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1. Verbal Reasoning format

20 questions, 30 mins

The GRE General Test consists of 6 sections: 2 Analytical Writing tasks, 2 Verbal Reasoning Sections, and 2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections. The Analytical Writing sections will always come first. The other 4 sections can appear in any order. The whole test takes about 3 hrs 45 mins, and there is a 10-min break after the third section.

Each Verbal Reasoning section follows the same format: 20 questions, 3 main question types, 30 mins. Every question carries the same weightage and there is no negative marking, so plan your time very strategically!

3 Question Types

The 3 question types for the Verbal Reasoning section are: Text Completion, Reading Comprehension and Sentence Equivalence. In each section, you will normally be given 6 Text Completion questions, 10 Reading Comprehension questions (about 5 passages), and 4 Sentence Equivalence questions.

Here is a typical ordering of questions in a single section:


2. Characteristics of each question type

The cryptic Text Completion question

Text Completion questions can have one, two or three blanks. For one-blank questions, there are 5 choices given; for two- and three-blanks questions, there are 3 choices for each blank. Each question is made up of 1 to 5 sentences.

There is no partial credit. So, to score for a three-blank question, you must get all three blanks correct.

Text Completion questions can be quite difficult because they require you to have an overall grasp of the passage despite the missing words. Take this example from the official ETS Free Practice Test:

The question of(i)__________ in photography has lately become nontrivial. Prices for vintage prints (those made by a photographer soon after he or she made the negative) so drastically (ii)______________ in the 1990s that one of these photographs might fetch a hundred times as much as a nonvintage print of the same image. It was perhaps only a matter of time before someone took advantage of the (iii)______________ to peddle newly created “vintage” prints for profit.
Blank (i) Blank (ii) Blank (iii)
forgery ballooned discrepancy
influence weakened ambiquity
style varied duplicity


It is impossible to know what to choose for the first blank unless you scan through the rest of the passage first. The keywords “took advantage of” and “newly created ‘vintage’ prints” in the last line indicate that what is at issue here concerns fraud, which allows us to return to the first blank and select “forgery” as the correct option.

Click here for in-depth Text Completion strategies and here to challenge yourself with difficult Text Completion question types.


The inscrutable Reading Comprehension question

Reading Comprehension questions are based on passages that are generally one paragraph long (only about one or two in the entire test are several paragraphs long). They are generally about topics in the sciences, arts and humanities, and the questions derived from them typically test you on the meanings of specific words, logical deductions and inferences based on the main idea of the passage, and assessment of new evidence. Occasionally, a question might need you to select a sentence from the passage to illustrate a specific point.

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Each short passage usually has one or two questions; a long passage can have between three and six. For a start, take a look at a standard inference type question from the following ETS free practice test:

In order to answer this question, you must have a grasp of what the message or main idea of the entire passage is. Having an understanding that it is about the consistent, irreversible modification of nature around us since a long time ago would allow us to rule out the first option. Since the passage does not justify these modifications as unavoidable or accidental, we can also rule out the third option. This leaves the second option as the correct choice.

To find out more about the Reading Comprehension questions, click here for in-depth strategies and here to challenge yourself with difficult Reading Comprehension question types.

  • The delusive Sentence Equivalence question

There are usually four Sentence Equivalence questions in one verbal reasoning section. Each question consists of a single sentence and one blank, for which you are provided six word choices. You need to select the two words that produce sentences as alike as possible in overall meaning. There is no partial credit; you only get the mark if you choose both correct words.

Sentence Equivalence questions can be very tough and tricky. The mistake that students tend to make is assuming that the correct answers are simply the two options that are closest in meaning—this is wrong because they might not make sense in the sentence context. Plus, correct options are just words that produce sentences similar in meaning; they are not necessarily words that mean the same thing!

Take a look at this ETS sample, and try to solve it yourself!

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To find out how to solve this challenging question and read up on additional strategies, click here. For more difficult questions, check this out.

  1. What next?

Now that you have an overview of the GRE Verbal Reasoning section, why not try out a quick practice test to gauge your level?

If you already have a clear idea of what you want to work on, you may want to check out these additional materials:


  • Common mistakes on the GRE Verbal Reasoning
  • The essential GRE Vocabulary list
  • Last-minute studying for the GRE
  • Top five strategies to tackle the GRE Verbal Reasoning
  • GRE Verbal Reasoning FAQ

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