GRE Verbal Reasoning - Approach
Verbal Reasoning sections compose two of the five graded sections of the GRE (the Experimental or Research section may be either Verbal or Quantitative). Verbal Reasoning questions either ask students to analyze and answer questions about a passage (Reading Comprehension), or to fill in the blanks in a sentence or paragraph using a selection of provided vocabulary words (Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence).
The GRE Verbal Reasoning sections tend to be more difficult for non-native speakers of English, because it is important to know what words mean in context, rather than just memorizing their definition. Think of words as the paints on your palate: you must be able to not only name the different colors, but also to blend them to create new and unique colors; that is the level of understanding of English that is demanded by the GRE in order to get a top score. How can you learn to perform at this high level? Through dedicated, methodical study, perhaps with additional help from an instructor or tutor if there are particular areas that trouble you.
One of the most challenging components of earning a top GRE score is absorbing enough vocabulary to excel at the Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions in the Verbal Reasoning sections. Effective vocabulary building takes time, so you should begin studying very early in your GRE preparation process. The first step to study vocabulary is to find a list of vocabulary words to review. Manhattan Review has a proprietary list that we use with our students, but there are numerous free lists available on the internet. One of the best free options for GRE students is the Magoosh GRE Vocabulary Flashcards, which contains numerous vocabulary lists separated by difficulty level, and presented in a format that makes it easy to identify words that you do not fully understand.
Once you have identified words that you need to pay special attention to. Start by looking the words up in a dictionary, or multiple dictionaries, paying special attention to how the word is used in various contexts or how its usage has evolved over time. Search the word on the internet, and try to find some usage of the word that you can use to remember it by. For some words, you may remember a particularly exemplary usage from classic literature; for others, you may remember them because they describe one of your friends. The specific association does not matter; you must form connections that are meaningful to you, and use these connections to build your vocabulary.
Manhattan Review offers several reading strategies to help approach verbal reasoning tasks. Firstly, try to fall in love with each reading passage. Whether you like it or hate it, you cannot ignore it, so you may as well sugar-coat your experience by pretending to find the material very interesting and trying to learn from it. If you are not a native speaker of English or not fond of reading, you may improve your reading speed and your ability to comprehend complex material by reading a diverse selection of articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, American Scientist, Popular Science, the Economist, and other magazines that contain GRE-like content. A top GRE score is not something that can be achieved overnight; it must be worked towards over the course of weeks or months, depending on your level of preparation.
A second useful strategy for the Verbal Reasoning test sections is to keep summarizing the passage while you are reading. GRE passages are deliberately drafted with clever and convoluted language to make the gist difficult to understand, and simple notes can help immensely. Note-taking style is extremely subjective, and it is important to find and use a style that can help you efficiently extract and remember the information contained in your reading passage. Abbreviate technical and difficult terms where possible, and infer the meanings of unfamiliar words. Learn how to skim the details and cut the crap; only remember (and keep track of) what is important.
Manhattan Review offers three preparation guides for the Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE: The GRE Reading Comprehension guide, the GRE Sentence Equivalence & Text Completion guide, and the GRE Vocabulary Builder. Working with an instructor or taking a practice test to evaluate your strenths and weaknesses may help you determine what preparation materials are right for you. If you enroll in a course, then your instructor will work with you to customize the curriculum, tailoring their instruction to your needs and interests.