Is the New GRE Verbal Easier?
I have a friend—let’s call him Tom—who subscribes to the New Yorker, the Economist, and the Atlantic Monthly. Weekly, he diligently works his way through the major articles and, as a result, is conversant on a variety of issues. In days past, people used to exchange lengthy emails, discussing anything from current events to developments in science. Today, Tom keeps his own blog, in which he continues to write prolifically on a range of topics.
I don’t think Tom has ever sat down with a vocabulary book, let alone a deck of flashcards. Yet, he has developed a strong sense of how vocabulary functions in a sentence from his years of assiduous and varied reading.
Though Tom would have done well on the old GRE, I think he would have had to spend a couple of months really strengthening his vocabulary to reach his potential on the verbal section. With the new GRE, I think he would be able to walk in pretty cold and score near the top.
For Tom, clearly, the new GRE is easier. Obviously, though, we are not all Tom, and our skill sets cover a spectrum from reading-averse to Tom-like.
So, the answer to whether the new GRE verbal is easier is complex, yet simple: it’s subjective. To be more direct, I would say it depends. It depends on how much you read (and by reading I don’t mean the daily horoscope, gossip column, or the sports page).
What Is ETS Up To?
My theory as to the changes on the new GRE is that it is trying to separate the readers and writers from those who merely cram a stack of vocab words into their heads. Stated differently, the new GRE will test both usage and understanding; after all, words are seldom encountered devoid of any context, floating in some foreboding lexical ether. In grad school, many will be called on to read through copious journals couched in academic-ese, if not to do their own couching.
So, what did ETS do? They scrapped both the analogies and antonyms—the disembodied words section—and instead focused on the one section that relied on context recognition of vocabulary words: The Sentence Completion (if Sentence Completions are your current strength, then pay attention, because the new GRE may very well be easier for you).
ETS went a step further. It probably figured, hey, let’s make the new GRE more relevant to what students will be contending with in grad school. Fundamental to this aim is understanding the basic thrust of a paragraph. So, instead of just having a sentence completion, ETS made a paragraph completion with as many as three blanks, ushering in what we now refer to as the Text Completion.
Next ETS probably thought—again, this is conjecture at best—let’s see how adept students are at recognizing that different words can appropriately fit in the blank. After all, when we write a sentence we have to choose from a few words in our heads and go with one that, while not always the perfect word, definitely completes the sentence. To turn this into a test question, ETS birthed the Sentence Equivalence. Now more than one answer works, and to ensure you don’t change the overall meaning of the sentence, ETS made sure that those answers choices have to be similar words.
As to whether Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions are easier, well…it depends.
Reading Give You the Big Picture
The key word to all of these changes on the verbal section is context. So when people ask, hey, should I take the new GRE? Is it going to be easier? I ask, do you read a lot? If they say they read the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the like, I tell them the new GRE will probably be easier for them, because the level of language in these publications is, in many cases, consonant with the style and sophistication of the language on the new GRE.
By reading at this level, your brain is already tuned to the language on the GRE, and is readily able to pick up on the context of the sentence or paragraph. If you don’t read much on the side, and have been out of college for a while, then the language on the GRE can seem head-scratchingly frustrating. Of course, I don’t have to mention how much easier reading makes the Reading Comprehension section.
But Reading Isn’t Easy?!?
On the other hand, if reading is anathema, but you have a good memory and aren’t averse to learning recondite words such as…well recondite, then you may want to take the GRE before it changes and becomes less easy, at least for you.
That is not to say vocabulary will no longer be a major part of GRE prep, but my prognostication, as well as my methodology, will be that increased emphasis will be put on reading. Already, I’m nudging students into reading articles on topics that interest them.
Still, if you want to score at the highest level on the GRE, at a certain point you will have to know some of the more common words on the GRE. If you know most of the words in the old ETS Practicing to Take the GRE, you should be fine.
The bottom-line: if you awaken your reading mind you will find the new GRE easier. If you continue to only do GRE exercises and memorize flash cards, the new GRE will certainly be more difficult.
So pick up a copy of a news magazine, and get started. And don’t despair – after all, to be conversant on the political situation in the Middle East, or the recent advances in genetics, is surely more useful, than, say, dropping words such as impecunious at cocktail parties. Indeed, if you get started reading now, you may very well answer in the affirmative to the question: Is the new GRE easier?
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