How to Prep for the Verbal Reasoning Section of the GRE

The GRE is an exam designed for prospective graduate students in many liberal arts fields. This means that the test is geared toward those who typically are stronger verbally, rather than mathematically. The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE is often seen as significantly more difficult than the mathematics portion due to the unquantifiable amount of vocabulary included. So, is it time to start memorizing hundreds of words until your vision is blurred? Is it time to purchase thousands of flashcards and carry them around with you everywhere you go? No! This exam is about studying smarter, not harder.

First, take a timed diagnostic test of the full verbal section. Unless you already know where your weaknesses are, the GRE can seem daunting and vast. The diagnostic exam can aid you in familiarizing yourself with the types of problems that you will encounter, as well as the length of time you can take on difficult questions. The directions and the wording of problems are at times vague, which can serve to steal confidence and decrease the total number of precious minutes allotted from even the most brilliant of test-takers. Many online services offer a breakdown of your diagnostic score: how long you spent on each question, what the question was asking for and your percentile ranking on that particular question. Your overall results can clarify which areas you need to focus on. Maybe your reading comprehension is flawless, but you don't recognize the majority of the vocabulary. Maybe you had problems finding the main ideas of the passages. Knowing your capabilities will prepare you for much smoother studying.

If you're having issues with the vocabulary and general word relationships, focus on common prefixes, suffixes and roots. This does not mean memorizing a long list of vocabulary, but instead learning to deconstruct terms that are challenging. Break a difficult word into its separate parts and see if any are familiar. If you cannot precisely define a prefix or suffix, brainstorm other words that sound like it. For example, anthropomorphism has the same prefix as anthropology, which is the study of humankind. Use these connections to eliminate the answers that have nothing to do with humans.

This deconstruction method does not suit all vocabulary, however. If you find this to be the case for a certain question, run through your mental dictionary for positive or negative connotations. There is a significant chance that you have heard the word or root before, even if you don't know what it means. In what context have you heard it used? Look for vague impressions of the word or root and decide if it's generally positive or negative. If you decide that it is positive, make sure to cross out the negative answers. From there, search for the part of speech that can help you eliminate more answers. (The word and its correct answer will be the same part of speech.)

The trickiest part of the Verbal Reasoning section might be the relationship/sentence equivalence questions. One strategy to battle these types of problems is to place your own word in the blank as you read, then look for that answer among the choices. Unfortunately, test-makers know this trick, too. They often offer the "best" answer among the choices as a stand-alone, with no equivalent. Remember that you are looking for two answers that can complete the blank and that mean the same thing. This means that the "best" answer is not always the right answer. Make sure that you have a matching pair, not the "best" answer with something that just sort of fits. If you're struggling to find a matching pair, try the aforementioned process of elimination: Deconstruct the word, determine if it's positive or negative and look for similar parts of speech.

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE is difficult, but you have completed a Bachelor's degree, which likely means you've read a wealth of literature, learned to verbalize your complex ideas and written quite a few papers. While memorizing lists won't hurt in the long run, reading the newspaper or scholarly articles as frequently as possible will also prepare you for the test and your future career in graduate school.