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The GRE® General Test

One test for graduate, business and law school

Select a step to learn more about your GRE® General Test journey.
 

Overview of the Verbal Reasoning Measure

The Verbal Reasoning measure of the GRE General Test assesses your ability to:

  • analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it
  • analyze relationships among component parts of sentences
  • recognize relationships among words and concepts

Verbal Reasoning questions appear in several formats, each of which is discussed in detail in the corresponding sections linked to below. About half of the measure requires you to read passages and answer questions on those passages. The other half requires you to read, interpret and complete existing sentences, groups of sentences or paragraphs.

The Verbal Reasoning measure contains three types of questions: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence.
 

View sample questions

Become more familiar with the Verbal Reasoning measure of the GRE General Test. Review sample questions, answers and explanations.

Download GRE Sample Questions PDF

Introduction

Reading Comprehension questions are designed to test the wide range of abilities required to read and understand the kinds of prose commonly encountered in graduate school. Those abilities include:

  • understanding the meaning of individual words and sentences
  • understanding the meaning of paragraphs and larger bodies of text
  • distinguishing between minor and major points
  • summarizing a passage
  • drawing conclusions from the information provided
  • reasoning from incomplete data to infer missing information
  • understanding the structure of a text in terms of how the parts relate to one another
  • identifying the author's assumptions and perspective
  • analyzing a text and reaching conclusions about it
  • identifying strengths and weaknesses of a position
  • developing and considering alternative explanations

Reading and understanding a piece of text requires far more than a passive understanding of the words and sentences it contains; it requires:

  • active engagement with the text
  • asking questions
  • formulating and evaluating hypotheses
  • reflecting on the relationship of the particular text to other texts and information

The test contains approximately 10 passages. Most are one paragraph long, and one or two are several paragraphs long. Passages are based on material found in books and periodicals, both academic and nonacademic, and drawn from:

  • physical sciences
  • biological sciences
  • social sciences
  • business
  • arts and humanities
  • everyday topics

Typically, about half of the questions on the test are based on passages; each passage has anywhere from one to six questions associated with it. Questions can cover any of the topics listed above, from the meaning of a particular word to assessing evidence that might support or weaken points made in the passage. There are three question types:

  • select a single answer
  • select multiple correct answers
  • select a sentence from a passage

General advice

  • Reading passages are drawn from many different disciplines and sources, so you may encounter unfamiliar material. Don’t be discouraged; all the questions can be answered on the basis of the information provided in the passage and no specialized knowledge is assumed. You don’t need to try to familiarize yourself with every conceivable topic that might be included. If you encounter a passage that seems particularly hard or unfamiliar, you may want to save it for last.
  • Read and analyze the passage carefully before trying to answer any of the questions.
  • Pay attention to clues that help you understand less explicit aspects of the passage. Try to:
    • distinguish main ideas from supporting ideas or evidence
    • distinguish ideas that the author is advancing from those they’re merely reporting
    • distinguish ideas that the author is strongly committed to from those they advance as hypothetical or speculative
    • identify the main transitions from one idea to the next
    • identify the relationship between different ideas, for example:
      • Are they contrasting? Are they consistent?
      • Does one support the other?
      • Does one spell out the other in greater detail?
      • Does one apply the other to a particular circumstance?
  • Read each question carefully and make sure you understand exactly what’s being asked.
  • Answer each question based on the information provided in the passage and don’t rely on outside knowledge. Sometimes your own views or opinions may conflict with those presented in a passage. If this happens, take special care to work within the context provided by the passage. You shouldn’t expect to agree with everything you encounter in the reading passages.

Finding GRE-level reading materials

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.

To gain more exposure to GRE-level reading material, the most fruitful approach would be to become familiar with the kinds of graduate-level prose, logical reasoning and rhetorical patterns typically found in GRE reading passages. The best way to do this is to read a wide variety of texts with similar features on a regular basis or at least for a sustained period of time before your test.

Where can you find these texts? The good news is that the graduate-level prose sampled by GRE passages is not just 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:

  • feature articles in newspapers such as The New York TimesThe Guardian or The Wall Street Journal
  • periodicals such as The EconomistScientific American and London Review of Books
  • trade books by experts and journalists for general audiences

If you’re 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.

You should also cultivate the habit of reading closely and critically. 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.
 

Question types

Multiple-choice — Select One Answer Choice

Description
These are traditional multiple-choice questions; you’ll select one answer from among five answer choices.Tips for answering

Tips for answering

  • Read all the answer choices before making your selection, even if you think you know the correct answer in advance.
  • The correct answer is the one that most accurately and most completely answers the question. Don’t be misled by answer choices that are only partially true or only partially answer the question. Also, be careful not to pick an answer choice simply because it’s a true statement.
  • When the question asks about the meaning of a word in the passage, be sure the answer choice you select correctly represents the way the word is being used in the passage. Many words have different meanings when used in different contexts.

Multiple-choice — Select One or More Answer Choices

Description
Each question has three answer choices with one to three correct answers. Select all that are correct to gain credit for these questions, you must select all the correct answers; there is no credit for partially correct answers.

Tips for answering

  • Evaluate each answer choice separately on its own merits; when evaluating one answer choice, do not take the others into account.
  • A correct answer choice accurately and completely answers the question; don’t be misled by answer choices that are only partially true or that only partially answer the question. Also, be careful not to pick an answer choice simply because it’s a true statement.
  • Do not be disturbed if you think all three answer choices are correct, since questions of this type can have up to three correct answer choices.

Select-in-Passage

Description
In these questions, you’ll select the sentence in the passage that meets a certain description. To do this, click on any word in the sentence or select the sentence with the keyboard. In longer passages, the question will usually apply to only one or two specified paragraphs; you won’t be able to select a sentence elsewhere in the passage.

Note: Because these questions depend on the use of the computer, they don’t appear on the paper-delivered test. Instead, you’ll find equivalent multiple-choice questions in their place.

Tips for answering

  • Evaluate each of the relevant sentences in the passage separately before selecting your answer. Do not evaluate any sentences that are outside the paragraphs under consideration.
  • A correct answer choice must accurately match the description given in the question; don’t select a sentence if any part of the description doesn’t apply to it. However, it’s important to note that the question may not fully describe all aspects of the sentence.

Skilled readers do not simply absorb the information presented on the page; instead, they maintain a constant attitude of interpretation and evaluation, reasoning from what they have read so far to create a picture of the whole and revising that picture as they go. Text Completion questions test this ability by omitting crucial words from short passages and ask you to use the remaining information in the passage as a basis for selecting words or short phrases to fill the blanks and create a coherent, meaningful whole.
 

Question structure

  • Each passage is composed of one to five sentences, with one to three blanks per sentence.
    • If there are two or three blanks, each blank has three answer choices.
    • If there is only one blank, there are five answer choices.
  • Each blank has a single correct answer.
  • The answer choices for different blanks function independently, i.e., selecting one answer choice for one blank doesn’t affect the answer choices you can select for another blank.
  • There’s no credit for partially correct answers.

Tips for answering

Don’t try to consider each possible combination of answers; that takes too long and is open to error. Instead, analyze the passage in the following way:

  • Read through the passage to get an overall sense of it.
  • Identify words or phrases that seem particularly significant, either because they emphasize the structure of the passage (words like although or moreover) or because they’re central to understanding what the passage is about.
  • Try to fill in the blanks with words or phrases that seem to complete the sentence, then see if similar words are among the answer choices.
  • Don’t assume that you need to fill in the first blank first; perhaps it’s easier to start with one of the other blanks. Select your choice for that blank, and then see if you can complete another blank. If none of the choices for the other blank seem to make sense, go back and reconsider your first selection.
  • When you’ve made your selection for each blank, check to make sure the passage is logically, grammatically and stylistically coherent.

Like Text Completion questions, Sentence Equivalence questions test your ability to reach a conclusion about how a passage should be completed based on partial information, but to a greater extent they focus on the meaning of the completed whole. Sentence Equivalence questions consist of a single sentence with just one blank, and they ask you to identify the two choices that lead to a complete, coherent sentence while producing sentences that mean the same thing.
 

Question structure

  • Each question consists of a single sentence with one blank and six answer choices.
  • Select two of the answer choices.
  • There is no credit for partially correct answers.

Tips for answering

  • Don’t simply look among the answer choices for two words that mean the same thing. This can be misleading for two reasons.
    • First, the answer choices may contain pairs of words that mean the same thing but do not fit coherently into the sentence.
    • Second, the correct pair of words may not mean exactly the same thing, since all that matters is that the resultant sentences mean the same thing.
  • Read the sentence to get an overall sense of it.
  • Identify words or phrases that seem particularly significant, either because they emphasize the structure of the sentence (words like although or moreover) or because they’re central to understanding what the sentence is about.
  • Try to fill in the blank with a word that seems appropriate to you and then see if two similar words are offered among the answer choices. If you find a word that’s similar to what you’re expecting but can’t find a second one, don’t become fixated on your interpretation; instead, see whether there are other words among the answer choices that can be used to fill the blank coherently.
  • When you’ve selected your pair of answer choices, check to make sure that each one produces a sentence that is logically, grammatically and stylistically coherent, and that the two sentences mean the same thing.