Tackling the GRE Section by Section: Part I—Verbal Reasoning

Taking the GRE is an important step toward being admitted to graduate school, and even though it’s a test that often causes anxiety for students, there are several important steps you can take to be prepared for test day. Over the next few weeks, MPA@UNC will be addressing how to prepare for the different parts of the GRE, including sections on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.

What is verbal reasoning?

The verbal reasoning part of the GRE has three types of questions:

Reading comprehension—includes long passages, short passages, and argument structure passages. This section tests your ability to understand implied ideas drawn from reading passages.
Text completion—This section has between 1-3 blanks, requiring the reader to select which words best fill those blanks.
Sentence equivalence—This section has the test taker complete a sentence with partial information. For example, you’ll be asked to choose which two words complete a sentence.

What is the best way to prepare for the GRE verbal reasoning section?

Budget your time wisely. It’s critical that you’re prepared for the timing aspect of the test. The best way to prepare for how long each question is going to take is to time yourself while taking a practice test. You can do this with a paper-based test or by using online software that simulates the testing environment. When taking practice tests, time yourself to meet your completion target. If you find yourself falling behind, skip the reading comprehension questions that only have one question associated with them—your time is better spent engaging with the passages that have a higher volume of questions.

Allow your brain to do what it does best, and link the information you’re reading to the knowledge you already have. When rushed by time constraints, your brain can feel the pressure of the time crunch and impede the deep understanding that you need for comprehension. As soon as you finish reading the passage, pull out the main idea or “big thread” running through the passage. It will help to set the tone for moving on to the question portion.

Read through the passages entirely rather than approaching the questions first. One common mistake that students tend to make during the verbal reasoning section is reading through the passages only as a way of hunting for answers. In doing this, it becomes more difficult to determine the bigger picture and can lead to mistakes on a variety of questions.

You should spend three minutes to read the longer passages and 45-60 minutes answering the questions. Plan to spend a minute and a half reading the other two passages and anywhere from 30-60 seconds for answering questions.

What are the best tips and resources for preparing for the verbal reasoning section?

One of the best tips is to study in multiple ways. This helps to reinforce material and methods and provide for additional practice. If you’re stuck in a “study rut,” try changing up your approach to get a fresh start. For example, there are a lot of vocabulary words used on the GRE, so consider breaking them into flash cards and reviewing several each day while riding the bus, waiting in line at the store, or when you first wake up. Practice your reading both in paper format and on the computer to make sure that you’re in the habit of extracting main ideas as well as preparing for timing. Another easy tip is to subscribe to a well-regarded newspaper or magazine like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, or The New York Times. You’ll get more reading practice and become more familiar with an effective writing style.

Once you take practice tests, review the types of questions or passages you struggled with. This will give you a sense of where you need to focus. For example, if you had issues reading the longer passages, focus on that particular piece in order to strengthen your skills. If you’re already a whiz at text completion, you do not need to spend as much time studying those questions.

If you’ve prepared in advance, you might feel slight nerves on test day, but you’ll realize once you begin that you’ve taken all the necessary steps to succeed on the test. Before you begin, take a deep breath, and prepare to knock that score out of the park.

Check back for our upcoming breakdown and tips on the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE.