One habit of Verbal high-scorers is predicting the GRE Verbal answer before checking the answer choices. Here’s why this works, and how you can do it yourself.
1. Predicting the GRE Verbal answer makes sure you really read the sentence (or the passage).
Think about how you read in the real world.
When you read a book or an article, you usually don’t do a deep read of every single sentence. Unless you’re a lawyer, small misunderstandings don’t matter that much.
You have to read more closely to succeed on the GRE. You’re not only trying to get the basic idea, you’re also trying to answer questions, some of which can be downright nitpicky. But close reading doesn’t come naturally to a lot of us.
One way to force yourself to read closely, especially on Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence problems, is to predict the right GRE Verbal answer after you read. On these two problem types, we call this prediction a “fill-in”—you fill in the blank(s) in the sentence with your own word(s), before you look at the actual answer choices.
If you finish reading the sentence and you can’t come up with a fill-in, your brain is letting you know that you didn’t really “get” the sentence!
If you can’t predict the GRE Verbal answer at all, reread the sentence more closely. You may have missed an important clue. Sure, looking at the answer choices can give you a nudge in the right direction—but you shouldn’t rely on them as a crutch. Instead, practice reading closely. After all, looking at the answer choices can be dangerous…
2. Predicting the GRE Verbal answer protects you from “confirmation bias.”
Have you ever noticed that sometimes, certain answer choices just “look right”?
Sometimes, these great-looking answer choices are actually right. However, a great-looking answer could also be a really smart wrong answer.
Confirmation bias is the cognitive bias that makes us look for support for what we already think is correct. If you look at the answer choices too soon, and one of them looks great, your brain will start looking for evidence to prove that answer and ignoring evidence that supports other answers.
If the GRE Verbal answer you noticed is the right one, this is a good thing! But if you got tricked by a nice-looking wrong answer, it’s easy to talk yourself into picking it, even if it’s not really correct. Once you decide which answer is right, it’s hard to change your mind.
When you predict a GRE Verbal answer ahead of time, you’re protecting yourself against confirmation bias. By the time you look at the answer choices, you already know what the right answer should look like. Since you’ve already done the thinking, you (hopefully) won’t talk yourself into a wrong answer. You’ll go straight to the right answer that best matches your prediction.
Of course, sometimes our predictions are wrong or don’t match any of the answer choices. Prediction is a skill that you can practice. Every time you do a GRE Verbal problem in practice, predict an answer before you check the choices—if it helps, you can even write down your prediction. Once you check the answer choices, evaluate your prediction. Gradually, you’ll get better at anticipating right GRE Verbal answers.
3. Predicting the GRE Verbal answer protects you from some of the most common traps.
What makes a wrong GRE Verbal answer a “trap”? A trap is any wrong answer that you’d arrive at by making a common, simple mistake.
For instance, on Verbal, you might get overwhelmed and focus too much on the jargon in a sentence, ignoring the underlying structure. There’s a trap for that: it’s called a “theme trap.” Here’s an example:
Contrary to the assumptions that many Westerners hold about mindfulness practices, meditation is often anything but ____________; while using various methods to calm the mind, meditators frequently experience intense periods of restlessness and doubt.
The theme trap here is mystical. The sentence talks about mindfulness and meditation, which can be somewhat mystical practices. If you focus too much on what the sentence is about, and not enough on what it says, you could fall for this trap. (By the way, the right answer is idyllic, which means peaceful and joyous.)
If you predict the GRE Verbal answer first, though, you hopefully won’t even notice mystical. After all, there isn’t much evidence in the sentence that would lead you to mystical before you look at the answer choices. You should fill in the blank with something like restful or relaxing, which are great matches for the right answer.
Hopefully this has convinced you to try predicting the right GRE Verbal answer, if you weren’t already! It might feel a bit unnatural or time-consuming at first, but there are a lot of good reasons to keep working on it. If you can master this skill, you’ll be on your way to improving your GRE Verbal score. ?
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Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170Q/170V on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.