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Vanquishing GRE Verbal Part 1: A lowdown on the GRE Verbal section


What is the GRE Verbal Section about?

The GRE Verbal Reasoning (VR) section, informally known as just the “verbal section”, tests your ability to understand, analyse and evaluate textual content. This section isn’t all fancy vocabulary – although it helps if you possess a strong vocabulary. Some questions require you to identify relationships between words or phrases, while others require you to analyse a block of text to arrive at a conclusion. These are just a few of the types of questions that occur in this section – read on to find out more about the Verbal Reasoning section!


What is the format of the GRE Verbal Reasoning section?

There are two (or three, depending on the experimental section) 30 minute sections, each containing 20 questions. Not all questions are of the same difficulty – some are harder and require more time to answer than others! You’re likely to lose more points if you incorrectly answer an easier question than a more difficult one.


What are some of the topics that show up in this section?

Unlike the Quantitative Reasoning section, which contains a broad set of topics from which questions are asked, the Verbal Reasoning section contains no such set. The content found on the verbal Reasoning section is derived from a variety of sources.

The content on the GRE Verbal Reasoning sections spans various disciplines –science, philosophy, history, literature and so on. If you come across unfamiliar content, don’t worry. It’s probably the same for most other people!

The Official Guide to the GRE Revised General Test provides an insight into the GRE’s Verbal Reasoning Section. Another ETS resource, the Official GRE VERBAL REASONING Practice Questions Volume 1 contains 150 real test questions with explanations. Going through this resources are very highly recommended.

What are the types of questions that are asked?

According to the ETS’ official website, the GRE Verbal Reasoning section comprises of the following question types:

Reading Comprehension (RC)

RC based questions account for almost half the questions in the VR section. RCs require more than just passive understanding of the words and sentences- they require an understanding of the overall theme of the text as well as the ability to evaluate hypotheses and extrapolate conclusions.

RC based questions are usually of the following types:

Multiple choice questions with ONE correct answer

As the name suggests, every question contains five answer choices – one of which is the right one.

Multiple choice questions with ONE or more correct answer

Such questions require you to select one or more answer choices from the list of choices provided. The choices are represented by square boxes rather than the regular ovals. The right answer is either a single option or a combination of options. Note that in order to score full points in such a question, all correct options must be chosen and all incorrect options must not be selected. There are no part points for such questions.

Text Completion

As the name suggests, these questions require you to fill in the missing blank(s) with the appropriate word or phrase. These questions test your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar rules. Once again, these question can be either single choice or multiple choice – depending on the number of blanks to be filled.

Sentence Equivalence

These questions are similar to the Text Completion questions, in the sense that you’ll need to fill in the blanks. The difference is that the blanks need to be filled based on the overall form and meaning of the sentence, rather than on vocabulary or grammatical rules.

So that brings us to the big question:

How do I ace this section?

Vocabulary plays a key role in doing well in this section – being proficient in antonyms and synonyms is a good start to acing this section. It’s not all about the individual words though- in the end, being able to understand and analyse pieces of text is just as important in order to score well in this section.

Improving vocabulary is a long term process. This calls for inculcating a reading habit – multiple authors on multiple topics. Going through vocabulary supplements can help only incrementally!

In the next article, I elaborate on some of the tips, tricks and hacks which helped me ace the Verbal Reasoning section. Stay tuned for more!

About the Author

Aditya Natarajan is the Ivy Aspire  GRE expert and will share a series of articles to help you crack the GRE!