GRE Verbal Reasoning - Question Types

Verbal Reasoning sections make up two of the five sections on the GRE, and consist of three categories of question: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. Reading comprehension features several questions related to the analysis of a passage of text. Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence are self-contained questions that present a section of text with words missing, which students must complete from a list of vocabulary words or phrases. About half of the questions on the Verbal Reasoning section will be Reading Comprehension questions, and the other half will be a mixture of Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions.

Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension questions feature a passage of text for analysis, varying in length from one paragraph to four or five. Passages are drawn from everyday topics including arts and humanities and physical, biological, and social sciences. The passages are based on material found in academic and nonacademic books and periodicals, and are likely to be very uninteresting compared to what you usually read for entertainment.

Reading comprehension has three question formats: Multiple Choice (select one answer), Multiple Choice (select one or more answers), and Select-in-passage. Select-in-passage questions ask students to select one sentence in the passage that meets the description posed in the question (clicking anywhere on a sentence will highlight it).

When you are taking the test, it is important to distinguish between the two different types of multiple choice questions, and ensure that you answer each type appropriately. One way to remember what type of question you are answering is to pay attention to the formatting of the test: single-answer multiple choice questions use "bubble" formatting for the answers (so you can only select one answer at a time), whereas multiple-answer multiple choice questions use "box-selection" formatting for the answers (so that you can select one or multiple answers, as appropriate). For multiple-answer multiple choice, make sure that you select every correct answer! This is a habit that you must form while you are taking practice tests, if you are to maximize your score.

Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence Questions consist of a single sentence, one blank, and six answer choices. These questions require students to select two correct answers that are equivalent and complete the sentence in the same way; partially correct answers receive zero credit. To select the correct answer, students must select the two words that complete the sentence, fit its meaning, and produce completed sentences that are similar in meaning.

It may be tempting to try to "cheat" at Sentence Equivalence questions, by looking first at the vocabulary list to try to find pairs of similar words. Resist this temptation! The correct answers may not be synonymous, because all that matters for each question is the meaning of the two completed sentences. In addition, because test makers realize the temptation to solve these problems inappropriately, the provided vocabulary lists are likely to include synonyms or other pairs of similar words that cannot be used to complete the sentence correctly.

Text Completion

Text completion questions include a passage of 1-5 sentences with 1-3 blanks in it. There are three answers per blank, or five answers if there is only a single blank. There is a single correct answer, consisting of one choice for each blank; partially correct answers receive zero credit.

While the structure of Text Completion questions is the easiest type of question to understand, the presence of multiple blanks can be challenging on test day because it requires you to consider the cohesive meaning of the entire passage, and how your word choices play into that. Do not assume that you should fill the blanks in order – it may be easier to fill the last blank first, or to work outward from the middle. Regardless of your work order, make sure that each word selection contributes to the overall meaning of the passage.

Section Adaptation

The GRE General Test is adaptive at the section level. The first section is an average difficulty, with a mix of easy and difficult questions. After you complete your first Verbal Reasoning section, the computer will evaluate your performance and present an appropriately difficult second Verbal Reasoning section. Students who perform well on the first section can "level up" to a second section with additional difficult questions. The effects of this adaptation are taken into account when the final "scaled score" is calculated (more difficult tests receive higher scaled scores) in a process known as "equating". The ETS website has additional details about the testing methodology and scoring system, including the latest research on exam design and validation as well as the information provided to business schools. For students concerned about the methodology of the exam or use of section adaptation, ETS is the best available resource because they are the information source that business schools will use when evaluating students who have taken the test.