How to Improve Your GRE Verbal Score
Not quite confident about the Verbal part of the GRE? Here’s how you can boost your GRE Verbal score.
If you’re planning on getting into a business school right after getting your bachelor’s degree, you will most likely need to do well on the Graduate Record Examination first. But just because you want to get your MBA doesn’t mean it’s all about doing well in math.
Sure, the GRE does have a Quant (math) section. But there’s also a verbal portion you have to deal with. This can be a problem for some who are more confident about numbers instead of words. It’s also an issue for those who regard English as their second language.
The Core Challenge of the Verbal Section
At first glance, it may seem like the Quant section will be a lot more difficult. After all, you may be required to memorize a lot of mathematical formulas. To prepare for the Quant, you will have to go through a lot of practice test questions.
With the Verbal portion of the GRE, you’re not actually tested on the various grammatical rules. Actually, you simply need to master 3 crucial verbal skills.
- The GRE does take your vocabulary range into account, and you may encounter quite a few obscure words that people don’t normally use in everyday speech. But these words may be familiar to you if you’re a wide reader, and have been reading a lot of books for pleasure for years.
- Critical reasoning. This isn’t just about knowing the meaning of certain words. It’s about using the information offered by passages to get to the right conclusions.
- You’re given 20 questions to answer for each of the 2 Verbal sections, and each section allows you 30 minutes to answer. Doing the math, that means you only have 1 minute and 30 seconds on average for each question. That means you better be able to answer very quickly indeed.
Most of the GRE test-takers are actually quite confident about their math abilities, which is why the Verbal portion of the GRE is actually considered by many as the difficult portion of the test. But you can prepare for this part by focusing on the 3 key skills we’ve already listed.
Vocabulary: The Challenge
Actually, critical reasoning and speed may be more crucial skills than just mere vocabulary. But then again, you may find it difficult to understand reading passages when you don’t know the words included in those passages. You’ll also need to develop a wider vocabulary (especially for uncommon words) if you want to do very well in the GRE.
So how do you prepare for this? One of the main problems here is that the ETS (the group that runs the GRE) hasn’t exactly come out with an official list of words that you should be able to understand. Some GRE prep brands offer flashcards with words that may appear on the test, but keep in mind that this is only possible, not probable. There are simply too many words in the English language that may come up in the GRE.
Vocabulary: Improvement Options
This means that while flashcards can certainly help, you can start by expanding your vocabulary as efficiently as you can. That means you will have to read a lot, in addition to using the flashcards and taking lots of GRE Verbal practice questions. Try to read high-quality newspapers and weekly magazines, instead of pulp fiction.
When you read a lot and encounter a word that you’re not really sure about, note it. Then you can go online and find its meaning, synonyms, and how it’s used in a sentence. Try to do your own flashcard on it with all this info.
But after that, you need to use these words as well. Try to use each one at least 3 times in conversations or in text messages within the next 2 days. That way, you’re able to remember the words more quickly if they do come up in the real GRE.
The same goes for your flashcard words. Try to come up with your own version of each flashcard. Define the word using your own words, and come up with an example sentence of your own. Then use the words in conversations and in email messages in a way that’s natural.
Critical Reasoning: The Challenge
This is certainly an important skill to master if you want to do well in the GRE. Basically, this skill is not about completely understanding every sentence in the passages. Remember, there’s a time limit involved.
This is about understanding the arguments and claims that the author of the passages is putting forth. Nothing more, nothing less.
Then there are Sentence Equivalence and Text Completion questions. To answer the Sentence Equivalence questions correctly, you better understand the complete sentence as a whole. You’ll need to break up the sentence into its component parts to complete with the text.
Then you also need to make sure you’re understanding the possible answer choices correctly. Sometimes the answer you choose may be “right”, but it may be wrong based on the passages. The right answer is always proven by the text. If there’s nothing in the passages that lead to an answer choice, then it’s the wrong answer.
Critical Reasoning: Improvement Options
Again, you will have to read a lot. That means supplementing your reading practice with the right GRE prep books, along with other reading materials that are similar in style to what you might get in the GRE. The articles in The Economist offer a great start.
When you read these articles, you can practice and improve your critical reasoning skills by trying to summarize each passage. Practice trying to sum up each passage into a single text message.
Also, take a lot of practice questions and focus on the questions you answered incorrectly. Find out why you missed each question. Better yet, start a journal will all these missed questions and write a detailed description of why you got each answer wrong.
Then note the right answer, and then again put in why it’s the right answer. That way, you can avoid making the same mistakes in the future and adapt the proper way of thinking to answer these questions correctly.
Take note of the key passages, which you can identify correctly with enough reading practice. Once you read more regularly, you will notice that some sentences are simply more important than others. Some are key passages, containing the central idea. The other sentences may just contain the arguments or proof supporting that main idea.
Speed Reading: The Challenge
With the 30-minute time limit for each section of 20 questions each, you obviously have no time to dawdle (which may be a vocab word in the GRE as well). That means you have to read and understand passages quickly.
Now you may be under the impression that you need to develop the speed-reading skills that you may have seen in the movies. But you don’t have to be so good that you can glance at a single passage for a single second and then recite all the passages verbatim.
In the real world, speed reading is a lot more doable. It means reading the passages just quickly enough that you’re able to understand what you’ve just read. If you read too quickly without understanding, then you’re just wasting time.
Speed Reading: Improvement Options
So how do can read passages more quickly? The first is through practice. After all, if you keep doing the same things over and over again, you typically are able to do that same thing faster eventually.
When you check out your GRE prep book passages, note how long each passage is, and how many questions you have to answer based on the passage. That way, you can then understand how long you have to read each passage and answer each question.
Remember, the average time for each question is just 90 seconds. You really don’t want to use up more time than that.
You can try using apps. You can also try to use a stopwatch and keep improving your reading speed. That is, with practice you should need less time to read passages of a certain length. Keep on reading a little bit faster each day or each week.
It’s like running a little bit faster in your workouts. At first, it’s a bit difficult. But you get used to it and the new pace will eventually seem normal.
Keep practicing on getting the main gist of each sentence you read. This will keep you from getting delayed focusing too much on the details that you won’t really need to answer the questions correctly.
Finally, when you take the practice tests or the real GRE, quickly skip over the questions you can’t answer right away. Answer the easier questions first, so that you can use the extra time you save for the more difficult questions.
With test practices, it’s always best to use the time limits. It’s well and good to practice your vocabulary and critical reasoning at first without time limits. That way, you get used to develop those key skills. But eventually, you need to practice these skills as quickly as you can. That’s the reality of the GRE.
It’s really best to develop a regular reading habit way before you actually take the test. In fact, if you’re an undergrad and you’re thinking about going into business school after graduation, you should develop these reading habits as early as possible.
If English is a second language for you, use it constantly. That way, you can get more confident in understanding English and using it to communicate your ideas.
If you’re a native English speaker, then try to speak the language properly. You still have to keep reading, so that you can quickly and properly understand whatever you’re reading. Read a lot so you can broaden your vocabulary.
It’s true that the verbal section of the GRE can be quite challenging. But you can overcome that challenge through hard work, a lot of reading, and a lot of practice questions!