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GRE Verbal Sections: Question Type Breakdown

The questions on the GRE are broken down in a specific format. In order to do your best, it is important to know how to navigate through the different question types in order to max your score.

So let’s start with the beginning of a verbal section and work our way towards the end (the below is based on the computer-based, 20 question test, not on the paper-based pdf. tests or the two practice tests at the back of the 2nd. edition OG).

Text Completion breakdown (per section)

1-2 single-blank Text Completions

2-3 double-blank TC

1-2 triple-blank TC

Remember, you get the same number of points for the really difficult three-blank TC as you do the really easy one blank. That is not to say you won’t spend more time on a two-blank TC then on a three-blank. If you feel any one question is eating up an inordinate amount of time, then skip it and come back to it. The upside to this is not just saving time; often your brain is more likely to “get it” when, with fresh eyes, you look at the question again.


Reading Comprehension breakdown

The next grouping is the Reading Comprehension passages. I’ve broken these up not into the order they appear—as there is no consistent order—but the length of passages. Those passages that are less than 20 lines are short passages. Passages between 20 and 40 lines are medium passages. Finally, long passages are passages over 40 lines.

Across two verbal sections, here is a rough sampling off what to expect (my extrapolations are based on the actual 20 question-test).


RC breakdown (across two sections)

1 Long passage – 4 questions

5-6 Short passages – 1-2 questions each

2-3 Medium passages – 2-3 questions each

3-4 Critical Reasoning questions (short paragraphs)

The takeaway from this is to know that you can skip the very long passage, something I recommend doing, and come back to it if you have time. The idea is you will have more time to work on questions that are not as time consuming. What makes the long reading passage such a trek is that for all those 60-lines you only get 4 questions. On the other hand, the short passages are about 15-lines long and usually offer up about two questions. Then there are the Sentence Equivalence questions, which take very little time.


Sentence Equivalence

There will be a total of 9 SE across both sections. There really isn’t too much more than that. Keep in mind that SE typically requires the least amount of time. So as long as your vocab is strong, this is definitely a fertile patch, point-wise.



Remember that the numbers above are taken from a test that has 25 questions. The computer-based test will only have 20 questions, so you’ll have to adjust the numbers above (choosing the low side of the range will help bring the question number closer to 20).

Also, this is a high-level breakdown of the verbal section. In follow-up posts, I will deal with each aspect of the verbal section (TC, RC, etc.) in more detail.


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

10 Responses to GRE Verbal Sections: Question Type Breakdown

  1. Beatriz September 18, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I’m a Magoosh student and I’m taking the GRE in about two weeks. For the verbal section, I am scoring around 164-165 in practice exams, but the graduate programs and schools I am applying to are looking for a 165-169. I struggle most with the reading comprehension questions and usually get about 4 of those wrong per exam, as well as 1 or 2 text completion questions. Do you have any last-minute advice or strategy tips for boosting my verbal score a couple of points? I’ve been doing lots of practice questions and exams regularly, but I don’t feel like its helping.


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 24, 2016 at 11:01 am #

      Hi Beatriz,

      I see that you sent this question to our student help team and got a good answer! As you seem to have figured out, it can take a while for us to get through our blog comments, but Premium students can always send their question to 🙂

  2. Sneha July 21, 2015 at 7:41 pm #

    Hi Team,

    I have my gre within a month. I am little worries about the verbal section. I have been reading articles from, nytimes, etc as suggested by you and trying to find the meanings of the words and writing it down. I have been preparing for words from Magoosh’s GRE flashcard App. Also i have started doing high frequency words 333 of Barron’s. Can you please suggest me if i can do anything else within one month or stick to this and reading articles.

    Thanks for all the videos and blogs:)

  3. T May 7, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

    This is from the ETS website. The test does change depending on your performance on the first set. However, they have an equating system that takes these differences into account. You should work on knowing more about this.
    Computer-delivered Test
    For the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measures of the computer-delivered GRE revised General Test, the reported scores are based on the number of correct responses to all the questions included in the operational sections of the measure.

    The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning measures are section-level adaptive. This means the computer selects the second operational section of a measure based on your performance on the first section. Within each section, all questions contribute equally to the final score. For each of the two measures, a raw score is computed. The raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly.

    The raw score is converted to a scaled score through a process known as equating. The equating process accounts for minor variations in difficulty among the different test editions as well as the differences in difficulty introduced by the section-level adaptation. Thus a given scaled score for a particular measure reflects the same level of performance regardless of which second section was selected and when the test was taken.

  4. Ameya June 19, 2014 at 12:24 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have been solving tons of practice questions and exams now and the SE is the section, I am finding the most challenging. In most of your blogs, SE has been considered a ‘piece of cake’ and a good vocabulary can help you ace most SE questions. I am finding this tip a little belying. It would be great if you can suggest me more tips to help with SE questions? My GRE is in 1.5 months.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

      Hi Ameya,

      You’re right–I usually dismiss these questions as less subtle than their counterparts. I’m curious as to where you are struggling with these question types. I think what tends to be most difficult for student is when an answer choice that works perfectly isn’t actually the answer because it doesn’t have a word amongst the answer choices that creates a synonymous sentence.

      But let me know your specific frustrations and I’d be happy to help 🙂

  5. Derek Voyticki March 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Hey guys, I was told that the more medium and hard questions you get right, the higher chance you have of being put in the higher score range for the next section, so how is every point worth the same then? Isn’t it better to get more difficult questions right than the basic easier questions which most gre test takers get right?


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 26, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Derek,

      That’s a good question – and I actually did some snooping around to see what information was out there on Google. According to the testprep section of the following advice is given:

      “Spend more time on the harder questions. Chances are good that you’ll be taking the computerized version of the GRE, so the scoring is scaled: harder questions equal more points. Even if you miss quite a few easy questions and get a smaller percentage of the harder ones correct, your score will be much better than if you answered all of the easy ones correctly and only answer a few difficult ones right. So plan your time accordingly. This is one of those GRE test tips to memorize.”

      I was quite surprised–and chagrined–to read this. After all, is consistently ranked near the top of the Google search hits. I wondered if ETS had recently changed their policy, or if I had been mistaken all along (that’s the chagrin part!).

      So I went to ETS website. These are the guys who actually create the GRE. This is what they had to say:

      “Your Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores will be determined by the number of questions you answer correctly…”

      “Since no question carries greater weight than any other, do not waste time pondering individual questions you find extremely difficult or unfamiliar.”

      While it is seems commonsensical that the tougher questions must be awarded more points, this is not the case. I’m not sure if you learned this from If not, I’m curious who your source was, and if many people/test prep companies are actually saying this.

      So definitely thanks for bringing this to my attention 🙂 – it definitely warrants a blog post!

  6. Abhishek September 13, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Chris, I totally agree to –
    “The upside to this is not just saving time; often your brain is more likely to “get it” when, with fresh eyes, you look at the question again.”

    Many a times when I come to question suddenly things make much more sense and I can actually solve this initially seemingly “Opaque” question ;).
    It’s like my brain was Parallel Processing it in some other section.

    I bet the ETS have a passage about that too :p

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Definitely! In fact, I think it is a great strategy not nearly trumpeted as much as it deserves to be. After all, you can scroll away from a question very easily on the GRE so that the opaque becomes pellucid. Hmm…maybe I’ll write that passage :).

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