The Verbal Reasoning sections of the GRE not only involve reading comprehension, but also measure how well you can make judgments, based on the material you have read. There are three types of questions in these sections, Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence.
Reading Comprehension questions require you to not only understand a passage of one or several paragraphs, but to make judgments based on the information given. You need to choose one or more correct answers for some questions. Others ask you to choose a sentence from the passage.
Text Completion questions consist of a passage with one to three blank spaces in place of words. You will be asked to choose appropriate words to fill the blanks, considering the overall message of the passage.
Sentence Equivalence questions present a single sentence and an alternate version of that sentence, with one blank in place of a word. You will be asked to choose two answers from six choices. The correct answers should preserve the meaning of the original sentence.
The Verbal Reasoning portion of the GRE is divided into two sections of 30 minutes each (35 minutes each for the paper version of the test).
Approximately half of the questions on this section of the GRE are based on reading passages and require a thorough understanding of these passages. This level of understanding needs to go beyond simple comprehension. You will be asked to “do things” with the text, like draw conclusions from it and analyze its meaning. Here are some things you’ll need to be able to do.
GRE reading comprehension passages use sophisticated vocabulary and may contain challenging or unusual words. Some words have multiple meanings, so determining which meaning the writer intended will depend on surrounding context. For instance, the word moderate can be used as an adjective meaning “avoiding extremes,” or as a verb meaning “to preside over as chairman.” If a word is unfamiliar or ambiguous, you will need to make your best guess about its meaning based on the rest of the sentence.
Some GRE Reading Comprehension questions will test your understanding of individual sentences in a text; for instance, by pointing to a particular line and asking what is implied about its subject. Read the sentence carefully two or three times to make sure you understand what it says, and think about it in the context of the passage as a whole to understand how it contributes to the argument.
The majority of GRE questions will relate to the passage as a whole: what it is arguing, what the author believes, and what the author’s overall attitude is. To understand a passage, read it carefully, paying attention to its main topic (what the author is discussing throughout) and the author’s argument about it (what claims the author is making). Pay attention to the type of language used and to the presence of value judgment words that reveal the author’s attitude to the topic. Does the author describe a disease outbreak as “horrific” or as “cause for concern”? The difference could affect the passage’s meaning.
Most passages you encounter will have one main argument that is sustained through the entire passage. An author may also make minor points in the interest of presenting the major point. For instance, in a passage defining “democracy,” an author may briefly define “mob rule” to differentiate the two. A point is minor if it occupies a small portion of the passage and if undermining that point would not substantially weaken the argument as a whole.
To summarize a passage is to restate its basic points in order, but in a shorter format. Passages present specific examples and information; when you summarize, you are distilling these specifics into general statements that capture the main point the author is trying to make.
In addition to understanding in detail what the writer is arguing, you will also be required to draw conclusions based on those arguments. A conclusion is an argument or idea that is not explicitly stated in the test but that logically follows from what is stated. If the author writes that little has been done to solve a particular problem, and that the problem is getting worse, you can conclude that the author advocates doing more to solve it.
Making inferences is similar to drawing conclusions because in both cases, you will need to understand what the text is indirectly saying. In this case, rather than using facts to make conclusions, you will use facts to identify other (unstated) facts. For example, if the U.S. murder rate is 5 murders per 100,000 people and has been going down for the past two decades, you can infer that the rate was over 5 per 100,000 in the year 2000.
Each text is a whole, made of many parts. Different passages within a text play different roles, such as advancing an argument, providing evidence, considering possible counterarguments, and drawing conclusions. Some GRE questions may ask you to identify these different parts. As you read, consider labeling paragraphs with their function in relation to the main argument.
Even authors who aim for a neutral tone have a distinct perspective on the subject being discussed. For instance, a disease outbreak could be treated as an interesting medical mystery or as a problem in need of a quick solution. As you read the passage, be on the lookout for words like urgent or fascinating that suggest a point of view. Any concluding remarks the author makes may also give clues about his or her perspective, especially if they contain suggestions for future courses of action to be taken.
The GRE may test your critical thinking skills by asking you to evaluate an argument. In general, an argument is strong if it states a clear thesis and presents evidence that successfully supports that thesis. As you read, ask yourself if the evidence fits the claims, and what objections a critical reader might have. Does the author seem aware of and address such counterarguments? Since no essay can consider every possible issue related to the topic, every argument will have some potential weaknesses.
One potential weakness an argument can have is that there are other explanations for the facts the author presents. As you read, ask yourself what the facts are, what explanation the author gives for them, and whether you can think of other explanations that fit the facts equally well based on what you are told in the passage. For instance, if the author blames antibiotic resistance on the overuse of antibiotics in farming, you could consider whether antibiotics are also overused in human medicine.