How To Score Almost 170 On GRE's Verbal Section

GRE’s Verbal Section can be difficult for students whose first language is not English, but with lots of practices, it is more than likely to get a near perfect score.

About Me

My first language is Mandarin Chinese and I scored 169/170 on GRE’s verbal section in February 2019.

8 years before I started to prepare for the GRE in December, 2018, I had sat the TOEFL once and scored 113 (R30, L29, S27, W27). Since then I have not taken any English proficiency test, so I don’t really know at what level my English proficiency was when I sat the GRE. Nevertheless that TOEFL score from 8 years ago should be a fairly good estimate.

I would like you to know this beforehand so that you are not misled to believe that following what I did for GRE preparation would definitely get you a great GRE verbal score as a ESL student. You might want to improve your English proficiency to a certain level before you embark on studying for the GRE.

Since another article on “How I went from scoring 73 to 113 on TOEFL in one year” is on the pipeline, this article will focus solely on how I prepared for the GRE verbal section

Getting Started

Once you have everything ready, do a diagnostic test on GRE OG (timed!) and familiarize yourself with the test format and time constraint.

Don’t be discouraged by the diagnostic test results. I got less than half of the questions right.


  1. Spend 2 hours a day memorizing 35-40 words from Magoosh’s FlashCards. You should be able to finish them all in 30 days.
  2. Spend 2 hours a day in the second month memorising WordFest’s first 100 units (another 1000 words)

There are many different techniques to memorize vocabulary. Since a technique that works for me might just not work for you, I will not go into detail about how I did it. I will, however, share some auxiliary techniques that helped me review and strengthen the impression of the newly learned words.

Magoosh’s GRE Course

The course offers many useful tips on how to answer the questions efficiently. Finish the courses in 1-2 weeks before you start doing lots of practice questions.

Do A Lot Of Practice Questions

In the third week you should have finished the Magoosh Courses and memorized 840 words from Magoosh’s GRE FlashCards. It’s time to start doing lots and lots of practice questions. Since you are spending 2 hours a day memorizing vocabulary, you should have ~3 hours left per day to do practice questions.

Magoosh has about 550 verbal test questions in its test bank. Do a 30-minute, 20-question practice session everyday and review the test results carefully. Understand why you get each question right and why you get each question wrong.

Do not skip reviewing the questions you answer correctly.

Try to memorize every word that you do not know in the question prompts, question options, and reading passages. The review of each 20-question practice session should take about 2.5 hours.

You should be able to finish the 550 questions in one month. In the second month you can start working on the Manhattan 5lb.

Read The Economist

I have been reading the Economist since I was a freshman in college. Having worked on the trading floor in the investment banking industry, I found the contents massively insightful. Yet the sections that are most akin to the GRE Verbal section are “Science and Technology”, and “Books and Arts”, which I have been ignoring for years.

For the purpose of GRE preparation, read the two aforementioned sections in The Economist every weekend. There are approximately 8-10 articles in the two sections. You should jot down the logical flows of the article and find out the premises, the assumptions and the conclusions that the author takes up. This exercise helps you train your brain to work better when dealing with reading comprehension questions in the GRE.

Final Words

That’s it. That is how I prepared for the GRE’s verbal section. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any question. I hope this post helps give you some directions in your GRE prep journey.