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Pacing on GRE Reading Comprehension (RC)

“I could get them all right, if I had unlimited time…” is a common refrain I hear from those struggling with pacing on the RC. While such reasoning may not be entirely valid, as the questions themselves can be quite devious, and the passages…well dry, dense, and esoteric are just the beginning of it…having 45 minutes vs. 30 minutes would almost surely raise your GRE verbal score. Therefore, smartly divvying up those 30 minutes is paramount to increasing your verbal score. Let me say that again:

Pacing on GRE Reading Comprehension is paramount

One school of thought has it that you should divide the number of questions per verbal section (20) by the number of minutes per verbal section (30), leaving you 1.5 minutes per question. This is clearly an oversimplification. And while such counsel is usually qualified with a concession for Sentence Equivalence questions and one-blank Text Completions, which take less time, the truth is that RC questions and passages differ so much that there is no easy rule in pacing.

Below are some important points to keep in mind when determining how much of those 30 minutes you need to spend on the different kinds of passages and questions on RC.


Know the passages

Not all GRE reading passages are created equal: some are short, some long; some are lucid; some opaque. Then there are the questions that follow. An easy question may take you little more than a few seconds. The question attending the paragraph argument may cost you two minutes. As you can see, the two minutes per question advice become hopelessly simplistic when presented with such complexity.

That doesn’t mean that you should throw your hands up in the air in frustration. Below are several points regarding passages that should help you with pacing on RC questions.

1. The Long Passage

The key is to know that one of the verbal sections will contain a very long reading passage. The passage can be as long as 450 words. Regardless, it will always contain four questions. That is a lot of passage per question, compared, say, to a 100-word passage with two questions.

Only attempt the long reading passage if you have attempted every other question. At the same time, do not come back to questions you skipped the first time around due to difficulty. Give the long reading passage a crack first.

2. The Paragraph Argument

These short paragraph questions followed by a question run the gamut from easy to diabolically difficult. In general, you should try to complete these questions in less than 90 seconds. Indeed, for most you want to try to get that number closer to one minute. That doesn’t mean a very difficult paragraph argument question won’t take longer. Still, it is always a good idea to move on after 90 seconds, giving you time for the long reading passage as well as another crack at the question.


Know the questions

Inference questions and weaken/strengthen questions tend to take more time than in-context vocabulary questions, which require you only to figure out which word best replaces the word in quotation marks. Main idea questions land somewhere in the middle. Of course, if you sense a question is difficult, regardless of its type, then move on to easier questions.

All this advice must be taken in the context of the scroll feature to the GRE. That is you can easily scroll from question to question, skipping the time-consuming inference questions, to save time for easier questions such as Sentence Equivalence, or vocabulary-in-context questions.

At the same time, don’t become a scrolling junkie; you’ll end up skipping too many questions. But if you have already spent over a minute on, say, a parallel reasoning question, without any avail, then move on to another question.


Know your strengths

Maybe you are good at inference questions or paragraph arguments. Only you will know your strengths. Pacing on the Reading Comprehension section comes down to not only knowing the different types of passages and different types of questions, but your skill at handling them.


Know when to move on

As I mentioned earlier, don’t spend more than 90 seconds on a question. One reason is obvious: you are giving yourself time for the other questions. The other reason is not so obvious: coming back to a question a second time allows you to look at the question with fresh eyes, which, in turn, allow you to often home in on the correct answer.


Takeaway on Pacing RC questions

As you can see there is no easy pacing strategy, and indeed you should be wary of the 1.5 minute per question approach. The only way to really gauge how effectively you move through the passage is to take as many practice tests as possible. ETS has a few, MGRE has six, and Magoosh offers four. By going through these tests, and keeping the points in this post in mind, you will be able to develop a Reading Comprehension pacing approach that works for you.


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.

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18 Responses to Pacing on GRE Reading Comprehension (RC)

  1. Good Guy October 5, 2015 at 7:29 am #

    While you talk about time spent on questions , it would be helpful if you could also mention how much time one should ideally spend on reading the passage itself, because ‘as fast as possible’ is generally not good.

  2. yash September 4, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    hey can any1 pls help me out?? I have average RC solving skills and wanted to know approximately how much time should i spend solving each type of RC ( long / short / paragraph argument ) with timer including the reading time for passages?? Also how many passages of each type appear in GRE?? THANKS IN ADVANCE 🙂

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 4, 2014 at 10:49 am #


      It has to give an exact number, because passages differ in terms of difficulty. I’d say spend less time on short passages (but be careful on these since the answer choices are tricky). The long passages should take the longest since you have to read the passage and hunt for the information in the passage. The paragraph argument varies widely depending on the difficulty of the question.

      The best strategy for you is to take several practice tests to get a sense of which pacing works for you.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Zeba November 13, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Hi Chris!!!
    Gave my GRE yesterday and scored 154 V and 159Q.
    A BIG thanks to you and Magoosh!!! Couldnt have done it without you guys. Esp. Verbal being International I had a tough time time with vocab..and guess what I expected around 152 and got 154, its all due to your wonderful video explanations and blog.
    Next step is- to recommend Magoosh to all my friends who want to take GRE or GMAT(for their own good 😉 )and even my siblings!

    Thanks Again!
    Hope to get admission to a University of my choice(Keeping fingers crossed)

  4. Aditya November 4, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    hey chris
    I am a Magoosh premium member.I recently gave GRE and my verbal section score was 148.I would like to improve my verbal score and get atleast 158.I take lots of time to complete the RC questions, on an average of 15 minutes to solve 5 questions with atleast 2 mistakes.I really want to improve my pace and accuracy.
    Please help

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 6, 2013 at 11:23 am #


      Perhaps you are struggling with understanding the passage in the first place, and are spending a lot of time going back and forth between answer choices. One method is to learn to understand the passage better the first time around. Practice making mental outlines of the passage after you read it. Once you go the questions, you should be able to quickly find the relevant part, answer the questions with your own paraphrase, and then quickly home in on the one or two best answers.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Sudip September 7, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    Hello there,

    I am looking for improving my strategies in verbal and aiming to score at least 70th percentile in it. I bombed the gre which I took last week, and one of my biggest problem was reading comprehension. I am planning to retake it in a month.

    I would love to buy the magoosh online account.

    Please help me out



    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

      Hi Sudip,

      Sorry to hear you didn’t do as well as planned. Magoosh can definitely help you get to the 70% mark. We have lots of lesson on RC as well as questions with detailed explanations. We’ve seen a lot of students improve on the verbal section.

      Let me know if you have any more questions about how we can help you hit your target score :).

  6. Anupum Pant April 12, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    I have a doubt about finding the sentence type of questions in RC, the ones where you have to click on the sentence in the RC.

    Suppose I click on the sentence once and confirm my answer, have an ‘oh-i-see’ moment later on, can I come back later and change it? Somewhere in the Princeton’s book I think I read that I cannot change my answer. Could you confirm?
    Are there any other questions like these?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 12, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

      Hi Anupum,

      Unfortunately, once you click ‘confirm’ that’s it :(. One thing you can do is pretend you click ‘confirm’ – wait a couple of seconds for the ‘oh-I-see’ moment. If it doesn’t come than click ‘confirm.’ (Hopefully, there won’t be a follow up ‘oh-I-see’ moment :)).

      • Tej June 14, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

        Hi Chris,

        So confirming the answer would freeze the option of changing it later. Please emphasis a little further.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele June 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

          Actually, you should be able to change it as long as there is still time remaining in the section. Though it does seem kind of vague above.

  7. Craig April 4, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    What do you think Chris of mgre’s reading comprehension tactics? I love them! Just wanted your thoughts.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

      Hi Craig,

      Sure, MGRE strategies are awesome – and in depth. I think that is the case across the board. The RC included.

      I think the main area in which Magoosh RC strategies diverge is on note taking. I’m not a big fan on it, just because I see it as a crutch – something that is helpful, at least initially, but prevents you from being as efficient as possible. I always urge to students to do the note part in their heads. Hard at first, but with practice you become more efficient.

      Good luck :)!

  8. Brian February 13, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    I am a new Magoosh GRE Premium member.

    Where can I find Magoosh four practice tests?

    • Margarette Jung
      Margarette February 14, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      Hi, Brian

      You can find them on your dashboard, through the link that says, “Take a practice test”, right above the green Practice Verbal button. I hope that helps! Let us know if you have any other questions along the way :).


  9. Shubham February 5, 2013 at 4:32 am #

    I just loved the blog… Thanks alot.
    In the “Takeaway” you said that Magoosh offers four
    practice tests. I want to know that from where
    I can access the practice tests.


    • Margarette Jung
      Margarette February 5, 2013 at 10:39 am #

      Hi, Shubham

      We’re glad you enjoyed the blog post! 🙂 You can access the practice tests through the “Take a Practice Test” link on the upper-right corner of your Magoosh dashboard, right above the “Practice Verbal” button.

      I hope that helps, let us know if you have any other questions!


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