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I Am Terrible at GRE Verbal – Help!

This is a common refrain from those who attempt the GRE verbal section for the first time. After all, seeing difficult words, twisted syntax, and dense passages on abstruse topics can make even avid readers tense up. If you typically do not care much for reading and/or have been out of college for a while, the GRE can seem an inscrutable language, an academic hieroglyphics. If this describes you, then the worst thing you can do is throw the book down in despair and utter the title of this post.

You can—and you will—get better. Platitudes aside, you will have to invest a lot of time, and you will need a lot of patience. Just as learning a foreign language can be difficult and frustrating, so too is preparing for the GRE. Yet, if English is not your first language, then you already have learned a foreign language. So you definitely have the requisite grit to help you improve in verbal (indeed, I’d say that learning a foreign language from scratch is more difficult then scoring a 155 Verbal on the GRE).

Now that I’ve instilled a positive attitude, what are some specific things you can do to improve at the Verbal?


Read, read, and read

Oh how important this is. If you do not read much, your brain is not going to like you after you force it to try to read a 450-word passage on test day. Only by reading—and reading challenging, thought-provoking stuff—will you have an easier time navigating the treacherous waters of verbiage that is the GRE verbal section.

To learn more about what to read and how to read, check out this Magoosh blog post on How to “Read in Context” for the GRE.


Fall in love with words

Perhaps that sounds overblown. But, honestly, you will enjoy studying for the GRE far more if you learn to appreciate words. Perhaps the tactile sensation ‘lugubrious’ brings to your lips, the comical imagery of ‘troglodyte’, the ethereal quality of ‘diaphanous’, or the sheer whimsicality of ‘curmudgeon’ will make you a vocab-o-phile. If you need more nudging on your path to falling in love with words, don’t forget our weekly vocab series: Vocab Wednesdays.

You can also check out our top 20 most common GRE word list.



To say you are terrible at verbal is vague. Identifying specific areas in which you struggle on verbal can help boost your score. Is it vocabulary, reading comp passages, specifically just the reading comp questions? Whatever the case, target specific areas. Magoosh has a handy feature that lets you practice questions by type. You can do One-blank Text Completions, Two-blank Text Completions, Reading Comprehension, etc. You can also sort by difficulty level.

And remember — keep a positive attitude. A weakness is but an opportunity to build another strength :).


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.

53 Responses to I Am Terrible at GRE Verbal – Help!

  1. Navdeep March 27, 2017 at 10:32 am #

    Hi Chris

    I just recently gave my GRE and i score quite less 150- Q and 145 -V . I have to improve on both. First i want to take up verbal. Can you help me with some techniques to improve my score.

    My shortcomings in exam were ::

    – I was slow for all sections , I could only able to complete 15 questions in 30 mins.
    – Verbal – i has to read sentences twice at time to understand the meaning and intent of statement
    – At few places in qants i went into long calculation and for data interpretation i think they are quite long questions ; Dont know how to solve them correctly in such a small time.

    Please help me understand how can i improve my score overall.

  2. Ameya February 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

    Hi Chris ,
    I am an native English speaker , though during my school and college days English was preferred language but then environment wasn’t the same it has to be .
    And since childhood I didn’t really had an habbit of reading or writing stuff and the effect of that has been truly reflected on my verbal score .
    Studying since 2015 for GRE attempted twice , and getting an same odd score of 136-137 on verbal is really frustrating.Planning it to give again but then though I study everyday consistently , studying through Magoosh material , I am unable to improve in verbal section . Need a good mentor tips on how to improve my score .
    To be specific , areas where I face problem is when complex sentence structure come up my way or when I come across words which I don’t know and it’s totally new for me or words which I have gone through but don’t remember exactly or atleast slight hint of the meaning of that word.Also some RC questions where I am totally unsure of what answer it would be .


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 15, 2017 at 9:09 am #

      Hi Ameya,

      Sorry to hear your Verbal scores aren’t where they need to be. That certainly can be frustrating! From what you’ve told me, it sounds like you should focus on reading strategies and skills. To improve your comprehension of complex sentences and RC passages, I recommend that you really master the skill of active reading. Here on the Magoosh GRE Blog, Chris Lele gives a good overview of active reading strategies and skills. And over at Magoosh GMAT, Kevin Rocci has done a series of active reading video lessons that are applicable to both GRE and GMAT Verbal. (You can find Kevin’s lessons through this custom Google search.)

      Yous should also be practicing your “vocabulary in context” skills. These skills allow you to guess at the meaning of unfamiliar words, based on the overall context surrounding the words. Vocabulary-in-context skills can also help you understand the meaning of a whole sentence, paragraph, or passage, even when you can’t understand every individual word. Again, Chris gives a good overview of this skill right here on this blog. And once more, there is content on another blog that’s also relevant. This time, I’ll refer you to our TOEFL blog, and the article “Getting Around Vocabulary Road Blocks.” While this article is intended more for non-native speakers of English, the tips and tricks can also help native English speakers navigate challenging GER Verbal content.

  3. Ehsan October 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    I can’t understand what is the GRE verbal and writing part for? I’ve got 94 in TOEFL, and I believe that it is enough for english! Also I am a chemistry student and this level of english is not necessary for me! some social science students should take this exam, that they need this kind of difficult words to know! I showed my proficiency in all 4 sctions of toefl. I think GRE is only for that 205$ , nothing else.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 4, 2016 at 9:26 pm #

      Hi Ehsan,

      I can certainly understand your frustration, and I know many students feel the same way! Unfortunately, the graduate school system in the US relies on tests like the GRE and GMAT as an ‘objective’ measure of the sorts of skills that are necessary in a graduate program. I know it’s frustrating and just seems like another hoop to jump through, but almost all schools require some sort of standardized test. However, not all programs require high scores in both areas. It is possible that the chemistry programs at your target schools don’t really care about the verbal scores and are more interested in the math scores–that’s something that you can find out with a bit of research! But even some math-heavy programs will want to see a decent verbal score, because this (much more than the TOEFL) shows your ability to function at a graduate school level.

  4. Megan September 13, 2016 at 10:33 am #


    Are there any online or in person tutoring sessions available for the GRE? I have taken the test two times but I am looking to improve my score my five points or so. I am unsure of what is the best way to study since I am limited to the amount of time I can spend on the GRE prep with other life commitments. I want to make sure I am spending my time on the most beneficial resources that will most likely relate or reoccur on the test day. Also I am interested in learning some tricks or short cuts to the problems so I don’t spend too much time on a question when there is an easier way to go about getting the answer. Please let me know what you would recommend. I plan to take this test again in about 3 weeks. Thank you. 🙂

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 13, 2016 at 4:37 pm #

      You can get live online tutoring for the GRE at web-based tutoring portals such as Manhattan Prep or Wyzant. These websites and others like them can also connect you with in-person tutoring. If you’re currently enrolled in your undergrad, your campus may offer free GRE tutoring support too. Check with your adviser if that’s the case.

      That being said, the kinds of concerns you have– making the best use of your resources, gathering tips and tricks, that sort of thing— could probably be addressed with little or no tutoring. You can usually get answers to questions about resources and strategy for free on the web. The answers can come from blogs like ours or from forums such as the Urch GRE forums, the GMAT Club GRE Forums, or Magoosh’s very own GRE forum.

      If you still need advice after that, a subscription to Magoosh GRE (or a similar service elsewhere on the web) might be just as effective and cost less than a few months’ worth of 1:1 tutoring.

  5. Lid June 6, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    Are you allowed scratch paper on the verbal section of the GRE? I tend to do better on computer tests if I can write down my thoughts/summaries as I am reading a passage.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 7, 2016 at 1:46 am #

      Hi Lid,

      Good question! You should be allowed to use your scratch paper for the full duration of the test, so you can definitely make notes during verbal as well as quant. 🙂

  6. Bappi February 24, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    I’ve scored 304 (v-146, Q-158, AWA-3) last month. My major is Political Science. So, this score is almost useless for me, specially because of the verbal and AWA section.

    I had just memorized the vocabularies of Wordsmart 1 & 2 and answered all the TC and SE according to some tricks of Magoosh. The other part, RC was a panic to me and I answered all the RC questions without reading the passages, just randomly clicking on the answer choices. Consequently, I got 0 on both section’s RC. I didn’t do any reading practice at all before my exam. I studied AWA for only 3 days and got a treatment from it too.

    Now I want to sit for GRE again to boost my verbal score. What should I do this time?

  7. shubham January 31, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    I know my verbal is not good so, for verbal improvement
    1. I have learned magoosh vocabulary flashcard words
    2. Reading about 4 articles from newyork times ,

    But the problem which I am facing now is in text completion
    Actually those sentence contain many words without any spacing between them.
    I know the meaning of those words independently.
    I am unable to extract the meaning of the text completion sentence
    Please help me !
    Provide those short articles where all gre words are used , so I will able to do practice.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 7, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

      Hi Shubham,

      I know this may be frustrating, but the best way to improve at understanding a lot of words at once like you describe is to read a lot. Verbal improvement often takes longer for students than quant improvement, and you have to diligently work day after day, even when you aren’t sure it’s making a difference–you WILL learn! It isn’t enough to just let your eyes slide across the words, though. You need to really analyze the unknown structures and learn new idioms as you go to be able to dominate the GRE verbal section.

      You can do this! 🙂

  8. Nagma November 19, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    I am the definition of terrible! I did GRE for the first time I got 139 on verbal and 169 on quantitative!
    When I did the test,I felt like I understood all the readings, but I just don’t know how to answer the questions. When I was getting ready for the test, I spent extra time on each reading to understand the sentences word by word. But still couldn’t get more than half of the answers right. I want to go to Stanford for engineering program, so I think I have to wait for next year, because i dont think there is a way to boost my score from 139 to 155 in one month!! Specially with school and finals on the way! What do you recommend? If I want to Take the test again in a month, is it possible? What about if I want to it in a year? What should I do to gradually improve my skills? Thanks

    • Dani Lichliter
      Dani Lichliter November 19, 2015 at 10:26 am #

      Hi Nagma,
      If you have enough time to study over the next month, I would recommend checking out our one-month study schedule. You can easily adjust the one-month plan to be more focused on verbal instead of quant by following the tips in this article. If you decide that you would like more time to study, we have longer-term study schedules here.
      Best of luck!

  9. Alice September 30, 2015 at 9:09 am #


    I’m looking into signing up with Magoosh, but am interested in how you might respond to this question. I am an English Major looking to go into a a top tier doctorate program. My GRE scores are ok, but not quite at that level- looking to increase my verbal between 6-8 points.

    I have been studying the verbal section extensively- reading techniques, vocab.- but I’m finding that while I’ll do really well on the first section, maybe miss only one or two, I completely fall a part in the second verbal section, miss as much as twelve. Now I realize that the test is adaptive, but when I go over my mistakes it’s less that the questions were more difficult than I just wasn’t paying attention; I was losing focus/ tired. So it falls down to, for me, are there any strategies to bolster stamina? Besides the obvious, of course; I am already an avid reader.

    Thanks! Much appreciated.

  10. Dinesh February 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm #


    Playing vocabulary games could help you a lot.
    Recently I created Hangman android game

    Here if you select wordlist = gre you could play with GRE words. You need to play few times to get a hang of the game.. These words will start getting imprinting in your mind.

    Wishing you all the best!

  11. Anam sultana November 18, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I gave my GRE in October and got a score of 141 v and 157 Q. I was unable to think and I was totally blank during the exam. I made very silly mistakes in quant and Verbal section seemed to be very very hard.I am disappointed with my performance. I am planning to subscribe for magoosh premium package… Please tell me ..How can I improve my verbal score? How should I start?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele November 19, 2014 at 10:20 am #

      Hi Anam,

      I think that the Magoosh product will definitely help you better understand the verbal. A good place to start is by going through the Magoosh ebook (it’s free). It takes the best of our blog and arranges it so that you learn step-by-step. Of course, you’ll probably want to mainly focus on the verbal part. Speaking of which, we also have a ebook, which might help you a lot.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Daniel July 26, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I was wondering, are sentence equivalent answers ALWAYS going to have two synonym answers? If not, it just makes it so much harder!


    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele July 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      Hi Daniel,

      SE questions will always have two similar words. What that means is the two words are likely to be lumped together in a thesaurus (the New Oxford one I have is pretty good and not too inclusive) and, more importantly, will create the same meaning when plugging into the blank. Do a bunch of SE practice questions and you’ll get a feel for what does–and doesn’t–make for wrong answer types.

      Hope that helps!

  13. Nivedita June 6, 2014 at 5:35 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Iv been using Magoosh and i love it! I just gave my 1st GRE practise test and the Text Completions were a disaster. I could sort-of remember that i had seen the words, but the clock ticking just made me pick random things. Please help! I have done all my schooling in English and am an avid reader of sorts but the GRE vocabulary is taking everything out of me. I have a little over a month for my GRE and with a measly 151 in Verbal today i am very disappointed!

    Thanks a ton

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele June 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Nivedita,

      Well, I’m sure you’ll do much better test day–as long as you get started with those vocab words soon. Don’t worry, it’s actually a lot more fun than those boring words list make it seem. At Magoosh, we developed these awesome tools: an online flashcard set (learn on the go!), a vocabulary ebook, and my weekly vocab Wednesdy post (there’s a youtube video too!).

      Of course continue reading–at a “” level–and you are sure to pick up lots of words.

      Enjoy your “vocab journey”, and let me know if I can be of any help along the way 🙂

      • Nivedita June 8, 2014 at 12:24 am #

        Thanks Chris!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele June 11, 2014 at 11:26 am #

          You are welcome!

  14. ZHU October 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    Hi, I wonder what kind of articles should we read more on these websites?

  15. sreeja November 14, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    HI chris

    I always find it tough to solve sentence completion.I never get it right and bad @ guessing too Could you help me with some solutions?

    Reply awaiting!!!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 14, 2012 at 11:27 am #

      Hi Sreeja,

      I think you will find our Magoosh vocab ebook really helpful :). I address the main points in taking apart Text Completions–from the 12-word, one-blank TC all the way up to 100-word, three-blank monstrosities.

      Also, you will find this blog post helpful:

      • sreeja November 14, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

        Thanx a ton chris!!! Am planning to give gre in month of feb.Hopefully i pass d test with flying colors:)

        And one more thing your site and blogs are jus too osum buddy!!!really helps a lot & boost up d confidence 🙂


        • Chris Lele
          Chris November 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

          Thanks for the kind words – I’m very happy the blog has been helpful :). Good luck on the test – I’m sure you will do well!

      • sreeja November 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

        Thanx a ton chris!!

  16. Heba November 8, 2012 at 4:36 am #

    Thank you for the reply,

    What do you reckon: is practicing writting words i am craming better with pepper and pen or by writting them on the computer? Which prop up my memory?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      Sure, writing words down, whether with paper and pen or by typing them, is helpful. It introduces another way of learning (just make sure not to copy a word as soon as you see it).

      Good luck!

      • Heba November 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

        Oh, thank you. Do you mean that i should not practice writting the word as soon as i memorize it and should keep a period of time between memorizing and writing?

        Also, your magoosh verbal book is awesome. Unfortunately, i do not have time to finish it as i will have the test in few days. What is the most important part you recommend in it! Hope i am not begging the question 🙂

        • Chris Lele
          Chris November 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

          Hi Heba,

          Yes, you should always leave a period between memorizing and writing. Otherwise, you are just engaged in the mechanical act of writing :).

          As for the e-book, I don’t think one part is more important than any other. Make sure you pay special attention to those words that I say are ‘high-frequency.’ The ‘top GRE words’ would be a good place to start.

          Good luck!

  17. Karan November 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I am planning to give GRE again.I scored 149 in verbal but i really want to cross 155.Three blank text completion were the toughest and RC was very typical and philosophical.The sentence structure was obscuring and jargonized. I need your help regarding this issue and my overall score is 306.Should i give it again ?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Hi Karan,

      I think you should definitely take another shot at the GRE. How did you prep the first time around? Which materials, etc. This time you definitely want to focus on questions with lots of twists in sentence structure and obscure passage with equally twisted sentence structure.

      I’m not sure if you’ve tried Magoosh out yet, but we have many difficult Three-Blank Text Completions with which to practice from.

      Let me know if you have any questions :).

  18. Saumay November 6, 2012 at 6:02 am #

    Thanks Chris.
    The big day is tomorrow! 🙂
    I am going through the post you’ve mentioned.
    Let’s see what’s in store for me!
    Thanks again.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

      You are welcome! And good luck tomorrow :).

  19. Davina November 4, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    Hi, just signed up, looks great.

    Re the vocab books, would you recommend Barrons 1100 words, Manhattan GRE flashcards or your very own Magoosh GRE vocab list PDF or flashcards?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 5, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Davina,

      I recommend all of them :). I don’t think it really matters which one you start with first. Of course, one only has so much time. Mostly, the flashcards/resources overlap quite a bit so it is not such a daunting undertaking as it sounds.

      For self-studiers I recommend Barron’s 1100, because it has the most exercises (at the same time, I’d use quizlet to turn the Barron’s 1100 words into flashcards).

      Hope that helps!

      • Davina November 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

        wow thanks for the speedy reply, am on it 🙂

  20. Saumay November 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Hey Chris,
    My GRE is on the 7th of November , yes which is exactly three days away. I am really scared because I am forgetting all the words I had learnt. I am getting a score of 149(verbal) and 153(quant) on the practice tests. I happened to come across your blog , I know this is pretty pretty late but could you give me some last minute tips? Something which would save me because I really need a good score . Though I plan to give subject GRE (Psychology) too which might help me cover up a bad score on General GRE but I really dont want to put myself in such a situation. And I feel you are the best person to ask for help right now !

    • Chris Lele
      Chris November 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Hi Saumay,

      That’s definitely not a lot of time :).

      In the next 48 hours, I would review words you know. I wouldn’t just whip through flashcards and think you truly know the word. Below is a link to a post that just came up on the site. I think it will provide valuable tips to help you cram for vocabulary.

      Good luck!

  21. Heba October 31, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Actually, your posts are the best place to read and practice GRE words so thank u.
    1. My major problem is three blank text completion. So how to burgeon my faculty in it?
    2. I have two weeks left for the exam and i feel i need more vocab so which word list do you recommend?

    3. Did u al ready post the answer to official quide second edition exam?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris October 31, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

      Hi Heba,

      I’m glad that my blog posts provide helpful vocab :).

      1. Three-blank TC are difficult. I’d recommend reading the entire sentence first. Does any blank seem easier to solve than others (it won’t always be the first blank). Start with that blank, and then work with the blank that you feel more comfortable with. (We have plenty of 3-blank TC to practice from in our product).

      2. For word lists, our vocabulary ebook is a great place to start:

      3. If those explanations are not up at the moment, they will be very soon (meaning check back in a few days :)).

      Hope that helps!

      • Hao Sun July 28, 2013 at 8:56 am #


        What resource would you suggest for learning medium level GRE words? I feel I have a lot of gaps there.

        • Chris Lele
          Chris Lele July 30, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

          Hi Hao,

          That’s an interesting question! I think a great place is actually the SAT College Board book. The Sentence Completion questions, similar to GRE Text Completions, are a great resource for medium-level words. If anything, you can just go through the questions and pick the words that you don’t know. Another cool thing is the College Board is owned by ETS, who write the GRE.

          Hope that helps!

          • Hao Sun August 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

            Is there a purely vocab book for that? I’m slightly in a hurry to learn the words

            • Chris Lele
              Chris Lele August 5, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

              Hi Hao,

              You could pick up some SAT flashcards on Amazon. Magoosh doesn’t have any–at least at the moment–but Princeton Review has some pretty decent SAT cards.

              Hope that helps!

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