CareerGRE Verbal

Nailing GRE Reading Comprehension (Free Practice Passages)

Below are 6 practice passages that include the various question types.

Give it your best shot, and if you are stuck – please leave a comment below and we will get back to you 🙂

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Passage 1 :

Since the Hawaiian Islands have never been connected to other land masses, the great variety of plants in Hawaii must be a result of the long-distance dispersal of seeds, a process that requires both a method of transport and an equivalence between the ecology of the source area and that of the recipient area. There is some dispute about the method of transport involved. Some biologists argue that ocean and air currents are responsible for the transport of plant seeds to Hawaii. Yet the results of flotation experiments and the low temperatures of air currents cast doubt on these hypotheses. More probable is bird transport, either externally, by accidental attachment of the seeds to feathers, or internally, by the swallowing of fruit and subsequent excretion of the seeds. While it is likely that fewer varieties of plant seeds have reached Hawaii externally than internally, more varieties are known to be adapted to external than to internal transport.


1. The author of the passage is primarily concerned with

A) discussing different approaches biologists have taken to testing theories about the distribution of plants in Hawaii
B) discussing different theories about the transport of plant seeds to Hawaii
C) discussing the extent to which air currents are responsible for the dispersal of plant seeds to Hawaii
D) resolving a dispute about the adaptability of plant seeds to bird transport
E) resolving a dispute about the ability of birds to carry plant seeds long

2. The author mentions the results of flotation experiments on plant seeds most probably in order to

A) support the claim that the distribution of plants in Hawaii is the result of
the long-distance dispersal of seeds
B) lend credibility to the thesis that air currents provide a method of
transport for plant seeds to Hawaii
C) suggest that the long-distance dispersal of seeds is a process that requires
long periods of time
D) challenge the claim that ocean currents are responsible for the transport
of plant seeds to Hawaii
E) refute the claim that Hawaiian flora evolved independently from flora in
other parts of the world

Passage 2 :

Recent studies of sediment in the North Atlantic’s deep waters reveal possible cyclical patterns in the history of Earth’s climate. The rock fragments in these sediments are too large to have been transported there by ocean currents; they must have reached their present locations by traveling in large icebergs that floated long distances from their point of origin before melting. Geologist Gerard Bond noticed that some of the sediment grains were stained with iron oxide, evidence that they originated in locales where glaciers had overrun outcrops of red sandstone. Bond’s detailed analysis of deep-water sediment cores showed changes in the mix of sediment sources over time: the proportion of these red-stained grains fluctuated back and forth from lows of 5 percent to highs of about 17 percent, and these fluctuations occurred in a nearly regular 1,500-year cycle.

Bond hypothesized that the alternating cycles might be evidence of changes in ocean-water circulation and therefore in Earth’s climate. He knew that the sources of the red-stained grains were generally closer to the North Pole than were the places yielding a high proportion of “clean” grains. At certain times, apparently, more icebergs from the Arctic Ocean in the far north were traveling south well into the North Atlantic before melting and shedding their sediment.

Ocean waters are constantly moving, and water temperature is both a cause and an effect of this movement. As water cools, it becomes denser and sinks to the ocean’s bottom. During some periods, the bottom layer of the world’s oceans comes from cold, dense water sinking in the far North Atlantic. This causes the warm surface waters of the Gulf Stream to be pulled northward. Bond realized that during such periods, the influx of these warm surface waters into northern regions could cause a large proportion of the icebergs that bear red grains to melt before traveling very far into the North Atlantic. But sometimes the ocean’s dynamic changes, and waters from the Gulf Stream do not travel northward in this way. During these periods, surface waters in the North Atlantic would generally be colder, permitting icebergs bearing red-stained grains to travel farther south in the North Atlantic before melting and depositing their sediment.

The onset of the so-called Little Ice Age (1300-1860), which followed the Medieval Warm Period of the eighth through tenth centuries, may represent the most recent time that the ocean’s dynamic changed in this way. If ongoing climate-history studies support Bond’s hypothesis of 1,500-year cycles, scientists may establish a major natural rhythm in Earth’s temperatures that could then be extrapolated into the future. Because the midpoint of the Medieval Warm Period was about A.D. 850, an extension of Bond’s cycles would place the midpoint of the next warm interval in the twenty-fourth century.


1) According to the passage, which of the following is true of the rock fragments contained in the sediments studied by Bond?

A. The majority of them are composed of red sandstone.
B. They must have reached their present location over 1,500 years ago.
C. They were carried by icebergs to their present location.
D. Most of them were carried to their present location during a warm period in Earth’s climatic history.
E. They are unlikely to have been carried to their present location during the Little Ice Age.

2) In the final paragraph of the passage, the author is concerned primarily with

A. answering a question about Earth’s climatic history
B. pointing out a potential flaw in Bond’s hypothesis
C. suggesting a new focus for the study of ocean sediments
D. tracing the general history of Earth’s climate
E. discussing possible implications of Bond’s hypothesis

3) According to the passage, Bond hypothesized that which of the following circumstances would allow red-stained sediment grains to reach more southerly latitudes?

A. Warm waters being pulled northward from the Gulf Stream
B. Climatic conditions causing icebergs to melt relatively quickly
C. Icebergs containing a higher proportion of iron oxide than usual
D. The formation of more icebergs than usual in the far north
E. The presence of cold surface waters in the North Atlantic

4) It can be inferred from the passage that in sediment cores from the North Atlantic’s deep waters, the portions that correspond to the Little Ice Age

A. differ very little in composition from the portions that correspond to the Medieval Warm Period
B. fluctuate significantly in composition between the portions corresponding to the 1300s and the portions corresponding to the 1700s
C. would be likely to contain a proportion of red-stained grains closer to 17 percent than to 5 percent
D. show a much higher proportion of red-stained grains in cores extracted from the far north of the North Atlantic than in cores extracted from further south
E. were formed in part as a result of Gulf Stream waters having been pulled northwar

Passage 3:

Tocqueville, apparently, was wrong. Jacksonian America was not a fluid, egalitarian society where individual wealth and poverty were ephemeral conditions. At least so argues E. Pessen in his iconoclastic study of the very rich in the United States between 1825 and 1850.
Pessen does present a quantity of examples, together with some refreshingly intelligible statistics, to establish the existence of an inordinately wealthy class. Though active in commerce or the professions, most of the wealthy were not self-made but had inherited family fortunes. In no sense mercurial, these great fortunes survived the financial panics that destroyed lesser ones. Indeed, in several cities the wealthiest one percent constantly increased its share until by 1850 it owned half of the community’s wealth. Although these observations are true, Pessen overestimates their importance by concluding from them that the undoubted progress toward inequality in the late eighteenth century continued in the Jacksonian period and that the United States was a class-ridden, plutocratic society even before industrialization.

1. According to the passage, Pessen indicates that all of the following were true of the very wealthy in the United States between 1825 and 1850 EXCEPT:
A) They formed a distinct upper class.
B) Many of them were able to increase their holdings.
C) Some of them worked as professionals or in business.
D) Most of them accumulated their own fortunes.
E) Many of them retained their wealth in spite of financial upheavals.

2. Which of the following best states the author’s main point?

A) Pessen’s study has overturned the previously established view of the social and economic structure of early-nineteenth-century America.
B) Tocqueville’s analysis of the United States in the Jacksonian era remains the definitive account of this period.
C) Pessen’s study is valuable primarily because it shows the continuity of the social system in the United States throughout the nineteenth century.
D) The social patterns and political power of the extremely wealthy in the United States between 1825 and 1850 are well documented.
E) Pessen challenges a view of the social and economic systems in the United States from 1825 to 1850, but he draws conclusions that are incorrect.

Passage 4:

The evolution of intelligence among early large mammals of the grasslands was due in great measure to the interaction between two ecologically synchronized groups of these animals, the hunting carnivores and the herbivores that they hunted. The interaction resulting from the differences between predator and prey led to a general improvement in brain functions; however, certain components of intelligence were improved far more than others. The kind of intelligence favored by the interplay of increasingly smarter catchers and increasingly keener escapers is defined by attention — that aspect of mind carrying consciousness forward from one moment to the next. It ranges from a passive, freefloating awareness to a highly focused, active fixation. The range through these states is mediated by the arousal system, a network of tracts converging from sensory systems to integrating centers in the brain stem. From the more relaxed to the more vigorous levels, sensitivity to novelty is increased. The organism is more awake, more vigilant; this increased vigilance results in the apprehension of ever more subtle signals as the organism becomes more sensitive to its surroundings. The processes of arousal and concentration give attention its direction. Arousal is at first general, with a flooding of impulses in the brain stem; then gradually the activation is channeled. Thus begins concentration, the holding of consistent images. One meaning of intelligence is the way in which these images and other alertly searched information are used in the context of previous experience. Consciousness links past attention to the present and permits the integration of details with perceived ends and purposes. The elements of intelligence and consciousness come together marvelously to produce different styles in predator and prey. Herbivores and carnivores develop different kinds of attention related to escaping or chasing. Although in both kinds of animal, arousal stimulates the production of adrenaline and norepinephrine by the adrenal glands, the effect in herbivores is primarily fear, whereas in carnivores the effect is primarily aggression. For both, arousal attunes the animal to what is ahead. Perhaps it does not experience forethought as we know it, but the animal does experience something like it. The predator is searchingly aggressive, inner-directed, tuned by the nervous system and the adrenal hormones, but aware in a sense closer to human consciousness than, say, a hungry lizard’s instinctive snap at a passing beetle. Using past events as a framework, the large mammal predator is working out a relationship between movement and food, sensitive to possibilities in cold trails and distant sounds — and yesterday’s unforgotten lessons. The herbivore prey is of a different mind. Its mood of wariness rather than searching and its attitude of general expectancy instead of anticipating are silk-thin veils of tranquillity over an explosive endocrine system.


1. The author refers to a hungry lizard primarily in order to

A) demonstrate the similarity between the hunting methods of mammals and those of nonmammals
B) broaden the application of the argument by including an insectivore as an example
C) make a distinction between higher and lower levels of consciousness
D) provide an additional illustration of the brutality characteristic of predators
E) offer an objection to suggestions that all animals lack consciousness

2. It can be inferred from the passage that in animals less intelligent than the mammals discussed in the passage

A) past experience is less helpful in ensuring survival
B) attention is more highly focused
C) muscular coordination is less highly developed
D) there is less need for competition among species
E) environment is more important in establishing the proper ratio of prey to predator

3. According to the passage, improvement in brain function among early large mammals resulted primarily from which of the following?

A) Interplay of predator and prey
B) Persistence of free-floating awareness in animals of the grasslands
C) Gradual dominance of warm-blooded mammals over cold-blooded reptiles
D) Interaction of early large mammals with less intelligent species
E) Improvement of the capacity for memory among herbivores and carnivores

4. According to the passage, as the process of arousal in an organism continues, all of the following may occur EXCEPT

A) the production of adrenaline
B) the production of norepinephrine
C) a heightening of sensitivity to stimuli
D) an increase in selectivity with respect to stimuli
E) an expansion of the range of states mediated by the brain stem

Passage 5:

The work of English writer Aphra Behn (1640–1689) changed markedly during the 1680s, as she turned from writing plays to writing prose narratives. According to literary critic Rachel Carnell, most scholars view this change as primarily motivated by financial considerations: earning a living by writing for the theatre became more difficult in the 1680s, so Behn tried various other types of prose genres in the hope of finding another lucrative medium. In fact, a long epistolary scandal novel that she wrote in the mid-1680s sold quite well. Yet, as Carnell notes, Behn did not repeat this approach in her other prose works; instead, she turned to writing shorter, more serious novels, even though only about half of these were published during her lifetime. Carnell argues that Behn, whose stage productions are primarily comedies, may have turned to an emerging literary form, the novel, in a conscious attempt to criticize, and subvert for her own ends, the conventions and ideology of a well-established form of her day, the dramatic tragedy.

Carnell acknowledges that Behn admired the skill of such contemporary writers of dramatic tragedy as John Dryden, and that Behn’s own comic stage productions displayed the same partisanship for the reigning Stuart monarchy that characterized most of the politically oriented dramatic tragedies of her day. However, Carnell argues that Behn took issue with the way in which these writers and plays defined the nature of tragedy. As prescribed by Dryden, tragedy was supposed to concern a heroic man who is a public figure and who undergoes a fall that evokes pity from the audience. Carnell points out that Behn’s tragic novels focus instead on the plight of little-known women and the private world of the household; even in her few novels featuring male protagonists, Behn insists on the importance of the crimes these otherwise heroic figures commit in the domestic sphere. Moreover, according to Carnell, Behn questioned the view promulgated by monarchist dramatic tragedies such as Dryden’s: that the envisioned “public” political ideal—passive obedience to the nation’s king—ought to be mirrored in the private sphere, with family members wholly obedient to a male head of household. Carnell sees Behn’s novels not only as rejecting the model of patriarchal and hierarchical family order, but also as warning that insisting on such a parallel can result in real tragedy befalling the members of the domestic sphere. According to Carnell, Behn’s choice of literary form underscores the differences between her own approach to crafting a tragic story and that taken in the dramatic tragedies, with their artificial distinction between the public and private spheres. Behn’s novels engage in the political dialogue of her era by demonstrating that the good of the nation ultimately encompasses more than the good of the public figures who rule it.


1) The passage is primarily concerned with

A. tracing how Behn’s view of the nature of tragedy changed over time
B. explaining one author’s view of Behn’s contribution to the development of an emerging literary form
C. differentiating between the early and the late literary works of Behn
D. contrasting the approaches to tragedy taken by Behn and by Dryden
E. presenting one scholar’s explanation for a major development in Behn’s literary career

2) The passage suggests that Carnell sees Behn’s novels featuring male protagonists as differing from dramatic tragedies such as Dryden’s featuring male protagonists in that the former

A. depict these characters as less than heroic in their public actions
B. emphasize the consequences of these characters’ actions in the private sphere
C. insist on a parallel between the public and the private spheres
D. are aimed at a predominantly female audience
E. depict family members who disobey these protagonists

3) The passage suggests that Carnell believes Behn held which of the following attitudes about the relationship between the private and public spheres?

A. The private sphere is more appropriate than is the public sphere as the setting for plays about political events.
B. The structure of the private sphere should not replicate the hierarchical order of the public sphere.
C. Actions in the private sphere are more fundamental to ensuring the good of the nation than are actions in the public sphere.
D. Crimes committed in the private sphere are likely to cause tragedy in the public sphere rather than vice versa.
E. The private sphere is the mirror in which issues affecting the public sphere can most clearly be seen.

4) It can be inferred from the passage that the “artificial distinction”(highlighted text )refers to the

A. practice utilized in dramatic tragedies of providing different structural models for the public and the private spheres
B. ideology of many dramatic tragedies that advocate passive obedience only in the private sphere and not in the public sphere
C. convention that drama ought to concern events in the public sphere and that novels ought to concern events in the private sphere
D. assumption made by the authors of conventional dramatic tragedies that legitimate tragic action occurs only in the public sphere
E. approach taken by the dramatic tragedies in depicting male and female characters differently, depending on whether their roles were public or private.

Passage 6:

The most plausible justification for higher taxes on automobile fuel is that fuel consumption harms the environment and thus adds to the costs of traffic congestion. But the fact that burning fuel creates these “negative externalities” does not imply that no tax on fuel could ever be too high. Economics is precise about the tax that should, in principle, be levied to deal with negative externalities: the tax on a liter of fuel should be equal to the harm caused by using a liter of fuel. If the tax is more than that, its costs (including the inconvenience to those who would rather have used their cars) will exceed its benefits (including any reduction in congestion and pollution).


In the context in which it appears, “exceed” most nearly means

A. outstrip
B. magnify
C. delimit
D. offset
E. supplant

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