Varsity Tutors: Four Steps to Prep for the Verbal Section of the GMAT

Preparation is key when taking the GMAT. Here are four top tips to ace the Verbal section from admissions experts Varsity Tutors!

Taking practice tests, analyzing what you read, reading on a computer screen and reviewing basic grammar: these are some of the top tips to ace the Verbal section of the GMAT, according to Varsity Tutors.

The Verbal section of the GMAT can be quite tricky. The passages are usually not the most interesting reads and the sentence construction can be awkward. Strong preparation is key to getting a good score.

Luckily, prepping for the Verbal section of the GMAT doesn’t have to be done solely within the realm of a GMAT prep book (although that obviously helps). Here are four sure-fire ways to prep:

Practice Tests Are Your Friend

There’s a reason this bit of advice pops up in everything you read about GMAT prep. And it can’t be stressed enough. The more practice tests you take, the better you’ll understand the types of questions being asked and the better you’ll perform.

Start your study regimen by taking a Verbal test and use it as your diagnostic, so you can clearly identify your areas of weakness. Try to take at least one practice test per week and thoroughly review the questions you answer incorrectly. Your practice tests can be used to track your progress throughout your studies. 

Analyze Whatever You Read

Start examining everything you read - not just GMAT content - with a critical eye. Get into the habit of determining how the author feels about the subject and what point(s) they are trying to communicate.

You will not have enough time to carefully read every single word of each passage, so you will also have to master skim-reading to at least get the general idea of it without needing to read every word. Pay close attention to the first sentence of every paragraph; many main ideas are lurking there.

Also, look for signposts that will help you understand the structure of the passage. Signposts can come in the form of words that show agreement with the previous thought (e.g. moreover, furthermore, in addition to) or words that show a change in the direction (e.g. however, in contrast to, despite).

Get Used To Reading On A Computer Screen

For the majority of your academic career, and most likely for other standardized tests you’ve taken, you’ve probably used hard copies of books into which you could highlight, underline, and scribble to your heart’s content.

Unfortunately, because the GMAT takes place on a computer, making these notations is not an option. If you’re not doing it already, get your daily dose of news from the computer. Practice with a pad of paper and jot down a two or three word summary of each paragraph as you read.

Adapting to this method will help you on test day - as these summaries will enable you to determine where the answer to a very specific question lies.

Review Basic Rules Of Grammar

The sentence correction questions require you to, well, correct sentences. However, this might not be as easy as it sounds. One of the reasons the Verbal section of the GMAT can be difficult is that many of the sentences are long-winded and the choices are often not the solutions you would come up with on your own.

But there is always a definite “best” sentence. And after practicing, you should catch on to the style of the GMAT test-writers. Here are a few of the concepts regularly tested on the GMAT:

Subject-Verb Agreement: Make sure the subject of the sentence matches the verb. One way to test this is to ignore any prepositional phrases between the subject and the verb. For example, “one of the books are on the shelf” might sound fine to your ear, but try reading it as “one of the books are on the shelf”. By ignoring the prepositional phrase, it is much easier to tell that the plural verb should be singular (is).

Modifiers: Modifiers are tricky, mainly because many people use modifiers incorrectly in everyday speech. If the first part of a sentence is a modifying phrase set off by a comma, the noun or pronoun immediately following the comma must be to what the phrase is referring. Take a sentence that reads, “Walking to the train, a car whizzed by Karen". The car is not doing the walking, so this sentence is incorrect. A typical GMAT solution would look something like this: “Walking to the train, Karen saw a car whiz by her".

Parallel Construction: You must make sure that items in a list are of the same construction. A simplified example of this is, “An Olympic triathlon consists of swimming 1.5 km, biking 40 km and a 10 km run". To make this sentence parallel (consistent throughout), the last item of the list should be changed to “running 10 km.”

Additional items to look for include verb tense, pronouns, idioms and parallel comparison.

There is no magic strategy for acing the GMAT Verbal section, but with regular practice, you will increase your chances considerably.

Maureen Spain is a professional GMAT tutor and contributing writer for Varsity Tutors. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Northwestern University and received her MBA from Duke University.

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