Reading Comprehension passages appearing on the GRE® Verbal Reasoning measure are drawn from a wide variety of disciplines and sources. Passages deal with subject-matter from the physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences, arts and the humanities, and everyday topics. GRE reading comprehension questions seek to assess critical reading skills by using texts that exhibit a level of complexity comparable to that encountered in graduate school. Passages exhibiting this kind of graduate-level prose are adapted from material found in books and periodicals, both academic and nonacademic.
Given that GRE reading passages are drawn from many different disciplines and sources, even well-prepared test takers are likely to encounter material with which they are not familiar. It is important to bear in mind, however, that all questions can be answered solely on the basis of information provided in the passage and that no specialized knowledge is assumed. Consequently, there is no need to try and acquaint oneself with every conceivable topic that might be covered by the Verbal Reasoning measure.
Nonetheless, many test takers do have an interest in gaining more exposure to GRE-level reading material. For such individuals, the most fruitful approach would probably involve becoming more familiar with the kinds of logical reasoning and rhetorical patterns that are typically found in GRE reading passages. The best way of doing this is to read a wide variety of texts that exhibit similar features on a regular basis — or at least for a sustained period of time prior to the exam.
Where are such texts to be found? The good news is that the graduate-level prose sampled by GRE passages is not only to be found in highly specialized academic journals. There are many excellent sites for developing the habit of reading challenging prose, many of which are readily accessible. Some of these include (but are not limited to): feature articles in newspapers such as The New York Times, The Guardian, or The Wall Street Journal; periodicals such as The Economist, Scientific American and London Review of Books; trade books by experts and journalists for general audiences. If you are interested in sampling academic prose in more specialized journals, online services for journal content (e.g., IOPscience2 and The Royal Society) provide links to interesting articles, some of which are open access.
In addition to reading widely in a range of fields, you should cultivate the habit of reading closely and critically as you prepare for the GRE Verbal Reasoning measure. Focus on paragraphs that seem particularly dense in meaning and engage actively with the text: how would you sum up the author's larger point? What does a phrase used by the author mean in this specific context? What is not said but implied? Why does the author highlight this particular detail? Where is the argument most vulnerable to criticism? Ultimately, to succeed at GRE reading comprehension, how you read is just as important as what you read.
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