GRE Verbal Review (2024)

GRE Verbal Review - image by Magoosh

GRE Verbal (also known as GRE Verbal Reasoning) is a challenging test of reading comprehension, passage analysis, and—perhaps most difficult of all—vocabulary. And though grammar isn’t directly tested, you’ll need to navigate your way through complex sentence structures. So, there’s quite a bit involved with GRE Verbal prep!

In fact, getting started sooner rather than later is one of the best things you can do to prepare for GRE Verbal. If you’re not already consistently reading in your daily life, that’s a good habit to develop. Likewise, there are lots of vocabulary words to learn, so it’s best to space out that acquisition over time.

Let’s take a closer look at how to study for the GRE Verbal section—including some sample GRE Verbal practice problems—as well as what free resources are available to you.

Table of Contents

GRE Verbal Section Structure

There are two separate sections of GRE Verbal on the exam. The exact number of each question type varies, so these are approximations:

Section 1 Section 2 Combined Totals
Time 18 minutes 23 minutes 41 minutes
Total Questions 12 questions 15 questions 27 questions
   Text Completion ~3 ~4 ~7
   Sentence Equivalence ~3 ~4 ~7
   Reading Comp. ~4 ~7 ~11
   Critical Reasoning ~1 ~1 ~2

GRE Verbal Section Topics

Unlike math, GRE Verbal doesn’t test specific subjects that you’ve studied in school. No matter which question type you’re dealing with, all the information you need to answer the question correctly exists in the provided text. So, if you didn’t pay attention in biology class or never took an art history course, you are not at a disadvantage.

Even though you don’t need to be familiar with the subject matter ahead of time, it’s still helpful to know what to expect. If you find reading about geology to be really boring, well, be prepared to slog through some enervating passages! The good news is that reading actively can stave off some of that boredom.

In addition to science topics, there will also be passages covering humanities, social science, business, and more. So, be sure to read from a wide variety of topics in your GRE Verbal prep.

GRE Verbal Question Types (with Examples)

There are four main question types that show up on the GRE Verbal section:

1) Text Completion

In a sentence or a paragraph, there will be 1 to 3 blanks. Based on the surrounding context, your goal is to select the appropriate vocabulary words (or phrases) to fill in each blank.

The gossip columnist’s (i) ____________ was (ii) ____________ the number of her published columns–the more articles she wrote, the more untruths she spread.

Blank (i):

Blank (ii):

Check the answer here!

2) Sentence Equivalence

For a single blank, select two vocabulary words (or phrases) such that they both create sentences with similar meanings.

As the job fair neared to an end, the recent college graduate became ever more ______, desperately trying to befriend prospective employers he had earlier not even deigned to give so much as a cursory glance.

Check the answer here!

3) Reading Comprehension

Based on the passage—anywhere from ~100 (Short) to ~500 (Long) words—you’ll need to answer around 1 to 4 questions. The questions themselves can be Multiple Choice (select 1 of 5 choices), Multiple Answer (select 1 or more of 3 choices), or Select the Sentence.

For much of the 20th century, paleontologists theorized that dinosaurs, like reptiles, were ectothermic, their body temperature regulated externally. These scientists, however, based their conclusions on faulty reasoning, claiming that scaly skin was common to all ectotherms (birds, which are ectothermic, do not have scaly skin) and that the dinosaur’s size could account for ectothermy (some adult dinosaurs weighed as little as ten pounds). Supplanting this theory is an entirely new line of thought: dinosaurs were actually mesothermic, neither warm- nor cold-blooded. By taking this middle ground, some paleontologists maintain that dinosaurs were faster than a similar-sized reptile yet did not require as much food as a similar-sized mammal. To substantiate this theory, paleontologists intend to study how birds, the dinosaur’s closest extant relative, might have at one time been mesothermic.

Question 1 – Multiple Choice

The two parts in parentheses serve to do which of the following?

Check the answer here!

Question 2 – Multiple Answer

Which of the following does the passage imply regarding birds? Select ALL that apply.

Check the answer here!

Bonus Question – A Long Passage’s Select the Sentence Question

The above set was an example of a Short Passage with pretty standard question formats. If you’re curious what a Long Passage looks like, as well as the Select the Sentence question type, you can view that here along with an explanation.

4) Critical Reasoning (also called Paragraph Argument)

Given a short argument, you’ll need to answer a multiple choice question that generally asks you to strengthen/weaken the argument or identify a key assumption.

The Malbec grape, originally grown in France, has become the main varietal in Argentina. This is surprising because most Malbec grown in Argentina is grown at high altitudes, whereas the Malbec grape once was grown at low altitudes. Therefore, Argentinian winegrowers should grow the Malbec grape at low elevations.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the conclusion of the argument?

Check the answer here!

Pacing on the GRE Verbal Reasoning Section

In total, the GRE asks you to do 27 Verbal questions in 41 minutes. That works out to a pace of about 1.50 minutes per question. However, in reality, you’re not going to spend the same amount of time on every question, especially since the variety of question types is so unique in Verbal.

What specifically you should prioritize greatly depends on you. You definitely want to do the easy-for-you questions first. So, some students will move more quickly through Sentence Equivalence questions, thereby leaving themselves more time for Reading Comprehension. On the other hand, if someone excels at reading, they may be thrilled to tackle a Long Passage first, save some time, and then take a closer look at a triple-blank Text Completion with several unknown vocabulary words.

Regardless, if you’re spending too much time on a given question, guess and move on. You can always return to the question later on to tackle it again. And also make sure to guess since there’s no penalty for guessing on the GRE! Get used to doing this during your GRE Verbal practice now so that it becomes second nature by test time.

Free GRE Verbal Prep Resources

More GRE Verbal Practice

Verbal-Focused Study Schedules

GRE Vocabulary Resources

How to Study for GRE Verbal

Again, start your GRE Verbal prep early! If you do not have a large vocabulary, then there are a lot of words to learn. Additionally, if you’re not used to reading articles on dry topics, it’s good to get used to doing so now in order to build up speed and stamina for the GRE.

Build Your Vocabulary

There are all kinds of ways to study vocabulary: flashcards, reading, mnemonics, word lists, word games, etc. Check out our article How to Study GRE Vocabulary for details and advice on all of those. Not everyone learns best in the same way, so experiment, and see which works best for you!

The most important thing is to be consistent and to build up your vocabulary over time. The more you encounter these words in the wild—articles, books, movies, games—the better you’ll understand them in context and the better you’ll remember them (especially compared to rote memorization).

Develop a Habit of Reading

GRE Verbal is ultimately a test of how you read. Thus, developing a daily habit of reading goes a long way towards improving your GRE Verbal score.

When you are not used to reading dense, dry and difficult passages, your brain balks at having to read a GRE passage—in timed conditions, no less. By reading long articles from The New York Times, The New Yorker, or just about anything you find on, your “reading brain” gets a good and healthy workout.

And most importantly, you’ll want to read those articles in the same way that you would a GRE passage. You’ll want to practice active reading and form mini summaries in your head as you read. Think of it as creating a quick mental snapshot of the structure of the passage as you work through it. By the end of the passage, you should understand the main points of the passage and how those ideas are connected.

For a more in-depth look at reading strategies for GRE Verbal prep, check out GRE Reading Comprehension: Tips and Strategies.

Context, Context, Context

It’s very easy on Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions to start plugging vocabulary words into a blank and seeing how the word sounds. However, the test writers haven’t chosen random words as the wrong answers; the words are chosen for maximum temptation. Therefore, it’s essential to pick up on the context clues in the text before choosing an answer.

The more support you can find from context—and, yes, even grammar can be a helpful clue!—the more unappealing those wrong answer choices become. And then you can narrow in on the word that best fits into the context that you discerned.

For more specific advice about each question type, take a look at Tackling Text Completion GRE Questions: Tips and Techniques and Mastering Sentence Equivalence on the GRE. Then, be sure to implement those strategies in your GRE Verbal practice sessions.

Check Your Answers to the GRE Verbal Practice Problems!

Text Completion

Blank i: A. calumny
Blank ii: D. commensurate with

Watch the video explanation here!

Sentence Equivalence

A. ingratiating
B. fawning

Watch the video explanation here!

Reading Comprehension – Question 1 – Multiple Choice

C. Provide rebuttals to commonly held views regarding physical aspects of dinosaurs.

Watch the video explanation here!

Reading Comprehension – Question 2 – Multiple Answer

A. They possess certain traits that are not common to all ectotherms.
C. Over time they might have undergone a change in how they regulate body temperature.

Watch the video explanation here!

Critical Reasoning

D. The Malbec vine is susceptible to phylloxera, a plant louse that only grows at low altitudes.

Watch the video explanation here!

Closing Thoughts

Getting ready to take the GRE Verbal section can seem intimidating. After all, there’s a lot of GRE Verbal prep to do, between learning vocabulary and developing a consistent habit of reading actively. However, these are all skills that can be learned and improved upon through practice. For all the strategies and practice problems you need, take a look at a Magoosh GRE Premium plan. Good luck and happy studying!


  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London.

More from Magoosh