GMAT Verbal Section Tips

by Speed Reading Expert, Richard L. Feldman, Ph.D. (Columbia University)

First Phase of Practice: Print-Based Verbal Section

The GMAT is a computer-based exam but I suggest you start your practice in a print version, specifically, The Official Guide for GMAT Verbal Review, 2nd edition, available from the Graduate Management Admission Council, the publisher of the GMAT. Avoid using practice GMAT verbal questions from other publishers since these questions have not been field tested.

In the early stage of practice, work on the three types of GMAT verbal items (Reading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning and Sentence Correction) without timing yourself. At this stage, you are focusing on improving your accuracy.

Once you are reasonably confident that you have the skills necessary to answer most of the three types of verbal questions, it’s time to work on pacing and time management. The verbal section requires you to answer forty-one questions in seventy-five minutes, a difficult task due to the severe time constraint. Many test-takers are left with a string of unanswered questions at the end of the verbal section because they run out of time. You can ensure that you complete all questions on the verbal section through pacing and time management practice.

One way to improve your pacing and time management is to begin with what I call “segregated practice” in which you practice reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction questions in separate sets, each under timed conditions. Of course, the verbal section of the GMAT will present you with a mixture of the three types of questions but practicing too soon on the mixture won’t allow you to master the unique pacing and time management requirements of the three types of verbal questions. That’s why I suggested a “segregated practice” approach in the early stage of practice.

I. Reading Comprehension Passages

  • Practice one reading passage at a time, allowing about 3 minutes to read the passage. Use a timer to ensure you are within the time limit. You’ll get a sense of the main idea and important details during this reading. Your reading should have the goal of allowing you to answer most of the questions without looking back at the passage. Note: You won’t be permitted to have a timer or a watch on the day of the exam. The timer is simply a practice tool to develop your pacing and time management for the exam.
  • Use a pencil as a reading pacer: Move the pencil horizontally from left to right under each line in the passage to improve your reading speed and concentration. You are “underlining” each line of print without actually creating pencil marks on the page. Naturally, you won’t be able to use a pencil as a reading pacer once you switch your practice to computer-based passages later in the training but in this early phase of practice, the pacer is a valuable tool.
  • Avoid these: highlighting, circling words, writing notes, or other time-wasters. On the day of the exam, you’ll get spiral-bound, laminated scratch paper and a special marker; avoid writing notes about the passage on this special scratch paper because it wastes valuable time.
  • Avoid skimming a passage; it doesn’t work well for GMAT reading.
II. Reading Comprehension Questions

  • Allow 1-2 minutes per question for each set of reading comprehension questions. Keep track of your time for each individual question using a timer to ensure you are within the time limit. You should be able to answer many of the questions without referring back to the passage. For these, aim for one minute per question. For questions that require you to refer back to the passage, aim for less than two minutes per question.
  • Use a pencil as a reading pacer for the questions and answer choices as I describe above, keeping in mind that you won’t be able to use this training tool once you switch your practice to computer-based passages.
III. Critical Reasoning Questions

  • Spend 2 – 2 ½ minutes per question including reading the critical reading paragraph. Practice one critical reading paragraph and question at a time; then check to see if you met your time goal of 2 – 2 ½ minutes. Keep practicing individual critical reading questions in this manner until you are able to meet your time goal for each question. At this point, you are ready to practice two critical reading items under timed conditions, allowing 4 – 5 minutes for the two. Keep practicing using increasingly larger sets, and track your time and accuracy.
  • Use Educated Guessing: If you run out of time while you are still working on a question, choose your “best guess” answer and move on to the next question. Don’t get emotionally invested in answering any one question; you’ll lose valuable time.
IV. Sentence Correction Questions

  • Spend 1 – 1 1/4 minutes for most sentence correction questions. Exception: When all lines are underlined, you’ll need up to 2 minutes. Again, practice with one question at a time, using a timer to see if you met your time goal for the question. Then check your answer to see if it is correct. Once you establish the correct pace, work on increasingly larger sets of sentence correction questions, allowing 1 – 1 1/4 minutes for most questions.

Second Phase of Practice: Computer-Based Verbal Section

After several weeks of practice using the print version of the GMAT verbal section, you will find an improvement in your pacing, accuracy and confidence. Now it’s time to practice computer-based GMAT verbal questions so that you get used to the unique aspects of taking the GMAT on the computer.

There is a special “look and feel” of the GMAT that you can only get by doing plenty of practice on the computer-based version. For example, you must learn to use the on-screen countdown timer to gauge your work rate so that you don’t run out of time.

This on-screen timer can be a very useful time management tool when you apply the “Rule of 8″ in the verbal section: Complete eight questions every fifteen minutes of elapsed time. Here are the specific benchmarks: You work on question 1 when time starts (75 minutes remaining), on question 8 with 60 minutes remaining, on question 16 with 45 minutes remaining, on question 24 with 30 minutes remaining, on question 32 with 15 minutes remaining, and on question 41 with 0 minutes remaining. The last is not a typo. There are forty-one questions so that you must answer nine rather than eight questions during the last fifteen minutes. These are only suggested benchmarks for the verbal section so allow some flexibility in your work rate.

There are free, computer-based, practice verbal questions, as well as two full-length, computer-based GMAT exams on the Graduate Management Admission Council’s website. There are also additional, full-length, computer-based GMATs available for purchase on its website.

I’ve been teaching speed reading courses in New York City for twenty-five years. I can increase your reading speed and comprehension for the GMAT.

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