Science Passages on the GRE

If you reach the hard section on the GRE verbal, you may see a long, dense science passage. You will definitely see a dense science passage. For many, science passages can be the bane of their test prep experience. Here are a few strategies to help you cope.


1.     Remember the Big Picture

The key to success on any reading passage is, upon finishing the passage, knowing what you’ve just read. While this might sound simple, you should be able to paraphrase what you just read in such a way that an intelligent 6th grade student should be able to understand you.


2.     Understanding Structure

Science passages are oftentimes about competing theories. A scientist comes up with a theory to account for evidence. Yet, that theory is found wanting by another scientist, who interprets the evidence in a different way. Sometimes, there is a third theorist, and, sometimes, the author of the passage has his or her own theory to offer up (which he or she believes is an improvement over the other theories).


3.     Embrace the Weird, Italicized Words

Technical words from science abound in this kind of passage, and are often italicized. If the italics do not intimidate you, the word’s polysyllabic nature will: phytoplankton, oligonucleotide, phosphodiesterase… you get the picture.

These terms, however, are important to the passage. They usually regard some aspect of the different theories/ideas being bandied about the passage.


 4.     Don’t Sink into the Swamp

Just as there are tough terms, there are tough parts of the passage. Here, the dense language becomes even denser, the ideas even more abstract. Do not get “bogged down” in this part of the passage. Instead, understand how a sentence functions in the passage. Only return to this part of the passage if it is necessary to answering a question correctly.

Again, your main goal on first reading is to get the big picture, not to sink into the swamp of polysyllabic terms and the minutiae of arcane theories.


 5.     Remember the Geography of the Passage

Just as it is important to understand how the “swampy” parts of the passage function in the passage, it is important that you have a sense of how the different parts of the passage and paragraphs relate to each other.



The key to learning these strategies is applying them. In this post, I actually take a look at a hard, dense science passage and organize the discussion of that passage along the five strategies above.




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  • 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!