How to tackle the GRE Verbal Section
“V: Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V. V for Verbal”
I am pretty sure 99.9 percent of the readers wouldn’t have understood the above and trust me neither did I. Verbal section is a natural fear for most non-native English speakers and for those whose cognitive aptitude is inclined more towards mathematical reasoning than language and literature. However on several occasions in the past we have seen students with immaculate mathematical reasoning ability do exceptionally well on the verbal reasoning section of the GRE. This is because the GRE verbal section tests more of reasoning than language ability.
Then why can’t students do well on the GRE verbal section? The answer is pretty simple: Just like while working out at the gym we skip the leg day, we tend to ignore building sound reading and verbal reasoning skills that are easily attainable through voracious reading on a daily basis. Consequently we end up with a skewed skill set of strong mathematics but poor verbal skills; we then feel like a rabbit caught in the middle of headlights when we read a passage such as the one above.
The perception that only those who have good “English language skills” can score high on the verbal section is partially wrong. In a recent instance, one of our GRE students who was an engineering major with no major verbal background, spent only 4 weeks continuously reading and building vocabulary and was able to secure 162 on the verbal section. Language skills and vocabulary do constitute an important part of the GRE verbal section but an equally important and often ignored element, especially for comprehension passages, is logical reasoning, understanding arguments, analyzing what’s written, and deciphering the structure of the long and twining passages. This means that linguistically weak test takers can still improve their verbal scores by harnessing these under emphasized skills. Although there is no “one size fits all” method to the GRE verbal, following are some broad items one can focus on to improve there reasoning as well as linguistic skills.
Many of the questions from comprehension passages relate to the structure of the passage and argumentation.
Take the following questions for example.
Q. Which of the following, if true, would most clearly have supported the conclusion referred to in lines 11-13?
Q. The primary purpose of the passage is to
Both the questions above gauge a person’s ability to dissect the structure of the passage, identify its purpose, highlight key arguments, and create logical links between these components. One of the best ways to improve argumentative skills for the verbal section is to regularly indulge in reading complex and textually dense passages. While any type of quality reading will improve language skills, specifically reading argumentative passages will greatly improve the reasoning ability. One can start by reading the book/novel critiques that are readily available on longreads.com. Moreover, two magazines I would personally recommend are The Economist, and The Washington Post, because of the well-structured arguments in their articles. One can also practice the critical reasoning questions from the GMAT official guides, which have over 200 practice questions in this area. So a mix of articles/book critiques on longreads couple with GMAT critical reasoning questions can really help you improve the verbal section in no more than 2 months – but do make sure that you are very regular at this – you must end up spending 3-4 hour a day, 5 days a week on this exercise.
After reading through passages and identifying the structure etc., it would be useful to create a visual mind map of the format of the article, its main arguments and the conclusion. You can create this map with every article/passage you read.
Sentence and Text Completion
There are exhaustive and comprehensive vocabulary lists out there for the text and sentence completion sections, and it goes without saying that the more extensively these lists are covered, higher are chances of scoring on these sections. However, learning vocabulary in an efficient way can make a key difference since learning 700-800 words can be easy but retaining them a bit challenging.
Rote memorization of word meanings is of little use. Training in vocabulary can be only helpful if words are learnt in context. Learning words in context can be achieved through the following steps: 1) Consult the thesaurus for the word, and read up on synonyms already familiar to you, to get a clear sense of the meaning. 2) Search the word in authentic and quality pieces of writing along with sources such as wordnik.com, and see how the word is used to get sense of different contextual meanings of the word. Moreover I also advise using mnemonics and pictionary, which are very fun, and effective ways of building vocabulary.