GRE Verbal Study Tips

How to study GRE Verbal

Preparing for the New GRE Verbal section can be daunting. First off, the verbal section has undergone major changes: antonyms and analogies have been replaced with paragraph long fill-in-the-blank question known as Text Completions; Reading Comprehension questions have been given the treatment as well.

Then there is the simple fact that the GRE Verbal Section has always entailed learning thousands of words and reading passages that, for many, is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Below, I am going to cover how to study for the GRE verbal section without losing your mind. Indeed, if you follow the five guidelines below, you will, in a sense, gain a mind: one full of academic-level words and esoteric facts regarding the life of phytoplankton.


Use the best GRE Verbal practice materials

With the proliferation of the web and ubiquity of smart phones, hundreds of newcomers have flooded the GRE market. Some promise perfect scores – but are little more than a sham. Others promote the New GRE – but use content for the old test.

Then there are the usual suspects, popular brand name prep companies that quality-wise run the gamut from jaw-droppingly awful to pretty decent.

Improve your GRE score with Magoosh.

Ultimately, the prep sources you choose are going to significantly affect your score, so don’t waste time with junk. Try to use the best GRE book you can find.

Read our new GRE book reviews here.


Read beyond the Verbal section of the prep book

Here is the perhaps the biggest readjustment in thinking you will need: In prepping for the new GRE, you are not simply learning a few rules. You essentially have to to prove your ability to understand words in an academic context.

The best way to do this is to read. And by read, I don’t mean comic books, or the latest pulp thriller (I also am not implying that you have to read academic papers on the proliferation of phytoplankton in the North Sea).

Instead, choose a publication such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, or The Economist. Read something that interests you, taking notes of what you read.


Up your GRE Verbal score: learn words – not definitions

A common preconception—though not necessarily a misconception—is that one only needs to study a set list of high-frequency words and he or she is ready to ace the test. As somebody who has tutored the GRE for many years, I’ve never met a person for whom that method worked.

First off there is no one magic list. Secondly, learning from a list is very unproductive. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you do not know a word just because you can cough up some word-for-word definition, as in:

Belie – fail to give a true notion or impression of (something); disguise or contradict.   -New Oxford Dictionary

The real question is this: can you use the word in a sentence, and can you identify when the word is being correctly used in a sentence?  For instance, if I said the children belied themselves as ninjas during Halloween, you could very well look at the part of the sentence that says ‘disguise’ and think, hey, that’s right.

The only way to understand a complex word like belie is to understand how the word functions in context. Reading from newspapers and magazines (such as the ones quoted above) is a perfect way to do so. I’d also recommend using our free Vocabulary eBook!


Targeted practice

Don’t just prep at random. Take a look at these excellent study plans, which can guide you through strategies that can help you boost your GRE verbal score percentile.


Get involved – find a GRE Verbal Study Buddy

“No man is an island” is an expression that can be applied to the GRE aspirant. So do not barricade yourself behind a mountain of GRE prep books (especially bad ones). Instead find a study partner. You can quiz each other on words. If you don’t know anybody prepping for the GRE, then ask a family member to quiz use with flashcards (make sure you give them convincing example sentences).

Finally, there always the forums. allows you to help the community out by answer GRE questions posed in the forums. And if you are stuck yourself, then feel free to ask your question on the forums. All these forms of interaction will help strengthen your GRE skills.


P.S. Ready to improve your GRE score? Get started today.

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34 Responses to GRE Verbal Study Tips

  1. Miigaa December 18, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

    Hi Magoosh,

    I took a GRE last June and got V143, Q164, and AWA 3.0. In next 45 days, I plan to prepare and retake it. My goal is V151, Q170, and AWA 3.5. As I find out, my major weaknesses of the verbal section are vocabulary and active reading.

    Could you please recommend me a few appropriate materials for achieving my V151 goal?

    P.S: I’m a non-native English speaker

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 21, 2016 at 8:59 am #

      Hi Miigaa,

      Of course! First of all, I have to ask if you have considered Magoosh! Our comprehensive GRE preparation program will bring you through all of the information you need to know for the GRE. We work with a lot of non-native speakers and help them reach their GRE goals! On average, our students increase their scores by 8 points–and many increase by much more than that! Try us out for a free 7-day trial!

      For the verbal section, the very best way to improve your score is to read as much as possible! This will help with your overall ability to process and understand complex texts, but it will also help you with your vocabulary in context. Just memorizing vocabulary isn’t enough: you must understand how words function and change in a larger context. This blog post will help you get started with this process: Reading Vocabulary in Context. I also suggest this Google Chrome extension that highlights common GRE words on your browser, so that you can constantly learn as you browse 🙂

      Besides reading and learning vocabulary in context, I highly recommend the free resources we have on our blog. You can browse blog posts for strategies, practice and tips, and check out all of our free resources under the “eBook” tab–we have everything from math formulas to vocabulary books!

      I hope this helps! If you work hard over the next six weeks and take advantage of all of the resources at your disposal, you can definitely see a good improvement in your scores 🙂

  2. Samira August 24, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    Today I give my diagnosis test and got 136 in verbal..
    seening this score I am start to loosening my all hopes… I really want to get a good score in verbal.. what should I do right now…?? I really need help.
    and I am ready to try hard for this

    ** I have only 2 month in my hand

    I will really appropriate your reply

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 24, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

      Hi Samira,

      There are several things that you can do to improve your verbal score! The first is to read as much as possible. This will help you to strengthen your reading comprehension skills and learn vocab in context. You can find some reading recommendations in this post.

      The second thing is to expand your GRE vocabulary. Our flashcards with the most common GRE words can help you with that–try to learn 10 new words a day.

      And finally, you need to make sure that you know the best strategies for each of the types of verbal questions. We have tons of information on our blog with the best methods and practice, but you might also consider becoming a Magoosh Premium Student! Our video lessons and high-quality practice provide a comprehensive study package that will teach you all that you need to know to succeed in the verbal section. You can try us out with a free trial! 🙂

  3. Priyanshu August 2, 2016 at 9:46 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Hope you are doing happy and healthy !

    I am going through available Magoosh material, since last April. And i am planning for my GRE General Test in September.

    I have few queries:

    1. I have scored 302 in my first mock test (Quant 155 and Verbal 146), after which i am regulary reading articles from The NewYork Times, The Atlantics, Gre Vocabulary Builder (Magoosh app) and GRE Flashcard (Magoosh app). I still doubt that i am under prepared and don’t find myself confident enough. What should i do more to improve my verbal reasoning.

    2. Do i need to work on my English Grammar for AWA, as i would be applying for PhD admissions? And if Yes, then How.

    3. Currently i listen to your Wednesday Vocabulary videos and studying Magoosh English Vocabulary pdf. May you please help me.

    Please reply. Thank you and Magoosh Team for helping

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 2, 2016 at 10:20 am #

      Hello Prianshu,

      All great questions. And I think many of our blog readers can benefit from the answers I’m about to give you.

      1) With your focus on flashcards, word ;lists, and Magoosh’s recommended reading list for vocabulary in context, it sounds like you’re focusing primarily on vocabulary as you prep for GRE Verbal. Vocabulary certainly is an important ingredient for improving Verbal. But reading strategy is important to. You want to build good reading skills and habits that can help you understand passages with more confidence, even when the vocabulary is difficult. I suggest working on active reading strategies. Test strategies are important too. Make sure you know all the GRE Verbal question types, and build good strategies for handling each kind of question.

      2) I can tell you that your grammar in this blog comment is pretty good, with no serious problems. But to know if you need to improve your grammar in GRE AWA, you should write a full AWA essay or two, and then share your work with a tutor, a teacher, or some classmates. You may also be able to get feedback on your grammar through online GRE forums. Over at Quora, Magoosh’s Rachel Wisuri has shared a good list of GRE forums. Grammar definitely is an important component of a good AWA score. Even “minor errors” in grammar can lose you some points in AWA, according to the official Issue Task and Argument Task score guides.

      3) Great to hear you’ve been enjoying our free resources on the blog. For extra help in other areas of the GRE, I recommend browsing our full directory of GRE Verbal blog posts— you should be able to find advice, practice, and tutorials for any verbal area that you need to improve in.

      • Priyanshu August 2, 2016 at 10:43 am #

        Thank you team Magoosh !
        You guys are really doing good by placing right stepping stones for the dreamer’s like us.

  4. Ram January 27, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    Hey Chris! I have been prepping for the GRE for more than a month now. I have taken two practice tests, one Manhattan prep test and one ets test. I am pleased with my math scores ( 165 and 169). But, my verbal scores are not very impressive. (156 and 154). I reviewed my verbal section and found out that I am able to answer 13-16 questions correctly on my first verbal section, but the second section is giving me serious problems. I am able to get only 4-7 questions right on the second section. I am planning to take the GRE in April. So, could you please suggest me some strategies to get my verbal score up to the 160 mark?

  5. Lin August 25, 2015 at 9:54 am #

    When we are just practicing and studying for the verbal GRE section, should we time ourselves or should we take our time to read, understand the content, and answer the questions without being rushed by time constraints?

  6. sudhamsh June 6, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Hi chris ,

    I have my real date of GRE in 25 days .. and i am in a mess to make my working plan with in this month . can u please help me in making a one month plan for GRE .

  7. sRuThi March 31, 2013 at 3:13 am #

    I was lucky to see this site just after I registered for GRE.

    I think its a very useful website.Thank you Mr.Chris.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele April 2, 2013 at 10:15 am #

      You are welcome Sruthi :).

  8. Craig June 26, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Chris, I have bee very happy that manhattan gre with their rc. I am very curious about your free trial, problem is I might be taking the test next month am not sure a particular plan is good at this point. Nowe granted I came to your site late in the game, and wanted to try the free trial. Any ideas?

  9. Sammy June 14, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Can you explain the differences between ‘which’ and ‘that’ when used in a sentence. I feel they are mixed up quite frequently in daily conversations.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 14, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Here’s a helpful post written by Mike, our GMAT expert:

      • Sammy June 14, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

        Thanks, I read the post and wanted to test my knowledge on the difference between that and which.
        Lebron James has a disease that will debilitate his legs.
        Lebron James has Lou Gehrigs disease, which will debilitate his legs.

        Any feedback would be great!
        Thanks in advance!

        • Chris Lele
          Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

          Hi Sammy,

          Yep, you got it! The use of ‘that’ and ‘which’ in your examples is perfect. Indeed, you have adeptly employed a nuanced use of English grammar *that* will help you in your essays :).

        • Jason Christensen July 10, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

          Hahaha. And I learned something.

  10. Palak June 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    Hey Chris,

    I’m planing to give the GRE after a month and I’m in a valley of despond due to my below average RC performance. Can you please suggest some more precise materials for improving this aspect. I’ve been perusing articles from the aforementioned material but they aren’t helping me in this particular aspect. Please help.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      Hi Palak,

      At a certain point, there is nothing that can replaced the rigors of a RC passage – as I’m sure you are well aware. ETS Official Guide, MGRE, Magoosh, even Barron’s provide plenty of practice. And that’s just on the GRE side.

      You can also use GMAT materials, and even LSAT, esp. for very difficult passages.

      Hope that helps pull you out of your valley of despondency :). If not, let me know if I can help more.

      • Palak June 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

        Will “The PowerScore LSAT Logical Reasoning Bible” be of any help?
        What do you reckon?

        • Chris Lele
          Chris June 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

          Hi Palak,

          I think the PowerScore LSAT bible is overkill for the GRE. First off, you’ll only have about half a dozen Critical Reasoning questions on the entire test. Secondly, the scope of CR questions is far more limited on the GRE than it is on the LSAT. I would focus on learning the basics for critical reasoning and then doing a series of practice questions, using the GMAT 12th edition if you run out of questions.

          Hope that helps!

  11. Sammy June 11, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Can you explain the nuances of errant v.s erratic v.s erroneous. They have discrete meanings but I sometimes feel that they can be used interchangeably.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

      Hi Sammy,

      Good question :). That’s definitely a tricky trio! ‘Errant’ means not behavior in a proper fashion, at least as deemed by society. Erratic means highly unpredictable. Erroneous simply means incorrect.

      Hope that helps!

  12. stephen June 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    i am preparing for the GRE but i keeping pushing my test date forward because i don’t feel well prepared especially with the verbal section i.e. the reading comprehension, different books keep giving varied and wired strategies which never seem to help me whenever i try a test
    what should i do

  13. Craig June 2, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Hello. I have taken the gre twice and with my add I jump back and forth from question concepts to notes on qcs to formulas, etc. What is the best way to study when my mind is jumping crazy. I have not taken the new version and have all prep books on my iPad and manhattan on my iPad as well. Any ideas?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      Hi Craig,

      I think a good idea is to make sure that you focus on one area during each of your study sessions. It is easy, with all the material at your fingertips, to jump around. Focus on one question at a time, and the concepts contained within. Once you feel as though you understand those concepts move on to another question.

      Let me know how that works out!

  14. Sammy June 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Hows this for an example
    The mothers stern attitude toward his unwavering recalcitrance belies the fact that he told us he was getting another present after his birthday party.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      Pretty good – I think there are a lot of GRE words in one sentence, but as long as you understand the sentence the fact that you are constructing it. I think you are saying that his mother is not for very happy with his disobedience, a fact that doesn’t match up well with him getting a b-day present.

      Keep it up :).

  15. vaisnavi June 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Was looking for this awesome post for so many days.Thanks a lot Mr Chris, will definitely try to follow your strategy.

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

      You are welcome :).

      Let me know how it goes trying to implement the strategy!

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