How can I Score Well on GRE&Reg; Reading Comprehension?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2019
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The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE®, is composed of two primary sections: verbal reasoning and mathematical analysis. Reading comprehension comprises a major part of the verbal section, which means that scoring well on GRE® reading comprehension is very important to scoring well overall. One of the best ways to prepare for the GRE® reading comprehension sections is to practice with sample questions under time pressure. This can be as simple as self-imposing drills from practice GRE® books, or as involved as attending a GRE® class tailored to verbal reasoning. The most important thing is that you are familiar with the kinds of questions that will be asked, the types of passages that will be assigned, and the time constraints of the reading comprehension section.

Reading comprehension on the GRE® test is usually presented in the form of short passages followed by multiple-choice questions. Most of the time, the passages are dense and detailed, tempting testers to get lost in the facts. More often than not, however, the questions posed by the exam are more about the author’s tone, intent, and overall persuasiveness than they are about the specific arguments.


One of the most common tips for preparing for GRE® reading comprehension is to make a “map” of the passage as you read it the first time. Make note of the main ideas in each paragraph, and think about what the author is trying to say. When you are finished reading the passage, write down the main argument; any obvious inferences or assumptions; and the general tone of the passage — that is, whether the passage was persuasive, argumentative, or informative. Most test-taking experts recommend that you read the multiple choice questions only once you have already made some informed observations about the passage.

Practicing with sample passages is one of the best ways to become familiar with the scope and style of the GRE® reading comprehension section. Generally, the more questions you have seen, the more prepared you will be for whatever the actual exam asks. The more you practice, the faster you will likely also become, which can help you plan for the time constraints on test day. In all respects, the GRE® is a tightly timed test, and you will only have a certain number of minutes to complete the reading comprehension section.

The GRE® is a requirement for most graduate programs around the world. Because it is a nearly universal test for graduate school, there are a lot of resources available to help you study. When you register for the GRE®, you should be able to download or order a free copy of the official GRE® prep manual. This manual will describe the specific sections of the test, including precisely what is required for the GRE® reading comprehension portion.

Many students preparing for the GRE® also purchase GRE® study books, practice exams, and study aids from commercial publishers. There is a lot of value to simply practicing problems over and over again. Books and guides often provide more than just practice problems, however, often offering strategic tips for saving time, cutting to the heart of the passage, and anticipating certain types of questions.

Self-study does not always work well for all students. If you find yourself having trouble getting the hang of the GRE® reading comprehension questions, or if you want to learn new strategies for tackling the reading section, it may be worthwhile to look into GRE® classes. Many commercial tutorial companies offer GRE® exam prep courses, sometimes even on university campuses. Classes usually combine GRE® study tips, drills, and simulated exams with personalized feedback. Most classes are designed to prepare students for the exam in its entirety, but some offer mini-courses on only the verbal or math sections.


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