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Pacing on the GRE Verbal Sections

Meet the Verbal section

On the Revised GRE section each verbal section consists of 20 questions. You will have a total of 30 minutes per verbal section, translating to 1.5 minutes per question.

So how do you allocate this time amongst the different questions? In order of LEAST time-consuming to MOST time-consuming we have:

  • One-Blank Text Completions
  • Sentence Equivalence
  • Two-Blank Text Completion
  • Short Reading Passage
  • Three-Blank Text Completion
  • Long Reading Passage



This ranking is a rough estimate, meaning that a difficult sentence equivalence question may cost you more time than a straightforward three-blanker. To simplify things I will assign each of the sections above a different amount of time, giving a range to account for the difference in time for any given question type.

One-Blank Text Completions 20 – 45 seconds

Sentence Equivalence 20 – 60

Two-Blank 30 – 75 sec

Three-Blank 45 sec – 2 min

Short Reading Passage (including time to read passage): 45 sec – 1:45

Long Reading Passage 1:00 – 3:00.


What does this all mean? On Sentence Equivalence and One-Blank Text Completions spend no more than a minute. On Two-Blank and Three Blank spend an average of 1:20 – 1:30 minute. The extra time you saved in One-Blank and Sentence Equivalence use towards Reading Comprehension.


The low-hanging fruit

20 seconds to 3:00 minutes is a pretty vast range. Simply put, some questions are easy. and others fiendishly diabolical. The shocking thing is each question, from the one that you get in a blink of an eye to one that has you scratching your head till longer after the exam is over, are worth the same.

That point is so important I am going to repeat it again (in caps): EACH QUESTION ON THE GRE IS GIVEN THE SAME WEIGHT.

The takeaway? Do not spend 3 minutes agonizing over a three-blank text completion with the words hagiographic and pulchritude as answer choices.  If it’s a long paragraph with really difficult words SKIP IT!

That is, as soon as you see that the question is difficult, move on. Instead, go for the low hanging fruit. That is, the questions that are easier and take less time. The Revised GRE, after all, allows you to scroll from question to question. Make sure to take advantage of this function.


You do not need to attempt every question

Don’t freak out if you are unable to attempt every question. As long as you just guess some random answer, that’s fine. There is no penalty for guessing. There is, however, a penalty for rushing through a relatively easy question to try to answer every question. And that penalty is you get the easy question wrong. Anyways, you do not get bonus points for completing the test. So make sure to be accurate.



Each question on the GRE is worth the same so do not waste time trying to answer a difficult question. In general you should spend more time on Reading Comprehension passages than on the easier Text Completions.


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.

38 Responses to Pacing on the GRE Verbal Sections

  1. Niki August 31, 2016 at 7:20 am #

    Great post! However, in my experience (have been trying for 3 months) reading a long passage in 3 minutes is very unreasonable. This is due to the fact that, I have to write in my scratch paper little notes and indicators while I’m reading so I don’t have to read the whole thing to find a small information. So for long passages, I think taking at least 5-7 min is fine if you can manage.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 2, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

      Hi Niki,

      It is definitely a challenge to read these passages in such a short period of time! However, it can also be dangerous to spend so much time on one passage–you might run out of time or take valuable time away from other questions! This is one reason that we recommend leaving the long reading comprehension passage until the very end.

      One recommendation I have is to take fewer notes. There is a lot of information in the passages, and it’s tempting to try to take notes on all of them, but I encourage you to try to limit yourself to one note at the end of each paragraph. After reading each paragraph, try to summarize the main point in just a few words. This process of reading and analyzing is an important part of active reading, and it can improve your short term memory and comprehension so that you can read the passage more quickly while still retaining the information. Check out this post for more information, and try it out! 🙂

  2. Rishabh May 26, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Pretty useful post, I must say 🙂 .Could you throw some light on the time that should ideally be spent on Argument Structure Passages as well ?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 29, 2016 at 5:54 am #

      Hi Rishabh,

      It’s great to hear that you liked the post! 😀 Argument structure passages are really a type of short reading passages, although they often require more logical reasoning than other RC passages. With that in mind, and as mentioned in the post, you should be spending 45 sec – 1 min 45 seconds on these questions, veering towards the upper limit, as these passages can be a bit tricky!

      I hope this helps 🙂

  3. Kaushik June 4, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Hello Chris,

    I have been following all your Vocab Wednesday videos. I must say, I am pretty confident with my vocab, thanks to you. There was one instance when I finished wathing 75 videos in one sitting.

    The only part of GRE that is bothering me is the verbal section. I usually run out of time and can’t complete my mock tests.

    The reason is that I have ADD, and I won’t be able to apply for the accommodation as I have not been able to find a single expert here in India who conducts the various cognitive ability tests that form a prerequisite for ETS to grant me the accommodation. I am forced to take up GRE like any other candidate.

    Could you advise me on this?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 6, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      Wow, I’m flattered–and impressed–that you watched 75 Vocab. Wed. in a row 🙂

      On the ADD thing, have you thought of traveling to nearby countries (relatively speaking) to see if they have an expert who conducts such tests? I know people from both the US and India who’ve gone to Thailand for various medical procedures because the cost is low and the quality is high. You might also consider Australia or Hong Kong, though the airfare will probably be a little more expensive than it would be going to Thailand. Short of flying out all the way to the U.S.A this is the only thing I can think of.

      Hope that helps, and good luck 🙂

    • Amy October 8, 2016 at 7:30 pm #

      Hi, I have the same question about the answering order, too. Do you recommend to answer text completion or reading comprehension first? Thanks!

  4. Katie November 4, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    Hi Chris!

    Magoosh has made studying for the GRE much easier than other sources I have used. I am really impressed with the product.

    I do have one question relating to the verbal section, however: Upon the fact that RC questions take a bit longer to read and process, would it be best to complete them first? Or is completing them last the best option? I have noticed that I tend to perform the best on RC questions. My text completion scores and sentence equivalence scores are much more dependent on the specific words used in any given test. Some tests I have answered nearly all the SE’s correct, and others I have missed over half. I have taken three practiced sections scoring 157,158 & 162.


  5. Ananda September 27, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    Hi Chris,
    How much wasabi-flavored almond do you take each week? lol… 😉 Your suggestions are extremely helpful. THE FIENDISHLY DIABOLICAL exam is coming on 6th Oct. and I am using Magoosh. 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 27, 2013 at 11:37 am #

      Hi Ananda,

      A lot. Probably too much for my own good :).

      Glad the suggestions were helpful! Good luck on the “fiendishly diabolical exam” ;).

  6. siddharth August 27, 2012 at 4:53 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I Have GRE exam in 4 days. When i take an untimed practice test on the verbal section i score 153-159 on the average. But today i took a timed test on verbal section from the powerprep and scored fairly low around 140. please kindly give me a quick tip to improve on my pacing

    Thanking you in anicipation


    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 27, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

      Hi Siddharth,

      Quick question: were you scoring between 153-159 on non-Powerprep tests?

      Here is a post that I think you will find helpful:

      Let me know if you have any other questions 🙂

      • Siddharth August 29, 2012 at 10:27 am #

        Hi Chris,

        Yes, it was on princeton review but when i gave it in the powerprep it was as low as 145 – 149 what should i do?

        Really worried

        • Chris Lele
          Chris August 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm #

          Princeton Reviews test are much easier than the actual test. Both in terms of the content and the score you receive. The key is to use difficult content, such as Magoosh or Manhattan GRE. I know you have very little time remaining – you may want to take another powerprep test in the remaining time. Regardless, do your best test day and don’t let the score discrepancy affect your performance.

          Good luck!

  7. Sid August 7, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I’ve read all your blogs and I find the stuff you guys provide very very useful. I’ve worked through books like Barrons which dosen’t focus much on the Verbal part, MGRE: SE AND TC, which has words which are way over my head and Princeton which seems easier than necessary. I’ve got my GRE on the 24th of Sept and Im really considering joining Magoosh, I was just wondering if you reckon I could make any headway within 1 and a half months of joining Magoosh? Cheers, I look forward to your reply.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

      Hi Sid,

      I definitely think you can make a lot of headway. Even if you only had a few weeks. With six weeks, you should be able to make a significant improvement in both the verbal and math sections. Our TC/SE questions are difficult without relying on ridiculously obscure words. And with plenty of tough quant questions you should be well-prepared for test day.

      Hope that helps 🙂

      • Sid August 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

        Hi Chris,
        Thanks for the prompt reply. Yup, Ive already joined up and am finding the practice questions quite addictive really. Its such a fun way of learning. And it lets me know where Im actually at, instead of where I think Im at. I thought I’d be all over the Math Section, but the estimated scores have brought me back down to earth and I can now go about trying to improve where Im faltering. Cheers!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris August 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

          That’s the attitude :). Keep up the strong work!

  8. rachita July 22, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    hi chris i am planning to take the gre test on 4th oct.This will be my second attempt.I wanted to ask which all gre material are of same standard as actual gre.Last time i used big book,kaplan and barrons but none of the matched the gre standard of questions.I have heard a lot about grebible and ofcourse magoosh gre videos.Please elaborate a bit on them.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      I’ve never been able to get my hands on the GRE bible software so I really can’t say… for Magoosh, you can sign up for the free one week trial to get a better sense of the questions. I think one of the reasons our questions are more indicative of the actual test is we change our content to reflect latest iterations of the test (most material out there hasn’t been changed since before many even saw the actual GRE).

  9. lawal July 6, 2012 at 6:26 am #

    Hi Chris, in my earlier post i complained of my inability to unlock TC/SE’s and you advised me to improve my vocabulary which i have been doing painstakingly. I compel myself to learn at least 20words daily. 5 from Magoosh verbal e-book, 5 from princeton wordsmart, 5 from the New york times word of the day and 5 from Barron’s list. Also using wordnik for words that have vague meanings. I took a SE practice test from magoosh yesterday and i scored 4/5 of which the only question i missed was unanswered because i ran out of time. I also took 2 TC’s practice tests 2day. 5 questions each and scored 5/5 on both of them. After completion of the tests i found the difficulty level was ‘HARD’ for the most part of the questions. Thanks a lot. I hope this translates to my actual score in about 2mths time.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

      Yes Iawal, I remember giving you that advice. I am so happy that it has been working very well thus far. Keep at it – and test day, things will go well :).

  10. lawal June 27, 2012 at 9:53 pm #

    Chris, Thanks a lot. I will let you know how my progress is going.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 28, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      You are welcome!

  11. lawal June 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Thanks. Yeah i agree i need to do a lot of practice hopefully i should see improvements. Am taking the GRE in about 2months. I do not want to burn up all of magoosh practice questions early. Am thinking of practicing TC/SE somewhere else and using magoosh practice questions about 1month before i actually take the exam so that i can customize to mock mode and practice. Would you advise this? And if you do where can ​i get more practice from? I have 1,014 practice questions by princeton, Kaplan review and Barrons but you have advised to steer clear from this books.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

      Hi Lawal,

      Yeah, I would avoid the usual suspects. PR 1,041 is plagued by so many typos as to frustrate students. Manhattan GRE, through it’s online tests, has a plethora of practice questions. If you have to use on the main players for TC/SE, I’d recommend Barron’s.

      Hope that helps!

  12. lawal June 23, 2012 at 11:30 pm #

    Hi chris, I have been watching the magoosh verbal videos and i must confess they are really helpful. After watching a couple i attempted Barron’s sentence equivalence questions using the steps and i feel it is way below standard. The timing seems to be my greatest enemy on the GRE. I seem to consume a lot of time trying to decipher the structure of the sentence, looking out for reversers and keywords and coming up with my own word and then finally matching it up with the answer choices. And even after doing all these i still end up missing 1 blank which can really be frustrating. How can i really speed up? Chris I need your candid advice on speeding up with accuracy because this is my major concern on the GRE.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 26, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

      Hi Lawal,

      Vocabulary is a big part of SE/TC completion. That is being comfortable with the way words are used, especially when embedded in a complex sentence, is paramount. Of course that takes a lot of practice. So definitely do not despair. It sounds like you are on the right track. The good news is we will soon release a slew of new TC/SE questions (within the next 10 days). You will therefore have plenty to practice from. Give it a little more time, and you should speed up.

      Let me know how that goes!

  13. varun June 8, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    hey chris,
    Can you please tell us how does one get a bonus point on what basis?Do you have to correctly answer all question to get bonus points or what?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 9, 2012 at 9:15 am #

      Hi Varun,

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘bonus point.’ Do you mean the more difficult of the follow up sections?

  14. varun June 7, 2012 at 4:35 am #

    sorry let me correct the timing it says 35min/section.

    • varun June 8, 2012 at 5:35 am #

      hey chris,
      My bad you were right chris ! I mistook it with paper based test yes you are right! It’s for computer based test.Thanks for such an inquisitive ebook I am very much enjoying it.

      • Chris Lele
        Chris June 9, 2012 at 9:14 am #

        Great! I’m glad you are enjoying the book

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 9, 2012 at 9:14 am #

      No problem – it’s the difference between the paper-based and the computer test, as you noted below

  15. varun June 7, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    But chris the one which i had official guide says each verbal section consist of aprrox. 25 question and 30 min/section

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 7, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      Hi Varun,

      Are you sure that is for the book test or the computer test. They differ slightly in terms of number of questions: 25 vs. 20. As for the 35/min per section that does not apply to both the verbal and math for the computer-based test. (It is 30 min. for verbal. 35 min. for math).

  16. Sammy June 6, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    From your prior experience with your students, do you get a lot of feedback from them complaining about the duration for each section on the GREs? I feel that it is reasonable enough where I can spend a sufficient amount of time to answer each question.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

      Hi Sammy,

      A few students do run out of time. But I find with the Revised GRE students are running out of less time than they did on the old GRE. Again, this is my general impression. If you aren’t worried about time management then that is great! It’s just a question of making sure you get as many questions correct as you can.

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