GRE Verbal Reasoning Study Guide

GRE Verbal Reasoning Study Guide
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GRE Verbal Reasoning Review

Much like its sibling subsections, the GRE Verbal Reasoning exam, one-third of the GRE—also known as the Graduate Record Examination—serves as a means of assessing your readiness for the graduate school environment. Because graduate school is an even higher level of higher education, a different manner of thinking is required than you may have experienced on a subtler level back during your undergraduate years. As such, the subjects you’ll find on the GRE—Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing—are more abstract than the subjects you’d find on a traditional, lower-level standardized test. On this page, we’ll be covering the GRE’s Verbal Reasoning portion—what you’re expected to know, how the test is formatted, and how you can prepare in order to do well.

Depending on your familiarity with the GRE’s materials, the term ‘Verbal Reasoning’ may sound strange. This particular part of the GRE, however, hearkens back to the Reading Comprehension tests you likely took early on in your school career—back in high school or at the beginning of your undergraduate career, at the latest. However, much like the rest of the GRE, this section of the exam is more advanced than what you would typically find on the average Reading Comprehension exam.

You may be wondering why you’d still need to be concerned with any form of reading comprehension this far into your academic career. The answer is simpler than it appears. Reading is a particularly large component of any college curriculum, whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student. Your academic life will more than likely be filled with texts of some sort to read, whether you’re in a liberal arts program or something that should, in theory, involve less reading—such as any STEM field. Since the GRE’s purpose is to assess how prepared you are for graduate-level work, it only makes sense that reading—one of the heaviest parts of any program’s curriculum—would be tested on the exam. As such, the GRE Verbal Reasoning segment is meant to evaluate your ability to read and comprehend graduate-level materials at an adequate level.

At Mometrix Test Preparation, we are dedicated to fostering academic success. Because of this, we offer a wide breadth of tools to help you study as thoroughly and efficiently as possible. On this page, you’ll find an extensive GRE Verbal Reasoning study guide. If you feel you need additional help, you’ll find other resources—including out GRE Verbal Reasoning flashcards and GRE Verbal Reasoning practice test—across the rest of our site.

What Can I Expect to be Featured on the GRE Verbal Reasoning Section?

The GRE’s Verbal Reasoning portion is approximately 40 questions long, and is divided into two halves. You will receive 30 minutes to complete either part of the test, totaling to one hour for the whole exam. On the Verbal Reasoning exam, you’ll find questions of multiple varieties. However, they all serve the same purpose: to assess how well you can read a written selection, pull relevant information from it, and draw conclusions based upon said information. While every question on the exam is multiple choice, the way you are meant to approach the questions varies. For some questions, you will have to evaluate text selections from a logical standpoint, figuring out the best way to complete them so they communicate their points as effectively as possible. For other questions, you will have to read a corresponding selection of text and respond to questions about what you have read.

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To help you figure out as thorough a study plan as possible, we will provide you with detailed information on each knowledge category of the exam as well as the kinds of exam questions being presented to you.


On the Verbal Reasoning portion of the exam, you’ll find the following three subjects:

Sentence Equivalence

The Sentence Equivalence category seeks to evaluate your ability to read selected, incomplete information and use what you’ve read to deduce how to finish the sentence in a way that retains the original meaning as much as possible. For questions under this category, you will be provided with one missing section from one question, and six possibilities. You must pick two answers each.

It is worth noting that picking two synonyms alone is not the point of the question. Rather, you must closely read the passage given to you and pick two words that most precisely align with the context and meaning. Although two words may be identical in meaning, they may not necessarily make sense within that particular sentence.

As you solve these questions, you can try a trial and error technique by testing the words in the blanks and seeing which make the most sense. You can also try and complete the sentences using your own words and pick whichever words mostly precisely match how you would finish the sentence. Look to see if there are any words that are vital to the meaning of the sentence that aren’t blanked out, and base your choice around which words would amplify what the sentence means. No matter how you approach the sentence, it is important that you read as closely as possible so you understand what exactly each sentence is trying to say.

Text Completion

Questions under the Text Completion category assess how well you can make sense of what you read as you read. You will find blanks in the place of words that influence the context of a sentence, and then be expected to solve which words go within that blank in order to make it a strong, logical statement. You may find up to three blanked out words for each selection, with one answer for each missing word.

Because of its similarities to the Sentence Equivalence category, you can approach Text Completion questions almost identically. Always read each selection carefully so you understand it as completely as possible. To make these types of questions easier to solve, start with whichever portion of the sentence is easiest to fill in and work from there. Continue choosing words that align closely with what you interpret the sentence to mean and what fits well with the first word you chose. If it stops making sense, you can then stop and re-evaluate. Pick whichever words coordinate closely enough with how you feel the sentence would be logically written. You can also look for any words that clue you in the most easily on the sentence’s meaning, and base your word choice on those key phrases or terms.

Reading Comprehension

The intent behind the Reading Comprehension is fairly simple. It is meant to assess your capabilities with not only reading, but recognizing what you’ve read on a level advanced enough to thrive in graduate-level courses. You will have to read actively, to closely regard the text and what it means on the surface as well as on a deeper, more figurative level.

More specifically, the test will seek to evaluate your capabilities with recognizing different ways to discuss and explicate what you have read; defining terms on an individual basis; acknowledging how what you’ve read communicates its points effectively and how it does not; defining whole sentences; drawing inferences about a selected passage based on information you’ve pulled from it; deciphering whole paragraphs and other selections; recognizing the conclusions drawn by the writer of a given text; telling the difference between the main arguments of a text and the evidence used to explain them; recognizing the point of view of a writer; providing an adequate and coherent summary of a selection; acknowledging how a written work has been organized and why it may have been structured the way it is; and using information that is not directly stated within the text to create predictions, conclusions, and more.

Every question falling under this knowledge category will be tied to a specific, brief passage provided to you—usually no shorter than a single paragraph. The amount of passages you can expect to find on the test range between twelve and fifteen, most of them being short. You will find no more than six questions tied to a single passage, all of which could relate to any of the skills we have listed. Before you attempt to answer any questions, be sure to devote close and careful attention to the related passages. Read them well enough to understand what they are saying—both on the surface and in the figurative sense. It is highly likely that you will have to answer a question about a subtler aspect of the work, which makes close reading necessary. Consider how the story is written, how the concepts within the work are presented both on their own and in conjunction with each other. Think about what the writer is trying to convey and how they’re using language to illustrate how and what they feel, as well as prioritize their ideas between what is most important and what ideas are being used as evidence to back up their claims.

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It is also worth noting that the questions featured on the GRE Reading Comprehension section cover a large array of subjects, and won’t always necessarily be academic in nature. Never panic in the event you come across a passage relating to subject matters you do not know well. You can use context clues and other information picked up from the text to help you through reaching the best possible answers. Similarly, any knowledge you may have about a particular subject will be of little use to you for this section. Always depend, first and foremost, on the information given to you by the text.

Question Formats

You’ll see the following question varieties on the Verbal Reasoning section. While all of these formats technically qualify as multiple choice, the way the choices are presented vary from format to format, and must be approached based on how they are presented.

Multiple Choice

There are two different varieties of multiple choice questions: one where you must pick multiple correct answers from a list of choices, and one where you choose just one answer. For the former, there is the distinct possibility that every answer choice provided to you will be a viable option. It is also worth noting that, with the multiple answer multiple choice questions, your answers are “all or nothing.” If you happen to miss one correct answer, you will not receive points for the question, even if you picked other options that are also correct. Be sure to devote close attention to the question’s context, and choose the answer that most precisely fits what the question is asking you.


For this question format, you will be provided with a depiction and summarily expected to choose a particular sentence from the accompanying passage that best matches the given depiction. To solve these questions as best you can, you must closely assess every answer option you have and compare them to the description. Pick only the sentence that is most precise.

By studying for the GRE, you are already making a significant professional and academic investment. We want to help you as much as possible. While this overview is far from exhaustive, we hope it will be of use to you as you formulate a study guide for the GRE Verbal Reasoning section. Throughout the rest of this page, you will find a complete GRE Verbal Reasoning study guide for further aid with preparing for the exam. For more hands on preparation, we also provide GRE Verbal Reasoning flashcards and a GRE Verbal Reasoning practice test elsewhere on our website. Good luck, and study hard!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | This Page Last Updated: June 23, 2022