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Skipping Questions on the GRE: A Key Strategy

Part One:  How can Skipping Questions on the GRE Help You?


Skipping difficult and time-consuming questions and returning to them later is one of the most important strategies to use on the GRE, but it’s one that makes many students anxious. It often feels like a failure or an admission of defeat, and that doesn’t feel good as you’re taking the test. So let’s get this out of the way:

Important Note: Important Note: On this blog, “skip” a question means fill in a random answer, mark the question (using the “mark and review” feature), and move on. You can return to the these marked questions after you have completed the easiest, fastest questions.

Does Everyone Need to Skip Questions on the GRE?

Yes. Everyone should skip questions on the GRE. Many people incorrectly assume that top test takers don’t skip questions. When I take the GRE, I am realistically aiming for a perfect score on each section. But the only way I can achieve such a score is by first solving the easiest questions accurately, allowing myself plenty of time for the harder questions later. I can quickly complete about 18 of the 20 questions on the first section and then 15 or so on the second section. After I finish the easier questions, I can approach the trickier or more time-consuming questions (which I have marked) in a relaxed fashion and calmly figure them out with all the time I have remaining.

For those test takers NOT going for a perfect score, skipping questions on the GRE is an even more important strategy, as you may be able to answer 2 or 3 easier questions in the time you would have struggled to answer just 1 harder question. Furthermore, you won’t get bogged down and frustrated by the most difficult questions, so you will be sharper on those you do answer.

If skipping questions on the GRE seems like failure to you, think of this approach as a two-pass strategy. If you are going for a perfect score, skipping a question on the GRE doesn’t mean that you are abandoning that question entirely: it means that you will get to it after picking up all the easier questions first.  The end result of this strategy is that all test-takers will maximize their number correct per section. Whatever your score goal, skipping questions on the GRE is an important strategy that will be a key factor to improving your score.

Two Passes: Accepting the Psychology of Skipping Questions on the GRE

Although many students feel anxious about skipping any question, the two-pass strategy is actually a great way to take control of the test and maximize your GRE score. Every time you skip a GRE question, you are approaching the test intelligently and purposefully. Rather than going in the order provided and getting stuck on a tortuous data analysis question or a sentence equivalence question with several words you have never heard before, you are using a creative approach to avoid a potential minefield in your path. Rather than letting the test intimidate you, you are taking control of your testing experience. Once you internalize this approach and practice it, it becomes easier to skip questions on the GRE, and you will see the difference it makes in your score.

How Many Questions Should I Skip on GRE?

It depends upon your realistic target score. Let’s say you’re trying for 160 on the Quantitative Reasoning section and set up a plan to use the two-pass strategy:

  1. You set a goal of 17 or 18 questions correct on the first Quantitative Reasoning section.
  2. On your first pass, you target the easiest 14-15 questions.
  3. On your second pass, you work through the “skipped” questions from easiest to hardest and comfortably pick up another 3-4 questions.
  4. You set a goal of 15 questions correct on the second Quantitative Reasoning section.
  5. For your first pass, you target the easiest 12 questions.
  6. For your second pass, you work through the “skipped” questions from easiest to hardest and pick up another 3-4 questions with the time you’ve saved.

So remember: Plan to skip questions on the GRE as often as needed and as quickly as possible to take control of your testing experience!

The next blog in this series focuses on Identifying the Right Questions to Skip on the GRE s

Part Two: Identifying Questions to Skip on the GRE

As discussed in Part One of this blog post, skipping questions on the GRE is one of the most important strategies you can use on the GRE. To maximize this strategy’s impact, you need to quickly and confidently identify which questions to skip. While it’s easy to recognize some questions as “skippers,” in other cases, it’s not so easy to identify them. Here’s a guide to help you decide when to skip a question on the GRE.

Important note: On this blog, “skip” a question means guess, mark the question (using the “mark and review” function), and move on.

Finding Your Own “Skippers”

The most obvious GRE questions that you should skip are those where you lack key knowledge. Here are a few examples:

  • On a Sentence Equivalence question, if you don’t know a key word in the sentence or any of the answer choices provided, SKIP IT!
  • If you don’t know a math term in a Quantitative Reasoning question, SKIP IT!
  • If you read an entire passage on the Verbal Reasoning section and don’t understand it at all, SKIP IT!
  • If you don’t know where to start on a math question, SKIP IT!

Skipping questions like these on the GRE may seem like a no-brainer, but what about those questions where it’s not so easy to tell? In many cases, you don’t know a question is difficult until you’ve actually worked on it. And when you’ve worked on a difficult math or vocabulary question for a while, you’re invested in it. Part of you knows you can crack that question! !  This is where the 2-minute hard stop rule comes in.

In order to build the habit needed for this important strategy on the GRE, time yourself on each question when you work through test sections so that you become more conscious of how long you are spending on questions. If you haven’t cracked a difficult math question in 2 minutes, and you don’t have a definite path to completing the question, you need to move on! Yes, you might solve that question given more time. But, if you’re in the middle of the section, there are almost certainly several easier questions to come, ones that you could do more quickly. Guess quickly, mark the question, circle your work on your scratch paper (you can always pick it up again later if time allows!), and move on.

In addition to those questions that YOU determine are “skippers,” there are three specific types of questions that you should consider skipping on the GRE:

  1. Data Interpretation Questions

Data Interpretation questions usually come in one set of three questions. Of all the questions on the GRE, the last one or two of this set often take the longest to solve. You will spend valuable time just figuring out what the question is asking. Then, in many cases, you must sort through lots of data to find the information you need, often synthesizing elements from different parts of the data set. You may then have to use a series of operations to solve the question. Finally, just when you think you have solved the question, you often find that you haven’t answered the question at all—the question is actually asking for a percent change from a different base number than you have calculated. If you’ve been prepping for the GRE for a while, you’ve almost certainly been through this process and seen this type of question. Skip these questions fast and come back to them last!

  1. Fill-in-the-Blank Math Questions

These questions come up on every GRE Quantitative section, and they are often deceptively difficult.   With answer choices, they might be easy.  However, these questions require you to solve the question without any answer choices, so you must get the answer exactly correct, and there is almost no chance of guessing correctly.  Often, one of these comes up in the last five questions, but you might be able to solve two multiple choice questions in that same time.  Unless you know exactly how to solve these questions, SKIP them and come back to them if time allows.

  1. Reading Comprehension Questions

In most cases, Reading Comprehension questions take longer than vocabulary questions, even Text Completion questions with three blanks, so I always skip the reading questions and do them last. Because the GRE is adaptive, if you’ve done well on the first Verbal section, you will get a harder second Verbal section, so the passages you see on the second section are likely to be more difficult to understand and the questions are likely to feel more subjective. If you’ve thoroughly mastered your vocabulary words using Marks Education’s vocabulary resources, you can do the vocabulary questions much more quickly and leave the reading comprehension questions for last, when you can take as much time as you need.

  1. Text Completion Questions with Three-Blanks

Three-blank text completion questions (the ones where you must pick three correct words to get credit) are often difficult due to the convoluted sentences and obscure vocabulary used. Consider skipping these questions and doing them last if you cannot quickly tell what you are looking for in each blank or if you are unfamiliar with more than two of the answer choices.

Feel Good While Skipping Questions on the GRE– skipping means you are taking charge of your test.


Remember: The ability to skip questions on the GRE and return to them later is an important GRE strategy and the biggest gift the GRE gives you. Use your gift early and often. Every time you “skip” a question, remember that doing so gives you the opportunity to get to easier questions later in the test! The most important thing is getting the maximum total number correct, and this strategy will guarantee that you get every question correct that you know how to solve.


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