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GMAT Prep: How to Score High on Verbal

TTP GMAT prep verbal high score

Scoring high on the GMAT Verbal section is an important part of earning an impressive Total Score on the GMAT.

Furthermore, business schools generally prefer to see “balanced” GMAT Quant and Verbal scores as opposed to wildly divergent ones, because both quantitative skills and management-level reading and analytical skills are necessary for success in business school. Particularly to be competitive at the top MBA programs, you probably need relatively high GMAT Verbal and Quantitative scores, not just one or the other.

Fortunately, if you want to score high on GMAT Verbal, or you’ve been having trouble increasing your GMAT Verbal score, there are some highly effective steps you can take to get yourself on track to your goal. In my recent article for Target Test Prep, I detail 10 essential tips:

  1. Understand the Game
  2. Take a Topic-by-Topic Approach
  3. Don’t Just Run Through Practice Questions to Prepare for GMAT Verbal
  4. Learn Before You Practice
  5. Start Your GMAT Verbal Practice Untimed
  6. Make Using Sophisticated Analysis Your Goal
  7. Avoid GMAT Verbal Gimmicks
  8. Get Comfortable With Discomfort
  9. Select Appropriate Study Materials
  10. Get Pumped!

The first thing to consider is that, to tame the GMAT Verbal beast, you have to understand its nature.

1. Understand the Game

While it is true that you need to know a number of English grammar rules and understand some other verbal concepts in order to perform well in GMAT Verbal — particularly in Sentence Correction — it would be a flawed strategy to assume that everything will simply fall into place if you memorize a ton of rules and concepts. Why is that the case? Because GMAT Verbal is a content game and a logic game.

Just as you shouldn’t expect to earn a top GMAT Quant score by simply memorizing math concepts, you shouldn’t expect to earn a high Verbal score by doing nothing but, for instance, drilling grammar rules. Furthermore, GMAT Verbal is a bit different from GMAT Quant in that, in many cases, you can generate a Quant score increase by simply learning some new concepts, but your Verbal score may not go up just because you learned, for instance, how a participial phrase functions or how a Weaken question works. While concept knowledge is certainly an essential aspect of earning a good GMAT Verbal score, to master the Verbal section of the GMAT, you have to not only learn concepts but also develop skill in noticing what is going on in questions and using logic to arrive at correct answers.

So, learning the rules of the GMAT Verbal game is just the first step. Once you have learned the rules, you then must hone your skills at actually playing the game.

Now that we better understand what the GMAT tests in the Verbal section, let’s talk about how to proceed with your GMAT Verbal preparation.

2. Take a Topic-by-Topic Approach

Since, in preparing for GMAT Verbal, you have a considerable amount of content to learn, and you want to make sure that you don’t leave any gaps in your knowledge, your best move is to take an organized and methodical approach to your preparation. Otherwise, your GMAT prep will be inefficient, and at the end of the day, it may not get the job done. So, you will learn the most and learn the fastest if you take a topic-by-topic approach, starting with basic concepts and progressing in a linear fashion to more advanced ones. In fact, you can apply this tip to your GMAT prep in general.

Learning just one Verbal topic at a time is the best way to ensure that you truly master each topic as you learn it and that you don’t leave any gaps in your knowledge or skip anything that could come back to bite you on test day.

Take Sentence Correction as an example. We know that there are dozens of concepts to learn for Sentence Correction. The thing is, if you start trying to learn this or that SC topic in whatever random order, you’re going to end up wasting time and feeling frustrated because you haven’t built up the proper knowledge base to move successfully from one topic to the next. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to try to learn about modifiers before you’ve mastered sentence structure.

Similarly, if you pile topics on top of each other, trying to learn, say, how to answer Weaken the Argument questions and Inference questions at the same time, you’re likely to experience a lack of progress and leave many gaps in your knowledge.

Taking a methodical, linear, topic-by-topic approach, allows you to follow a logical progression in your learning, so you can achieve real mastery of the concepts and keep your GMAT study moving at a steady clip. So, for Sentence Correction, work on one concept at a time, starting with foundational concepts, such as types of clauses, and then moving on to more complex topics, such as modifiers and comparisons. For Critical Reasoning, it works best to work on one type of question at a time. Similarly, Reading Comprehension involves a number of concepts and question types that you can efficiently learn about and master one at a time.

Keep in mind that, if your foundational knowledge is fairly strong, you may move through more basic topics relatively quickly. However, don’t completely skip over “easier” topics (for example, subject-verb agreement in SC). The GMAT can come up with some pretty tricky ways to employ basic concepts. So, even if you need only a quick review of some of the more basic topics, that review could still be quite valuable.

3. Don’t Just Run Through Practice Questions to Prepare for GMAT Verbal

Many GMAT aspirants — particularly native English speakers — underestimate the difficulty of the Verbal section. They figure that, if they’re generally well-spoken and well-read, they can simply answer a bunch of Verbal questions and be ready for test day. What could be so difficult? It’s just words. Right? This line of thinking is far from the truth.

GMAT Verbal is no joke, even for native speakers. Increasing your Verbal score by, for example, 10 points can require a lot of work. So, unless your baseline Verbal score is already very close to your goal score, doing practice questions probably won’t be enough to close the gap.

You won’t likely learn the array of concepts and techniques you need to score high in GMAT Verbal by simply reading the explanations to Verbal practice questions you answered incorrectly. This is a popular but ineffective GMAT prep strategy. A student answers a couple dozen random practice questions with a timer going, gets many of them wrong, and then reads the answer explanations for the questions missed, in order to find out what they needed to do to answer the question correctly. I know of students who answered literally hundreds of questions in using such a “study plan” and didn’t see their Verbal scores budge.

How can that be? Well, reading an explanation that tells you what you did wrong and what you could’ve done right is not the same as actually knowing those things and then putting them into practice. And when you’re doing practice questions as a method of learning, you’re probably not going to immediately apply what you just learned from an explanation. Instead, you’re going to say, “OK, I’ve learned that now,” and move on to the next set of questions, without applying what you learned. As a result, there is a good chance that you won’t think to use that information by the time you see another question to which the information applies.

Furthermore, completing lots of practice questions before you’ve mastered the concepts and techniques necessary for efficiently identifying the correct answers to those questions can be similar to going to the driving range and hitting thousands of golf balls without ever having learned how to use a golf club. Will your game improve that way, or will you just be solidifying bad habits?

Of course, although simply answering practice questions is not an effective method of learning GMAT Verbal content, practice is an important part of preparing for the Verbal section of the exam.

For the deep dive on all 10 strategies, view my full article on Target Test Prep.

Want more advice on GMAT prep?

To learn more about why the GMAT matters to top MBA programs and how to prepare, read related articles from the experts at Fortuna Admissions and Target Test Prep:

For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation with Fortuna Admissions. 

Marty Murray is the Chief Curriculum and Content Architect for Target Test Prep. A test prep veteran who has scored 800 on the GMAT, Marty is known worldwide for his understanding of the GMAT and how to prepare for it. At Target Test Prep, Marty has helped thousands of people to achieve their GMAT score goals, by creating insightful course content and challenging practice questions designed to help people learn just what they need to know to master the test.

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