Strategies for the GRE – Verbal Section
Here is some information and strategies to assist you with this challenging exam. On the GRE verbal section, you’ll encounter four different question types.
Sentence Completion tests how well you can figure out the logic of a sentence. The section shows you sentences with either one or two words missing. Your job is to pick the answer choice with the word, or words, that best fill the blank(s).
Although many Sentence Completion sentences are based on “factoids” on various subjects, you don’t need any outside knowledge to answer these questions – in fact, bringing outside content knowledge to bear on these questions will probably only cause problems for you. All the information you’ll need to answer a question will be right there in the sentence itself.
Begin each question by reading through the sentence strategically, that is, trying to see where the sentence is going. As you read, look for “structural roadsigns” – words like “and,” “since,” “thus,” “because,” and “in addition to” or “although, but, however, yet,” and “nevertheless.” These words, and others like them, will help you figure out the logic of the sentence. Words like “and” and “since” signal that one part of the sentence supports, elaborates on, or is consistent with another part. Words like “but” or “although” signal that one part of the sentence will contradict or qualify another part – they serve to sort of redirect the sentence in another direction.
Analogies test your vocabulary and your understanding of word relationships. You will see a pair of words in capital letters that are related in some way:
AIRPLANE : HANGAR. We call these the “stem words.”
There will also be five answer choices, each consisting of another word pair. Your task is to identify an answer choice that is related in the same way as the stem words. Think carefully about the stem words and establish the relationship between them before looking at the answer choices.
It helps to “build a bridge” – to devise a word or phrase that relates the two words in a meaningful way. For instance, “an AIRPLANE is stored or kept in a HANGAR.”
Antonyms present you with a single word followed by five answer choices with words or short phrases. Your job here is to find the answer choice that’s most nearly opposite in meaning to the original word.
These questions obviously test American English vocabulary, so if yours is not strong, you will need to improve it. Apart from vocabulary, you can also do well using good test strategy. If you do not know the meaning of a word, try to think of a context where you’ve heard the word before; that may help your memory. You may not be able to articulate a definition of the word “covert,” for instance, but you’ve probably heard the phrase “covert operation” to describe some espionage activity.
Also, use your knowledge of your own foreign language and word roots to help “decode” the meaning of a tough word. For instance, you may not know what “benediction” means, but you may be able to figure out that the root “bene” means “good” from knowing the more common word “benevolent.” That may be all you need to answer a question if you spot a word like “curse” among the answers. (A benediction is a blessing.)
Reading Comprehension is common on American standardized tests, so you’ve probably seen this type of question before on the TOEFL. Expect GRE passages to be more difficult and dense, however, and often boring. The passages will be taken from three broad areas: Social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.
Essentially, Reading Comprehension is meant to test your ability to understand the content of written material and make some quick conclusions about it. You’ll see questions about the main idea of a passage, its inferences, arguments or tone, or about specific details in the passage.
But don’t make the mistake of reading over a passage trying to memorize details. Instead, read through a passage quickly, actively, and strategically. Pay attention to the topic and scope of the passage as you read. The “topic” is just what the paragraph is generally about, and the “scope” is just the focus of the passage. So the topic of a passage may be the Battle of Gettysburg, and the scope might be the particular aspect the writer focuses on in about 60 lines – obviously not enough space to discuss every aspect of such a large topic! Having an overview of the passage will help you avoid trap answers that distort the passage’s topic or scope or mention irrelevant details.