Back in November, I took the GRE (GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination, though the test’s longer name is almost never used) tests in preparation to go to graduate school next Fall. According to the results given immediately after the test, I scored a 780 on Verbal and a 790 on Quantitative.
Since my method of studying worked, at least it worked for me, I thought I’d share it in a three part series about studying for the three sections of the GRE: Writing, Quantitative (Math), and Verbal. Today’s subject is Verbal. Yesterday was Math and the day before was Writing.
What’s on the GRE’s Verbal Test?
The GRE’s Verbal test is made up of four types of question: Sentence Completion, Analogies, Antonyms, and Reading Comprehension. If you remember taking the SAT, it’s almost exactly the same.
Sentence completion – You’re given a sentence with one or two blanks and you must pick the word or pair of words which make the sentence coherent. If you’re up on your vocabulary (more on that later), this section can be easy enough to take sentence by sentence (though on the test they mix the problems up together).
Analogies – Juggler:Balls :: Guitarist:Guitar. I hate analogies. They’re hard for me because unless they’re crystal-clear I can spend a long time debating the merits of one answer over another. I majored in English, we’re trained to do this kind of thing (debate, that is). I prefer the hard answers of math or the relatively-straightforward ones in sentence-completion.
Antonyms – You’re given a word, you have to find its antonym (opposite). This is all about vocabulary.
Reading comprehension – Read a section and answer questions about it. It can be hit-or-miss depending on the subject matter & the questions. When I took the GRE I was fortunate enough to have reading selections I found interesting and the questions were reasonable. Questions like “What is the best title for this reading?” are hard for me for the same reason I have trouble with analogies.
How Do You Prepare for the GRE Verbal Test?
I strongly recommend using a prep book like the Kaplan GRE Verbal Workbook. You can often find them used or at libraries, just make sure it hasn’t been written in yet (and don’t write in it if it’s a library book)
Read carefully about how each part is done. I suggest paying particular attention to the info about how test-writers try to trick you through clever writing and answers that are perfectly wrong. Verbal is notoriously tougher than Math (650 in each will land you in different percentiles, Verbal’s being significantly higher). There are rarely clear, 100% correct answers in the verbal section. Read questions very carefully.
And do them. As painful as it might be to do them, do as many of the practice tests as you can stomach. Switch between the four sections as you get sick of them.
Preparing Your Vocabulary
Having a good vocabulary is critical to passing the Verbal test. With Analogies and Antonyms, you can’t answer at all unless you know what the words mean. In Sentence Completion and Reading Comprehension, you may get stuck with a tricky word that could change the meaning of the sentence. And big, rarer words in the GRE often sound like words with different meanings.
If you don’t read a lot, or your vocabulary doesn’t include the specific kinds of words that appear on SATs & GREs, don’t panic, there are a lot of ways to bolster your vocabulary. And some of the words they use are common.
First, try the GRE workbook. These books have entire vocabulary sections. The Kaplan book I used has a section of popular GRE words, meanings, as well as exercises on understanding the parts of a word so you can determine the meaning without knowing the word. Take advantage of these, you can even used a marked-up book since there aren’t tests.
Consider using an SAT vocabulary prep novel, like Tooth & Nail. Your local library may have a couple. These books are often too wordy to feel like a good novel, but they do use the words in context. For some people, this is a lot easier than memorizing lists. For others, it’s too stilted to be useful.
Also, sign up for one of the word-a-day e-mails that are available through many different sites. Not all of them will be relevant to the GRE, but it’s worth getting them into your head.