Cracking verbal reasoning in GRE

VR section in GRE requires attempting 20 questions in 30 minutes. Nine to 10 of questions are paragraph based requiring reading and understanding the given text and answer questions based on it

In the on-going series of articles on acing the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) – an entry criterion for M.S./Ph.D. in most top Universities in U.S. and Canada, last week’ article strategies to score a 165+ in Quantitative Reasoning (QR) Section was discussed. At Conduira, we believe 320+ on GRE is the magic score that gives you an opportunity to enter into the hallowed portals of some of the top universities. One way to reach that target is to score a 165+ in QR section and a 155+ in Verbal Reasoning (VR) Section – this week, let us focus on scoring 155+ in VR section.

Let us start with the basic information – VR section in GRE requires you to attempt 20 Questions in 30 minutes. 9 to 10 of these questions are paragraph based requiring you to read and understand the given text and answer questions based on it. Colloquially, we call these questions as Reading Comprehension (RC) and Critical Reasoning (CR) questions. The rest of the questions (again around 9 to 10) require you to read, understand and complete existing sentences or paragraphs – we call them Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions.

A typical VR section consists of 4 or 5 passages with 1 to 6 questions asked on a given passage. Passages could be very short with only 100 words or can go up to 450 words long. Questions would evaluate your ability to

a.understand the meaning of individual words/sentences or paragraphs;

b.summarize the passage or draw conclusions or infer missing information from the passage;

c.understand the structure of passage

d.identify author’s assumptions and perspective or strengths and weaknesses of a position

Your challenges in RC are twofold – read and understand as much of the passage as possible in as little time as you can and then answer the questions correctly. The first part requires you to read actively with purpose – ask relevant questions as you read; try to understand what has been said as well as why it has been said and take notes as you go. For the second task, at Conduira, we generally advise you to first guess the answer to the question without looking at the options and then eliminate options that don’t match your guess. This is easier than trying to select the right option.

From our experience – questions that need you to understand the meaning of a word / sentence / paragraph or the structure of a passage are often easier than those that require you to infer missing information or identify author’s assumptions – ones that you often categorize as Critical Reasoning. There is no rule that you need to attempt all questions based on a passage – thus, we suggest you prioritize questions based on their difficulty level and avoid spending too much time on difficult questions. Similarly, don’t rule out a passage basis the length of the passage. Instead, check out the subject content the passage deals with – often, those topics that you are familiar with make for a faster read and better understanding.

Ideally, we suggest students to attempt at least 2 to 3 passages and around 6 to 7 questions from the paragraph based – i.e., Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning questions.

That brings us to the second half of the VR section – the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. Test takers often find these easier than the paragraph based and rightly so. With lesser to read and a greater emphasis on vocabulary, these often are the first set of questions that students attempt. However, even here, difficulties abound! Text Completion (TC) questions might require you to fill in one, two or three missing words and Sentence Equivalence (SE) questions put in a twist on a typical one-blank TC question. A typical VR section comprises 2 to 3 one-blank TC questions, 4 SE questions and the rest distributed between 2 and 3-blank TC questions. 2 and 3-blank TC questions are often a few sentences long and further, more the blanks that you need to fill, greater the difficulty of the question. Further, test-takers often assume that these TC and SE questions only evaluate your vocabulary which is far from the truth. Yes, you need to build a good vocabulary but these questions also test your reasoning and logical skills too!

Our suggestion – attempt ALL the one-blank TC and SE questions. Ignore the 3-blank ones. You should be able to net at least 7 to 8 attempts from here.

Overall, 14 to 15 attempts in the given 30 minutes with at least 80 per cent accuracy would bring you closer to 155+ – the magic number we originally spoke about in the beginning of the article.

However, reaching these numbers is not easy; you need to constantly improve the size of your vocabulary; practice reading actively and with purpose; invest lots of efforts in familiarizing yourself with different question types that you get to see in the exam. Basically, as always, there is no substitute for hard work!

Go ahead, get started! 155+ is no longer an impossibility and neither is 320+ in GRE.