How Can I Improve My GRE Verbal Score?

Let’s cut to the chase: the GRE verbal section can be tough. Many students–even English majors!–struggle to prepare effectively for this section of the test. The GRE verbal section is broken down into three different components:

  1. Text Completion. Fill in the blanks of a sentence with the right word so that the sentence makes sense.
  2. Sentence Equivalence. Figure out which two words from a list of six fit a provided sentence.  
  3. Reading Comprehension. Answer comprehensive questions about short passages.

This might sound easy enough, but the verbal GRE score takes time to improve. Here are some tips to help you boost your verbal score.

1. Memorize a lot of vocabulary.

A robust, thorough vocabulary is the best way to tackle the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence portions of the exam. If you build a library of words in your mind, the verbal test will automatically grow easier.

  • Get a list of common GRE vocab words from Kaplan. This is a great guide to direct your studies.
  • Make a comprehensive list of words you don’t recognize. Refer back to this periodically to see if you’ve mastered these words.
  • Use flashcards. We have smartphone apps that let you flip through GRE words while waiting in line for coffee, or while sitting in the back of an Uber. Any downtime you have can go towards incremental studying.
  • Set steady, consistent memorization goals. For example: hold yourself accountable for memorizing 10 words a day–5 in the morning, and 5 at night.
  • Incorporate the words into your thoughts, or even into conversations. This simple integration brings the words to life. It’s less egregious than you think.

These words are the cornerstones of your Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions. Yet a simple knowledge of the word isn’t enough; the tone of the word is critical to answering the questions on the GRE.
Think, for example, of the difference between screaming and shouting. In both, you’re using words to communicate loudly, but screaming indicates rage. Shouting indicates loudness. These words would be used differently in a GRE sentence. For intense sentences, a sense of rage is critical. You’ll want to select screaming for those. For milder sentence tones, shouting is adequate. Pay attention to these distinctions while studying for the GRE verbal section.

2. Start reading articles from The New Yorker, Scientific American, The Atlantic, and the Economist.

The best way to prepare well for the reading comprehension is to get familiar with the content. Reading strategically is critical to mastering reading comprehension. These magazines, among others, have prose that is similar to that on the GRE. Think about the following questions while reading through the passages:

  • Topic: what is this article really about? Figure out one or two words that would describe the topic succinctly.
  • Scope: what elements of the topic are being described?
  • Purpose: why is this author writing this piece? Some writers have an informal discussion about an engaging topics. Others seek to convince the reader of something. What does the author want you–the reader–to take away from the passage?