How to Improve Your GMAT Verbal Ability

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in How to...

This article is mostly for non-native speakers of English, who are more likely to struggle with the GMAT verbal section. Most candidates for whom English is not their native tongue are probably having trouble with Reading Comprehension and Sentence Correction questions. This comes as no surprise! It's very difficult to answer questions correctly based on a text you do not understand.

This means that improving your English must be an essential part of your GMAT preparation.

Many online GMAT prep resources tell you to read scientific articles and economic magazines and look up the words you don't know. They say that this will improve your general English reading and comprehension skills. This is OK advice, but there may be a better way.

Many students find those kinds of reading material mildly uninteresting (to say the least) and have trouble reading them in any language. It can be too easy to get distracted, and if your mind is wandering (or you fall asleep), your English is not improving. Those articles from scientific and economic magazines can help you learn how to understand the structure and meaning of complex texts, but first try practicing with novels and short stories written in good English. These are interesting to read, and they will expand your vocabulary and your comfort with English sentence structure sufficiently to make GMAT's more complex science and economics passages less overwhelming.

Choose to practice English comprehension with books and stories that interest you. If you like history, read autobiographies, biographies, and histories. (Some political exposes read like fiction and include the special vocabularies of politics and government.) If you prefer science fiction, find magazines, novels, or comic books specializing in fantasy/science fiction. If you enjoy art criticisms, gardening guides, or cookbooks, you'll find plenty of those that exemplify good English usage too. Whatever you're reading for practice and pleasure, just be sure to keep a dictionary handy and look up new words.

Reading for pleasure is a perfectly good way to speed and expand your vocabulary. In fact, reading ANYTHING that you read a lot of and pay attention to will help you with Sentence Correction questions, because it is reading and more reading that gives you a natural feel for the language. You will know that many answer choices are wrong just because they don't sound right. You will also save time as you read more fluently.

Once your reading speed and comprehension are better and you recognize most of the words you encounter in fiction, then you can proceed with harder stuff. Economic articles, such as those in The Economist or The Wall Street Journal, Time or Newsweek, are written in a more casual manner than most GMAT passages, but once you are doing well with those kinds of articles—knowing the vocabulary and understanding the main points without rereading—you are quite close to your goal.

Your final step can be reading the more complicated articles that can be found in Scientific American and Harvard Magazine. These are quite close to GMAT Reading Comprehension passages. If you can read them quickly and understand their meaning, GMAT passages should be quite manageable.

You do not have to understand every single word to understand a hard GMAT passage. You can guess a word's meaning from its context, or you can try at least to determine whether it represents something positive or negative. In fact, especially in scientific texts, the exact meaning of a word can be unimportant to the reasoning of a passage or the structure of a sentence. In your notes, you can even replace such a word with its first letter.

Moving from fiction with a dictionary to complex GMAT passages is very hard, but GMAT practice makes perfect. If you keep reading and looking up new words daily, you will notice steady progress, and nothing is as rewarding as to see yourself improve.

Good luck!


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