two styles—we had to determine if there was a “long-standing tendency.” You have to consider all parts of each statement. Don’t ignore a single word!
- As in other reading comprehension questions, rely on what’s in the passage for evidence. If you have to make any logical leaps or inferences with no direct evidence from the text, it’s not the right answer.
In select-in-passage questions for GRE Verbal, you will be directed to select the sentence that best fulfills a particular criteria. Then you will literally click the sentence in the passage on your screen to select your answer.
Directions/Question: Select the sentence that distinguishes two ways of integrating rock and classical music. [Note: in the actual GRE Verbal section, you will hover your cursor over the passage and click on the sentence you want].
- Reviving the practice of using elements of popular music in classical composition, an approach that had been in hibernation in the United States during the 1960s, composer Philip Glass (born 1937) embraced the ethos of popular music in his compositions.
- Glass based two symphonies on music by rock musicians David Bowie and Brian Eno, but the symphonies’ sound is distinctively his.
- Popular elements do not appear out of place in Glass’s classical music, which from its early days has shared certain harmonies and rhythms with rock music.
- Yet this use of popular elements has not made Glass a composer of popular music.
- His music is not a version of popular music packaged to attract classical listeners; it is high art for listeners steeped in rock rather than the classics.
The key thing we are looking for here is a sentence with two ways to integrate rock and classical music. Let’s go through it sentence-by-sentence:
- The first sentence only talks about one way: “using elements of popular music in classical composition.”
- The second sentence continues to talk about this one way, just with a specific example.
- The third sentence continues to talk about one way—using popular elements in “Glass’s classical music.”
- The fourth sentence seems a little ambiguous at first—it mentions his use of popular elements has not made him a “composer of popular music,” which suggests a second option. But that doesn’t really delineate two ways of integrating rock and classical, just two kinds of composers—classical and popular.
- The last sentence, finally, presents two different ways of integrating rock and classical: a “version of popular music packaged to attract classical listeners,” one way, is contrasted against Glass’s method of “high art for listeners steeped in rock rather than the classics,” another way. Since the last sentence is the only one that really presents two ways to integrate rock and classical, it has to be the right choice.
GRE Verbal Tips for Select-in-Passage Questions
- A key part of select-in-passage questions is choosing the best sentence. So if there are two sentences that both seem like they might kind of work, you need to assess which one answers the question in the most complete and direct way. Again, I can’t reiterate enough that using evidence from the passage is the essential reading comprehension strategy—you’ll know the best sentence because it will have the clearest evidence that it fulfills whatever criteria you need to select for.
How to Study for GRE Verbal
Before you start preparing in earnest, there are two things you need to do: establish a baseline and set a goal score for the GRE Verbal Reasoning section.
To establish a baseline, take a complete, scored Verbal section (that would be two subsections or 40 questions). I advise taking an entire PowerPrep test to set your baseline for the entire test anyways—it forms an essential part of any GRE study plan. But since we’re discussing Verbal right now, I’ll focus on Verbal. The Verbal score you get at the very beginning of your prep process is your baseline. Once you’ve established this baseline, you need to figure out a goal score.
Your goal score for a given section just needs to be a high enough score to not be a barrier to admission. How do you figure this out? Look up the average GRE Verbal scores for all of the programs that you’re interested in. Take the highest number, add 1-2 points for safety, and that’s your goal score. You can see more on setting a goal score here, including advice on what to do if your programs don’t give much score information.
So once you’ve set a goal score, you can get a decent idea of how long you’ll need to study to bring your baseline up to your goal score. We have the following estimates for the hours it will take to improve a certain point amount:
- 5 points = 40 hours
- 10 points = 80 hours
- 20 points = 160 hours
- 30 points = 240 hours
So if your baseline is 155, and you need to get up to 160, expect to spend about 40 hours studying.
Once you’ve set a goal score, there are two overall prongs of attack you’ll need to consider when you prepare for the GRE Verbal section: content/skills (the underlying foundational material the GRE is testing) and strategy (how you actually approach questions and the overall test. We discuss how best to approach the two prongs below.
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GRE Verbal Content and Skills Practice
There are a few key content and skills areas to work on for GRE Verbal. We’ll detail each—and how to work on it—below.
Learning GRE Vocabulary
A big part of GRE success is learning vocabulary. As you might imagine, it’s very hard to answer sentence equivalence and text completion questions if you aren’t familiar with any of the answers. Even beyond that, a strong vocabulary makes it much easier to parse the difficult passages you’ll be faced with for reading comprehension.
There are two parts to learning vocab: simple memorization and vocab-in-context. Both are critical parts of the vocabulary process.
For simple memorization, your best bet is the friendly flashcard. We have our own flashcard PDF, as well as reviews of other flashcard sets you might consider. When you are drilling those cards, I recommend using the waterfall method to ensure you’re really memorizing every word. If you want to be able to review your flashcards online, you can use Quizlet, although you can’t do the waterfall method with their interface so I recommend also making hard copies.
You might think that after memorizing 1000 vocab flash cards that you’re all set. But that’s only part of the equation. You also need to make sure that you actually understand the words in context—so you know how to use them and how to understand them being used by others. This will also help you actually remember the words and what they mean.
There are a couple things you can do to work on your in-context vocabulary. First, you can try writing out sentences with your vocab words to make sure you really know how they are used in context. You can also read high-level publications and make note of how the words you learned are used there. When you find yourself using the words in conversation or in writing fairly naturally, you know that you’ve really learned them.
Reading Comprehension for Complex GRE Passages
As you might imagine, the best way to improve your reading comprehension is to read a lot. But don’t just go for quantity—you should read things that are topically similar to what you’ll be faced with on the GRE. Try to read a diverse array of articles from publications with a high reading level like the Atlantic, the New York Times, the Economist, Nature, and so on. Because there are often science passages on the GRE, you can even try reading abstracts from scientific studies on PubMed. Can you figure out the main hypothesis and results of the study from the abstract, even if it’s in an area you aren’t familiar with?
As you read articles, make sure you really understand what’s being said. What’s the main idea? What evidence does the author advance to support their position? Do they present any counterpoints? If you can understand the argumentative and rhetorical structure of complex articles, you’ll be all set for GRE Verbal Reasoning.
Identifying Signal Words
Signal words and phrases tell you important contextual information about the sentence or passage—information that will help you select the correct answer. They are particularly critical elements for selecting the correct words in vocab questions, but can also help you quickly parse the meaning of complex passages.
Signal words are usually transitions and indicate whether some previously presented piece of information is going to be supported, contradicted, clarified, and so on.
Here are a few common groups of GRE signal words, what they signal, and a brief, simple example sentence:
- However/although – offering a caveat or mitigation
- Although the author was social by nature, he did not particularly enjoy book tours.
- Indeed/furthermore – offering further support or emphasis
- The author was social by nature; indeed, he loved meeting hundreds of new people on book tours.
- By contrast/rather/instead – offering a different perspective, counterpoint, or purpose
- The author was not social by nature; rather, he was forced into sociability by the necessities of book tours and signing.
To practice your understanding of signal words, try to notice every time you think you see a signal word in what you are reading. Consider what the signal word is indicating. You might even keep a running list with the sentence, the signal word, and what it indicates in that sentence. Over time, you’ll develop your own base of signal word knowledge.
Study Tips for GRE Verbal Practice Questions and Sections
Here are my recommendations for using actual practice tests and questions to prepare for the GRE Verbal section.
Use Official Material When Possible
The best material for Verbal practice questions will always be official ETS material. Since they make the test, their material is the closest to the real GRE experience. You can get complete official practice tests from the PowerPrep software, plus additional practice questions from their paper tests and online. (Check out our guide to the best Verbal resources out there.) You can also consider buying a prep book.
Target Your Weaknesses
When you complete practice GRE Verbal questions, tests, and sections, pay close attention to what you get wrong. The patterns of what you answer incorrectly will reveal any content or strategy weaknesses that you need to target to improve. Are you always missing sentence equivalence? Do science-themed passages confuse you? You’ll know to work on those things.
Practice Pacing and Test Strategy
It’s critical that you practice staying on pace so that you can answer all the questions in the time allotted. To that end, be sure to take timed practice sections and monitor any areas where you’re losing too much time. In general, try not to spend too much time on vocabulary, since reading comprehension questions will naturally take longer due to the reading time involved.
You also need to practice strategies for selecting the correct answer like working on your process of elimination skills.
Develop a Consistent Strategy for Passages
It’s critical that you come up with a strategy for approaching passages on the GRE that works for you. Having a consistent approach that you hone during prep will help you with time management during Verbal and increase your comfort level when faced with the GRE’s dense, complex passages.
There are two solid strategies for approaching GRE passages and reading comprehension questions:
- Skim passage first: In this strategy, you’ll quickly skim the passage before reading the question. Then once you’ve read the question, you’ll look back in the passage for the details and evidence that you need to answer the question.
- Read question first: For this approach, you’ll read the question first, then read through the passage looking for the evidence that will tell you the right answer.
Both of these strategies can work well for students and help them manage their time; making them work for you is mostly a matter of personal preference.
Unfortunately, there’s also a third approach that, while commonly used, is not a good strategy. In this approach, you’ll closely read the passage first, trying to absorb every detail. Then you’ll read the question, and find that you still have to go back into the passage to find the answer. As you might imagine, this is an inefficient strategy that wastes a lot of time. Most of the details in the passage aren’t going to be important for an individual question, so getting too bogged down in trying to understand and remember them is totally unnecessary. If you’re going to read the passage first, just quickly skim it for the main points.
4 Common GRE Verbal Problems and How to Fix Them
It’s critical to address your own particular weaknesses on the Verbal section, but there are a few weak points that are common to a lot of students. We’ve listed them below and suggested some ways to address them if they are issues that you have.
Forgetting The Vocabulary You Learned
If you find yourself forgetting large swathes of the vocab you drilled, it means you probably didn’t learn it in a very effective way (sorry). Did you complete both components of the vocabulary process mentioned above? Or did you just memorize without applying? Make sure that you have been both drilling flashcards effectively and learning vocabulary in context. See above for my recommendations on the best way to really learn and retain vocabulary.
Running Out of Time
If you are struggling to finish Verbal sections on time, the primary thing you need to do is figure out where you’re losing time. Are you primarily losing time on vocab, or reading comprehension? For vocab, it’s typically a waste of time to spend a long while agonizing over those questions—you typically either know the words, or you don’t. Read the questions very carefully and answer them to the best of your ability, but don’t spend 30 seconds staring blankly at the answers. If you find yourself doing this, try completing passage questions first, and then come back to the vocab.
If, by contrast, you’re flying through the vocab questions but running out of time because you’re spending too much time on passages, your approach to passages may not be very effective. Are you spending too much time on your initial read-through? Are you overthinking what counts as “evidence” and overanalyzing every little word? Re-read our advice on passage strategy above for some tips on adjusting your approach.
Of course, you could feel rushed because of a combination of vocab and reading comprehension issues, in which case, fiddle around with changing your passage strategy and answering vocab questions at a faster pace or after reading comprehension to try to figure out what works best for you.
Being Torn Between Two Answers
There is always a best answer choice on the GRE (except for multi-answer multiple choice, but then there’s no need to be torn!) If you frequently find that you can narrow your choices down to two, but then you can’t choose the final one, a couple things could be happening. If this is happening primarily on vocab questions, you may just not know the vocab well enough. Also be sure to consider word valence—based on context, does a positive or negative word belong in the blank? That can help a lot in differentiating answers.
If this is primarily happening on reading comprehension, you need to hone your understanding of identifying evidence in passages. Only one answer will ever be correct based on clear evidence in the passage. This means you need to practice parsing the complex passages for the small details that point to the correct answer.
Feeling Intimidated by GRE Passages
If you find yourself doing well during low-pressure prep sessions but getting flustered by the long, complex passages during timed practice tests, work on staying calm. If all the practice test passages seem crazy-difficult , it’s possible that the material you’ve been reading isn’t difficult enough, or that you aren’t reading a big enough variety of sources. But it’s also possible that you’re just suffering from some test anxiety. In this case, maintain positive self-talk, take deep breaths, and know that you can do it.
Taking the Test: 4 GRE Verbal Tips for Success
When you actually take the test, here are some strategies to help you ace the Verbal section!
Use Mark & Return Liberally
Friends, you get the same amount of points for easy questions as hard questions. What does this mean for your strategy? Do questions that you find easy first! If you look at a question or a passage and you think “ew, gross,” or you find yourself staring at it in blank confusion for more than a few seconds, mark that question and come back to it! Odds are that it will seem easier when you come back to it, and even if it doesn’t, at least you didn’t waste valuable time when you could have been getting easy (or at least easier) points.
Answer Every Question
There’s no guessing penalty on the GRE, so it’s to your advantage to answer every question. Keep an eye on the time and when you have a few minutes left, quickly skim remaining questions and pick answers.
When You Do Guess, Guess Smart
To the extent that you can avoid guessing randomly, you should. This means you should hone all of your educated guessing and process-of-elimination skills, then deploy them with a vengeance on the test! Every time you can eliminate a wrong answer, your chance of guessing the right one goes up.
Keep Calm and Do What You Practiced
Don’t get psyched out when you’re faced with the actual test. Trust that you’ve prepared all you can, and calmly implement all of your passage and question-answering strategies. Even if you feel like some questions are throwing you for a loop, maintain positive self-talk, take some deep breaths, and move on to another question. You can do it!
2 Bonus Tips for a Perfect Score on GRE Verbal
If you’re really going for that 170 on Verbal, here are a couple additional tips to help you get there!
Be Aware of What You Can Afford to Get Wrong
The answer: not much. While a 170 on Quant usually requires a truly perfect raw score, though, you can usually get one question wrong and still get a 170 on Verbal. This leaves you with a very, very tiny margin for error.
Laser in on Your Weaknesses
It’s always good to focus on your weaknesses when you’re preparing for a test, but if you want a 170, you need to pinpoint your weak points as exactly as possible. It’s not enough to know that you sometimes get tripped up by Sentence Equivalence—which Sentence Equivalence questions? Are you picking things that aren’t quite synonyms? Are you tripped up by multiple pairs of synonyms? To really figure out exact, specific weakness, you’ll probably need to do an enormous amount of practice problems so you can notice patterns in what you’re missing that are as specific as possible. Then, you can target those super-specific weaknesses and not be thrown on test day.
Review: GRE Verbal Questions, Practice, and Tips
Here’s what we reviewed in our total guide to GRE Verbal domination.
There are five types of GRE Verbal questions:
- Sentence equivalence (choose two words that could both complete a sentence and give it a similar meaning)
- Text completion (fill in the blanks with the best word choices)
Reading Comprehension Questions:
- Multiple-choice (choose the right answer)
- Multi-answer multiple choice (choose all correct statements)
- Select-in-passage (choose the right sentence in the passage)
In preparing for GRE Verbal, your first step has to be establishing a baseline and a goal score. Then take the following steps.
- Build your vocabulary
- Get comfortable reading complex material
- Learn to identify signal words
- Use the best (official) material
- Target your weaknesses
- Practice pacing and strategy, like process-of-elimination
- Develop a strategy for passages
- If you’re forgetting the vocab you learned, you probably aren’t drilling it very effectively.
- If you’re running out of time, you may be either spending too much time deliberating on vocab questions or your passage strategy isn’t very effective.
- Being torn between two answers is a sign that you need to further hone your vocabulary knowledge or your ability to pick out evidence in passages.
- If you feel intimidated by passages, it could be a sign either that you aren’t practicing difficult enough reading material or that you just have some test anxiety.
Test-Day Success Strategies:
- Take advantage of mark & return to do the easier questions first and save the hardest ones for last!
- Answer every question—it can only help you.
- When you do guess, eliminate as many answers as you confidently can first.
- Keep calm and trust in the preparation you did!
Extra Tips for a 170:
- Be aware of what you can get wrong and still get a 170. Usually, you can get one question incorrect and still receive that top score.
- When you’re prepping, laser-in on your weaknesses as specifically as possible.
The bottom line is that if you follow good prep practices as outlined in this article, you can ace GRE Verbal!
For more resources for the GRE Verbal section, check out our list of 357 mission-critical GRE vocabulary words, our complete 357-word GRE flashcard set, and our set of versatile GRE vocabulary PDFs. Also see our collection of all the best GRE Verbal practice resources.
Looking for more general GRE study resources? See our 34 essential tips and strategies for the GRE and our comprehensive list of 21 GRE practice tests.
If you’re worried about test difficulty, check out our analysis of all the factors that contribute to the GRE’s difficulty level.
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