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The GRE Verbal Reasoning Test

Written by tutor Matthew M.

The Verbal Reasoning measure of the GRE consists of two sections. The test taker has 30 minutes per section to answer 20 multiple choice style questions presented in a variety of formats. Examples and discussions of each type of question can be found below.

The Verbal Reasoning measure serves as a way to evaluate essential aspects of a test taker's critical reading ability. In general terms, these include analyzing a text, evaluating and drawing conclusions from information in a text, identifying functional relationships between parts of a text, and interpreting meaning from context. How each of these skills specifically relates to the different question types is outlined below.

Like the Quantitative Reasoning measure, the Verbal Reasoning measure is adaptive by section. This means that the number of questions answered correctly on the first section determines the degree of difficulty of the second section. The final score for the Verbal Reasoning component is based on the number of questions answered correctly AND the degree of difficulty of the second section. It is important to note that within each section the questions all have the same weight.

Scores for the Verbal Reasoning measure range from 130 to 170 in increments of 1 point. Percentile rankings for scores can be found on the ETS website.

Question Types

There are three question types on the Verbal Reasoning section, and each type of question may appear in several formats. The three questions types are:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Text Completion
  • Sentence Equivalence

Reading Comprehension questions ask the test taker to respond to a passage by answering multiple choice questions or selecting (highlighting) an appropriate sentence from the passage. Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions ask the test taker to complete a sentence or a paragraph by selecting the appropriate word or words from the given answer choices. Although Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions both involve completing sentences, there are important differences between these question types.

Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension questions ask the test taker to respond to a passage. Passages vary in length: some are one paragraph in length and may only consist of two or three sentences while others are several paragraphs long. ETS states a test taker can expect to see around ten passages, of which the majority are shorter passages.

Passages are drawn from a wide range of academic disciplines and fields in the sciences and the humanities. However, Reading Comprehension questions are designed so that no prior specialized knowledge of the topic is required to answer the questions.

Reading Comprehension questions assess a wide range of skills and abilities involving passage analysis and critical reasoning. In general terms this includes interpreting the meaning of individual words, sentences, and parts of a passage in context; making inferences and following arguments; identifying parts of a passage and their respective functions; organizing information and recognizing perspectives; and analyzing and evaluating arguments.

There are three different formats in which Reading Comprehension questions are presented. These include multiple choice with one correct answer, multiple choice with one or more correct answers, and select in sentence questions where the student must choose a sentence from the passage.

Sample Question 1

Select one answer choice. These ask the test taker to respond by choosing one answer from five given choices.

Agelenopsis aperta is a funnel-web weaving spider found in the grasslands of the arid Southwest. Active within a narrow range of temperatures, these spiders stay inside of their funnels most of the day. At a scale of 1-3 m, population density and competition lead to frequent encounters between spiders in which aggressive behavior can result in the loss of a website. However, at a larger scale, the spiders appear to cluster. At this spatial scale, a significant amount of grassland remains uninhabited by the spiders.

1. Which of the following, if true, would help explain the discrepancy described above?
A. Spiders engaged in aggressive behavior are highly vulnerable to predation by certain kinds of grassland birds.
B. Though somewhat scarce, the primary food source for A. aperta is found throughout the spider's habitat.
C. A. aperta builds larger webs and maintains larger territories than other less aggressive species of funnel-web spiders.
D. The thermal properties of the grasslands, including duration and range of temperature, are not uniformly distributed.
E. The family Agelenidae includes species of semi-social spiders known to build communal websites.

Sample Questions 2 and 3

Select one or more answer choices. These ask the test taker to respond by choosing all of the answers that apply. Three possible answers are given and to correctly answer the question the test taker must select all of the correct choices. There is no partial credit given for these. )

Select-in-Passage. These ask the test taker to select the sentence in the passage that correctly fits a given description. In order to answer the question, the test take must highlight a sentence with the cursor and click on it.

The following passage is adapted from the book The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel by James Wood.

Here is a characteristic piece of comedy from The Book of Scottish Anecdote (seventh edition, 1888). A gentleman upbraids his servant: is it true, he asks him, that you have had the audacity to spread around the idea that your master is stingy? No, no, replies the servant, you won’t find me doing that kind of thing: ‘I aye keep my thoughts to mysel’.’

Misunderstandings between people are funny, invariably because, beyond the immediate farce of human impasse, they suggest the great vanity of the self. In that Scottish anecdote, two sealed egoisms talk past each other: the master, thinking of himself, asks the servant if he has been tarnishing his reputation; the servant, also thinking of himself, replies with information about his own mental processes. If this is part of the reason the anecdote raises a smile, comedy would seem to be functioning here at its moral, corrective level, scuffing the shine on vanity and entrapping the diabolical self. This is the rather severe, Bergsonian idea of comedy as cleanser.

2. Select the sentence in the passage in which the author suggests the effects of a response to a misunderstanding.

For the following question, consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.

3. The author of the passage suggests which of the following about vanity?
A. Vanity is not the only possible source of humor in misunderstandings between people.
B. Laughing in response to an anecdote about human folly necessarily reflects a moral position.
C. Vanity in a comic light is rendered incompatible with certain modes of behavior.

Text Completion

Text Completion questions ask the test taker to respond to a sentence or a short passage by filling in blanks where crucial words have been omitted. The number of sentences per passage ranges from 1 to 5, and the number of blanks per passage ranges from 1 to 3. For each blank the test taker must choose one word from either three choices or five choices depending on the number of blanks in the passage.

If there is one blank, the test taker must select from five choices. If there are two or three blanks, for each blank the test taker must select from three choices. There is no partial credit for answering some but not all of the question correctly.

Sample Questions 4 and 5

Select one entry for each blank from the corresponding column of choices. Fill in all blanks in a way that best completes the text.

Although her reputation for insight bordering on (i) ____ had become somewhat diminished by then, no one, it seemed, was willing to overlook her failure to (ii) ____ the obvious cultural shift then under way.

Blank (i) Blank (ii)
(A) mysticism (D) criticize
(B) transcendence (E) acknowledge
(C) clairvoyance (F) promulgate

The following passage is adapted from the article, "Who's Afraid of the New Woman," by Walter Kendrick.

In Volume One of ''No Man's Land,'' published last year, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar launched an ambitious rereading of British and American literary modernism under the (i) ____ of the battle of the sexes or ''The War of the Words,'' as the subtitle of that first volume has it. They proposed that this (ii) ____ image, a favorite of male writers from Tennyson to Ted Hughes, can still yield (iii) ____ insights when it is taken more or less at face value.

Blank (i) Blank (ii) Blank (iii)
(A) guise (D) hackneyed (G) enduring
(B) rubric (E) exploitative (H) fresh
(C) auspices (F) novel (I) rarefied

Sentence Equivalence

Sentence Equivalence questions ask the test taker to respond to a passage one sentence in length in which a crucial word has been omitted. From a set of six words, the test taker is to select two words that complete the sentence to produce the same meaning. The correct answers choices can be substituted for each other without altering the meaning of the sentence.

Sample Question 6

Select the two answer choices that, when used to complete the sentence, fit the meaning of the sentence as a whole and produce completed sentences that are alike in meaning.

After the Arctic is not so much a defense of Empire's Future as a pessimistic ____ of every hope for a plausible alternative.

(A) repudiation
(B) undermining
(C) rejection
(D) criticism
(E) dismissal
(F) revocation

Answers to Sample Questions

1. D

2. If this is part of the reason the anecdote raises a smile, comedy would seem to be functioning here at its moral, corrective level, scuffing the shine on vanity and entrapping the diabolical self.

3. A, C

4. C, E

5. B, D, H

6. C, E

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