GRE Reading Comprehension Practice: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and More!

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Over the many years that I’ve been a tutor, I’ve declaimed on numerous occasions that the act of studying only from a deck of flashcards has limited efficacy. That’s why my answer to the common question, How do I improve my reading comprehension? is simply this—read voraciously from sources that challenge you to think critically and analyze. Here are my top sources for GRE reading comprehension practice (GRE Verbal or otherwise), along with excerpts and vocabulary lists to help you get started!
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COVID-19 Update: Many—if not all—of the publications listed here are providing their COVID-19 coverage free for all readers. Take advantage of this policy change to stay up-to-date with the crisis while simultaneously practicing for GRE Reading Comprehension.


 

Table of Contents

 

  • Eager to get practicing? Click here to go straight to the GRE Reading Comprehension practice questions.

 

 

Why Reading Vocab in Context Matters for the GRE

Reading comprehension practice is about more than rote memorization—rather, you should be trying to interpret meaning and learn new words in the context of the surrounding text. I highly recommend perusing these sources for improving your reading comprehension:

 
Most of the writing in these august publications is not only replete with advanced vocabulary but is also similar in tone and style to GRE passages. In this post, we’ll look at GRE-level reading material from the aforementioned sources as well as highlight important words. We’ll also discuss how to approach learning vocabulary in context in order to improve your reading comprehension.

The articles come from a variety of fields, including business, science, and literature. I’ve done my best to select pieces that I think a majority will find interesting, which I recommend you do as well when you embark on your quest to improve your reading comprehension. Each article excerpt not only contains GRE words to watch out for (these are also sprinkled throughout each article) but also analyzes an issue.

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GRE Reading Comprehension Practice: Passages, Analysis, and Words to Watch Out For

The Atlantic

Let’s start with an article from the business section of The Atlantic.

Outsider, non-founder CEOs are often overvalued because many corporate boards think the answer to their problems is a superstar CEO with an outsized reputation. This leads them to overpay for people who are good at creating outsized reputations through networking, interviewing, and taking credit for other peoples’ achievements—all bad indicators of future success.

Rakesh Khurana has amply shown how this delusion of the charismatic savior creates a dysfunctional market for CEOs, allowing the small number of existing public-company CEOs to demand and receive extravagant compensation. The myth of the generalist CEO is bolstered by the many fawning media portrayals where CEOs say that their key jobs are understanding, hiring, and motivating people—leading board members to believe that you can run a technology company without knowing anything about technology.

GRE Words to Watch Out For

  • Amply
  • Delusion
  • Charismatic
  • Dysfunctional
  • Compensation
  • Bolstered
  • Fawning

 
This reading passage is great because it is full of relatively difficult words, many of which are high-frequency GRE words to watch out for (fawning, bolstered, ample/amply). This excerpt is also filled with analysis, which will help sync your synapses for the ultimate GRE reading comprehension practice.

The article also scores big points in the Topics of Interest category. After all, it’s Steve Jobs—revere him or fear him, most of us have an opinion of the company and its ubiquitous products.

Perhaps you find that business isn’t too closely related to your graduate school field, or maybe you like to vary your reading. A great field to draw from is science. Part of the reason is that the GRE usually has one science RC passage. While it may be drier than the typical fare found in the magazines cited above, the science passages you’ll read on the GRE is often similar in tone and style to what you’ll encounter in these magazines.

More Recommended Reading from The Atlantic

  • Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers (Topic: Philosophy)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Ubiquitous
    • Subordinated
    • Predominantly
    • Demarcate
    • Exorbitant
    • Compliant
    • Inadvertently
    • Quixotic
    • Wayward
  • Secrets of the Creative Brain (Topic: Science)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Alleviate
    • Stricken
    • Lexicon
    • Semantic
    • Meandering
    • Proxy
    • Notwithstanding
    • Polymaths
    • Predisposition
  • The Robot Will See You Now (Topic: Technology)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Byzantine
    • Hindrance
    • Autonomously
    • Emblematic
    • Proselytize
    • Hidebound
    • Premonition
  • The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men (Topic: Sociology)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Burgeoned
    • Ingratiating
    • Tentative
    • Arch (2nd def.)
    • Idiosyncratic
    • Inconspicuous
    • Gambit
    • Quotidian
    • Declension
    • Jejune
    • Antithesis
    • Insouciance
    • Exemplar
    • Diffidence
    • Deployed
    • Profligatev
    • Lascivious
    • Beguiling

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The New Yorker

So let’s take the article Bird Brain, which appeared in The New Yorker back in 2008. It explores the development of language in human beings and whether language is the province only of humans. To do so, it tells the story of an African gray parrot, Alex, and his owner, Irene Pepperberg. Irene trained Alex to say hundreds of words (though none, I believe, were GRE vocab) so that Alex, by the time he was an adult, was able to form relatively coherent sentences.

Below is an excerpt from the article, which is about 15 pages long. I recommend reading the entire piece, especially if the premise intrigues you. The excerpt includes a few GRE words to watch out for, followed by some important points and tools to arm your reading comprehension practice.

All children grow up in a world of talking animals. If they don’t come to know them through fairy tales, Disney movies, or the Narnia books, they discover them some other way. A child will grant the gift of speech to the family dog, or to the stray cat that shows up at the door. At first, it’s a solipsistic fantasy—the secret sharer you can tell your troubles to, or that only you understand. Later, it’s rooted in a more philosophical curiosity, the longing to experience the ineffable interiority of some very different being. My eight-year-old daughter says that she wishes the horses she rides could talk, just so she could ask them what it feels like to be a horse. Such a desire presumes—as Thomas Nagel put it in his 1974 essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”—that animals have some kind of subjectivity, and that it might somehow be plumbed. In any case, Nagel explained, humans are “restricted to the resources” of our own minds, and since “those resources are inadequate to the task,” we cannot really imagine what it is like to be a bat, only, at best, what it is like to behave like one—to fly around in the dark, gobble up insects, and so on. That inability, however, should not lead us to dismiss the idea that animals “have experiences fully comparable in richness of detail to our own.” We simply can’t know. Yet many of us would be glad for even a few glimpses inside an animal’s mind. And some people, like Irene Pepperberg, have dedicated their lives to documenting those glimpses.

GRE Words to Watch Out For

  • Solipsistic
  • Ineffable
  • Interiority
  • Presumes
  • Subjectivity
  • Plumbed

GRE Reading Pro Tip:

A good rule of thumb for GRE reading comprehension practice is to always validate your hunch—don’t assume you can always glean the exact definition of the word simply by looking at context. Even if you know a few of these words, you should definitely look them up, especially if you are inferring the meaning based on the context.

After looking up these words, you’ll notice that plumbed has a secondary meaning and that subjectivity and solipsistic come from philosophy. After consulting Word Smart, Barron’s Words You Need to Know, or other vocabulary lists I’ve recommend, you’ll notice that subjectivity (or subjective) is a very important word. Solipsistic, on the other hand, is not as likely to pop up on the test. But if you already have a strong vocabulary and are looking to score in the top 10%, then definitely learn solipsistic.

You will notice that the definition of interiority isn’t very surprising, as it is directly related to interior. You may also notice that it is similar to subjective. Finally, you will learn the word ineffable, which you’ll find on a few vocab lists. Write it down on a flashcard along with an example sentence (“Oh, the irony of ineffable—to say that something is ineffable is to undermine the essence of the word”).

GRE Reading Pro Tip:

Following a process similar to the one above is imperative to improving your reading comprehension skills. Don’t simply underline the words and look them up. You need to digest them, so that, much like Alex the parrot, you will be able to use them in a coherent sentence!

Of course, reading the entire article is also a good idea. Essentially you are training your brain to read through a long, relatively challenging piece, a skill that is indispensable for reading on the GRE.

More Recommended Reading from The New Yorker

  • Sight Unseen: The Hows and Whys of Invisibility (Topic: Science, Philosophy)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Felonious
    • Prosaic
    • Lucrative
    • Ambivalent
    • Consummately
    • Heretofore
    • Inscrutable
    • Caveat
    • Tantamount
    • Impunity
    • Cornerstone
    • Perennial
    • Impotence
    • Rendered
    • Bestowed
    • Interlocutor
    • Allegory
    • Attenuating
    • Hinterlands
    • Unequivocal
  • What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand? (Topic: Linguistics)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Appropriation
    • Disparage
    • Semantic
    • Amelioration (general meaning)
    • Philistine
    • Pliable
    • Unambiguous
    • Dubious
    • Uncanny
    • Occam’s razor (not really a vocabulary word, but just a cool idea to know)
  • Writers in the Storm (Topic: Writing)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Omnipotence
    • Banal
    • Torrential
    • Imperceptible
    • Elusive
    • Fallacy
    • Zealously
    • Erroneous
    • Tepid
  • Cheap Words (Topic: Business)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Rubric
    • Mortified
    • Antediluvian
    • Cloistered
    • Incipient
    • Defunct
    • Impasse
    • Capitulated
  • Heaven’s Gaits: What We Do When We Walk (Topic: Sociology)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Enthralled
    • Oracular
    • Abstract (v.)
    • Permeates
    • Peregrination
    • Apotheosized
    • Ample
    • Contiguous
  • Utopian for Beginners: An Amateur Linguist Loses Control of the Language He Invented (Topic: Linguistics)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Scrutinize
    • Furtiveness
    • Quixotic
    • Emanating
    • Ardor
    • Polymath
    • Volition
    • Lexicon
    • Ambiguity
    • Ubiquity

     
    Bonus Assignment
    Write a one-page response to the article in which you summarize important parts and include your own opinion on the article. See if you can use twenty-five GRE words. The words do not need to come from the article, but can come from any vocabulary source. Get creative and have fun! 🙂

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The New York Times

The Book Review

Let’s say that you read Bird Brain and enjoy it. You are already familiar with a number of words and want something more challenging in your GRE reading comprehension practice, maybe something couched in academic jargon or that oozes literary style. (I’m assuming that if you fall into this category, you are also looking to get the difficult GRE Verbal Reasoning section on test day.)

A good resource is The New York Times Book Review. Here you will find the erudite waxing literary on a book that is just as scholarly. (Are these the very writers who craft byzantine text completion questions for ETS?)

Below are two excerpts from a review of a biography of Joseph Heller , the reclusive and frequently irascible author of Catch-22, one of the great novels of the 20th century.

But again, Daugherty is often perceptive about Heller’s place in the larger culture, even if the novelist himself rarely comes into focus. For the human aspect, one turns to Erica Heller’s frank but loving memoir of her father, “Yossarian Slept Here,” which comes as close as possible, I dare say, to deciphering the enigma behind the obsessive, pitch-black fiction. Joseph Heller, the opposite of demonstrative, was given to oblique ways of showing affection….

That was the year Heller published his second novel, “Something Happened,” which Daugherty commends as follows: “Joe stepped beyond Wilson’s sentimentality and Yates’s bitterness to eviscerate modern America’s success ethic.” Such a pat comparison to Sloan Wilson, the author of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” and Richard Yates, the author of “Revolutionary Road,” is the sort of thing Daugherty might have emended given a bit more time to think about it; at any rate, “Something Happened” is perhaps the one work of postwar American fiction that makes Yates seem positively Panglossian. Erica Heller, for her part, describes the novel (probably her father’s best) as “569 pages of hilarious but mordant, caustically wrapped, smoldering rage”—though of course it’s personal in her case. Primary among the targets of the protagonist Bob Slocum’s paranoid, solipsistic rant is his family….

GRE Words to Watch Out For

  • Enigma
  • Demonstrative
  • Oblique
  • Commends
  • Sentimentality
  • Eviscerate
  • Pat
  • Emended
  • Panglossian
  • Mordant
  • Caustically
  • Smoldering
  • Solipsistic (repeated)

 
This article is clearly the most challenging among those printed here. There are many difficult words, some that may give even the most literate among us pause (“Panglossian” is derived from a character in Voltaire’s Candide, Dr. Pangloss. Pangloss is always optimistic, regardless of the circumstances).

Interestingly, solipsistic makes another appearance. Maybe it’s not such an arcane word after all. Higher-frequency GRE words include mordant, caustic, emend, enigma, and oblique.

Also, you want to be careful not to rely too much on assumptions. Demonstrative does not simply mean ‘to demonstrate’ (it means ‘tending to expressive one’s emotions openly’). And pat— such a diminutive word, so folksy-sounding and innocuous—has many meanings. The adjectival form employed in the book review could easily pop up on the GRE and cause you to answer a text completion incorrectly. So be sure to look up such words (if an explanation is “pat” it is superficial, cursory, and unconvincing).

The Movie Review

Surprisingly, difficult vocabulary words and highfalutin prose aren’t only found in the esoteric niche of the book review. Take an opinion piece we are far more likely to read: the movie review. Let’s take a look at this movie review from The New York Times.

At a certain point, though—to say exactly when would ruin a fairly stunning surprise—the cat-and-mouse psychology is jettisoned in favor of something more procedural. The two halves of “Love Crime” divide according to the words of the title: the first explores the knotty, feverish, ambiguous bond between Christine and Isabelle, while the second is all about guilt, innocence, evidence and motive. It is interesting and ingenious, even if some of the kinky, queasy fascination that had been so intoxicating in the earlier scenes ebbs away.

GRE Words to Watch Out For

  • Jettisoned
  • Procedural
  • Knotty
  • Feverish
  • Ambiguous
  • Ingenious
  • Queasy
  • Ebbs

 
While the words here aren’t as recondite as Panglossian, the prose style will still challenge your GRE reading comprehension practice. It also has echoes of the GRE text completion.

More Recommended Reading from The New York Times

  • What Happened When Venture Capitalists Took Over the Golden State Warriors (Topic: Sports, Business)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Deferential
    • Cachet
    • Savvy
    • Autocratic
    • Hidebound (a correct answer to an official question)
    • Transcendent
    • Austere
    • Ineptly
    • Confer
    • Wherewithal
    • Gumption
  • Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem? (Topic: Linguistics, Translation)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Disquisition
    • Coruscating
    • Viscera(l)
    • Semantic
    • Ubiquitous
    • Colloquy
    • Mediated
    • Partisan
    • Neologism
    • Henceforth
    • Allusiveness
    • Ascendant
  • A Nose for Words (Topic: English Language)
    Show GRE words to watch out for
    • Quondam
    • Perspicacious
    • Recondite
    • Hortatory
    • Cleave
    • Impregnable
    • Synesthetic/Synesthesia
    • Impresario
    • Impertinent
    • Pertinent

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GRE Reading Comprehension Practice Questions

The first practice passage and GRE reading comprehension questions come straight from our Magoosh GRE prep! Be sure to click on the free video explanation to get a full breakdown of the right answers.

Reading Comprehension Practice Passage 1

Dickens is so brilliant a stylist, his vision of the world so idiosyncratic and yet so telling, that one might say that his subject is his unique rendering of his subject, in an echo of Rothko’s statement, “The subject of the painting is the painting”—except, of course, Dickens’s great subject was nothing so subjective or so exclusionary, but as much of the world as he could render. If Dickens’s prose fiction has “defects”—excesses of melodrama, sentimentality, contrived plots, and manufactured happy endings—these are the defects of his era, which for all his greatness Dickens had not the rebellious spirit to resist; he was at heart a crowd-pleaser, a theatrical entertainer, with no interest in subverting the conventions of the novel as his great successors D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf would have; nor did he contemplate the subtle and ironic counterminings of human relations in the way of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, who brought to the English novel an element of nuanced psychological realism not previously explored. Yet among English writers Dickens is, as he once called himself, part-jesting and part-serious, “the inimitable.”

  1. According to the passage, as a result of Dickens’s disinclination to subvert the conventions of his time, his prose fiction is characterized by:
    1. “unique rendering of his subject”
    2. “ironic counterminings”
    3. “contrived plots”
    4. “nuanced psychological realism”
    5. “world so idiosyncratic”
  2.  

  3. For the following question, consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.
    Which of the following regarding Dickens can be inferred from the passage?

    1. He was aware of the stylistic conventions of his time.
    2. He preferred to be exhaustive rather than selective.
    3. He greatly influenced James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
Show Correct Answers and Video Explanations
  1. C – Click here for the video explanation from our GRE product
  2. A, B – Click here for the video explanation from our GRE product

Reading Comprehension Practice Passage 2

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby by no means serves as a blanket condemnation of the American dream; instead, the author uses the novel and its upwardly mobile protagonist to celebrate the ability of those not born of wealth to rise to the pinnacle of American society while also examining the costs that can accompany such success. When this duality is understood, the book’s descriptions of the glittering banality of the upper-class lifestyle can be seen as a critique of the hollowness of strictly material success, rather than simply demonstrating that Fitzgerald possessed, as Trilling described it, “a taste for aristocracy.” Yet, the view among some critics that the book expresses moral complacency or shallow psychological insight has nonetheless persisted. Shulz, for example, criticizes the book for idealizing Gatsby despite his moral shortcomings. But the novel’s treatment of the way in which the character interacts with his milieu is no less complex than Wolfe’s insightful look at the challenges posed by the intersection of race and class, or Miller’s account of the perversion of the American dream in Death of a Salesman.

  1. Which of the following can be inferred about the book The Great Gatsby from the passage?
    1. The novel contains depictions of a person not born wealthy entering into a lavish social environment.
    2. Fitzgerald drew inspiration for the themes in Gatsby from the works of Wolfe and Miller.
    3. The symbolism in Gatsby makes dual and contrasting commentaries on American society.
    4. The reception of the book by literary critics has largely tended toward complacency.
    5. The characters in the novel celebrate the idea that social class in America can be fluid.
  2.  

  3. For the following question, consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.
    Based on the passage, which of the following is true about critiques of The Great Gatsby?

    1. Among the shortcomings identified by reviewers is a lack of psychological depth.
    2. Detractors view the novel as a misguided tribute to a somewhat dishonorable character.
    3. Certain commentators attribute to its author a penchant for the upper crust of society.
Show Correct Answers
  1. A
  2. A, B, C

Reading Comprehension Practice Passage 3

A recent study analyzing the evolution of bees has supported, to some degree, existing theories about their evolution. For instance, when provided with a pollen-generating food source, bees will develop the capacity to feed on pollen, known as pollinivory; this finding does help to explain the explosion in bee species some 120 million years ago. The study also validates the theory that bees evolved from a species of carnivorous wasps. While pollinivory was confirmed as an important step in the process of bee speciation, the study overturned the previous hypothesis that this factor by itself was the cause of the diversification of bee species. Instead, the research indicated that this increase was more accurately explained by including the complementary process which saw bees moving from being specialized in only a few host-plant species to becoming generalists able to feed on a wide number of hosts. This generalization enabled bees to move into new ecological regions and rapidly expand speciation. This finding helps explain why pollen-eating wasps, who specialize in only a few plant hosts, failed to demonstrate the same rapid diversification as bees. The Masarinae family—the subfamily of wasps that feeds exclusively on pollen—contains around 350 known species; by contrast, there are almost 20,000 known species of pollen-eating bees in the world, divided across only nine families.

  1. The author of the passage would most likely agree with which of the following statements regarding diversification in bees:
    1. The proliferation of flowering plants drove the need for bees to feed on a wide number of host plants.
    2. Their omnivorous eating habits provided an evolutionary advantage for all bee species.
      Limiting their sources of nourishment to specific plants would have muted the effects of pollinivory on bee diversification.
    3. The new study on the evolution of bees has overturned the hypothesis that the development of pollinivory contributed to the rapid diversification of bee species.
    4. Bee speciation occurred at a moderate rate until bees stopped consuming animal flesh.
  2.  

  3. For the following question, consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.
    Based on the passage, which of the following is true about the evolution of bees?

    1. At some point in their development, pollen was not an edible source for bees.
    2. Theories about the increase in varieties of bees identify mutually enhancing causes.
    3. Bees’ comparatively varied diet allowed an evolutionary outcome not seen in related species.
Show Correct Answers
  1. C
  2. A, B, C

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How to Choose Material that Improves Your GRE Reading Comprehension

These publications aren’t the only sources for great GRE reading material. With the internet at your fingertips, you can easily search up great, challenging articles to improve your reading comprehension skills. Here are some key things to look for in your search for GRE reading material:

  • Range of Subjects: Practicing critical reading on a variety of topics keeps things interesting and prepares you to tackle any subject they throw at you on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE.
  • Clear Opinion or Point of View: Analyzing articles with a strong opinion helps you better understand how to form a convincing argument in writing.
  • Length: Remember the GRE includes lengthy reading comprehension passages, so you’ll want to practice your ability to read fast with longer articles.
  • Complexity: The faster you can read through a dense passage and comprehend the main ideas, the better equipped you will be to handle reading under timed test conditions.

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Bonus Articles for GRE Reading Comprehension Practice

Finally, as a thank you for reading to the end (A+ for your reading skills and determination to improve your reading comprehension!), here are some bonus articles to help you continue your vocabulary and GRE reading comprehension practice. These articles come from excellent sources that cover a range of topics.

Pick the articles that interest you and, as you read, jot down any words you don’t recognize and look up the definition. Once you find the definition, read the sentence containing the unfamiliar word again before continuing through the article. This will help you remember the meaning of the word in context!

Topic Article Title Source
Writing Why Academics Stink at Writing Chronicle of Higher Education
English Grammar Steven Pinker’s Bad Grammar
‘Many of the alleged rules of writing are actually superstitions’
10 ‘grammar rules’ it’s OK to break (sometimes)

The Guardian
History (People + Pets) The Writer, Seducer, Aviator, Proto-Fascist, Megalomaniac Prince Who Shaped Modern Italy New Republic.com
Blame the Dog Open Letters Monthly
Linguistics, Modern Slang Please Do Not Chillax Slate
Literature It’s Tartt–But Is It Art? Vanity Fair
What Book Changed Your Mind? Chronicle of Higher Education
Brightness falls
Tell me how does it feel?
This is how it feels to me
The Guardian
Philosophy How Philosophy Makes Progress Chronicle of Higher Education
A Philosophy of Tickling Cabinet Magazine
Sociology & Psychology We Are All Confident Idiots Pacific Standard
Man, Weeping Aeon
We Aren’t the World Pacific Standard
Science & Technology What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement? The Guardian
Science is Not Your Enemy New Republic
State of the Species Orion Magazine
Reign of the Robots NewStatesman.com

If you’re still wondering how to improve your reading comprehension, we have more free resources for you!

If you prefer reading books over articles, head over to GRE Vocabulary Books: Recommended Fiction and Non-Fiction for a great selection of literary works. (And if you’re more into television, try learning GRE words with our Moira Rose vocabulary list.) If you’re looking to supplement your GRE reading comprehension practice with some vocabulary building, try going through our complete GRE vocabulary lists and free vocabulary flashcards as well. If you need help finding vocab flashcards for your level, take this quiz to get our recommendation for the right FREE GRE vocabulary flashcard set for you.

Good luck and happy learning!

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Author

  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!