The GRE verbal section can be incredibly daunting, even for native English speakers fresh out of college. For those students who are non-native speakers, or for those who have been out of college for awhile and typically don’t pepper their leisure reading with academic writing, the vocabulary and reading on the GRE verbal section can seem like an entirely different language.
A good place to start
With everything that is challenging, patience and perseverance are a must. And like any arduous journey, knowing where to start is key. First off, pick up a copy of the Official Guide to the GRE by ETS. Do a few of the practice sets and know where you stand. If you are struggling with some of the easy questions, your plan of attack is going to be different from than if you do moderately well even on the tough questions. Below is some verbal study help that, depending on your level, will aid you in gaining a good grasp of the GRE.
The GRE verbal section ultimately tests your ability to understand complex syntactical structure, vocabulary employed stylistically, and nuanced information packed into a few paragraphs.
If you are not a “reading person”, or if English is not your first language, oftentimes the first step is read voraciously. That’s right – don’t just pick up a copy of the Official Guide. For recommended GRE reading, look no further than nytimes.com (the online version of the New York Times). Start reading voraciously, typically from the extended articles (the weekend section is excellent). Write down words or phrases you do not know. At first doing so may seem overwhelming but over time you will begin to recognize more and more words.
What this process is doing is “turning on” your reading brain. By that I mean, you will start to pick up on the complex sentence structures found on the GRE. Simply opening a GRE prep guide and jumping into the treacherous syntactical waters of a three-blank Text Completion will only dishearten you.
By reading from respected sources such nytimes.com (The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and aldaily.com also jump to mind), you will be more prepared for the GRE verbal section.
At the same time GRE prep consists of a lot more than sitting back with a latte and opening up the New York Times. How much effort you put in with each reading depends on your study schedule, of course. Let’s just say if you’re down to the wire, you won’t be doing much latte sipping. There are still plenty of good GRE study schedules for you, of course.
For more advanced students
Even if you are answering many of the medium-level questions correctly, getting a really good grasp of the GRE verbal section will take some time. For one, much of the GRE vocabulary consists of words that you don’t necessarily encounter in everyday collegiate. And trying to guess the meaning of a word like ‘recondite’, based only on roots and sound of a word, is most likely going to backfire (‘recondite’, by the way, means little known, and usually refers to an obscure subject).
Learning words as you read the New York Times, etc. is a good idea. You will also want to scour the many word lists out there, learning the words you don’t know. You will also want to dive right into practice sessions of the GRE. Taking practice tests from Manhattan GRE or Magoosh is also a good idea.
For both intermediate and beginner levels, a great GRE vocabulary guide PDF is Magoosh’s vocabulary ebook, created in part by yours truly. You will learn high-frequency words with straightforward definitions. An example sentence will accompany most words, so you can get a sense of a word’s usage.
Well what are you doing still here? Time to start studying for GRE verbal!
This post was written by Chris Lele, resident GRE expert at Magoosh. For more advice on taking the GRE, check out Magoosh’s GRE blog.