How to pace the GRE Verbal Section?

If you’re dreaming about graduate school in the USA, Canada, Australia, or almost any other country in the English-speaking world, the GRE score is a non-negotiable for admissions. Testing competencies across the GRE Verbal section and Quantitative section, a high GRE general test score is capable of opening new doors and easing out the journey to your dream university. In this blog, we discuss the nitty-gritty of the GRE Verbal section, and how to ace it. A stellar GRE Verbal score indicates your ability to speak and understand English well, which is paramount for studying abroad: admission personnel wants to rest assured that you are capable of following and responding to classes without any difficulty. So, ready to score 150+ in GRE Verbal section? Let’s go!

Syllabus for GRE Verbal Section

First, let’s try getting a hang of the GRE Verbal syllabus, shall we? The GRE score is split equally between the GRE Verbal section and GRE Quant, which means that each section carries a maximum score of 160 apiece. Out of the forty questions on the Verbal, a significant chunk (around 50%) is taken up by the Reading Comprehension (or RCs), which means that overall, 25% of your GRE score hinges on your performance in the RCs. The other 50% of the GRE Verbal section is based on Text Completion questions (TCs) and sentence equivalence. With the RCs, you are required to read, understand and analyze often complex essays in order to figure out the author’s intent and viewpoint, infer information (whether implied or not) from the paras and grasp how one part of the essay relates to the others. 

In TC, you must provide the missing phrase or word in the passage after taking cognizance of the overall sense and context of the essay, thus exhibiting his GRE vocabulary and ability to comprehend the text at hand.

Lastly, with sentence equivalence, you need to fill in the blanks with the aptest word, and then select a synonymous word from a choice of six. Once again, here too you must be quick with unpacking the overarching context, and then work out which two words are the best suited.

Now, we will move on to discussing the two most important Verbal practice question types: the RC and the TC & SE,  and how you can go about excelling in all the three GRE verbal section.

Reading Comprehension 

GRE Verbal RC tips
GRE Verbal Section – RC tips

Typically, both of the two sections on the Verbal component will have about five RC passages, which could range from short (one paragraph) to long (five paragraphs). The questions per section will be anywhere between one to five, making up a total of ten reading comprehension questions per section and twenty reading comprehension questions in total. Also, do you want to understand how to Get the Central Idea of the Passage in your first read, check this out!

There are three types of RC questions: 

1) The usual Multiple-Choice questions, where you must pick one right answer choices out of the available five.

2)  Multiple-Choice questions where you will have three answers, and you’ll have to choose every correct answer choice.

3) Select-in-passages, a relatively new type of question, where you have to click on a sentence in the passage to answer the question asked.

Now, take a look at this RC passage below, time yourself,  and attempt to solve the questions that follow:

The grey wolf is also known as the timber wolf or wolf is a mammal of the order Carnivore. Genetic studies indicate the grey wolf shares a common ancestry with the domestic dog and might be its ancestor. Many other grey wolf subspecies have been identified, however, the actual number of subspecies is still open to discussion. Though once abundant over much of North America and areas of Europe and Asia, the grey wolf inhabits a very small portion of its former range because of widespread destruction of its habitat. Gray wolves are highly adaptable and have thrived in forests, deserts, mountains, tundra, and grasslands. They function as social predators and hunt in packs organized according to strict social hierarchies. It was originally believed that this comparatively high level of social organization was related to hunting success, and while this still may be true to a certain extent, emerging theories suggest that the pack has less to do with hunting and more to do with reproductive success. 

1. We can understand from the passage that the grey wolf —-.

A) is able to survive in a wide variety of habitats

B) prefers to hunt individually rather than in groups

C) was once found in every continent of the world in great numbers

D) has been proved to be the ancestor of the domestic dog and all its subspecies

E) and the timber wolf are two different species of wolf

2. It is understood from the passage that —-.

A) the number of grey wolf subspecies has been determined with certainty by researchers

B) there are few grey wolf subspecies which continue living today

C) grey wolf subspecies have increased in number in the last decades

D) it is known that many grey wolf subspecies have already become extinct

E) there is no consensus on how many grey wolf subspecies exist

3. According to the passage, in the light of the genetic studies carried out, It has been found out that —-.

A) the domestic dog could have descended from the grey wolf

B) the grey wolf and the domestic dog are the subspecies of a kind of wolf having lived thousands of years ago

C) the dog is believed to be an ancestor of the grey wolf

D) grey wolves live in very large packs

E) grey wolves live only in Europe and Asia today

Answers: A, E, A

How much time did you take to solve this paragraph? Did you find it relatively easy, or did you have to struggle with it? Try and analyze the quality of your answers: in the stipulated time, how many answers did you get right, and how many did you get wrong?

The RC is usually the one section of the GRE test that tends to daunt even the most accomplished students. Why is this the case? Well, here are some of the most common difficulties that candidates face while taking the RC:

1. Poor vocabulary: Of course, you don’t have to be Shashi Tharoor to ace the GRE, but it certainly helps if you organically build your vocabulary over time instead of trying to cram the Manhattan Vocabulary guide three days before the exam. Also to build your vocabulary effectively, check out the WordBot app to learn GRE words using Pictures!

2. Being intimidated by the complexity: GRE RCS are deliberately designed to be as complex and esoteric as possible simply to intimidate the candidate on the test day and slow them down. Don’t fall for this!

3. Not making notes: Students end up not putting their scratchpad to good use. When you’re reading, make notes of whatever catches your eye, whether they be facts, figures, or statistics. It will certainly come in handy later.

4. Spending too much time: No matter what, a short RC, such as the one above, must be completed in under 3 minutes, while for the longer ones, you mustn’t take more than 5 minutes. Don’t spend too much time fixating on anyone’s essay or paragraph.

4. Making assumptions: Reading with a biased mind will cloud your judgments and will mislead you into the wrong answers. Tackle the RCs without bringing in any outside knowledge: inferences are fine, not assumptions.

Finally, here are some tips to ace the RCs:

1. Read widely: Planning to go to grad school next year? We’d recommend you pick up the daily newspaper, or even your favorite magazine right this second! Yes, we mean it! Organically building your vocabulary is the best way to go about acing the GRE verbal section: start reading widely and actively, note down words that are new or strange, and then commit them to your memory. Further, AdmitEDGE offers WordBot, a vocabulary-building tool through which you can learn new words in a fun, effective way. Curious? Check it out here!

2. Try and unpack the tone and intent: Is the author critical? Are they perhaps complementary and laudatory? Or are they just neutral? Figuring out intent from the outset can help you approach the RC passage in a more organized fashion, and will aid in figuring out the meanings of unfamiliar words/phrases. A good idea is to look for descriptions and make a ‘happy face’ or ‘sad face’ near that paragraph to indicate the mood of the author.

3. The devil is in the details, and this is even more true for the GRE RCs. As we said earlier, these passages are usually packed with all kinds of details designed to slow you down. As a discerning reader and test-taker, it is important to remember that more often than not, these details are simply there to daunt you. Begin by skim-reading the paragraph to grasp the overall summary, and then go back to the details when the answer demands it.

4. Save the most difficult or daunting passage for the last. Remember, all the questions on the GRE verbal section carry the same marks, so reach for the low hanging fruit first. Tackle the passages you find easy and approachable. The RCs are taken from a wide range of subjects- from history to mathematics and ecology, so find the ones you are familiar with. 

Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence 

GRE Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence
GRE Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence

The remaining questions on the GRE Verbal section are Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence, both of which are similar, yet different. Both are essentially predicated on your ability to unpack context and insert the appropriate words to complete them. With Text Completion, you will be given multiple sentences, or even a paragraph, with up to 3 blanks, which you will then have to fill in. Each blank only has 3 possible answers, but in order to get the question right, you must fill in all 3 of them correctly. To understand about Text Completion and Sentence equivalence in more depth, check out our latest blog on the same!

Generally, there are three types of GRE TC questions: 

1. Single blank: Here, you will be given a single blank, and a choice of five answers, from which you have to pick one. There will be a total of four single blank questions. 

2. Double blank: In this one, there will be two blanks to fill, with 3 options for each blank. You can expect a total of four-five double blank questions.

3. Triple blank: With 3 options for each blank, you need to fill in three different blanks to complete the sentence. Watch out for a total of three or four triple blank questions in total. 

Take a look at this TC question, and attempt to solve it:

Addiction can be viewed as continued involvement with a substance or activity despite the ____________ associated with it. The substance or activity may have originally provided pleasure and enjoyment. However, over a period of time ____________ the substance or activity is needed to feel normal.

Answers: A, D

How much time did you take to complete this TC exercise? Ideally, you mustn’t spend more than 1-2 minutes on such a question. Shorter TCs, with just one blank, must be completed in under a minute.

Let’s now discuss the Sentence Equivalence task, a recent addition to the GRE.  Take a look at this question, and attempt to find 2 words that may be used to complete the sentence, and can be used as synonyms.

Sam’s pyromaniac younger brother had a habit of singeing the tips of his hair; the unpleasant result was a ________ smell that permeated the house

(A)    querulous

(B)    banal

(C)    pithy

(D)    acrid

(E)    pungent

(F)    dull

Burnt hair smells terrible. If you don’t know this, the key phrase is “unpleasant result.” You might come up for a word to fit the blank such as “nasty.” So, the answer is (D) and (E).

Let us now go over some of the difficulties that students face while attempting the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence sections, and how you can overcome them.

1. Looking for relationships, and not synonyms: this is a classic, oft-repeated mistake that candidates make, where they seek an agreement between words, and not the synonyms of the words: that because of one thing, the other thing is related. Do not fall into this trap: remember, your sole objective is to find synonyms, not cause-and-effect relationships.

2. Not reading the entire sentence: With longer sentences, especially, there is a temptation to stop reading once you figure out the missing word. More often than not, the second part of the sentence contains a complete reversal in tone and intent, so be watchful.

3. Being intimidated by unfamiliar words: In the paragraph above, you may be daunted since you don’t know the meaning of ‘pyromaniac’, but that doesn’t really matter. You are often given major hints (here in the word ‘unpleasant’), so there is no need to be bogged down by fear of the unknown.

4. Ignoring the context: With GRE TC and SEs, context is king. Understand the tone of the sentence first, figure out if it is negative, positive, or neutral, and then go about figuring out the words to fill in. Ignoring the context is the gravest error you can make.

Now, here are some effective tips to conquer the Text Equivalence and Sentence Completion questions of GRE Verbal Section:

1. Use the process of elimination: Too many choices can be quite deterring, so if possible, try and eliminate the obviously wrong or incompatible answers to make your task a little easier.

2. Figure out the signal words or phrases: As mentioned above, the word ‘unpleasant’ is the biggest giveaway, and we can easily deduce the synonyms from that word alone.

3. Once you’ve chosen your answers, read the paragraph again and plug in the words you’ve picked to see if it still makes sense. If it doesn’t, you can go back to it if time permits, and edit it accordingly.

4. Another great idea is to insert your own words in the sentence, and then looking through the answers for words that are similar. Start by writing a simple word that you are familiar with, and think fits in well, and then seek out synonyms.

5. Practice, and then practice some more: Work on as many TC and SE questions as possible to get a handle on the style and format of the questions. Who knows, maybe one of your practice questions may just turn up on your official GRE exam!

We hope you found this blog illuminating and helpful, and wish you all the best on your grad school journey.

 For an even more detailed lowdown on the GRE Verbal section, be sure to download our ultimate guide here. Did we mention it’s completely free? Yes, what are you waiting for?! 

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