Whether you were an English major or haven’t read a book since the last time you wore a cap and gown, the GMAT Verbal section can be really challenging.
You’ve probably noticed that it’s much easier to get a higher percentile ranking on the GMAT’s Verbal section than it is on the Quantitative section. That’s likely because the majority of people who are hoping to rise through the business world have above average mathematical skills. After all, the business world is one of metrics, statistics, prices, and computer algorithms.
But that also means that there’s an opportunity to differentiate yourself by getting a great Verbal score.
This means that you really should put as much work as possible into maximizing your Verbal score, even if you think Quant is where you need the most work. The best prep approach is one that values the two sections equally, so plan on splitting your prep hours evenly between the Verbal and the Quant.
The Basics of the GMAT Verbal Section
The Verbal section is 36 questions long and has three question types:
- Reading Comprehension, in which you’ll have to read a multi-paragraph passage and answer several questions about its details, tone, and general implications.
- Critical Reasoning, in which you’ll have to read a one-paragraph logical argument and answer a question which requires you to understand its underlying logic (such as its assumptions, how to strengthen it, etc.)
- Sentence Correction, in which you’ll be given 5 different versions of the same sentence and have to choose the most clear, concise, and grammatically correct version.
Brush up on your reading comprehension
You’ll want to get into the habit of reading prior to taking this test. You won’t need to analyze anything nearly to the degree that you used to in English class, but you do want to be able to read through information quickly and grasp what’s going on.
Get in the habit of regularly reading quality publications that successful people in the business world tend to read. That includes The Economist, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, The New Yorker, and so on.
Importantly – make sure to not just read, but actively read. More on what this means here, but the general idea is that you should practice thinking while you read. Ask yourself what the authors assumptions are, how you could strengthen their claims, what their purpose in writing the passage is, and other questions similar to those you’ll encounter on the exam itself.
Try to read for 30 to 60 minutes a day. Since these publication are available online or through an app, it’s pretty easy to squeeze in some reading time while eating, during the commute, or during random internet breaks.
You need very little background knowledge
Most of the questions are about business scenarios, so be sure you’re familiar with the terminology and concepts that are covered in an Economics 101 class. You don’t have to be an expert, but you certainly want to be comfortable with basic concepts such as revenue, cost, and interest.
Here are a few concepts you should be familiar with (in a very basic way) in order to feel comfortable with the GMAT Verbal:
- Profit versus earnings
- Consumer and producer
- Supply and demand
- Labor and wages
- The legal system and regulations
- Public goods and common resources
Basic Strategies for the Verbal Section
One of the hardest parts of the Verbal section is choosing between the last two answer choices. Unfortunately, there’s no quick tip for choosing the right answer, but you can go into the GMAT equipped with an arsenal of strategies that will help you break down and understand the passages.
Put it in your own words
If you feel like you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around a passage or a question, take a second to put it in your own words.
Remember, the people who write the GMAT are trying to trip you up, which means they’ll often word passages in an intentionally convoluted manner. Since your end goal is to understand what you’re reading, don’t be afraid to rephrase long words and sentences in plain English.
Answer the question in your own words before looking at the answer choices
Remember, most of the answer choices you’re given are incorrect: 4 out of 5 of them, to be exact. The easiest way to avoid trick answer choices is to first come up with your own answer to the question and only then to use your potential answer as an aid in assessing the answer choices.
You will almost never find an answer choice that fits your hypothetical answer perfectly, but you will certainly be able to use this strategy to eliminate a few obviously wrong choices and will likely find that, with experience, the correct answer choice is not to far from what you thought it would be.
Make sure the answer choice you’re choosing actually answers the question
A really common (and dirty!) trick on the Verbal section is to phrase the answer choice so that it addresses something that appears in prompt without actually answering the question you’re being asked.
As such, it is always worth your while to take a quick second to reread the question and make sure your answer choice correctly addresses it.
Guidelines for Non-Native English Speakers
Of course, the Verbal is going to be a particularly hard section if English is not your first language. Frankly, the Verbal section might even be difficult if English is your first language but you didn’t grow up speaking American English.
Non-native English speakers should take the difficulty of the Verbal session very seriously. You’re going to have to put in good work to make sure that you can read the prompts and answer choices quickly enough to complete this section without any timing issues.
Prepare to put in about twice the amount preparing for the Verbal section as you will preparing for the Quant. That means if you are going to spend 30 hours preparing for the Quant section total, be ready to put in 60 hours on Verbal. Fortunately, this includes a reading regimen like the one mentioned the previous section. Another option is to dedicate the first month of your prep only to improving your basic English skills, and only then to start working on studying the GMAT material itself.
Regardless, here are some specific tips for getting comfortable enough with English that you can confidently take the GMAT.
Go through a thesaurus
The thesaurus is a great resource for non-native English speakers looking to get a grasp on what sort of words English speakers tend to use interchangeably.
Go through the thesaurus with a notebook next to you and start writing out lists of similar words. If there are words you don’t know, look them up. And, of course, use these new words in conversation! If people look at you funny when you misuse a new word, don’t be afraid to ask if you used it (in)correctly.
Be sure you understand Quant word problems
Obviously, you won’t only be reading English on the Verbal section.
As you’re working through practice problems on the Quant section, take note of any word problems you had a hard time comprehending. Make sure you understand all of the math terminology you see there, and look up any vocabulary or idioms you’re not familiar with.
Additionally, build up the capacity to take long chunks of text and break them down into bite-size chunks. This is relevant for long word problems, Critical Reasoning passages, and Reading Comprehension passages.