By Michael Sugarman
Most individuals taking the GMAT are not great with the verbal section, and GMAC knows this.
If you pay close attention to your score report, you will see that the scale for the verbal section is much kinder than the scale for the quantitative section. This is simply because people tend to get a lot more verbal questions wrong.
Why do people find the verbal section so difficult?
As a tutor for the GMAT, I have seen test-takers look at the five answer choices and think, “wow, any of these could be correct!”, over and over again.
On a basic level, this is a different way of dealing with answer choices than with the problem solving questions in the quantitative section.
With a problem solving question, you know that you are supposed to crunch some numbers and select the answer choice that matches your solution. You know there’s only one correct answer choice. The rest are wrong.
Then why should the verbal section be any different?
The big secret to boosting your verbal score is keeping in mind that the majority of answer choices for any given question are incorrect. In other words, every time you look at a question, you’ll be faced with four bad options and one good one.
So, how do you figure out which ones don’t work?
Weighing answer choices against each other is a great way to get lost in the weeds. You can quickly lose track of what’s actually in the passage, making you vulnerable to any sly tricks those writing the exam might slip into an answer choice.
How do you avoid weighing the answer choices?
Simply, come up with your own idea of an answer. For a reading comprehension question on the main purpose of a passage, come up with your own idea of a main purpose.
If the question is asking you to describe the structure of a paragraph, you can easily form an idea of that structure yourself.
Candidates underestimate how easy it can be to develop a simple understanding of a passage. Trust your own understanding, and then come up with your own idea of an answer. Only worry about answer choices once you’ve gone through those steps.
For sentence correction questions, try to identify what the issue is with the underlined portion before looking at the answer choices. If there isn’t an issue, you’ll probably choose answer A and keep the original. But, if you can identify the issue then you’ll be a lot less reliant on how the other four answer choices edit the text.
Critical reasoning questions tend to be a little trickier. You’ll want to understand the argument that is being made and identify details supporting that argument. In this situation, you aren’t trying to predict an answer, as much as understand the scenario that is being explained
Make sure to eliminate, eliminate, eliminate.
Now that you have some idea of what you’re looking for, use it to narrow down the answer choices that you’re going to bother considering.
You should be able to quickly eliminate two or three answer choices that clash with your idea of what the correct answer is.
For instance, with sentence correction, you can just glance at the answers and get rid of any option that doesn’t fix what you have identified as the issue. With reading comprehension and critical reasoning, you can eliminate answer choices that are totally off-base.
You’ll always find difficult answers to eliminate, if you’re looking for them.
Once you've narrowed it down to a few answer choices, continue eliminating. Look for details that disqualify a remaining answer choice, as opposed to figuring out which of the remaining options you think is correct.
Remember that you’re looking for the best answer choice. This can often mean that you’re looking for the least bad answer choice, especially with harder questions later on in the verbal section.
Practice this technique a lot. Once you get in the groove of eliminating answer choices that clash with your own idea of what the correct answer is, it will feel like second nature on test day.
Michael Sugarman is a senior tutor for MyGuru, and a provider of online GMAT tutoring. Mike holds a BA from Columbia, scored in the 99th percentile on the GMAT, GRE and SAT, and scored a perfect 36 on the ACT. He has been tutoring privately for over five years in test prep, math, English, and reading comprehension.