GRE Reading Comprehension Section

Student studying for the reading comprehension section of the GRE

Like most students who have advanced far enough in their academic studies to consider graduate school, you're probably familiar with reading comprehension sections on tests. Such sections often expect you to read a passage, usually a story or part of an essay, and then demonstrate your understanding of the material by answering questions about it.

The Material

What Are the Reading Comprehension Passages Like?

All of the material is either academic or non-academic non-fiction. Topics can include the following:

  • Social, biological, and physical sciences
  • Arts and humanities
  • Business

The passages themselves often come from authentic sources and published books on each subject.

Graduate Level

The material provided is at the graduate school reading level, so the content can be complex. However, you don't need prior knowledge to answer the questions. The section's purpose is to test your critical thinking skills. Each question can be answered using the content within the passages.

Each passage will have a different focus, depending on its purpose. Some readings will be either informative or persuasive, while others can be both. The passages also may not represent any particular point of view.


Skipping Ahead

If one of the passages is difficult for you, skipping it temporarily may help you make better use of your time. Save these for later and move on, but remember to return to them before you finish.

Answering Questions

Following these steps while answering the other questions can help make the more difficult parts easier to complete:

  • Determine what the main idea is in the passage.
  • Decide what evidence the author uses to prove the main idea.
  • Identify any points or ideas that are not successful in supporting the main idea. Some passages may include discrediting or contradictory information.
  • Find sentences that hint at other ideas without directly stating them.
  • Determine the author's position and write down their personal opinion about the topic.
  • Separate proven, substantiated information from theoretical or hypothetical ideas.
  • Look for transitions between points or ideas and assess if they are accurate.
  • Find inconsistencies between different statements.
  • Consider what information could strengthen the author's arguments if it were included.


Active Reading on Your Own

To practice critical reading, use these tips with other complex reading materials. Good choices include academic journals or high-level publications like The New Yorker or the London Review of Books. Active reading is also helpful when taking the GRE Reading Comprehension test.

Practice with any non-fiction to strengthen these skills using these techniques:

  • Work out which sentence states the topic or main idea.
  • Read further to increase your understanding of that main idea.
  • Come up with questions, seek out related ideas, and rewrite the ideas in your own words to get a better sense of the message.
  • When you've finished the article, see if you can summarize it or explain the material to someone else.

Check out our GRE test prep course.

Other Tests

How Are the GRE Reading Comprehension Questions Different from Other Tests?

The reading comprehension questions on the GRE are similar to those on other exams, but the GRE's questions evaluate certain skills with a specific approach. So, carefully consider the information below to explore the differences, so you're ready for these questions.

Total Questions

How Many Reading Comprehension Questions are on the GRE?

The GRE Verbal Reasoning section consists of two parts, each with 10 Reading Comprehension questions. You'll have 30 minutes for each part.

The section also includes text completion and sentence equivalence components you'll need to complete within that time frame. So, be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to read the accompanying passages, so you get all the information you need.


What Skills Do I Need to Pass the Reading Comprehension Section?

Let's go into more depth regarding the different skills necessary to pass the Reading Comprehension section of the GRE. The GRE reading comprehension section tests specific reading skills and abilities, including the following:

  • Understanding the meaning of certain phrases, sentences, and words
  • Recognizing the purpose of a paragraph's inclusion in a passage
  • Locating main ideas and the details that support them
  • Summarizing a paragraph accurately
  • Determining appropriate conclusions
  • Noticing missing information
  • Understanding how different parts of a passage relate
  • Separating facts from opinions
  • Comprehending the purpose of specific details and concepts
  • Recognizing weak arguments or logical flaws
  • Detecting likely causes for outcomes

Complex Thinking

What Are the Reading Comprehension Questions on the GRE Like?

The GRE's questions are not just a simple process of repeating information after skimming a passage. Instead, the questions require you to understand the text in-depth. You'll need to assess paragraphs and form hypotheses about them, evaluate concepts, or make connections among multiple ideas in a passage.

Though the thinking involved in these questions is complex, the questions themselves are simple to understand. Even so, taking a measured approach and ensuring you completely understand the question before answering is critical.

Identifying the Main Idea

The questions also require you to use multiple assessment skills at once. For example, you may have to find the main idea of an essay excerpt, which means you'll need to separate the central thesis from supporting statements. So, you'll have to recognize the main idea and distinguish it from supporting information simultaneously.


The GRE evaluates your vocabulary skills using methods similar to other exams. You'll need to answer with the correct meaning of words, sentences, and phrases. Some of the words are uncommon, and others might have several different definitions, so you'll need to use the passage's context to identify the correct meaning.

Some questions will include unfamiliar figurative phrases, but you can apply some test-taking strategies to figure them out.

What Is the Purpose?

Why Are the Reading Comprehension Questions Important?

Reading comprehension is an invaluable skill to develop as a graduate student, so working on the material for this test is well worth your time. Preparing with GRE Reading Comprehension practice questions can improve your test-taking abilities in general, and the time spent developing the skills to pass this exam will also help you succeed in your graduate studies.

Further Preparation

Using GRE Reading Comprehension practice questions with answers can show you how to use the context of the passage to determine the correct answer. You can also substitute the exam's multiple-choice responses in the place of the word or phrase in question to find the solution.

Study Resources

Online GRE Test Prep

Other Verbal Reasoning Tips

Overview of GRE Sections