Cracking the GRE Premium Edition (2016)

Part II
How to Crack the Verbal Section

3The Geography of the Verbal Section

4Text Completions

5Sentence Equivalence

6Reading Comprehension

7Critical Reasoning

8Vocabulary for the GRE

Chapter 3

The Geography of the Verbal Section

The Verbal section of the GRE is designed to test your verbal reasoning abilities. This chapter will review the types of questions you will see, how to pace yourself, and the basic strategies that will best guide you through the Verbal section. Additionally, this chapter will cover the importance of vocabulary on the test, along with some useful tips on how to approach learning GRE vocabulary.


ETS claims that the Verbal section of the GRE accomplishes the following:

  • places a greater emphasis on analytical skills and on understanding vocabulary in context rather than in isolation
  • uses more text-based materials
  • contains a broader range of reading selections
  • tests skills that are more closely aligned with those used in graduate school
  • expands the range of computer-enabled tasks

What does this mean for you?

  • There won’t be questions that involve analogies or antonyms on this test, as there had been on the old version of the GRE.
  • You’ll see some wacky-looking question formats that you’ve probably never seen before.
  • Though they say the new version of the test de-emphasizes vocabulary, there’s no getting around the fact that the more vocabulary you know when you sit down to take the test, the better off you’ll be. So vocabulary remains as important as it ever was. If you’re especially eager to build your vocabulary, check out Chapter 8: Vocabulary for the GRE.

There are three types of questions on the Verbal section of the test:

  • Text Completions
  • Sentence Equivalence
  • Reading Comprehension

Let’s take a brief look at each question type.

Text Completions

Text Completion questions consist of short sections of text with one or more blanks; you are asked to choose the best word to place in each blank. You may see one blank in the text, in which case you will be offered five answer choices, or you may see two or three blanks, each of which will have three answer choices. No partial credit is given for getting some but not all blanks correct on a question, so be sure to read carefully.

Here is an example of a two-blank question:

Fables often endure due to their (i) ___________, often telling one simple narrative, based around one character. This is both by design, because direct statements are more easily remembered than florid ones, and by accident: As fables are passed from teller to teller, (ii) ___________ details fall away, leaving only the essential story.

Sentence Equivalence

This is another vocabulary-oriented question type. Each question will consist of one sentence with six answer choices. Your job is to choose the two answer choices that logically complete the sentence. As with Text Completions, there is no partial credit, so you must select both correct answer choices to receive points.

Here’s an example:

He was a man of few words, _______ around all but his closest friends.







Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension accounts for about half of the Verbal questions you will see. Passages range from one to five paragraphs, and each passage can consist of one to five questions. No matter the length, the passages offer some type of argument that the author is trying defend, even if it’s just the author’s opinion. Therefore, some of the questions in this section will ask you to identify an author’s point of view or the assumptions and premises upon which that point of view rests. Other Reading Comprehension questions will ask about details of specific information in the passage or provable from the passage, the structure or tone of the text, how a word is used in context, or the main idea. Fortunately, these questions rarely test you on your prior vocabulary knowledge. Furthermore, Reading Comprehension questions are like an open book test—everything you need is right there in the passage!

You will encounter three Reading Comprehension question formats:

Multiple Choice

Select All That Apply

Select a Sentence

When you see a Select-a-Sentence question like the one above, you need to click on the sentence in the passage that you think answers the question.


The GRE has two scored multiple-choice verbal sections. Each will be 30 minutes long with 20 questions per section. The way you perform on one verbal section will affect the difficulty of the next verbal section you are given. Verbal sections tend to follow the same order. Roughly your first six questions will be Text Completion, your next five or six will be Reading Comprehension, followed by about four Sentence Equivalence questions, and then another four or five Reading Comprehension questions. In profile, your two verbal sections will look something like this:

A better performance on
the first scored verbal
section will yield more
difficult questions on the
second one!


Here are some strategies that will help you on the Verbal section. We’ll show you how to use them as we go through specific question types in the chapters ahead, but for now read through the strategies and get a sense of what they are before moving on.

Accuracy vs. Speed

Any timed test will cause at least some level of stress. While it is important to mark an answer to every question on the Verbal section, nobody has ever won a medal for getting the most questions wrong in the shortest amount of time. The key is to correctly answer the questions that you can get right. Be sure to apply each step of the techniques that we will cover in upcoming chapters. Don’t let that clock force you to make silly mistakes!

Mark and Move On

While it is important to be careful and process-driven when you take the GRE, it is also important to allow yourself to see every question. After all, question 20 could be the easiest one on the test for you.

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This is why the Mark button is important. If a question is not coming to you immediately, it is not necessarily something that you cannot answer. On the Reading Comprehension questions, for instance, you may struggle on a question that deals with the main idea of the passage. You may even have eliminated some answer choices. Don’t give up yet! If you have invested time and work on a particular question, press the Mark button and move on. You may find that after answering the next question, perhaps on specific content from the passage, you have more insight and can return to the previously marked question to answer it with ease.

There is also use for the Mark button on Text Completions and Sentence Equivalences. Of course, some may have answer choices filled with vocabulary that you have never seen before. In that case, you may just want to guess and move on. On the other hand, you may be frustrated by a question that has answer choices with which you are familiar. Mark that question and move on. The time you could have spent staring at those answer choices could be better used on another one or two easier questions. Coming back to the earlier question with fresh eyes may help. If it doesn’t, simply guess on that and other unanswered questions when there are two minutes remaining.

Bend—Don’t Push

Mark and Move is a crucial technique. Sometimes you just get stuck in a mental rut, and continuing to stare at the same question is a waste of time. Mark it, move on, do a couple other questions, and come back. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see something new just because you gave your brain a break!

Over the course of a nearly 4-hour test, your brain will get tired. When that happens, you lose accuracy, make “silly” mistakes, and misread. Deal with this inevitable pressure by allowing yourself to move on whenever the words on the screen stop making sense. A fresh question can give you an opportunity to regain your focus.

Need More Practice?

The Princeton Review’s
Verbal Workout for the
GRE, 5th Edition
, includes
hundreds of drill questions
for the Verbal and Analytical
Writing sections.

Leave Nothing Blank

When you have two minutes left on a section, click the Review button and see which questions are unanswered. Click through each of those unanswered questions and pick something. You might be right, and there’s no penalty for incorrect answers!

Process of Elimination (POE)

Determining correct answers on the Verbal sections of the GRE can be tricky. Answer choices on Reading Comprehension questions, for example, are constructed with “clever” wordings that make correct answers seem wrong and incorrect answers seem right.

So, reverse your approach. Instead of looking for the correct answer, eliminate the incorrect answer choices.

Using Process of Elimination (POE) will be the most effective way to avoid trap answer choices.

  • Consider every answer choice, even if you think you know the answer.
  • Eliminate any choice that contains something that you can point to and say, “Well, I know that’swrong.”
  • If a choice seems weird or confusing, or just doesn’t make sense the first time you read it, leave it as an option.
  • Cycle through the answer choices until you’re down to one choice, and then pick it.

Your first impression of POE might be to think that it would take way too long, but don’t knock it until you try it. Then try it again, and again. Most of the incorrect answer choices on the GRE Verbal sections can be quickly identified by spotting some minor detail that can’t be supported. We’ll discuss some of the ways to categorize these details in later chapters. For now, just realize that POE can actually be faster than trying to find the “right” answer. Before you pull out a stopwatch and time each method, realize that speed matters a lot less than accuracy.

When you’ve eliminated four answer choices that you know are wrong, you know that you’re left with the correct answer.

Down to Two?

The most common situation you’ll find yourself in is when you’ve eliminated all but two answer choices and you can’t decide between them. Don’t just pick one! Compare them and remind yourself what the answer to the question should look like. There’s only one way to answer every question on the GRE, so if you can’t see why one of the remaining choices is wrong, you are missing something. Find it. If you’re really stuck, Mark and Move.

Stacking the Odds

Most likely, there will be some questions on the test that you know you won’t be able to answer in time. POE can turn these questions into potential points. Before you just guess on a question, quickly consider if some of the answer choices are clearly wrong. If you can eliminate two choices on each of three different questions, you’ve got a good chance of getting a free point!

Consider the following question:

When studying human history, one must be aware that the ____________ between historical periods are arbitrary; certainly none of the people alive at the time were aware of a shift from one era to another.

Here’s How to Crack It

If you encountered this question on the GRE, you might not know what the best answer is (you’ll learn how to approach questions like this in Chapter 4). However, you might see that some of the answer choices simply don’t make sense. Choices (A), (B), and (C) don’t seem to fit the sentence at all. By eliminating these wrong answers, you’ve suddenly given yourself a great chance of choosing the correct answer just by guessing, since only (D) and (E) are left. And if you realize that (E) doesn’t make sense either, then you know the correct answer is (D), even if you’re not sure what demarcations means.


Your Personal Order of Difficulty (POOD) should guide your approach to the Verbal section. Do you have a lot of success on Reading Comprehension and not much on vocabulary questions? Skip those six Text Completions for now and work your strengths. You do not want to be put in a situation in which you have to rush through the types of questions you would normally get correct simply because they show up later in the section.

With this in mind, think of the Verbal section as two tests—one easy and one difficult. Take the easy test first! Move briskly through the test, answering the questions that give you little trouble and skipping the questions that will bog you down. Do this all the way through question 20. Then go back and work those harder questions knowing that you will not have missed any easy points due to a lack of effective planning.

A Word on Vocabulary

While the GRE has scaled back on the sheer difficulty of vocabulary over the years, you still need to have a grasp on the words that are commonly used on the test if you want to see significant score improvements. In the coming chapters, we will go over strategies for answering Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. However, there is no substitute for having a good understanding of the vocabulary that ETS tends to test. In Chapter 8, we offer the Hit Parade—a list of the most commonly used words tested on the GRE.

Stressed About Vocab?

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Review’s flashcards,
Essential GRE Vocabulary,
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Effective ways to study vocabulary for the GRE may include the following:

  • Prioritize words from the Hit Parade into three categories: Words I Know, Words I Sort of Know, and Words I Do Not Know. Spend most of your time studying the second group, followed by the final group.
  • Read. You will absorb many of the words that will show up on the GRE by reading respected publications such as academic journals or some of the more highbrow newspapers and magazines.
  • Keep a vocabulary list. When you come across new words on practice tests or practice problems, add them to your list. They have been used before on the GRE and they may very well be used again.


○The GRE Verbal section consists of two 30- minute sections, each containing 20 questions.

○The Verbal section is made up of Text Completions, Sentence Equivalences, and Reading Comprehension.

○Remember to utilize Process of Elimination (POE) to attack the wrong answers.

○Use your Personal Order of Difficulty (POOD) to ensure that you take the easy test first. Skip questions that seem difficult, and Mark and Move when questions get tough.

○Vocabulary is important. Prioritize the words from the Hit Parade into Words I Know, Words I Sort of Know, and Words I Do Not Know.