The ABCs of the Verbal Reasoning Section of the GRE Test

Are you versatile with words? Were you ever in a debate club?

Regardless, if you’re taking the revised GRE general test, this is one of three crucial parts of the exam you need to score well on. Here’s what you need to know to help prep for the test.

This section of the test assesses your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.

You’re given an hour in two 30-minute sections to complete the verbal reasoning part of the test.

Verbal Reasoning contains three types of questions: reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. About half of this section of the test requires you to read passages and answer questions on those passages. The other half requires you to read, interpret and complete existing sentences, groups of sentences or paragraphs.


Questions 1 to 3 are based on this passage.

Reviving the practice of using elements of popular music in classical composition, an approach that had been in hibernation in the United States during the 1960s, composer Philip Glass (born 1937) embraced the ethos of popular music without imitating it. Glass based two symphonies on music by rock musicians David Bowie and Brian Eno, but the symphonies’ sound is distinctively his. Popular elements do not appear out of place in Glass’s classical music, which from its early days has shared certain harmonies and rhythms with rock music. Yet this use of popular elements has not made Glass a composer of popular music. His music is not a version of popular music packaged to attract classical listeners; it is high art for listeners steeped in rock rather than the classics.

Select only one answer choice.

The passage addresses which of the following issues related to Glass’s use of popular elements in his classical compositions?

How it is regarded by listeners who prefer rock to the classics

How it has affected the commercial success of Glass’s music

Whether it has contributed to a revival of interest among other composers in using popular elements in their compositions

Whether it has had a detrimental effect on Glass’s reputation as a composer of classical music

Whether it has caused certain of Glass’s works to be derivative in quality

Consider each of the three choices separately and select all that apply.

The passage suggests that Glass’s work displays which of the following qualities?

A return to the use of popular music in classical compositions

An attempt to elevate rock music to an artistic status more closely approximating that of classical music

A long-standing tendency to incorporate elements from two apparently disparate musical styles

Select the sentence that distinguishes two ways of integrating rock and classical music.


The passage describes in general terms how Philip Glass uses popular music in his classical compositions and explores how Glass can do this without being imitative. Note that there are no opposing views discussed; the author is simply presenting his or her views.

Question 1: One of the important points that the passage makes is that when Glass uses popular elements in his music, the result is very much his own creation (it is “distinctively his”). In other words, the music is far from being derivative. Thus one issue that the passage addresses is the one referred to in answer choice E — it answers it in the negative. The passage does not discuss the impact of Glass’s use of popular elements on listeners, on the commercial success of his music, on other composers or on Glass’s reputation, so none of choices A through D is correct. The correct answer is choice E.

Question 2: To answer this question, it is important to assess each answer choice independently. Since the passage says that Glass revived the use of popular music in classical compositions, answer choice A is clearly correct. On the other hand, the passage also denies that Glass composes popular music or packages it in a way to elevate its status, so answer choice B is incorrect. Finally, since Glass’s style has always mixed elements of rock with classical elements, answer choice C is correct. Thus the correct answer is choice A and choice C.

Question 3: Almost every sentence in the passage refers to incorporating rock music in classical compositions, but only the last sentence distinguishes two ways of doing so. It distinguishes between writing rock music in a way that will make it attractive to classical listeners and writing classical music that will be attractive to listeners familiar with rock. Thus the correct answer is the last sentence of the passage.


Reading passages are drawn from many different disciplines and sources, so you may encounter material with which you are not familiar. Do not be discouraged if you encounter unfamiliar material; all the questions can be answered on the basis of the information provided in the passage. However, if you encounter a passage that seems particularly hard or unfamiliar, you may want to save it for last.

Read and analyze the passage carefully before trying to answer any of the questions, and pay attention to clues that help you understand less explicit aspects of the passage.

Try to distinguish main ideas from supporting ideas or evidence.

Try to distinguish ideas that the author is advancing from those he or she is merely reporting.

Try to distinguish ideas that the author is strongly committed to from those he or she advances as hypothetical or speculative.

Try to identify the main transitions from one idea to the next.

Try to identify the relationship between different ideas. For example:

Are they contrasting? Are they consistent?

Does one support the other?

Does one spell the other out in greater detail?

Does one apply the other to a particular circumstance?

Read each question carefully and be certain that you understand exactly what is being asked.

Answer each question on the basis of the information provided in the passage and do not rely on outside knowledge. Sometimes your own views or opinions may conflict with those presented in a passage; if this happens, take special care to work within the context provided by the passage. You should not expect to agree with everything you encounter in the reading passages.


Sample 1:

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

It is refreshing to read a book about our planet by an author who does not allow facts to be (i)__________ by politics: well aware of the political disputes about the effects of human activities on climate and biodiversity, this author does not permit them to (ii)__________ his comprehensive description of what we know about our biosphere. He emphasizes the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations, and the (iii)__________, calling attention to the many aspects of planetary evolution that must be better understood before we can accurately diagnose the condition of our planet.

Sample Question 1 Answers.

Blank (i) Blank (ii) Blank (iii)
(A) overshadowed (D) enhance (G) plausibility of our hypotheses
(B) invalidated (E) obscure (H) certainty of our entitlement
(C) illuminated (F) underscore (I) superficiality of our theories

Explanation: The overall tone of the passage is clearly complimentary. To understand what the author of the book is being complimented on, it is useful to focus on the second blank. Here, we must determine what word would indicate something that the author is praised for not permitting. The only answer choice that fits the case is “obscure,” since enhancing and underscoring are generally good things to do, not things one should refrain from doing. Choosing “obscure” clarifies the choice for the first blank; the only choice that fits well with “obscure” is “overshadowed.” Notice that trying to fill blank (i) without filling blank (ii) first is hard — each choice has at least some initial plausibility. Since the third blank requires a phrase that matches “enormous gaps” and “sparseness of our observations,” the best choice is “superficiality of our theories.”
Thus the correct answer is choice A (overshadowed), choice E (obscure) and choice I (superficiality of our theories).

Sample 2:

Vain and prone to violence, Caravaggio could not handle success: the more his (i)__________ as an artist increased, the more (ii)__________ his life became.

Sample Question 3 Answers.

Blank (i) Blank (ii)
(A) temperance (D) tumultuous
(B) notoriety (E) providential
(C) eminence (F) dispassionate

Explanation: In this sentence, what follows the colon must explain or spell out what precedes it. So, roughly, what the second part must say is that as Caravaggio became more successful, his life got more out of control. When one looks for words to fill the blanks, it becomes clear that “tumultuous” is the best fit for blank (ii), since neither of the other choices suggests being out of control. And for blank (i), the best choice is “eminence,” since to increase in eminence is a consequence of becoming more successful. It is true that Caravaggio might also increase in notoriety, but an increase in notoriety as an artist is not as clear a sign of success as an increase in eminence.
The correct answer is choice C (eminence) and choice D (tumultuous).


Do not merely try to consider each possible combination of answers; doing so will take too long and is open to error. Instead, try to analyze the passage in the following way:

Read through the passage to get an overall sense of it.

Identify words or phrases that seem particularly significant, either because they emphasize the structure of the passage (words like although or moreover) or because they are central to understanding what the passage is about.

Try to fill in the blanks with words or phrases that seem to complete the sentence, then see if similar words are offered among the answer choices.

Do not assume that the first blank is the one that should be filled first; perhaps one of the other blanks is easier to fill first. Select your choice for that blank, and then see whether you can complete another blank. If none of the choices for the other blank seem to make sense, go back and reconsider your first selection.

When you have made your selection for each blank, check to make sure the passage is logically, grammatically and stylistically coherent.


Like Text Completion questions, Sentence Equivalence questions test the ability to reach a conclusion about how a passage should be completed on the basis of partial information, but to a greater extent they focus on the meaning of the completed whole. Sentence Equivalence questions consist of a single sentence with just one blank, and they ask you to find two choices that lead to a complete, coherent sentence while producing sentences that mean the same thing.


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.

Sample 1:

Although it does contain some pioneering ideas, one would hardly characterize the work as __________.







Explanation: The word “Although” is a crucial signpost here. The work contains some pioneering ideas, but apparently it is not overall a pioneering work. Thus the two words that could fill the blank appropriately are “original” and “innovative.” Note that “orthodox” and “conventional” are two words that are very similar in meaning, but neither one completes the sentence sensibly.
Thus the correct answer is choice C (original) and choice F (innovative).

Sample 2:

It was her view that the country’s problems had been _______ by foreign technocrats, so that to ask for such assistance again would be counterproductive.







Explanation: The sentence relates a piece of reasoning, as indicated by the presence of “so that”: asking for the assistance of foreign technocrats would be counterproductive because of the effects such technocrats have had already. This means that the technocrats must have bad effects; i.e., they must have “exacerbated” or “worsened” the country’s problems.
Thus the correct answer is choice D (exacerbated) and choice F (worsened).


Do not simply look among the answer choices for two words that mean the same thing. This can be misleading for two reasons. First, the answer choices may contain pairs of words that mean the same thing but do not fit coherently into the sentence. Second, the pair of words that do constitute the correct answer may not mean exactly the same thing, since all that matters is that the resultant sentences mean the same thing.

Read the sentence to get an overall sense of it.

Identify words or phrases that seem particularly significant, either because they emphasize the structure of the sentence (words like although or moreover) or because they are central to understanding what the sentence is about.

Try to fill in the blank with a word that seems appropriate to you and then see if two similar words are offered among the answer choices. If you find some word that is similar to what you are expecting but cannot find a second one, do not become fixated on your interpretation; instead, see whether there are other words among the answer choices that can be used to fill the blank coherently.

When you have selected your pair of answer choices, check to make sure that each one produces a sentence that is logically, grammatically and stylistically coherent, and that the two sentences mean the same thing.