How to “Verbally Reason” on the GRE Test

What Is Verbal Reasoning?

Verbal reasoning may be a bit of a misnomer to describe this portion of the GRE test. If you think “spoken aloud” when you think “verbal,” then this part of the exam will be a disappointment to you. Verbal reasoning is the ability to understand and logically process ideas that are expressed in words. On the GRE, the words are written and show up in the form of brief passages, individual sentences, or short paragraphs.

What Skills Are Involved?

When strong readers read, they do so with some unconscious work taking place as their eyes move across the letters on the page. Strong readers are constantly working to create meaning, gather information, form conclusions, and make connections with the text. The Verbal Reasoning portion of the GRE assesses a candidate’s ability to recognize relationships between words and ideas and to analyze and evaluate the content to synthesize the main ideas into a sense of understanding.

How Does the GRE Test Verbal Reasoning?

There are three types of questions in the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. It is important to read the questions and the directions carefully as you work your way through them, as some questions will ask you to select one answer, others to select “all that apply,” and still others to select a sentence from the passage to answer the question.

How Do I Prepare for the GRE?

Chances are that you already have some strong verbal reasoning skills by this point in your life journey. However, it is a good idea to keep these things in mind as you prepare to verbally reason on the GRE.

Consider the “big picture”

Although the question may ask you to fill in the blanks with the most appropriate word choices, be sure to read the entire text and consider its overall message and big picture before you zero in on which words would best go in the blanks. If you don’t understand the big picture, you may select words that sound like they fit well, but that don’t actually match the overall message of the text.

Engage with the text

As you read the passages, paragraphs, or sentences, be a critical reader and engage with the text as you read it. Look for relationships between words and ideas, ask yourself questions about the author’s message or claim, and draw logical conclusions based on the information provided as you work your way through the text.

Read carefully

The pressure of time and the fear of running out of time sometimes make test-takers rush through the test questions. Skimming the passage, or not thoroughly reading the questions themselves, could set you up to miss important information or clues that may help you answer a question correctly. Read the directions, questions, and passages carefully, but efficiently. Look for key words and phrases, use your word knowledge and vocabulary skills to determine the meaning of unfamiliar words, and be sure to reread your answers to make sure they make sense in the context of the text. If, when you reread your answer, the sentence sounds wonky or doesn’t make grammatical sense, chances are there’s a problem with your answer. Read through the options again to make sure there’s not a better choice to select.


The more practice you can get answering verbal reasoning questions, the better. You’ll feel more confident understanding their structure and how to “crack the code” to determine the right answers. Practicing may also help you increase your speed when it comes to reading and analyzing passages and texts so that you don’t have to be so worried about running out of time on the actual exam. Answering GRE practice questions and reviewing flashcards are both good ways to help you hone the skills you need for test day.

Trust Yourself

Finally, as you prepare for the Verbal Reasoning portion, remember to not overthink things. Don’t second guess your answers (unless they don’t make sense or read smoothly when you are reviewing!). Trust your instincts and your critical reading skills. You’ve got this!

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