Chapter 5

Introduction to GRE Verbal Section

Question Types

Unlike the Quant section, the Verbal section consists of only four types of questions: Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence, Reading Comprehension, and Critical Reasoning. We will look deeper into each of these question types, and also discuss strategies to answer each of them.

Text Completion

Skilled readers do not simply absorb the information presented on the page; instead, they maintain a constant attitude of interpretation and evaluation, reasoning from what they have read so far to create a picture of the whole and revising that picture as they go. Text Completion questions test this ability by omitting crucial words from short passages and asking the test taker to use the remaining information in the passage as a basis for selecting words or short phrases to fill the blanks and create a coherent, meaningful whole.

Question Structure

  • Passage composed of one to five sentences
  • One to three blanks
  • Three answer choices per blank (five answer choices in the case of a single blank)
  • The answer choices for different blanks function independently; that is, selecting one answer choice for one blank does not affect what answer choices you can select for another blank.
  • Single correct answer, consisting of one choice for each blank; no credit for partially correct answers

Answering Strategies

  • Do not merely try to consider each possible combination of answers; doing so will take too long and is open to error. Instead, try to analyze the passage in the following way:
  • Read through the passage to get an overall sense of it.
  • Identify words or phrases that seem particularly significant, either because they emphasize the structure of the passage (words like although or moreover) or because they are central to understanding what the passage is about.
  • Think up your own words for the blanks. Try to fill in the blanks with words or phrases that seem to you to fit and then see if similar words are offered among the answer choices.
  • Do not assume that the first blank is the one that should be filled first.
  • Perhaps one of the other blanks is easier to fill first. Select your choice for that blank, and then see whether you can complete another blank. If none of the choices for the other blank seem to make sense, go back and reconsider your first selection.
  • Double-check your answers. When you have made your selection for each blank, check to make sure that the passage is logically, grammatically, and stylistically coherent.

Sentence Equivalence

Like Text Completion questions, Sentence Equivalence questions test the ability to reach a conclusion about how a passage should be completed on the basis of partial information, but to a greater extent they focus on the meaning of the completed whole. Sentence Equivalence questions consist of a single sentence with just one blank, and they ask you to find two choices that both lead to a complete, coherent sentence and that produce sentences that mean the same thing.

Question Structure

Consists of:

  • a single sentence
  • one blank
  • six answer choices

Requires you to select two of the answer choices; no credit for partially correct answers.

These questions are marked with square boxes beside the answer choices, not circles or ovals.

Answering Strategies

do not simply look among the answer choices for two words that mean the same thing.

This can be misleading for two reasons. First, the answer choices may contain pairs of words that mean the same thing but do not fit coherently into the sentence, and thus do not constitute a correct answer. Second, the pair of words that do constitute the correct answer may not mean exactly the same thing, since all that matters is that the resultant sentences mean the same thing.

  • Remember that for Sentence Equivalence questions, you must select two answer choices. Always consider ALL of the answer choices before you make your selections.
  • Use the Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes to figure out what hard words mean.
  • Try to look for “clue” words and phrases in the sentence that might suggest a contrast or comparison.
  • Try filling in the blank with your own words before you look at the answer choices. If you find answer choices that are similar to yours, they are most likely correct.
  • When you think that you have the correct answers, read the entire sentence to yourself, using your choices in the blank. If it makes sense, then mark your answers on the computer screen.
  • Consider slight variations in the meaning of each word.

Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension questions are designed to test a wide range of abilities required to read and understand the kinds of prose commonly encountered in graduate school. Those include:

  • The ability to understand the meaning of individual words
  • The ability to understand the meaning of individual sentences
  • The ability to understand the meaning of paragraphs and larger bodies of text
  • The ability to understand the difference between minor and major points
  • The ability to summarize a passage
  • The ability to draw conclusions from the information provided
  • The ability to reason from incomplete data, inferring missing information
  • The ability to understand the structure of a text, how the parts relate to one another
  • The ability to identify the author’s perspective
  • The ability to identify the author’s assumptions
  • The ability to understand a text and reaching conclusions about it
  • The ability to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • The ability to develop and considering alternative explanations

As this list implies, reading and understanding a piece of text requires far more than a passive understanding of the words and sentences it contains — it requires active engagement with the text, asking questions, formulating and evaluating hypotheses, and reflecting on the relationship of the particular text to other texts and information.

Each Reading Comprehension question is based on a passage, which may range in length from one paragraph to several paragraphs. The test contains approximately ten passages; the majority of the passages in the test are one paragraph in length, and only one or two are several paragraphs long. Passages are drawn from the physical sciences, the biological sciences, the social sciences, the arts and humanities, and everyday topics, and are based on material found in books and periodicals, both academic and nonacademic. Typically, about half of the questions on the test will be based on passages, and the number of questions based on a given passage can range from one to six. Questions can cover any of the topics listed above, from the meaning of a particular word to assessing evidence that might support or weaken points made in the passage. Many, but not all, of the questions are standard multiple-choice questions, in which you are required to select a single correct answer; others ask you to select multiple correct answers, and still others ask you to select a sentence from the passage.

These question types are presented in more detail below, and you should make sure that you are familiar with the differences among them.

Answering Strategies

Reading passages are drawn from many different disciplines and sources, so you may encounter material with which you are not familiar. Do not be discouraged when this happens; all the questions can be answered on the basis of the information provided in the passage, and you are not expected to rely on any outside knowledge. If, however, you encounter a passage that seems particularly hard or unfamiliar, you may want to save it for last.

  • Read the questions first and make a mental note when the questions refer to specific lines, words, or boldfaced text. Do not try to memorize — just get an idea of what you should be looking for.
  • Read each passage for Topic, Scope, and Purpose. Then skim for structure. Try to isolate one topic word or sentence for each paragraph. Don’t spend precious time trying to “learn” details.
  • Try to distinguish between details that are factual and details that are the opinions of the author.
  • Try to predict an answer before looking at the answer choices. If an answer choice matches your predicted answer, it is most likely correct.
  • Paraphrase when you need to. Putting the question and answer choices into your own words often makes them easier to understand.
  • Remember that some Reading Comprehension questions ask you to select more than one answer choice. Carefully consider ALL of the answer choices before making your selections.

For example:

— Are they contrasting? Are they consistent?

— Does one support the other?

— Does one spell another out in greater detail?

— Is one an application of another to a particular circumstance?

Read each question carefully and be certain that you understand exactly what is being asked.

Answer each question on the basis of the information provided in the passage and do not rely on outside knowledge. Sometimes your own views or opinions may conflict with those presented in a passage; if this happens, take special care to work within the context provided by the passage. You should not expect to agree with everything you encounter in the reading passages.

Types of Questions

Reading Comprehension questions come in three different types. We’ll see what each of them is about, along with the basic strategies you need to employ to solve them easily.

Reading Comprehension Multiple-choice Questions: Select One Answer Choice

These are the traditional multiple-choice questions with five answer choices of which you must select one.

Answering Strategies

  • Read all the answer choices before making your selection, even if you think you know what the answer is in advance.
  • Don’t be misled by answer choices that are only partially true or only partially answer the question. The correct answer is the one that most accurately and most completely answers the question posed. Be careful also not to pick an answer choice simply because it is a true statement.
  • Pay attention to context. When the question asks about the meaning of a word in the passage, be sure that the answer choice you select correctly represents the way the word is being used in the passage. Many words have quite different meanings in different contexts.

Reading Comprehension Multiple-choice Questions: Select One or More Answer Choices

These provide three answer choices and ask you to select all that are correct; one, two, or all three of the answer choices may be correct. To gain credit for these questions, you must select all the correct answers, and only those; there is no credit for partially correct answers. These questions are marked with square boxes beside the answer choices, not circles or ovals.

Answering Strategies

  • Evaluate each answer choice separately on its own merits.
  • When evaluating one answer choice, do not take the others into account. Make sure the answer choice you pick accurately and completely answers the question posed.
  • Be careful not to be misled by answer choices that are only partially true or only partially answer the question.
  • Be careful also not to pick an answer choice simply because it is a true statement. Do not be disturbed if you think all three answer choices are correct.
  • Questions of this type can have three correct answer choices.

Reading Comprehension Questions: Select-in-Passage

The question asks you to click on the sentence in the passage that meets a certain description. To answer the question, choose one of the sentences and click on it; clicking anywhere on a sentence will highlight it. In longer passages, the question will usually apply to only one or two specified paragraphs, marked by an arrow (>); clicking on a sentence elsewhere in the passage will not highlight it.

Note. Because this type of question requires the use of the computer, it does not appear in the paper-based General Test. Similar multiple-choice questions are used in its place.

Answering Strategies

  • Be careful to evaluate each of the relevant sentences in the passage separately before selecting your answer.
  • Do not evaluate any sentences that are outside the paragraphs under consideration.
  • Do not select a sentence if the description given in the question only partially applies.
  • A correct answer choice must accurately match the description in the question. Note, however, that the description need not be complete, that is, there may be aspects of the sentence that are not fully described in the question.

Critical Reasoning

Critical reasoning questions appear in the Verbal section of the GRE exam. In the recent couple of years, ETS has increased the importance of this section tremendously. This section uses multiple—choice questions to measure your ability to read and comprehend written material.

Because the Verbal section includes content from a variety of topics. You may be generally familiar with some of the material; however, neither the passages nor the questions assume knowledge of the topics discussed.

Critical reasoning questions are intermingled with reading comprehension and sentence correction questions throughout the Verbal section of the exam. You will have 30 minutes to complete a Verbal section or about 1.5 minutes to answer each question. Although critical reasoning questions are based on written passages, these passages are shorter than reading—comprehension passages.

They tend to be about 100 words in length and generally are followed by one or two questions. For these questions, you will see a split computer screen. The written passage will remain visible as each question associated with that passage appears in turn on the screen. You will see only one question at a time. Critical reasoning questions are designed to test the reasoning skills involved in making arguments, evaluating arguments, and formulating or evaluating a plan of action. The materials on which questions are based are drawn from a variety of sources. The GRE does not require any familiarity with the subject matter of those materials.

In these questions, you are to analyze the situation on which each question is based, and then select the answer choice that most appropriately answers the question. Begin by reading the passages carefully, then read the five answer choices. If the correct answer is not immediately obvious to you, see whether you can eliminate some of the wrong answers. Reading the passage a second time may be helpful in illuminating subtleties that were not immediately evident.

Answering critical reasoning questions requires no specialized knowledge of any particular field; you don’t have to have knowledge of the terminology and conventions of formal logic. The sample critical reasoning questions in this chapter illustrate the variety of topics the exam may cove, the kinds of questions it may ask, and the level of analysis it requires. The following pages describe what critical reasoning questions are designed to measure and present the directions that will precede questions of this type. Sample questions and explanations of the correct answers follow.

Answering Strategies for Critical Reasoning Questions

1. Read very carefully the set of statements on which a question is based.

Pay close attention to – what is put forward as factual information; what is not said but necessarily follows from what is said; what is claimed to follow from facts that have been put forward; and how well substantiated are any claims that a particular conclusion follows from the facts that have been put forward. In reading the arguments, it is important to pay attention to the logical reasoning used; the actual truth of statements portrayed as fact is not important.

2. Identify the conclusion.

The conclusion does not necessarily come at the end of the text; it may come somewhere in the middle, or even at the beginning. Be alert to dues in the text that an argument follows logically from another statement or statements in the text.

3. Determine exactly what each question asks.

You might find it helpful to read the question first, before reading the material on which it is based; don’t assume that you know what you will be asked about an argument. An argument may have obvious flaws, and one question may ask you to detect them. But another question may direct you to select the one answer choice that does NOT describe a flaw in the argument.

Read all the answer choices carefully.

Do not assume that a given answer is the best without first reading all the choices.

How difficult is the verbal section?

The Verbal section on the GRE is generally regarded as hard by a majority of students, but that is just because there is too much emphasis on vocabulary, which means test-takers will have to learn lots and lots of new words. In reality, the GRE Verbal section is not very difficult when compared to other popular tests like the GMAT.

If you can master vocabulary as part of your GRE prep, then the Verbal section will be your friend rather than a foe. So there is only one thing that you really need to do, in order to be fully prepared for this section: read. Particularly, reading helps you solve tough RC and Critical Reasoning passages with ease.

reading a lot, and reading everyday will help you be ready for any hurdle on the verbal section.

Plus, reading regularly will introduce you to a lot of new vocabulary, and also their contextual usage, which is of great significance when it comes to solving tough questions on Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence. So, all in all, reading quality articles and material like English newspapers, scientific journals, literature, novels, and sometimes watching videos and movies will help you get a grasp of tough vocabulary in context, hence raising your verbal score on test day.

Verbal Strategies for non-native speakers

There are many great resources to help raise your level of English as you study for the GRE. The most important thing is for you to be an active learner and take control of your English skills.

Here are some tips on improving your English for the GRE:

  1. Practice the English language as much as possible. Listen to English podcasts and watch English-speaking shows, movies and documentaries.
  2. Read in English in an active manner. Stick with newspapers and magazines that cover current events, but refrain from reading complex novels – they won’t be handy for the GRE.
  3. When prepping for the GMAT, use a dictionary and create a list of new words. Aim to use some of these new words, especially if these are words encountered regularly in GRE material.
  4. Try to understand words from context. Words do not exist in a vacuum, but their meaning in a sentence is part and parcel to the context. So, it is important to understand what’s around the word to derive its meaning.
  5. Note that other languages have similarities to English (e.g. Latin-based languages). Many times, the roots are similar. You can use this to your advantage if you know one of these languages.
  6. If your knowledge of the English language is very low, then there is no choice. It will be necessary to strengthen those skills before taking the GRE. Sign up for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, which may prove useful along with using the many free resources available for ESL students.
  7. You can also choose to subscribe to a language learning channel on YouTube, so you can learn the language step by step. This can be helpful only for beginners, who struggle a lot with basic grammar and sentence formations.

Memorize Vocab the easy way

The single-most effective way to improve your GRE verbal score is to improve your GRE vocabulary skills. Good vocabulary skills will be useful in sentence completion, antonyms, analogies, and reading comprehension. If you know the meaning of all the words in the answer choices, it makes the question a whole lot easier.

Vocabulary in Context

the best way to learn GRE vocabulary is to learn words in context.

Your brain remembers words much better when it can associate a word with something other than its definition.

Read from publications like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal on a regular basis. The Journal has many GRE-type articles and uses GRE vernacular. When you come across an unfamiliar word, look it up and write down its definition. You’ll be amazed at how much better your vocabulary is after reading The Journal on a regular basis for just a month!

Vocab Lists

If you don’t have much time until test day, you should study from a GRE vocabulary list or invest in some flash cards. You should first take a look at CrunchPrep’s 101 High Frequency words, which has been quite famous among GRE aspirants of late. Once you have completed them all, you may choose Barron’s 333 words or Manhattan Prep 800 words.

You’ve probably heard that you should learn 3500 words for the GRE and are probably afraid that it is a ton of words to learn. You’re right. That’s why GRE vocabulary can be scary at first, but remember, you don’t have to memorize the exact meanings. The GRE does not test if you know exact definitions; just get to know general meanings.

Study a little bit at a time. Try twenty words a day. If that’s too easy, try thirty words a day. Don’t worry if memorizing words is difficult at first–it’ll get much easier. Whatever number of words you choose to study per day, don’t study too many at one time! Your brain can only absorb so many words in one sitting. It’s up to you to figure out how many words you should study per sitting.

Whatever you choose, always review the words you’ve already studied at the end of each week. Without review, you’ll lose a lot. You don’t want to end up getting stuck on a question with a word’s definition at the tip of your tongue.

Pacing Strategies

Reading is like exercising a muscle. What the gym is to your muscles, reading is to your mind. And just like you exercise your muscles every day in the gym, you should exercise your mind every day by reading.

We all have a capacity to read much faster than we actually do today. Our reading speed, just like the size of our muscles, changes as we go through life. During school, we go through about 150-200 words a minute, because we just learned how to read properly. During high school, you increase the speed automatically to 300 words per minute, because your brain develops quite quickly. When you go to college, you have lots of other things to do, and very little time available, which is why your brain automatically adjusts to reading 400 words per minute.

But the moment you get out of college, you no more have a reason to read lots of information every single day. That is when the brain starts to relax, and slowly but surely, the reading speed goes back to 200 words per minute. But the GRE requires that you read much faster than this. Actually, the higher your reading speed is, the higher your score will be, on the verbal section. So, how can you do that? How do you improve your reading speed drastically, in a very small time frame?

Below are some fantastic reading techniques that we, and our students have used while studying for the GRE. These techniques are quite advanced in nature, and it takes several days to a few weeks for your brain to adjust to the new reading speeds.

Also, these techniques require great amounts of practice and persistence from your end, so if you think you cannot put in a lot of effort in the coming few weeks, or if you don’t have that much time before the test, try implementing at least one or two of the given techniques. Ideally, these tips are for those students who are targeting 165+ on the Verbal section. But, even otherwise, if you have lots of time left before your test begins, you should try and implement them all, and practice as much as you can.

1. Chunk Reading:

Read multiple words at a time. Normally, you read each word separately and as you move along, you understand the meaning of the sentence. But, this process takes time. You should read chunks of words at a single instance, and complete every sentence in a maximum of two or three instances.

2. Ignore Useless Words

Every sentence in English has about 40% useless words. Useless in the sense, there is no point in using that word in the sentence, and one can easily understand the meaning of the sentence even if you remove the words entirely. Words like articles (A, an, the), tenses like ‘is, are’ etc., are not exactly vital to understand a sentence, in the context of a GRE passage. Avoid reading them and read passages faster.

3. Avoid Rereading

Make it a point to not reread any sentence. Rereading wastes a lot of time unconsciously. If you think a particular sentence has lots of terminology in it and it is impossible to understand it in one go, try reducing your reading speed only for that one sentence. But, never ever go back.

4. Use a Pointing Device

Another fantastic way to improve your reading speed by leaps and bounds, is by using a pointing device. Anything from your index finger to a pencil can work as a pointing device. Since the text is on the screen, and the screen is at a distance from your eyes, it can be difficult to fix your eyes on the words for a long time. This is why you should use the pencil or your finger as a pointing device. This device tells your eyes that they should be following wherever it goes, and the faster you move the device, the faster your eyes will scan through the words.

5. Track Your WPM

WPM is Words Per Minute. Whenever you are reading – anything from a news article to a fiction novel – always have the timer with you. Almost all smartphones have a stopwatch application preinstalled, and you should put that to good use. Start the timer, and then start reading. At the end of 5 minutes, check how many words you could read per minute.

We have discussed more of these strategies in great detail in our comprehensive RC Guide. GO read it now if you need more techniques and strategies.

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