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Page 1 Verbal Study Guide for the GMAT

How to Prepare for the GMAT Verbal Test

General Information

The GMAT Verbal test is timed for 75 minutes and contains 41 of three types of questions:

  • Reading Comprehension
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Sentence Correction

They each require a different set of skills, but any of them may require a process of several steps to find the correct answer.

Reading Comprehension

The questions of this type will not assume that you have any prior knowledge of the subject matter. They will require you to comprehend the intended message or concept from the text and make assumptions about relationships between the ideas and/or characters involved. Consider these skills as you prepare to answer reading comprehension questions:

Use Only Given Information to Find Answers

Although it may be tempting to use existing knowledge to complete your answers, remember that this section of the exam is intended to measure your ability to comprehend what you read. This means that you must be able to extract information within text, without any outside information or help. Stick to the text every time you answer a comprehension question.

Practice Reading Quickly, but Thoroughly

This is, perhaps, the trickiest aspect of reading comprehension exams. You must read both quickly and thoroughly to make the most of your test questions. One of the best ways to do this is to first look at the questions, then read the passage. This will make sure your eyes naturally gravitate toward the more pertinent information, and you will naturally disregard the irrelevant portions of the passage.

Read with a Purpose

When reading GMAT passages, you are not trying to become an expert in the subject matter. Rather, you need to read to determine these four things:

Main Idea—The main idea is the overall topic or idea of a passage. The main idea is the idea that all of the supporting details and evidence point toward. Typically, it is situated near the top of a paragraph, followed by details and evidence.

Purpose—The purpose of a piece is answered by asking the question, “Why did the author write this?” Some papers will have been created to persuade the audience to accept the author’s point of view. Others will have been created simply to inform.

Structure—It is important to recognize and understand the structure of a passage to be able to locate and synthesize information. For instance, if you are able to identify an essay as having the structure of a five-paragraph essay, you will easily be able to identify the introduction, body, and conclusion, as well as the topic sentences and supporting details.

Author’s Point of View—The author’s point of view is often wrapped up in the author’s purpose; if an author’s purpose is to persuade, his point of view should be easy to identify (pro or con). If an author’s purpose is to inform, you can then identify how he feels about the subject he is delineating. If he sounds negative, he is likely displeased with his subject matter. If he is in support of his subject matter, his point of view is going to be positive.

Main Idea vs. Supporting Details

The main idea is the overall idea of a piece. Supporting details are used to illustrate the main idea and support the topic of a piece. A main idea is usually found at the beginning of a piece (or paragraph), and supporting details follow.

Practice Reading Complex Material

One of the best ways to prepare for the exam is to practice reading both complex material and material that may not be well-organized. Complex and poorly organized material comes in many forms. It may come in the form of a medical journal entry, an instruction manual for a vehicle, or a detailed exploration of a literary text. Practice reading and synthesizing the information found in complex materials around your home, such as manuals and textbooks.

As you do, take notes as you read, and identify any special phrasing or words you don’t understand. Look up more information about these items, and continue building your comprehension and vocabulary.

Read to Find Facts

As you read, seek out information that supports the main idea. Typically, this is where you will find facts within a piece. Facts are also typically followed by an explanation and exploration of the fact in question. This means that most facts are embedded within the body of a paragraph or piece, headed by the topic sentence or main idea, and followed up by a summary of provided information.

Read to Make Connections

To make connections, you should also use the approach of reading the question to be applied to the passage before you read. This will enable you to make connections in application questions. For instance, if the question is “How might Milton’s depiction of heaven compare to modern film?” and the passage is a description of love and its role in life, you can draw a connection to Milton’s work and the prolific nature of romance in film.

Try Out Different Approaches

As you practice, try out different approaches to discover information. If you find that you don’t like the notion of reading your questions before reading passages, read the passage through quickly, read the question, then go back and read the passage again. You could also read the passage thoroughly, take notes, and read the question as your final act. Whatever you choose, don’t shy away from experimenting with your own unique style of learning to create the best possible strategy for your success.

Critical Reasoning

This type of question on the GMAT Verbal section asks you to read an argument and answer questions about it. You not only have to understand the text, but you need to find its various parts. Practice reading arguments and identifying these:

Assumptions

In an argument, an assumption is an argument the author does not work to prove. An assumption is exactly that: a piece of information the author assumes is correct and accepted. Assumptions are not followed by evidence, or given weight in an argument; instead, they are offered, and moved on from quickly.

Evidence

Evidence is any piece of information used to support an idea or argument. Evidence can come in the form of cold, hard facts (think statistics or scientific reports), or can come in the form of anecdotes (“my sister’s son experienced nausea after eating peanut butter… he is allergic to peanut butter”). Although evidence is not necessarily based in quantifiable fact, it is used to reinforce the idea of an argument, topic sentence, or main idea.

Conclusion

The conclusion of a piece is the portion of a work that essentially “wraps up” the argument, providing a summary of the information provided in the body of the piece, a restatement of the thesis, and any closing remarks the author chooses to make. The conclusion is found at the end of a work, and often contains vital information in proving or reaffirming the author’s main idea.

Conditions: Necessary vs. Sufficient

This item is a commonly used trap found in the exam, as it equates two like conditions that are actually disparate. A necessary condition is a condition necessary to create a certain event. For instance, it is necessary to eat protein to survive. And this is true: humans cannot survive without consuming protein. This does not mean, however, that protein is the only item required for survival—numerous other conditions must also be met.

Conversely, a sufficient condition is a condition that wholly fulfills an outcome. A sufficient condition might be, “Water comes from rivers.” This is a true statement; water does, in fact, come from rivers. That is not the only source of water, however; there are countless locations where water is stored.

Irrelevant Information

Irrelevant information is information included in a piece, but not required for the piece to work or make sense. To weed out irrelevant information, read either the main idea or the topic sentence of a piece. As you read, keep this information in mind. If any portion of the piece does not in some way relate to or coincide with the main idea or topic sentence, you can bet that the information is irrelevant.

Sentence Correction

This question type assesses your ability to spot and correct grammatical errors according to the rules of standard written English. So, you not only need to know what is not correct, but be able to find a grammatically correct replacement. Keep in mind that some questions will not contain an error at all.

Here are some of the most common types of errors found in Sentence Correction questions on the GMAT Verbal test:

Use and Placement of Modifiers

The use and placement of modifiers can make or break a sentence. This is a particularly difficult area for non-native English speakers, as the placement of modifiers is often at odds with the rules of other languages. The three most common mistakes are: misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers, and using adjectives in the place of adverbs (or the reverse).

A misplaced modifier is a modifier that is not correctly aligned with the word it is modifying. For example, a sentence might read, “Mary enjoyed a cold cereal bowl.” In this sentence, the words “cold” and “cereal” are modifying “bowl.” The sentence should read, “Mary enjoyed a bowl of cold cereal.” The cereal is the cold item, not the bowl.

A dangling modifier is a modifier that “dangles,” in that it is not clearly assigned to a subject. For instance, in the sentence, “Walking home, the clouds grew thick and heavy,” the modifier is “walking home,” suggesting that the clouds were walking home. As you can imagine, this is not the intended meaning. There are several ways to fix this. You could change the sentence to, “While Erin was walking home, the clouds grew thick and heavy.” or “The clouds grew thick and heavy when Erin was walking home.”

An adjective is a word used to modify a noun, while an adverb is a word used to modify a verb. Although mixing these two is common, the correction is quite simple: if you are describing an action, the word is an adverb. If you are describing a person, place, or thing, the word is an adjective.

Parallel Structure

Lists

In a list, all words must follow the same structure. This is quite a common error, but is extremely easy to correct. In the following sentence, the words are not parallel:

“Amy ran a marathon, walking home, and finishing her test.”

These words are not parallel, as the first was a past tense, but the others were present tense. To correct the issue, the sentence should read:

“Amy ran a marathon, walked home, and finished her test.”

Correlations

Correlation words are used to correlate two ideas in a sentence. The most common examples are either/or, neither/nor, both/and, etc. Incorrect correlations often present in the following form: “Either Tony nor Eric were able to complete their homework.” The sentence is either suggesting that both men were able to finish their homework, or both men were not able to. The failure to use the correct correlating words makes this intention unclear. The sentence should either read: “Neither Tony nor Eric were able to complete their homework,” or “Both Tony and Eric were able to complete their homework.”

Comparisons

In order to compare, you need to use comparative words. The most common set of comparison words is the set, “good, better, best.” When you compare, you must indicate that a comparison is taking place by using a comparative or superlative word. “Andy’s hair is good than Alyssa’s.”

This sentence doesn’t make sense, as the comparison is unclear. Is the good the incorrect word, or than? The sentence should read: “Andy’s hair is better than Alyssa’s.”

Clarity of Communication

Although parallel structure may not seem like a powerful tool, it makes all the difference between a clear sentence and an extremely murky, confusing sentence. When coordinating a sentence, you must make sure that all pieces fit each other, much like a puzzle requires all sides to line up. This means using the same tense in a sentence, using your comparison and correlation words correctly, and using coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, etc.) correctly.