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The New GRE Verbal Section

  • by John
  • Jun 10, 2011
  • GRE Blog

The GRE is changing! It is being “revised” for 2011. What has changed? And what does it mean to you?

The Dates
You won’t be able to take the new GRE until August 2011, and you won’t be able to register for it until March 15, 2011. If you need your scores before November 2011, you’ll have to take the old test. For more information, see the GRE press release here.

If you’re applying to school in 2011, you face a choice: you can take the old test before August 1, or the new test afterward. Which should you do? To find out, you’ll need to know what will change.

The Scores
Right now, each section of the GRE is scored on a scale from 200 to 800 in ten-point increments. The highest possible score is 1600. On the new GRE, each section will be scored on a scale from 130 to 170 in one-point increments, and the highest possible score will be 340.

The Revised GRE Verbal Section
Right now, the GRE verbal section consists of three basic question types: reading comprehension, sentence completion, and analogy/antonym questions. What’s going to change?

  1. No more analogies and antonyms. On the current GRE, some questions simply provide you with a word out of context and ask you to choose a word which is its opposite. They will also provide you with two words and ask you to choose another two words with the same relationship. This puts a huge emphasis on knowing vocabulary out of context; an important part of studying for the current verbal GRE involves simply memorizing vocab. This question type will completely disappear in the new GRE, which means that it will emphasize vocab far less than does the current test.
  2. New reading comprehension question types. There will be two new question types in the reading comprehension section of the GRE:

    • Sentence selection questions. You’ll be asked to highlight a sentence within the passage that does a given thing. So they’ll say “Highlight the sentence that distinguishes between consequence-based and duty-based ethical systems,” and you’ll have to look for a sentence that does that.
    • Multiple-answer questions. This is pretty much what it sounds like: You’ll be given a reading comprehension question plus three answer choices, and one, two or all three could be right. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get partial credit for selecting any one of the right answers; you’ll have to select all the right and none of the wrong answers to get credit.
  3. More sentence completion questions. You’re given a blank space and you have to choose which word can fill it. These still test vocab, but provide more context than analogy and antonym questions.
  4. Sentence equivalence questions. These will look like sentence completion questions: You’ll get a sentence with a blank space and six answer choices. The twist is that you’ll have to select two answer choices which give the sentence the same meaning. So you’ll have to find two answer choices which (1) fit coherently into the sentence and (2) give the sentence the same meaning. Two words that mean the same thing but don’t fit into the sentence will be wrong, and two words that both fit into the sentence but that don’t give it the same meaning will also be wrong. Again, you can’t get partial credit here: You’ll need to select both correct answers to get the question right.

The upshot: The new verbal GRE will test roughly the same skills as the old GRE, but vocab will be less important. What does this mean for you? If when you take the current GRE and you miss mainly vocab questions, you should consider waiting to take the new GRE if possible. If you do well on vocab questions but miss a lot of reading comprehension questions, you should shoot to take the current GRE.

Note for ESL Students: Many ESL students find the current GRE especially tough because it tests a lot of obscure vocab. They’re good at figuring out what a passage means overall, but individual words out of context give them trouble. For these students, the new GRE is great news. If this is you, you should wait and take the new GRE if possible!

Next Step Test Preparation offers complete packages of one-on-one GRE tutoring for less than the price of a packed prep course.  For more information, see our GRE tutoring page, contact or call 888-530-NEXT.

Photo credit featheredtar under a Creative Commons license.

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