Overview of the Verbal Reasoning Section of the GRE

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Learn about what you'll see on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE revised General Test. Topics include question types, timing, scoring, and skills to make sure you're completely ready for the test.

GRE Verbal Reasoning

The GRE Verbal Reasoning Measure is a standardized test of vocabulary and reading comprehension that you'll take as part of the GRE revised General Test for applying to graduate and business school.

The GRE is a test of problem-solving skills, not a test of subject-area knowledge. So, you won't have to know a lot of complicated grammatical or linguistic terminology to do well on the Verbal Reasoning, and you also won't have to know anything about literature, poetry, critical theory, or other language-related specialty areas. Anyone from any major should be able to do well in this section.

That doesn't mean it's easy, though. The structure of the test can be painful to navigate, and the question types get pretty weird, especially the vocabulary ones. Here's an overview of what you'll be looking at.

Timing and Organization

First, let's talk about the big-picture organization and how the Verbal Reasoning fits into the overall structure of the test. Your score on the Verbal Reasoning measure is your combined score for several smaller Verbal Reasoning sections that you take interspersed with math and writing sections. The GRE has five scored sections, two of which are Verbal Reasoning. The two Verbal Reasoning sections may come at any point during the test, except for the first section: the first section will always be writing.

Each Verbal Reasoning section is 30 minutes long and contains 20 questions. On top of the two scored Verbal Reasoning sections, you may also get a third, unscored section. Every GRE has one unscored section, which may be Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning. You won't know until test day which one you'll get, but there's a 50-50 chance that it'll be Verbal. This will come in one of two forms:

  • Option one: an unmarked extra section mixed in with the regular ones - In this case, instead of having five regular sections, your GRE will have six, and they'll all look just like normal sections. One of those six will be unscored, but you won't know which one it is, so you'll have to try your best on all of them.
  • Option two: a marked unscored section at the end - In this case, you'll take the five regular sections and then get a specially marked survey section at the end.

In the case of option one, you're taking the extra section to try out questions for future GREs, or to help equate difficulty levels between tests. It's pretty lousy that you have to pay to be the GRE test writers' guinea pig, but there's not much you can do, and there's no way to tell which section is unscored, so just try your hardest on all of them.

Questions and Question Types

Now, let's talk about the different kinds of questions that you'll see on each one of those Verbal Reasoning sections. There are three different question types on the Verbal Reasoning measure: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. Roughly half the questions will be Reading Comprehension, and the other half will be a combination of Text Completion plus Sentence Equivalence questions.

  • Reading Comprehension questions measure your ability to understand and analyze reading passages. You'll get all the reading passages right on the test, and they'll all be on topics anyone should be able to understand - no specialist knowledge is necessary. You'll be asked about information in the passage and about how the author structures their argument.
  • Text Completion questions make you fill in one to three blanks in a group of sentences with words or phrases. You'll choose your answer for each blank independently, so there's no partial credit: you only get it right if you get every single blank correct.
  • Sentence Equivalence questions make you pick two possible words that could fill in the blank in a given sentence. You'll get one sentence with one blank and six possible words. You'll have to choose the two words that could fill in the blank so that the sentence means the same thing using either of the words selected.

Confused yet? Don't start worrying right away: GRE questions are hard to explain in the abstract, but once you actually start practicing on sample questions, they become a lot more intuitive. Just take this as a preview and a sign that practice really does help more than anything else.

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