How to Improve Your GRE Verbal Scores

Does your GRE Verbal score need improvement? If you haven’t been reaching the average GRE scores for your intended major or target schools, then the answer is yes. But how to improve your GRE scores? There are a number of things you can do.

How to Improve Your GRE Verbal Scores

by David Recine


Build GRE vocabulary intelligently

Many GRE preppers spend a lot of time going through vocabulary word lists memorizing any words that are new to them. But this alone isn’t enough. To improve in GRE Verbal, you can’t simply memorize long strings of GRE vocabulary that might appear on the exam. This is a time-intensive approach, and it certainly is hard work. But as Verbal prep activities go, it’s kind of thoughtless. You need to work smarter, not harder.

Of course, working smarter doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of those vocabulary lists altogether. But you need to use your vocabulary lists strategically. Notice patterns in word forms, prefixes, and suffixes on the word lists you study. This can help you guess at a word’s meaning or part of speech just by looking at it.

Also make sure you do plenty of vocabulary exercises that don’t rely on word lists. Read sophisticated, GRE-like articles from sources like the New York Times, The Altantic, Arts & Letters Daily, and the MIT Technology Review.

For some really enjoyable practice reading, fiction can can also be suitable for GRE vocabulary practice. “Thriller” novels by writers such as Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, and Robert Ludlum are full of GRE-like vocabulary.

Seeing new vocabulary words in context is much more powerful than simply reviewing a vocabulary list. Good reading practice helps you learn new words in a more natural way, and makes it much easier to remember new vocabulary words and deeply understand them.

How to improve your GRE Verbal scores: Build reading comprehension skills

GRE Verbal reading practice isn’t just good for learning new vocabulary. Reading practice is also essential for improving your reading comprehension skills. As you read GRE Verbal passages and GRE-like material, practice active reading. By this, I mean that you should mentally summarize the main ideas of the passages you read, and make an effort to recognize a passage’s transitions, connections between ideas, and important keywords.

In addition, you should build reading comprehension skills that will help you understand difficult texts on the GRE. On the test itself, you are guaranteed to come across words, sentences, and phrases that will be difficult for you to understand. When this happens in your practice reading, learn not to rely on dictionaries (or translators, if you are a non-native English speaker).

Instead, train yourself to pick up on context clues that can help you guess at the meanings of unfamiliar words and difficult phrases. And learn to make good educated guesses at the meaning of a whole passage, even when you can’t understand every part of the passage. You can always check your guesses with a dictionary, a translator, or even a tutor… after you finish reading. But during your reading, rely on comprehension strategy alone, just as you will on test day.


How to improve your GRE Verbal scores: Build your thinking skills

The biggest way you can improve your GRE Verbal scores is to become very practiced at critical thinking. The trick here is to think analytically about what you read. Take this sample GRE Verbal Critical Reasoning Question (taken from Magoosh’s Complete Guide to the Revised GRE eBook):

  • The lower the tide, the less likely guppy fish are to come to the surface to feed. The tern, which feeds exclusively on the guppy, does most of its hunting in the evening, when the tide is low. It follows that the tern is going to have more difficulty hunting the guppy in the evening than during the daytime, because it expends more energy doing so. Dotting points slightly out to sea are outcrops of rock that the tern usually lands on while hunting. Therefore, an observer is more likely to see tern resting on the rocks in the evening than during the day.

A passage like this could be followed by any of the many types of crititcal reasoning questions on the GRE. To handle passages like this on test day, you need to practice your analytical reading skills by questioning every important thing in the argument.

The very first question you need to ask yourself is “What is the main claim in the passage?” With just a little bit of careful reading, you should be able to find the main claim. The passage primarily states that you have the best chance of seeing tern resting on rocks in the evening, compared to mornings, nights, or in the afternoon.

Next, ask yourself “What are the assumptions behind the argument?” In this case, one assumption is that terns land on rocks in order to rest, and not for other reasons. Of course, there could be any number of other assumptions here too– be sure you do a careful mental check for all possibilities!

Another good question to ask is “What, if true, would make the argument weaker?” One obvious missing piece of information relates to when terns rest the most. Because the argument gives no information one way or the other, it’s possible that terns actually rest more when they aren’t hunting. There can be other possible “weakeners” in the unstated information too– think carefully!

The flip side of the question above is “What, if true, would make the argument stronger?” Since the question is flipped, you can also flip the “argument weakening” fact I just described to you. If terns are less likely to try to get rest outside of the evening hours, the main claim is strengthened. Again, there could be other facts that might weaken the passage’s argument. Try to think of every possibility.

As I mentioned, these kinds of analytical thinking skills are most important for Critical Reasoning questions. But being a critical reader can help you improve your scores throughout the GRE Verbal section. Develop analytical thinking as a mental habit, and you will more quickly understand anything you read at a deeper level.

Magoosh Free Test Tips IndiaAuthor Bio: David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Read more GRE articles by Magoosh.
This article is part of CrystalConnect, an outreach initiative by MBA Crystal Ball.

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