Cross Post! How to Increase Your GRE Verbal Score (for Non-Native English Speakers)

Hi readers!

Here's another cross post from my website about higher education, WE'RE GOING TO COLLEGE!:

1. Are you taking the GRE?

2. Do you need to increase your GRE Verbal score?

3. Is English your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th language?

If you answered Yes to these questions, then we need to talk.

The GRE is a typical standardized test made by Americans for Americans. All of the sections of the GRE—Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning—are written in standard American English, with idioms, phrases, sentence structures, syntax, and vocabulary familiar to individuals who have lived or studied in the United States. Without strategic practice, students who have not grown up with English as their first language, particularly American English, will likely stumble on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE.

But don’t worry! You can improve your GRE Verbal score, even if English is your second language. There are lots of tips and tricks out there to help students with their performance on the exam. To get you started with the fundamentals, here are three basic steps for non-native English speakers to increase your Verbal score on the GRE.

1. Take a full practice GRE exam.

Go the ETS website, download the software, and sit for a full, official practice test, not just the Verbal section. Complete the two essays along with each of the Verbal and Quantitative section, and take the practice breaks as well. You need to see how you perform during that 3 ½-hour time constraint. This will be your baseline so that you know where you currently stand on the GRE.

2. Examine your test results.

For now, look at your performance in the Verbal sections, and determine what you need to work on. Organize your results by type of question: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence. Did you answer most of the Text Completion questions correctly but get stumped by the Sentence Equivalence? Were you better at certain types of Reading Comprehension questions than others? Did historical passages keep your attention more than scientific ones? Were there questions you answered correctly, even if you didn’t know what all of the words in the question meant? Identify your strengths and your weaknesses so that you know what areas you should spend more time studying.

3. Build your Vocabulary.

Start at the beginning of your practice exam, including the instructions, and write down EVERY word in the test you are unfamiliar with. This includes the Writing sections, the Verbal sections, and the Quantitative sections. Make a list of these words, and add to it as you continue preparing for the GRE.

Use The Official Guide to the GRE as your main study material. As you work through the chapters in the book, keep writing down EVERY word you don’t know, and add it to the list. Each day, take ten words from the list, create a definitive sentence with each word, and read your sentences to a friend or family member. For example, one vocabulary word than commonly appears on the GRE is ENERVATE: Although outdoor exercise gives Julia energy, a jog through the countryside enervates Mary Jo, leaving her weakened and burnt down.

Additionally, outside of GRE material, consume media in English. Watch American movies. Listen to American podcasts. Read American newspapers and magazines that are popular among academics, like The New York Times, The New Yorker, and other publications from New York or that have New York in the title. This will help familiarize you with new vocabulary in context. And, add any new words you encounter to your list.

The GRE is tough. 3 ½ hours plus breaks make for a long day, especially when you’re taking an exam in your second or third language. Studying strategically for the GRE will make the experience much easier. For non-native English speakers, knowing where you stand on the GRE, examining your strengths and weakness, and improving your vocabulary will help you increase your score not only on the GRE Verbal section, but also on the GRE Writing section and the GRE Quantitative section as well!

What are you struggling with on the GRE?

Are you a non-native English speaker? Do you have a question about How to Increase Your GRE Verbal Score? Please write us a comment down below!

If you need personalized help with the GRE Verbal section, you can email us at for more advice. And, keep reading our website at for additional insights into the graduate school application process.

Thanks for reading!


  1. I'd even recommend some of the classic papers or surveys of classic papers as reading material over a general subject test.

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