I started my Kaplan career teaching in the Puerto Rico center, where most of my students knew English as a Second Language. The GMAT can be especially daunting when not the just the content or strategy, but the language itself intimidates you. Never fear – I’ve got some action steps to help you out.
1. Aim for total English immersion between now and GMAT Test Day.
Immersion means only English movies, English music, English radio, English-speaking friends, and English newspapers. You can absorb grammar and get a better ear for the language even in the short time between now and GMAT Test Day if you immerse yourself. Free resources abound on the internet: nytimes.com for reading, npr.org for radio (Fresh Air, Diane Rehm, and This American Life are great picks), free podcasts on iTunes, English music on pandora.com. The New York Times is especially important, since you need to be comfortable with high-level writing in the reading comprehension section. Nytimes.com is particularly helpful because double clicking on a word you don’t know calls up a definition. Any improvements you make in vocabulary and reading comprehension will also help you once you get to business school.
2. Use your first language to help with vocabulary.
Particularly if you speak a Romance language, like French, Spanish, or Italian, you can use your knowledge of that language to guess on unfamiliar English vocabulary. My Spanish-speaking students had no problems guessing that lachrymose means tearful, because it sounds just like lágrimas, which is Spanish for “tears”. Word roots will also come naturally to you, since they are often forms of words you already know.
3. Recognize that math vocabulary is as important as English vocabulary
You could be very strong in math, but if you studied it in a different language, you will need help with some terms. Many of my students in Puerto Rico knew odds and evens as pares and impares. The GMAT made more sense to them when they learned the English translations for unfamiliar math terms. When you encounter math terms you are unsure of, look them up. Also, practice accurately translating from English to Math on Algebra word problems – this is an extremely important skill to master for the exam.
4. Be extra-familiar with the Kaplan essay templates.
Simplicity and clarity are the keys to writing an essay in 30 minutes in a foreign language. First, make sure you understand the prompt. If you are enrolled in a Kaplan course, use the Kaplan Template for the essay and know that you will probably have to make use of all the time valves in order to finish. When writing, it is better to write something simple in English, as opposed to translating something complex from your own language into English. This is definitely something you will want to practice repeatedly under test-like conditions.
5. Know how to pace appropriately.
When reading questions and passages takes longer than average, pacing becomes more challenging. Make sure you input an answer for every question, even if you have to guess, since you don’t lose points for wrong answers. Pacing on reading comprehension may be particularly tricky. Kaplan’s elimination strategies for wrong answer traps on reading comprehension will really help you answer more quickly. Also, using the approaches for each reading comprehension question type will save you time. Put special emphasis on these facets of your study to make the most of the time you have.
The fact that English is not your first language may cause you anxiety when facing the GMAT, but ultimately it’s something that you must make the best of. Following these strategies will allow you to do just that. Many speakers of English as a Foreign Language are accepted into MBA Programs every year and you should be among them!