GRE Verbal Reasoning - Basics

Verbal Reasoning sections are designed to test the student's ability to evaluate written material, synthesize obtained information, analyze connections among component parts of a sentence, and recognize relationships between words and concepts. The GRE presumes fluency in English, and the Verbal Reasoning sections are designed to test the ability to analyze language in sophisticated ways. In 2013, US test takers outperformed non-US test takers in Verbal Reasoning, but non-US test takers outperformed US test takers in Quantitative Reasoning.

Verbal Reasoning comprises two of the five scored sections of the GRE, while the sixth "experimental or research" section can be either Quantitative Reasoning or Verbal Reasoning. The GRE is adaptive on a section-level basis, so the composition of your second Verbal Reasoning section will be dependent on your performance in the first section. The first section will be composed of a mixture of easy and difficult questions; the difficulty level of the second section is adjusted based on your performance. Proficient test takers will "level up" the test, and face more difficult questions in their second section. The difficulty level of the second section is taken into account when the final score is calculated; more difficult tests have the potential to reach a higher final score.

The Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE can be further divided into three categories of question: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. About half of questions are Reading Comprehension, and the other half are Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence.

Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension questions present a passage of text, varying in length from one paragraph to four or five, followed by a series of questions related to the content, structure, and intent of the passage. Passages are drawn from arts and humanities, everyday topics, physical biological and social sciences, and are based on material found in academic and nonacademic books and periodicals. One of the central challenges for students facing Reading Comprehension questions is that the passages are likely to be much more difficult and less engaging than what you usually read for entertainment, so you must develop the ability to read and analyze efficiently even when you are not interested in the material.

Reading Comprehension questions come in three distinct types: Multiple choice (one correct answer from five options), multiple answers (more than one answer is correct, select all the right answers), and "select a sentence in the passage". Make sure that you are familiar with these different question formats so that on test day you can focus on answering the questions rather than wasting time figuring out what they are asking. The most crucial difference between question types is the distinction between the two types of multiple choice questions – if you neglect to mark each correct answer for a "multiple answers" question, you will get the entire question wrong. The easiest way to establish that a question is "multiple answers" rather than "multiple choice" is that the answers will be formatted as check boxes rather than selection bubbles that only allow one answer selection. The best way to become familiar with this difference is to take numerous computer-based practice tests, so that you can automatically identify and solve the questions appropriately on test day.

Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence and Text completion questions are similar in terms of content, and are the main methods that the GRE uses to test vocabulary comprehension. Both types of questions require students to conclude how a passage should be completed based on partial information.

Text completion questions feature a passage of 1-5 sentences with 1-3 crucial words omitted. Answers must be chosen from a selection of words for each blank, with only one correct answer per blank. There will be three answer selections per blank, or five options if there is only a single blank. Selecting an answer for one blank does not limit your selection options for the remaining blanks. There is a single correct answer consisting of one correct choice for each blank; no credit is awarded for partially correct answers.

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. The two words may not be exactly synonymous; all that matters is that the completed sentences mean the same thing.