How to Improve GRE Verbal Score (15 Proven Tips)

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: December 18, 2021

Let’s be honest, the GRE verbal section isn’t easy. You’ll find that many students struggle to get the score they want on this section of the test.

The vocabulary is obscure, and the questions are intentionally ambiguous, which adds to the overall difficulty.

The good news is that improvement is possible! As a tutor, I’m here to give you the best tips and tricks to get the verbal score you want.

What is the GRE Verbal Section?

A GRE answer sheet being shaded

The GRE verbal reasoning section assesses your reading comprehension and language skills. With questions ranging from choosing a word to fill a blank to identifying the main idea of a complex passage.

The verbal portion of the GRE has a total of 40 questions that are split into two subsections.

You’ll find your score somewhere between 130 and 170, with points being given in one-point increments [1].

One cool thing about this test is that it is section-adaptive.

This means your performance on the first subsection determines how difficult the second section questions will be. However, that means to get a good score, you’ll need to do well on that first section to unlock the harder question sets.

Each GRE Verbal section consists of the following:

  • Roughly 10 vocab questions
  • Roughly 10 comprehension questions

With this basic understanding of the GRE verbal, you have a better idea of what you are up against.

4 Ways to Improve Verbal Score

A woman reading a book in a library to prepare for GRE verbal section

While the GRE verbal isn’t easy, here are some ways you can boost your overall verbal score.

1. Memorize Vocabulary

Knowing a variety of vocabulary words is the best way to do well on sentence equivalence questions or text completion. By building your library of words, you’ll find this test to be easier.

Some ways to improve your GRE vocab is by doing the following:

  • Study common GRE words -- You can find a list of the most common GRE vocabulary words at the Kaplan website. This is a great place to start practicing.
  • Make a list of unknown words -- Start writing down words you don’t know that you encounter during the day. This is a more natural way of increasing your vocabulary.
  • Use flashcards -- Your smartphone has a ton of flashcard apps that will help make studying easier. Simply open the app and study while waiting in line.
  • Incorporate words into the conversation -- Practice using these words in everyday conversations; it will help them stick.

2. Read, Read, Read

A man reading a book

To pass the reading comprehension portion of the GRE, you’ll need to get familiar with the content.

So start by reading material from popular magazines such as the National Review, National Affairs, and The Wall Street Journal.

When reading articles, start asking your questions like the following:

  • What’s the topic? Describe the topic of the article in one or two words.
  • What's the purpose? Determine why the author is writing the piece.
  • What’s the scope? Figure out the different elements of the topic being described.

Test takers need to make themselves familiar with the sentence structures that will be utilized in the questions that make up the verbal section.

This is a great way of learning GRE vocabulary and expanding your vocabulary knowledge naturally.

3. Daily Practice

This daily practice doesn’t mean taking a practice test every day or doing a set of GRE verbal questions daily but spending at least one hour a day expanding your grammar and comprehension.

Your ability to analyze answer choices comes with practice.

Some students make the mistake of spending one month studying math and the next English. By doing this rotating method, they only focus on one concept a month, which is a major mistake.

“Skills come from consistent and deliberate practice.” -- Shawn Allen, author and composer.

You need to be constantly exposing yourself to GRE-level English and math concepts. The more time you immerse yourself with these concepts, the better you’ll be at answering these kinds of questions.

4. Give Yourself Time

It is important not to rush yourself when studying for the GRE verbal.

You can’t improve your GRE verbal score overnight. That is why most GRE prep tutors advocate for giving yourself at a three month GRE study plan before taking the test[2].

4 Tips for GRE Verbal Question Types

Shading an answer sheet

There are a variety of question types that make up the GRE verbal that you’ll need to learn the best way to find the correct answer.

1. Sentence Equivalence

The first type is GRE sentence equivalence questions. Here you’ll be given a sentence with one blank, and you’ll need to pick two words that could both complete the sentence and give it the same meaning.

Some words might look right, but you will need to use your dedication skills to pick the right ones.

The key to this question type is that the two words have to give the sentence a similar meaning. That means if you know one of the right answers, you can use that word to narrow down the other choices.

It’s important not to assume you’ve found the correct answers because synonyms won’t always help you. Always put the words back into the sentence to make sure that you’ve found the correct pair.

2. Text Completion

Completing a sentence with a missing conjunction during GRE verbal

In text completion, you’ll be given a sentence or passage with one missing word or up to three words. You’ll need to select the correct answer or answers that complete the passage.

A key tip for this question type is knowing the tones of words.

Does the word give off a positive or negative tone?

If you don’t know the word, try using the whole sentence as your clue. Consider the words, notoriety and eminence.  While similar, one has a negative connotation while the other is positive.

Another tip is to find similar words. While you might not know tumultuous, you might understand tumult.

By using the root word, you can begin to deduce what the right answer is. Leverage what you know to find the right answer.

3. Multiple Choice

Multiple choice is part of the reading comprehension verbal section.

To find the correct answer, you are going to need to rely on evidence from the passage.

Answer GRE verbal practice questions will be helpful in getting your bearing on these questions, because only a few words in the passage directly relate to the answer.

There is always going to be evidence in the passage that supports your answer. However, don’t get tricked up by choices that seem similar because ETS will add tricky options.

Another tip is to not focus on details on the first read through.

Comprehension questions focus on the main idea. So to study for these questions practice identifying the topic and main idea.

On the following read throughs, begin focusing on the details.

You might even come across multiple choice questions with multiple correct answers. To do these, simply focus on one answer at a time. Don’t compare answers but focus on assessing whether each choice fits the question.

4. Select-in Passage

The final type of reading comprehension question is the select-in passage type. Here you will select the sentence that best fits the given criteria.

The key to this question is choosing the best sentence.

You might find that two are similar, and in this case you need to assess which is the most complete and direct. Using evidence from the passage is paramount which is what you learn when doing GRE prep.

The best answer will have the clearest evidence that will ultimately fulfill the question criteria. The two verbal sections require a person to pull on reading comprehension skills to answer them correctly.

4. Common Problems Faced on Test Day

A woman thinking thoroughly

While you can work to improve your GRE score, you need to remember to do well on test day. Here are some problems you might have to overcome on test day.

1. Forgetting the Vocabulary

When under pressure, it can become difficult to remember all those new words you’ve been practicing.

About 38% of test-takers suffer from a moderate to severe form of testing anxiety that impacts their ability to do well in a testing situation  [3].

Forgetting vocabulary could come down to poor study methods.

To maintain what you’ve learned, it's important that you apply what you know. Make sure that you are drilling yourself effectively and learning the words in context.

A good step in verbal preparation when learning vocabulary is to learn words and post them around your environment, so you interact with them daily. Post word lists or individual words in areas where you will see them often.

2. Running Out of Time

A woman panicking because she doesn't have any time

Study tips help you finish the test on time with the highest score possible. If you don’t complete the final test on time, you won’t get the GRE verbal score you need.

Mock tests are a perfect way to figure out the area that is giving you issues?

Is it the GRE quantitative section? Or is it part of the English language? Many test takers, especially those with high scores, take the time to identify areas of weakness.

For vocabulary questions, don’t waste time agonizing. It comes down to whether you know the word or not.

If you don’t know, move on. With text completion and sentence questions, read them carefully and do your best. Don’t waste more than 30 seconds to a minute here.

We recommend spending the majority of your time on the GRE passages and then going back to answer questions that focus on vocab.

The reading comprehension section isn’t a place to overanalyze so start by focusing on the main idea and then narrowing down what the question is asking for.

If you find yourself struggling with all the types of questions, create a personalized GRE study plan that focuses on verbal tips GRE verbal questions. Picking the right answer choices isn’t impossible, it will only take time to learn.

3. Stuck on an Answer

The hard part with the GRE and its sentence equivalence questions is there is always a better answer choice. While two could work, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is testing to see if you can pick out the top answer.

A way to help yourself out is by focusing on word valence.

Which word has a connotation that would best fit the sentence: positive or negative? The written material in the section requires you to read between the lines.

If stuck on a comprehension question, see if you can recognize relationships between the answers. This might give you a clue. Pay attention and read questions carefully because the GRE will try to trick you.

4. Nervous

A nervous woman thinking

Some test takers find that they do well in a low-pressure study session but become flustered when taking an actual practice test.

For someone like this, the goal is staying calm. Your GRE score doesn’t define you as a person, but only looks to see how you can handle a graduate level program.

The nerves might be coming up because the material is still too difficult and the answer choices are too foreign.

In this case, more practice is key. You need to read more material and switch up your studying tactics.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” -- Maya Angelou, author.

If the nerves come from testing anxiety, focus on the positive and take deep breaths during the testing.

You will find that by slowing down, all the words on the page will begin to make more sense and the correct word or answer choice will begin to pop out.

3 Ways to Beat Test Day Nerves

A close up image of a man calming himself

You can study completion and sentence equivalence questions for months but still find yourself nervous on test day. And that is okay! Here are a couple of testing tips that will help you produce completed sentences and get the GRE verbal score of your dreams.

1. Start with Easy Questions

With the GRE, you get points for every question answered right. So don’t get hung up on not knowing a certain word. Your key strategy is to answer the easy questions first.

If you come across a text completion and sentence equivalence question that makes you scratch your head, mark it and keep going.

After you’ve answered the easier questions, you might find that your brain is more warmed up and ready to tackle the harder ones.

Time is valuable so consider whether the question has one to three blanks, if the question sentence makes sense, or the missing words when evaluating difficulty.

2. Answer Everything

Shading the answer sheet and not leaving it blank

Another key is to answer everything on the test.

The GRE won’t penalize you for wrong answers, which means it is to your advantage to get some time written down for each of them.

Keep your eye on the clock, so when the time comes down to the wire, you can go back and answer those leftover questions.

Question types like the ones with a corresponding column are perfect for this strategy. Don’t leave a single one blank.

3. Guess Smart

While we recommend answering every question, we suggest you don’t pick randomly.

All your guesses need to be based on the process of elimination and the skills you’ve learned while studying. By correctly eliminating a wrong answer, you are increasing your chances [4].

Use single words and outside knowledge to help you pick the right answer options.

Read More:

Is it Possible to Improve Your Score?

The bottom line is that, yes, it is possible.

Improving your score will require you to know the English language and how to be grammatically correct.

As well as, reading passages to understand the author’s main point while having good time management.

These skills are all learnable. From the very beginning, study vocabulary and practice to fill in the blanks. Do as the above passage suggests and you will see an improvement in your verbal score.


  1. https://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_interpreting_scores.pdf
  2. https://www.princetonreview.com/grad-school-advice/how-to-prepare-for-gre
  3. http://amtaa.org/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0890540101929220

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