Most non-native speakers of English, including Indians, find the verbal reasoning section of the GRE quite challenging. However, once you get the hang of it you will find that it is not that hard after all. Here are some tips suggested by our GRE 99%ilers to help you score 160+ in GRE verbal:
Understand exam format
According to the ETS, the GRE-conducting body, the Verbal Reasoning section of the test checks your ability to:
“analyze and draw conclusions from discourse; reason from incomplete data; identify author’s assumptions and/or perspective; understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author’s intent
select important points; distinguish major from minor or relevant points; summarize text; understand the structure of a text understand the meanings of words, sentences and entire texts; understand relationships between words and among concepts”.
The Verbal Reasoning section of the computer-delivered GRE has 2 sub-sections, each with 20 questions i.e. 40 questions to be attempted within 60 minutes. Each sub-section has questions that can be grouped into 3 types:
- Reading Comprehension
- Text Completion
- Sentence Equivalence
GRE Verbal Reasoning is section-level adaptive. This means that the difficulty level of the second sub-section will depend on your performance in the first.
Develop speed reading to tackle RC
When it comes to Reading Comprehension, we’ll talk turkey—50% of verbal section questions are RC-based and there’s no way you can skirt around it. Typically, GRE verbal section will have 10 passages (5 in each sub-section) consisting of 20 or more questions. The length of the passages will vary from 100 to 500 words. You may be required to choose one option or more than one option as the answer(s).
Generally, RC passages make for cumbersome reading as they are full of jargons and complex concepts. The subject matter is ubiquitous—ranging from molecular biology to analytical cubism—making the average test-taker spend an inordinate amount of time trying to make sense out of it. But there’s a way out; speed reading.
In speed reading, we don’t actively read the entire passage. Instead, we just read the first and the last few lines while skimming quickly through the rest. This gives us an idea of what the passage is talking about. ‘Primary purpose’ or ‘central theme’ questions can be tackled easily in this way. For context questions, go to the passage and find the words and their usage.
Develop a GRE Vocabulary
To ace the GRE verbal, you don’t need to know all English language words. However, you do need to know the words frequently used in the GRE. We’ll rephrase. You need to absorb the words frequently used in the GRE—imbibe them, ingest them, make them a part of your life until you are finished with your test. Got it? Good.
So how do go you about it? You study GRE word lists. Don’t memorise words mindlessly. Instead, make a note of how these words are used within sentences. Flashcards are a convenient way to revise synonyms/antonyms. You could also try maintaining your own wordlist (suggested by Arjun Shah) as you go on with your GRE preparation—some students remember things better if they open it themselves. If you cling to your smartphone all day long, then put it to good use and download the Simplified GRE Vocabulary app (suggested by Jeevanjot Singh). Whatever your strategy, retention is the ultimate goal.
You would make direct use of vocabulary in Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. However, in Reading Comprehension your own knowledge must take a back seat and you must refer strictly to the passage in order to answer vocabulary-related questions.
Know Your Rules and Keywords
You don’t have to become a grammar Nazi. You don’t have to go into the essentials of semantics. GRE questions revolve around a few basic grammar rules: subject-comma rule, the like-unlike rule of comparisons, parallel construction, to name a few. You may even be using some of them without consciously realising it. Once you understand, practice and master these rules, you will be on your way to ace the questions in the verbal section.
If you can solve Text Completion questions purely on the basis of your vocabulary, good for you! However, if you are faced with unfamiliar words then make use of ‘keywords’. These are certain words within the sentence that suggest the stance that the author has taken. Some of these keywords are:
- alternatively, instead, otherwise suggesting option
- heretofore, in reality, seemingly, of late, for all suggesting contrast
- in addition, just as (so), much like, not only-but also suggesting the similarity
Be careful with Sentence Equivalence questions. It may be tempting to simply look at two similar options and choose them, but this is where you can go wrong because out of 6 answer options there might be 2 (or more) pairs of similar words. This is where rules and keywords come in handy.
Read, read and read more!
If we had to offer a single piece of advice, this would be it. GRE verbal has a specific tone and style. It is difficult for nearly everyone, but especially for non-native speakers of English, because we rarely come across such wordiness.
Read articles from The New Yorker, TIME , National Geographic and The Atlantic.
If you are in the early stages of your preparation and can spare time, consider reading American classics. These can give great insight into the defining moments of American History—Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the rise of capitalism, feminism, etc. Check out some iconic works of American literature. Reading extensively and reading the right material would go a long way into giving you the exposure and confidence to tackle GRE questions.
Additional Resources to improve your GRE Verbal score
- Tips for improving accuracy and timing in GRE Reading Comprehension:
- Simplifying GRE Vocabulary: