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Difficult GRE Reading Comprehension

Challenging Passages and In-Context Vocabulary

For those looking to learn vocabulary in context while dealing with sophisticated prose, reading the New York Times does not always provide GRE-caliber passages. Sure, there is the Sunday book review, which is always filled with challenging vocabulary and twisted syntax. But if you want a concentrated source of challenging passages, which will provide you plenty of reading in context, GRE-level vocabulary, and questions to test your reading skills, then I have the source for you.

Warning: the following advice is only for those who are looking to score in the top percentile, and who do not mind their reading on the dry side.

The answer: The LSAT guide.


LSAT Guides

There are many LSAT guides, which are comprised of official LSAT questions that have been put to pasture, so to speak. I’m not sure of the exact number, but there are well over 40 official LSAT tests. Each contains a reading comprehension section of 25 questions, and four passages. This translates to 1000 questions and 160 passages.

The passages are very much like what you’ll see if you receive the difficult section of the section-adaptive Revised GRE. (Again, if your reading skills are not completely honed to this degree you may want to consider GRE or GMAT guides. Simply put: LSAT questions and passages tend to be more difficult).

A quick flip through an LSAT reading passage as yielded up such vocabulary gems as promulgate, arcane, and ambivalent. So not only will you be exposed to GRE-level vocabulary, but it will be in the context of a reading passage. Meaning you brain will already be in the testing/learning mode (which isn’t always the case when you are reading the New York Times).


Pros and Cons

You will also have access to 50 Critical Reasoning questions per test (yes, the LSAT is big on Critical Reasoning).  Some of the question types are beyond the scope of the GRE, but if you really want to nail the Critical Reasoning component of the GRE Verbal section, then the LSAT questions will help you do so.

The downside is that none of the questions come with explanations. They do come with answers, which in some ways can be a positive. By forcing yourself to wrap your head around why a particular answer is correct can be a far more valuable learning experience than simply reading an explanation. That is, when you figure something out on your own you’ve learned it much better. Of course there will be some instances in which you will be stymied. But despair not: the test is more difficult than the GRE, so you’ll be ready for test day from a reading standpoint. And you’ll definitely pick up some choice vocab along the way.


Where to Find Them has all of the LSAT guides you’ll ever want. You can even buy one test at a time (to try it out) vs. the other option: a book of 10 official tests. I’d say two 10 official guides will provide enough practice for even the most ambitious GRE student.


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44 Responses to Difficult GRE Reading Comprehension

  1. Ikjot Singh March 17, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    chris! can you please recommend me best book for gre reading comprehensions.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 18, 2016 at 6:41 am #

      Hi Ikjot 🙂

      If you’re looking for recommended reading sources, I’d suggest checking out Chris’s suggestions for fiction and non-fiction books on this blog post. And in terms of prep books, I’d recommend our GRE eBook for general strategies and practice questions, as well as the Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions for additional practice. So that you know, the two resources cover all of the aspects of the verbal section, not just reading comprehension 🙂

      I hope this helps!

      Happy reading!

  2. Ritika August 15, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    Official GMAT verbal guide contents critical reasoning section. Is this section same as argument section found in the GRE verbal section?

  3. jialing August 15, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    Hi Chris!
    My GRE test is in only 20 days. Obviously I will not have much time for LAST reading comprehension. I did two sections of LAST several days ago and got 60% correct. I really want verbal 160+ on my coming GRE test. Could you please give me some advice on difficult reading comprehension? Thank you!
    PS: My last score of verbal test is 154.

  4. Pearl July 22, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    I have a Kaplan LSAT book. Is that any good? If not, then which LSAT should I purchase?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 22, 2014 at 11:46 am #

      Hi Pearl,

      With any test, it’s always best to get the material published by the test writers themselves. If you are going to go the LSAT route, I’d recommend the 10 Actual Tests from LSAC.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Cheenu May 30, 2014 at 3:58 am #

    Hi Chris!

    I am very comfortable with easy-medium RC passages and I want to spend my time working on difficult passages and questions since I aim to score high in RCs.

    I have worked my way through the MGRE and ETS guide’s RC passages …I am in urgent need of resources where I could find difficult ones.Please recommend.

    Thank you and Regards,

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 30, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      Try the big book for the old GRE, if you can get your hands on it.

      We have some tough passages in the Magoosh GRE product.

      Finally, those LSAT official passages are excellent for the tough questions/passages.

      Hope that helps!

  6. reza May 10, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks a lot for your help. I have a question: I am studying the passages of LSAT and Big book. I reply to nearly all questions of LSAT right, but I have 3 or 4 wrong answers for every section of Big book(nearly 7-8 wrong answers for 22 questions of every test). I n fact I believe that the passages of Big book are more dense and have many tricks in answer choices, while the questions of LSAT are straightforward. Do you agree with me? Actually, I have 54 Tests of ETS(old versions include Big book) and 65 Tests of LSAT. Do you think I should more concentrate on ETS passages or LSAT? I mean which one is more resemble to real GRE test and investing on it has more profit.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 12, 2014 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Reza,

      Interesting point! Some of the LSAT passages seem denser, but the questions are a little more straightforward: if you understand the passage and nowhere to find the information, you’ll likely get the question right. The thing is the LSAT time constraints are so aggressive that doing so is not easy.

      Some passages in the big book are dense and the answer choices can be a little bit tricky (more “big picture” vs. specific-line reference). I believe that the big book questions are a little more similar to the actual GRE; yet, using the LSAT should also help. You might also want to try questions from the current Official GRE guide and the PowerPrep tests. You might find these more easy than the big book. Or not. I’d be curious, since I have yet to meet somebody who felt the LSAT was significantly easier than the big book. This may have something to do with how you approach the passage.

      I admire your tenacity on going through all these, and want to help you nail the RC test day. So take a PowerPrep test and let me know how it goes.

  7. reza April 15, 2014 at 7:11 am #

    Hi Chris,Thanks a lot.
    I have a question that I need your advice.When I answer to questions of long passages(such as big book and LSAT) I can answer to nearly all questions correctly, but nearly all my answer choices that I pick up from short passages of big book are wrong. How can I overcome to this problem?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 15, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Hi Reza,

      That’s an interesting question–and one I don’t think I’ve gotten before. It’s true that the short passages can be misleading, or at least different from the long passages. On the first go through, are you overly skimming? I think many fall into this trap when reading short passages, thinking that the passages seem so short why not just get to the questions as soon as possible.

      Next, try to understand why you are getting the wrong answers. Do the choices you select tend to have similar wording as found in the passage, but use those words to say something that isn’t supported in the passage? I’m guessing you’ll find a pattern in your answers, one that you can exploit by anticipating similar mistakes in the future.

      Hope that helps!

  8. reza March 20, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I want to know the priority of below sources:
    2.Big book
    4. Manhattan 5lb
    I think I sort the references based on priority because in one hand, the two first sources are nor as relevant as the third and fourth sources for revised GRE and in the other hand, those references are very difficult even more than revised GRE . So we can strong our ability with those and set up our time with Magoosh and Manhattan. After that we take mock tests. Do you agree with my reasoning?

  9. judy January 5, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I have a quick question on RC materials.
    I’ve finished all the verbal questions on Magoosh, manhattan 5lbs, 8 series and Official Guide. I know that you recommend re-doing the RC questions since it is unlikely that we will remember all the passages, but I also want to solve some more of new RC questions besides reviewing the ones that I already solved.
    I just took GRE and I scored 153 on Verbal:( but I am aiming for upper 150s on the next try.
    So I don’t think LSAT isl appropriate for me since you mentioned it is more difficult.
    Do you recommend GMAT RC materials for my level?
    I only need RC questions and since I already solved majority of the practice books that was recommended my Magoosh, I am not sure which one to go for next.
    Could you please give me an advice on this?
    I would greatly appreciate it
    Thank you

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele January 6, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

      Hi Judy,

      Those are good questions! Finding new material won’t be that tough. Here’s the breakdown:

      1) GMAT materials

      The reading passages are more on par with the medium-level RC questions. So pick up an official guide if you need to.

      2) Old GRE materials

      The old GRE official guide, which you can still get on Amazon, offers six tests and a bunch of tricky passages (two or three passages in the current guide are actually from this guide).

      3) LSAT materials

      I’d still use the LSAT. If you are aiming for the upper-150’s, you might end up getting the harder GRE section, which will have LSAT-level difficulty passages. You don’t want to do very poorly on this section.

      Hope that helps!

      • Judy January 6, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

        Thanks for the reply! I greatly appreciate it.
        I just looked up GMAT Official Guide by ETS but couldn’t find it at amazon. Do you know if the official guide is published by ETS?

        For LSAT materials, could you please recommend one material? Do you recommend the Manhattan RC book or should I get this official guide?

        I only need RC so I am not sure if getting the whole official guide is a good idea. Could you please recommend one for me?
        thank you very much! 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele January 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

          Hi Judy,

          So the Official Guide for the GMAT is not by ETS (it’s by GMAC). Yeah, it is quite a big investment if you are only going to use it for the one section (though there are plenty of problem solving math questions and Critical Reasoning questions). The book by ETS is the old GRE guide. That one also has lots of Sentence Completions and the vocabulary exercises will allow you to practice your vocabulary.

          For LSAT definitely get the official guide. I wouldn’t recommend the Manhattan guides for the RC part of the test.

          Good luck!

    • Fizza January 14, 2014 at 4:27 am #

      Hey Chris.
      Which book of LSAT did you recommend ?

      Hey Judy . Which Book of LSAT did you buy ?

      • Chris Lele
        Chris Lele January 15, 2014 at 10:44 am #

        Hi Fizza,

        The one you linked to is perfect :).

        • Fizza January 15, 2014 at 10:49 am #

          thank you 🙂

  10. Reza December 12, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Hi Chris.
    I spend half of my time for taking practices (Magoosh, Manhattan,
    kaplan,…) but for another section do you think it is better that
    1) I read articles from aldaily, New Your Times,… or
    2) Practice passages of LSAT?
    In the first option I can study a lot papers during 5 hours and learn
    many words but there is not questions and in the second option I can
    just practice 4 passages because of many questions.
    Which one better. I mean take more practice is more important or
    reading for learning?
    I am waiting for your answer.
    All the best.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 13, 2013 at 11:44 am #

      Hi Reza,

      It’s not an either/or thing. You have to find the balance between in-context reading and doing practice questions that will prepare you most for test day. If you feel you are spending too much time reading or articles and are not sensing that you are improving much, then spend more time doing practice questions. My advice: mix reading and doing exercises more often. Don’t think you have to do 4 hours of reading and only then do practice problems. When you are taking a break from practice problems thread some more reading sessions in there.

      Hope that helps!

  11. Nitish August 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    Could you point out the major differences and similarities between LSAT and GRE RCs ?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 21, 2012 at 11:48 am #

      That’s a great question :).

      The LSAT passages are all medium to medium long (50-90 lines). GRE passages are anywhere from 15 lines to 70 lines. Secondly, the LSAT ones tend mostly to be dense and academic. Most tend to deal with an ongoing academic debate, describing multiple viewpoints on the subject, often injecting their own respective viewpoints.

      While you do get this type of passage on the GRE, many GRE passages are informative. A few are apparently straightforward, but oftentimes the wording in the answer choices can make the questions relatively difficult.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Rahul August 20, 2012 at 4:00 am #

    I tried all the reading comprehensions (Section 4) in Prep Test 56 (December 2008) LSAT. They all seemed pretty easy – I answered almost all of them correctly – compared to the RC’s in your Data Bank.

    Am I missing something?

    • Nitish August 21, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      From what I have observed until now the LSAT RCs seem to be quite lengthy.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 21, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      Hmmm…are you comparing these passages to the ones in the Magoosh question bank? Typically, the LSAT ones are very difficult, and I think you are one of the first to say they are pretty easy :). I’d recommend trying a few more sections from the LSAT. If you continue to get them right, you are simply doing really well. At least on the long passage on the GRE, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

      Good luck!

  13. Pemdas@BTG July 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Hi Chris, by analyzing my progress with RC passages I realized that the only way I can improve my comprehension of advanced type questions like inference, idea application and synthesis/analysis is trying to make sense of separate paras and then connecting these paras together with leading para (usually the first para). In your experience of exam taker or tutor how sensible is this? Am I on the right track? The thing is that with some convoluted passages it was difficult for me to even link some long paras (like in ones from LSAT set RC passages) and catch the general idea (by contrasting the gen. idea to all paras naturally). After applying “read-understand-reflect on” each para methodology 🙂 I indeed started hitting 80% and plus accuracy rate with convoluted RC passages on constant basis. Does this make any sense to you?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 21, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Pemdas,

      You are definitely on the right track! Indeed many of the most difficult passages have paragraphs that do not relate in obvious ways. Developing the skill of linking paragraphs is an indispensable one to have for cracking tough passages :). So continue using the “read-understand-reflect” method.

      Good luck!

      • Ankita August 2, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

        Hi Chris,
        What is this, “read-understand-reflect” method that you’re referring to? Can you pls brief me about it or give me the link? I have just started with RCs and I have my exam in a month’s time. The thing is, I don’t find the passages very tough, kinda get ’em. Though it takes time. But when it comes to question-answers, I get baffled!! If only the read-understand-reflect technique can help. 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele August 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

          I think what PEMDAS was referring to–or at least what I thought he was referring to–was similar to active reading. In other words, make connections as you read, instead of just plowing through the text.

          Perhaps, since you are struggling with the questions, that you “get” what the passage is about, but the answer choices are throwing you off. I’d recommend trying to answer the questions in your own words (once you’ve gone back to the relevant part of the passage), instead of trying to parse the meaning of some of the confusingly-worded answer choices.

          Let me know if that helps :)!

  14. Pemdas@BTG July 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    hi Chris, could you please also check the content and comprehensiveness of passages at I am using one-two passages on a daily basis for adjusting my eyes and brain to the type of GRE RC.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      Here’s the thing on that: I can’t endorse it. Basically, it contains passages from actual GMATs, LSATs, and GREs. I don’t think the person received permission (I’m pretty sure this constitutes major copyright violation). Just my two cents :).

  15. Emily July 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    I recently discovered, and I’d recommend it to others looking to supplement their reading, GRE-driven or not. While the advantage of test questions and ‘testing’ mode are missing, there’s a lot of higher-level reading material and vocab for the verbal section and some great ideas that can help with the AWA. You should check it out, Chris, and let us know what you think.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 24, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Wow, this looks cool so far :). I’m going to spend some serious time on the site to get a better sense of just how one can thread it into the gre prep. Thanks for the link! Also, if I forget to follow up on this, just give me a little nudge :).

      • Santoshkalyan August 17, 2012 at 3:27 am #


        A little Nudge on Review of, that you asked..

        Expecting a post soon from you..

  16. Quark_guy July 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Chris ,

    Thanks . LSat RCs right away.
    I have signed up for the magoosh 1 week trial. n its superb my friend.
    I am gonna gt the complete version to galvanize the prep…

    P.s: i have my GRE on Oct 17

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Great! Welcome on board :).

  17. James Brown July 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Chris! I got a 1330 on my GRE! (V 160, Q 156), thank you so much for all the help!!! This was a huge improvement over my first score of 1000. Magoosh seriously changed my life, I feel like y’all gave me the weapons I needed to vanquish a monster that was a fusion of Einstein’s ghost and T.S. Elliot. You guys are amazing!!!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 24, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

      Awesome James Brown :).

      And I’ve never heard of such a description, but I’ve loving it (I can see Einstein and Eliot hunched over concocting diabolical quant and verbal questions respectively :).

      Great job and your score and I am happy we helped :).

  18. vaisnavi July 20, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Any idea about the LSAT reading comprehension bible?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 23, 2012 at 10:27 am #

      Yes, it’s by PowerScore, which has a strong reputation for its “Bible” series. I have not yet looked into the LSAT guide. I’d say it may be a good idea if you are looking for a near perfect verbal score, otherwise probably wouldn’t be worth one’s time.

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