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A Way with Words for the GMAT

Magoosh show you how to master GMAT Verbal.

Photo by Chad McDermott ©
Steve Martin once said: "Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way." Folks who have an innate facility with words and with the verbal communication of ideas clearly will have an edge when they approach the GMAT. By contrast, folks who "not have way" --- well, the GMAT is going to be more challenging for them. Suppose you are closer to this latter pole: how might you go about getting yourself in shape for the GMAT?
 
The first question is one of time. Students often ask about how long to study for the GMAT. There are many perspectives on this question, and of course, the answer depends in part on the particular skills and abilities of the individual concerned. But for most folks, somewhere in the three-six month range would be a good time to focus on serious GMAT study. Having said that, if the subtleties of language have always eluded you, and especially if English is not your first language, then over and above that time devoted to focused GMAT study, you have to devote a healthy chunk of time, maybe six months or a year, to what I might call lower level language study. 
 
Of what might this consist? A magic one word piece of advice: read. This is not chill reading for fun. Every day, you have to do reading that challenges you, reading that stretches you. Start with the Wall Street Journal and the Economist magazine. If you plan to pursue a career in business management, it's utterly beyond me why you wouldn't already be soaking up every last drop of insight you could possibly glean from these fine publications. If you can understand every argument, every perspective, in those two sources, you will be well on your way to GMAT Verbal mastery. 
 
Do you want some more heavy lifting? Take a look at the sophisticated sentence structures in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Take a look at the speeches & writing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the eloquent orators of the twentieth century. Read academic books and articles, in disciplines in which you have scant familiarity. If you're very ambitious, read the classics of literature and philosophy. 
 
Pay attention to idioms. Does the GMAT test idioms? Yes, by golly, it certainly does. On the GMAT Verbal section, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting an idiom. A Verbal section without a single idiom question is scarcer than hen's teeth. Notice, though, a subtle distinction: by idioms, we do not mean colorful metaphorical phrases ("by golly", "can't swing a dead cat", "scarcer than hen's teeth") --- those absolutely will NOT be on the GMAT. By contrast, GMAT Idioms consist of those idiosyncratic rules concern which words belong together, what combinations sound most natural together. For example, we prohibit someone from doing something, but we forbid that person to do something. That's an example of the idioms the GMAT will expect you to know --- if you are regularly reading sophisticated material, you will see these correct idioms on a regular basis.  
 
Students often ask: How hard is the GMAT? If you tried to fight your way through the Verbal section using only your knowledge of English as conveyed in the mass media, the results would not be pretty. But if, as I suggest here, before your GMAT you spend significant time wrestling every day with sophisticated challenging reading, this habit will give you a "way with words" that makes everything that the GMAT Verbal section asks of you much easier.  
 
This post was written by Mike McGarry, resident GMAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on taking the GMAT, check out Magoosh’s GMAT blog.

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