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GRE Verbal Reasoning – Five Tips for Doing Well

Below are five straightforward verbal reasoning tips to help boost your score to the top of the GRE score range.

1. Know your vocabulary

There is no way around it. To do well on the GRE you have to know your vocabulary. There are plenty of word lists that can help you get started.

Also make sure to learn how to go about learning GRE vocabulary. Reading through a word list simply won’t hack it, you’ve got to have vocabulary study strategies.


2. Speak GRE-ese

The verbal section is not filled with entertaining writing. Far from it. What you’ll get is dry, academic type of passages. The Text Completions (the fill-in-the-blank sentences) will also contain dry writing, much of which is complex and sophisticated.


To really wrap your head around such writing, you have to immerse yourself in GRE- level writing. This can be as simple as doing plenty of practice questions or reading from sites such as

Of course the speak element doesn’t mean speaking like a GRE passage—at least not at first. It does relate to using GRE-level vocabulary as much as possible. So don’t just learn the words in word lists but use them (perhaps not in public – but at least pepper your inner monologue with a GRE word or two).


3. Learn pacing

All of us have been there—not being able to let go of that difficult question, burning minutes agonizing between (B) and (C). To do well on the test you have to get a sense of pacing, so you don’t spend most of your time on just a few questions.

To develop a sense of pacing do plenty of practice sets. There are a few GRE practice tests out there that will help you get a handle on any timing issues. Both Magoosh and Manhattan GRE also have mock tests.


4. Become a word detective

Everywhere you look, GRE words abound. Listen to some of the words characters use on television (I heard ‘subterfuge’ and ‘disingenuous’ recently); open up your local newspaper. Of course most of us are loath to looking up a words we see in writing (are you going to look up ‘loath’?). Now that you are prepping for the GRE, you need to think of yourself as word detective. Every time you see a word you don’t know look it up.


5. Think as the test writers do

To do well on the verbal section requires more than just knowing a lot of fancy words. You have to make sure not to get trapped by the answer choices. Known as ‘distractors’, wrong answer choices are sneaky. Learn what makes wrong answer choices wrong and right answer choices right. You’ve got to think like the test makers!

Of course the typical reaction to missing a question is outright disbelief—how, we exclaim, can (B) be the correct answer. It is clearly (C). Such a response can lead us to harbor resentment to the test. We think the questions are arbitrary and unfair.

Rather, figure out—in an equanimous manner (that’s GRE-speak for ‘cool-headed’)—why the correct answer was right, and why your original answer was wrong.


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.

22 Responses to GRE Verbal Reasoning – Five Tips for Doing Well

  1. Mihir Malladi August 7, 2016 at 6:13 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I am facing a little difficulty in the verbal section .Can you please tell me how to practice for verbal. My estimated score for verbal section according to Magoosh is 148 to 153(range).I want to improve it to 154 to 159(range).

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 8, 2016 at 9:14 pm #

      Hi Mihir,

      Since you are a Premium student I have forwarded this question on to a tutor who will email you with specific feedback and tips. You should hear from us soon!

      • Aziz August 11, 2016 at 5:43 pm #


        I am also struggling with the verbal part. I need help as soon as possible!

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 12, 2016 at 3:53 am #

          Hi Aziz,

          If you are a premium member, please email with details about your situation and one of our test prep experts will get back to you ASAP. 🙂

  2. rabiya abdul jabbar June 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

    how can I improve my verbal section ….I take passages in depth and get the answers wrong
    please help me.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 14, 2016 at 8:19 am #

      Hi Rabiya,

      Glad to help!

      GRE RC Strategies

      To help you on your journey to GRE Reading Comprehension domination, I am giving you some resources that will help you to succeed. Each one tackles a different aspect of reading comprehension, and if you want to read actively and understand the passage in front of you, dive into these resources:

      Introduction to Reading Comprehension (Strategies and Pacing)
      How to Approach Questions
      Example of How a Passage is Outlined
      Identifying Patterns in Passages
      Pacing Strategies
      Active Reading Strategies for the GRE

      Reading Recommendations

      In addition to practicing the strategies explained in these resources, you should be reading all the time to prepare for the GRE. Read. Read. Read. This will help you to learn new words, see different passage structures, and become familiar with the forms and styles employed by authors 🙂 As you read, make flashcards of the vocabulary words that you don’t know. Pause every so often, and recap the main message in your own words. Here are some suggested reading materials:

      The New York Times
      The Economist
      Arts & Letters Daily
      The New Yorker

      For some specific articles suggestions, I’d recommend browsing through our “GRE Article of the Month” series. About once a month, Chris selects an GRE-level article and provides both GRE vocabulary for you to focus on as you read, as well as a brief discussion of the piece.

      And if you would rather read books than articles, check out this post for fiction and non-fiction book recommendations!

      For tips on how to use these reading sources to learn really vocabulary in context, check out these blog posts:

      Vocabulary in Context
      Reading Vocabulary in Context: Where Should I Start?

      Truly, reading is the BEST way to improve your reading comprehension skills, I promise!

      Pacing on GRE RC

      In terms of improving your speed on GRE RC passages, I’d recommend first practicing without the timer–slow down, and try to truly understand the passage. You might think that time is lost when you read the passage too carefully, but in reality most time is wasted on questions that you don’t know the answer to because you read the passage too quickly. So step one, slow down, take notes on the passage, practice without the timer. Practice using all of the strategies you have learned, and don’t pay attention to the clock.

      Next, once you feel your accuracy is improving on RC questions, start using the timer again. The more confident you become in your reading skills, the faster you will be able to answer questions.

      Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence

      Text completion (TC) questions can be difficult and hard to understand, clearly! Fortunately, we have some great resources to help you understand what to do.

      On top of knowing vocabulary words, you need to be able to read a passage and decipher its meaning. Part of improving will be based on learning new words and part of improving will be based on learning about signal words in English that tell you about the relationship of ideas. Words like “because” or “however” or “more than” tell you about the relationship of ideas in a sentence and these are crucial to choosing the correct word to fill-in a blank.

      You want to make sure that you read passages that are similar to the ones you will find on the GRE. Some of the best places to look for good articles and writing are at The New York Times and The New Yorker. The style, tone, and level of writing will be very similar to what you will see on the test, so make it a point to read these news sources—and/or others of their caliber—everyday.

      Besides that, strategy is key! We have many blog posts that outline exactly how you should be tackling text completions and give some great examples (of course, that’s beside what’s in our lesson videos!). You can see those here:

      GRE Text Completion
      Magoosh Blog: Text Completion

  3. Asma May 11, 2016 at 7:59 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Could you please tell us about AWA section? Thank-you.

  4. Pingo July 17, 2015 at 12:37 am #

    “(perhaps not in public – but at least pepper your inner monologue with a GRE word or two).”


  5. aketh November 12, 2014 at 2:02 am #

    how is one supposed to read of aldaily like pleasure reading or intense timed GRE style reading.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 13, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      Hi Aketh,

      Good question! Well, I think that might be somewhat of a false dichotomy for most, since doesn’t quite fit the bill as pleasure reading. Yet, I don’t want to imply that you should time everything you read on this site. The thing is the brain learns when you are doing something in a leisurely fashion. And that’s what I hope readers get when reading Of course, they will want to assiduously look up words they don’t know and ask themselves after the article–or even a couple of paragraphs–what they were reading. This latter will hope fend off our natural tendency to start linking words together, without thinking of the meaning.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Harry August 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I have spent my entire summer studying for GRE verbal since i will take the exam on upcoming December. However, due to the fact that I am not a native language speaker, it seems that i have serious issues regarding the vocabulary, especially on sentence equivalence portion.

    For example, among the list of possible vocabs, I always know the one correct word, but I frequently fails to get the correct pair. Is there any tip for me to narrow down the choices?

    Thank you so much in advance!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele August 22, 2014 at 10:47 am #

      Hi Harry,

      It sounds like building your vocab is going to be a big component in improving your SE skills. My question is do you choose a second word because you are not sure what it means, or are you not sure what the other words mean?

      See, if you tend to pick words that are familiar, even though they don’t create synonymous sentences with the first word you picked, that is an error you can guard against. In other words, don’t pick a familiar word because it kind of makes sense, pick/guess between the words you don’t know, because one of them will most likely be the answer.

      If you are already doing that, then double down with the vocab prep. Our Vocabulary Builder is a great place to start:

      Hope that helps 🙂

  7. Hasnain June 4, 2014 at 2:49 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Will you please elaborate what exactly did you mean by “think in the way as writers do”?


  8. Samyak May 4, 2014 at 8:45 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I am a pretty slow reader, I have had issues with completing the verbal section in time. How can i improve my reading speed

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 5, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Hi Samyak,

      A good idea is to think in terms of active reading. What this means is to read not by connecting one word to the next, hoping to make it to the end, but rather to think about what you’re reading: looking for big ideas, connecting one sentence to the next, and even anticipating what comes next. This skill takes a while to perfect. Indeed, you will first be reading slower than before. But as your brain starts to connect ideas and get the general meaning, you’ll find yourself scanning with greater ease. The best part is your understanding of the passage will be much deeper.

      Hope that helps!

  9. peter March 11, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    If I had to choose between. Mgre and magoosh words which to choose ??

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 12, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

      Either–but I’d study both (and there is a lot of overlap).

      If you really forced to choose one, what you should do is study about 50 of each and then decide which one works better for you. Perhaps, you like the example sentences in Magoosh better (or maybe find them annoying!). Maybe you like the fact that MGRE provides synonyms with many words.

      Hope that helps!

  10. Charly May 22, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    Hi Christ,
    I am pretty slow computer test taker, so what is a good advice for me taking the GRE?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 12, 2014 at 1:47 pm #

      Hi Charly,

      Practice–you’ll get faster quickly. Very few people have practice taking tests on a computer, so it is daunting for many at first. So take a few practice tests online. ETS has two, MGRE has 6, and Magoosh offers mock tests (as well as entire question base that is computer only). Spend a week with one of these and you’ll probably notice a significant improvement in your confidence and speed.

      Good luck!

  11. Sam May 14, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have learned 1000 words list, which i formed my self from GRE material and many of them matched to you Wednesday Vocabulary. Is this vocabulary enough to score perfect on the GRE verbal or I have to increase my vocabulary?. If I should increase my vocabulary then tell me how much and where from. Is it ‘ll be a good way to learn those words which are from your Wednesday vocab and missed on my world list.

    Thanks & Regards,


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      Hi Sam,

      I think a better question is, “If I study these 1,000 words will I know every word on the test.” See even if you know every single word on the verbal section, you can still get tripped up the Text Completion sentence structure, or by the fact that you misinterpret the sentence and choose the wrong answer. Then there is always the reading comp. section.

      That said, if your vocabulary was already pretty strong when you started prepping, I’d say those 1,000 words will allow you to recognize between 70 and 80% of the words on the test. Which is no small feat. Often that is enough to get the answer right for a Text Completion or a Sentence Equiv. question. I don’t think it would hurt if you picked up a stack of Manhattan GRE flashcards. Many of the words will be redundant but you’ll def. get a few more useful ones in the process.

      Hope that helps!

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