Have you finally hit your 600 goal in your GMAT prep? Or maybe you’ve just taken your first practice test and you’re looking where to go. Chances are that if you are scoring a 600, you have already mastered a couple of strategies. For example, you can probably regularly eliminate 2-3 answers on any given verbal question. What follows are a few GMAT tips for getting the right answer more often.
General GMAT Tips
These tips should help any test-taker in the verbal section, whether your test is tomorrow or two months from now.
- Review Your Practice Questions. It is not enough to do drills and practice tests to monitor your results. One of the single best ways to improve your score is to go through every question you got wrong (or better: every question, right or wrong) and understand why the right answer is right, why the wrong answers are wrong, and why you chose as you did. The Verbal section can be surprisingly formulaic, and seeing the tricks and traps from the opposite end will make you more familiar with the test.
- (in Reading Comp and Arguments) Predict the Answers. This is one of the biggest overall tips for working in the Verbal Section. This isn’t recommended for grammar questions, because your predicted response might not be listed. But the answers in the Reading and Argument questions are designed over a period of years, and they are intended to trick you. If you know what you are looking for before you approach the questions, you’re less likely to be led astray.
- Don’t Try to Figure Out How You’re Doing, While You’re Doing It. Because the GMAT is a Computer Adaptive Test, trying to work out how you’re doing based on how difficult the questions are is insidiously tempting. But 20% of the questions are experimental and will have nothing to do with how well you’re actually doing. And what’s difficult for you isn’t necessarily what’s difficult for the GMAT. Focus on the work; think about the results when you’re finished.
The Long Haul
Hopefully, your test date is still a few weeks away; ideally, you have at least a month. How can you begin improving your performance in the verbal section other than simply run through practice tests? Reading Comp is probably the section that is most difficult to simply improve.
- Read, read, read. And not just GMAT reading comp passages, although read those, too. Read difficult literature. Read the New Yorker or the Atlantic. Read literary criticism. Read some of Poe’s short stories. Why? Not only will this improve your reading speed, not only will this make you more comfortable with grammatical constructions we ignore in our speech, but it will also force you to think about the main idea of a passage or about the author without questions. After you read a text, try and express the main idea or what you learned about the author in your own words.
- Work Every Day. Test prep is a bit like preparing for a swimming meet. You want to be in the water every day. While this passage might be about ants and that passage is about the Industrial Revolution, the questions follow certain patterns. Practice. Practice and practice. By the end, you want to be breathing this stuff, completely familiar. Do a practice test at least one a week, but no sooner than 3 days before your actual exam.
The Short Term
- Memorize the Most Commonly Tested Grammar Errors. There are a billion rules of English grammar. Fortunately, the GMAT does not test all of them. In fact, it tests the same 6-8 errors far more often than it does the others. Design a strategy of what to look for and how to know what’s right. For example, start with pronouns. They are easy to spot and easy to check that they agree with their antecedents and are not used ambiguously. After that, move to subject-verb agreement, etc.
- Learn the Wrong Answers. GMAT uses a few formulas when it designs the wrong answers in the reading comprehension. Answers tend to recycle language directly from the passage, or take correct ideas from the passage and make them more extreme. You can get rid of these early, allowing you more time to work on the remaining answers, or at least raise your chances for the random guess.
- Practice Argument Patterns. The cool thing about argument patterns is after you learn them, you begin to see them everywhere. Advertisements and newspapers abound with analogy and sampling arguments. Memorizing the patterns allows you to trust your thinking and move through the patterns faster. And again, learn the wrong answers.