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Vanquishing GRE Verbal Part 2: Some strategies to master the GRE Verbal Reasoning section


In the previous article (Part 1 of the GRE Verbal series), I spoke about the types of questions that appear on the GRE Verbal Reasoning section. As the name suggests, this section requires a combination of skills – the ability to read and analyse (often long) passages of text, a solid vocabulary, the knack of differentiating between the important and less important themes and many more. Fear not, with a balanced strategy and (quite some) practice, it is more than possible to achieve your target score.

Unlike the Quantitative Reasoning section, which generally requires focused and specific practice, the Verbal Reasoning section requires efforts distributed over a broader range of resources.

One of the most important weapons needed in your arsenal to ace the VR section is good vocabulary.  Unfortunately, one does not develop good vocabulary overnight – it is the result of cumulative reading over a long period of time. Fortunately though, in the context of the GRE, there exist several resources to help tackle the vocabulary problem. Many test prep companies such Kaplan, Barron’s, Magoosh and others provide word lists and flash cards – containing “frequently occurring/high frequency words”. Familiarizing yourself with these words is a pretty good start. Publications such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic contain many high-quality, engaging articles which help improve vocabulary. These are also useful for tackling the Writing section! If you’ve got the time, another must-read book is Word Power Made Easy. Although the book does not contain a lot of “GRE words”, it serves as great primer in improving your vocabulary.

As always, the ETS Official Guide to the GRE is your best friend. It contains practice questions of each type, sorted by order of difficulty. The Official GRE VERBAL REASONING Practice Questions Volume 1 contains 150 real test questions with explanations. There is also a plethora of additional resources offered by other test prep companies. In my opinion, the explanations of the answers found in the ETS resources are unmatched- they’re clear, concise and don’t contain spurious leaps in logic.

Not all questions in this section are of the same difficulty – some take longer to solve than others. In general, Reading Comprehensions (RCs) usually take longer to complete. Avoid spending too much time on a single question. Move on and see if you can try a different approach later.

Some tips to solve the different types of questions are:

Reading Comprehension


  • Many people find RCs to be the hardest question type on the Verbal section and save them for the end. Make sure you devote enough time to solve all the questions.
  • Do not make any assumptions – the RC questions are always based on the information provided in the passage. Some questions may require you to infer things from the passage – this isn’t the same as assuming something!

Text Completion


  • A commonly followed practice is to “use your own words” – this process involves filling the blank(s) with your own word(s), and then going through the options to find the closest answer.
  • In questions containing multiple blanks, finding the right word for the second/third blank may be easier than finding the right word for the first blank. You can then work your way backwards to find the right answer for the first blank.

Sentence Equivalence


  • Always look for certain keywords that indicate the “tone” of the sentence.
  • Do not just pick a pair of words whose meanings you’re unfamiliar with. While they may be right at times, this isn’t a recommended method.

Apart from the above tips, there are a couple of other points to keep in mind.

  • It is a good practice to underline important parts of a question – these may be sentences in a passage, or certain keywords in a Text Completion/Sentence Equivalence question – these may help you save time.
  • Employ the process of elimination while attempting questions in the Verbal Reasoning section – for any question, eliminate any options that is definitely incorrect, and progressively reduce the number of available options until you land up with a single answer choice.
  • Similarly, make sure you practice questions of different difficulty – working on only very difficult questions or acing the easy questions alone aren’t enough!
  • Remember, the most important weapon in your arsenal is being calm. A level head is the most important thing needed to conquer this section.

The GRE Verbal Reasoning section, just like the Quantitative Reasoning section, is all about practice. Take several timed, full length practice tests under similar test conditions and track your progress at regular intervals.

About the Author

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