One of the most valuable tools on the Verbal section of the GMAT is to predict the answer before you look at the answer choices provided by the test writers. The technique of reading the question and then quickly heading to the answer choices in the hopes that one will appeal to you and sound like the correct answer is exactly what the test writers want. That technique allows them to implant attractive distractor answers that spark a memory or insert insecurity into a test taker’s mindset. If you have not concretized in your own mind what you think should be a part of the answer then it is easy for an answer to point in a new direction and for you to begin asking yourself if that new direction is the correct one. In essence, the test begins to erode your trust and confidence in your own abilities. This lack of confidence on test day hinders your ability to do your best work.
A much better approach is a value driven approach that many people take in life. You often have to make general decisions before you look at the options. For instance, when you are going out for dinner, you first have to decide what type of restaurant you are going to go to. You don’t have to decide on the specific meal but you do have to make the general value judgment of whether you want Italian or Mexican food. By making that general choice you eliminate possible options from your choices and are better able to make a decision about what suits you best.
Predicting and answer choice on the Verbal section is very similar to the above restaurant example. You do not have to have, and in fact should not have, an exact construction for what you want in an answer choice. Instead you should decide what elements are necessary and then be able to eliminate options because they do not have the necessary elements. This value driven approach fueled by your own personal knowledge and sense of the question helps you to develop confidence as you eliminate answers. You don’t have to consider all the intricacies of each answer choice, instead looking at the general concepts and ideas tell you whether that answer choice is a possible correct answer.
This technique looks very different in each of the different verbal sections and needs to be fine-tuned to take into account each different question type within the three different verbal sections. There is no one-size fits all approach to predicting the answer that works across all of the verbal section. Tailoring your prediction strategy to each section will produce the best results.
In the Sentence Correction, this approach comes in the form of identifying errors in the stem sentence before looking at and comparing answers. A pro-active test taker will identify one main error in the stem sentence and know the rule involved. For example if the error is in subject/verb the test-taker will identify the subject and the verb and any complex rules involving subjects or conjugation. Only after identifying the error and working out what a correct answer will contain does the test-taker look at the answers. At this point you are able to look at the answer with a critical eye and an eye for a specific detail; skimming the answer to identify the key elements of the error and whether they are grammatically correct or not. Once you have fixed that particular error by eliminating answer choices that contain it, you are ready to look for a second error and repeat the process. Only when you cannot find any errors in the sentence should you compare the answer choices. At this point, you should look at two answer choices with an eye for differences and a knowledge of what error type those differences could be attributed to. This method of predicting takes quite a bit of practice and it is easy to slip back into the method of simply reading sentences for correct “sound” or comparing answer choices but when implemented consistently over your practice, the method can greatly improve both your accuracy and your time management on the verbal section as a whole.
Similarly, predicting answers on the reading comprehension section requires a pro-active test taker to do more of the work up front, using his knowledge as the basis for determining the answer, instead of relying on identifying the correct answer on sight. Regardless of whether the question is a specific or general question, you should craft an answer in your own words after reading the question and seeking out the information from your notes. Your person answer does not have to be a complete sentence and, in the case of specific questions, can even refer to a specific line of text. It is often helpful to jot down your answer when you are beginning to practice this technique. Once you have identified the key components of a correct answer you can then look to the answer choices with a critical eye, eliminating any answer that does not contain a version of your key components. Be very aware of how specific you want the answer choice to be. Many times the answer choices are paraphrases of an idea so looking for specific words can cause problems in this section. If you still have more than one answer choice left after eliminating any that lack the key components then you should identify the main point or subject matter of each answer choice and identify which one fits better with the passage.
In Reading Comprehension there are a few questions in which this technique is not as helpful. Any questions that are so general they could have many answers, such as “According to the passage, the author would agree with which one of the following?” These questions have multiple answers so trying to identify your own answer could lead you to focus on too narrow a topic and leave you frustrated looking for an answer that fits. In this case, it is best to treat each answer choice as a question in and of itself and search out the information in the passage one answer choice at a time.
Critical Reasoning is probably the most complicated verbal topic in which to predict your own answer but predicting an answer on Critical Reasoning is just as crucial to your overall score as it is in Sentence Correction and Reading Comprehension. In Critical Reasoning, the process for predicting your own answer begins before you even read the paragraph.
You should begin by reading just the question stem and identifying the type of question. Once you have identified the question type you then read the paragraph in accordance with the question type. Different question types require different information from the paragraph and focusing on that specific information helps you to quickly and confidently understand the paragraph. Once you have the main information from the paragraph then you need to predict the answer from the standpoint of the question. Assumption questions are looking to fill a gap between two disconnected pieces on information in the paragraph and weaken questions are looking for additional information which separates the gap further. Each question has its own prediction strategy and knowing which strategy is in play will help you to craft the most useful answer.
The prediction in a Critical Reasoning section does not need to lay out exactly what the answer choice will say, instead it will contain the key information. For example, a prediction in an assumption question will be along the lines of needing an answer choice that connects fact A with conclusion B. If the answer choice does not contain information relevant to A and B, it cannot be the assumption and should be eliminated. Using this strategy helps you to quickly and effectively eliminate distractor answers without overthinking them.
This strategy is extremely helpful in the test-taking and time management portion of your GMAT studies but also has an added benefit when it comes to reviewing homework questions. If you have your idea of the answer written down on your practice problems you can determine whether errors are due to a misunderstanding of the question and the methods presented or whether errors are a result of misreading, or overthinking answer choices. If the answer you have written down is closely related to the correct answer but you have chosen an incorrect answer then the issue is not with your understanding of the passage and question type but rather with your ability to match answer choices to what you are thinking. Maybe you are too picky or watching out for too specific of words. Knowing this can help you to refine your approach to answer choices. On the other hand, if your answer is not closely related to the correct answer then there is something wrong with your understanding of the question task or the way in which you read the information. This requires quite a different approach to fixing the problem but can be overcome by learning the question types better and having a better control of the rules of those question types.
Few people would imagine a test in which they read a math problem and then simply looked at the answers to see which one sounded correct, however those same people are willing to approach the verbal in the same manner. Approaching both from the standpoint that there are a defined set of rules governing the question type, mastering those rules and applying them to determine what is necessary in any given answer is the key to improving verbal just as much as memorizing and applying formulas is the key to improving math.
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