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Tips and strategies for the verbal section

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Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 02 Jul 2012, 11:15
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Hello everyone,

I recently sent a private message to a member of the forum explaining my tips and strategies for the verbal section. I thought it might be helpful to post that information here.

I haven't yet taken a GMAT exam, but I've taken seven GMATPrep tests, and I tend to do very well on the verbal section. I tend to get 4-6 questions wrong and finish with 10-15 minutes to spare. My GMATPrep test scores are (from earliest to most recent):

1. Quantitative 46, Verbal 44, Total 730
2. Quantitative 44, Verbal 45, Total 720
3. Quantitative 49, Verbal 41, Total 740
4. Quantitative ?, Verbal ?, Total 740
5. Quantitative 45, Verbal 44, Total 720
6. Quantitative 49, Verbal 47, Total 760
7. IR 5, Quantitative 47 (76th percentile), Verbal 45 (99th percentile), Total 740 (97th percentile)

Here are some of my tips and strategies for the verbal section:

The thing that helped me most with the verbal section was simply practice. I completed the practice questions in the official guide (the GMAT Review 12th edition) 3 or 4 times. Each time, I reviewed the questions I got wrong. My review focused on figuring out why the right answer was right and why the answer I selected was wrong. I also took the GMATPrep practice exams seven times. In addition, I recently started working through practice questions in the Verbal Review (2nd edition) for the first time. So far, I've completed about one-third of the questions (and reviewed my wrong answers). That's literally all the preparation I did.

For critical reasoning (CR) questions and reading comprehension (RC) questions, it's important to make an effort to understand the passage before reading the answer choices. Also, practice is very helpful. I found that once I worked through a certain amount of questions and gained experience, for some CR and RC questions I developed a "feeling" (intuition) for what the correct answer was before looking at the answer choices. It's almost as if I figured out how the test-maker thinks. I also developed a feeling for which answer choices discuss things that are irrelevant (usually 1 or 2 choices are like this) and which answer choices look very appealing but are incorrect because a part of the choice is incorrect (usually 1 choice is like this). In short, focusing on understanding the passage, developing experience through practice and trusting my intuition made a big difference for me.

In terms of strategy, for the CR section, I read the question first, then read the passage, then reread the question and then work through answer choices. Of course, for tough questions, I may read the passage more than once and read the question more than twice.

For the RC section, I read the whole passage first. My focus is on understanding the passage. However, I also put a little effort into remembering important stuff (stuff that will likely be asked about in the questions), or I put effort into remembering where in the passage the important stuff is located. I know what's important because I did a lot of practice, and through that practice I gained a feeling for what the test-maker thinks is important. As I work through answer choices, I reread 2 to 4 relevant sentences (or on rare occasions, a whole paragraph). For "purpose-of-the-passage" questions, I'll quickly scan the whole passage. My scan focuses on the first and last sentences of each paragraph. These sentences usually summarize the topic of the paragraph. I prefer to reread/scan parts of the passage before looking at answer choices. I think I am less likely to be fooled by appealing but incorrect choices if I already have an idea of what the correct choice is before looking at the answer choices (even if it's a faint idea).

For the sentence correction section, the process of elimination is a very helpful tool. I usually narrow down my choices by eliminating wrong choices. In fact, for the verbal section in general, when I'm stumped, sometimes the best thing I do is that I eliminate choices that sound bad, so that I'm left with the best sounding choice. This strategy is very helpful for the verbal section.

Keep in mind that I don't always apply these strategies. Just like everyone else, I come across hard questions and passages (which is probably why I get 4-6 questions wrong) where I'm not able to successfully apply my strategies and have to... improvise :).

My last tip is to read a lot. I don't read novels. But aside from reading textbooks or class notes, I spent a considerable amount of time reading articles about the NBA (the American professional basketball league) or video games. Reading makes me a better reader, and it is very helpful to me in the verbal section. Good luck.

Last edited by honsmos on 03 Jul 2012, 14:48, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 03 Jul 2012, 12:16
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Hey honsmos, great post! I particularly liked one thing you said:

honsmos wrote:
For the reading comprehension section, I read the whole passage first. My focus is on understanding the passage. However, I also put a little effort into remembering important stuff (stuff that will likely be used to answer a question) or where the important stuff is located. I know what's important because I did a lot of practice and I have a feeling for what the test-maker thinks is important. As I work through answer choices, I reread 2 to 4 relevant sentences (or on rare occasions, a whole paragraph). For the "purpose-of-the-paragraph" questions, I'll quickly scan the whole passage. I prefer to reread/scan parts of the passage before looking at answer choices. I think I am less likely to be fooled by appealing but incorrect choices if I already have an idea of what the correct choice is before looking at the answer choices (even if it's a faint idea).


Many people think RC is impossible to study for, but you have a great method. Practice getting the most out of your first read. As you work, you may start to think to yourself, "they might ask a question about this!" This is a skill that no book can teach you - it just comes from seeing a lot of GMAT questions. But if you keep this in mind as you work through the official guide, you'll get the most out of your studying. Plus, it will help you analyze as you read, instead of having to go back and read a second time.
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 03 Jul 2012, 14:30
Thank you, rjacobs :). I agree, getting the most out of the first read makes working through the questions easier.
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 03 Jul 2012, 21:15
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RJ/H,
Reading comprehension is my weakest link :(
My comprehension suffers the most when words not in my vocbulary appears in the passage.
Once that happens, I start to skim through the passage and reread the passage multiple times, and still get questions wrong :(
Is there some strategy to overcome this?
Thx :)
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 04 Jul 2012, 14:44
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I know what you mean. I occasionally come across words that I am unfamiliar with or unsure about. This tends to happen more when the passage is about a subject that I'm unfamiliar with, such as biology or astronomy.

I think that rereading a few sentences two or three times is okay, especially if you weren't concentrating to the fullest when you first read the sentence. However, I've never had to reread an entire passage.

When I come across words I am unfamiliar with or unsure about, I try to use context clues to come up with a very good guess of what the word means. Context clues are clues located in the sentence that contains the word, or in the preceding or following sentences. These clues give you an idea of what the word means. Here's a straightforward example taken from a passage in the official guide:

"The heart of sea snakes can be located near the middle of the body... In arboreal snakes, however, which dwell in trees and often assume a vertical posture, the average distance from the heart to the head can be as little as 15 percent of overall body length."

I don't know what "arboreal" means. However, the words "dwell in trees" lead me to believe that arboreal means "dwelling in trees". It turns out that yes, that's what it means. (Additionally, it also turns out that the French word for "tree", "arbre", is very similar to the the first three letters of "arboreal". I knew this fact when I first encountered the word, however I'm not sure if I considered it.)

Here are some more examples of using context clues. In one passage in the official guide, I encountered 10 words I was either unfamiliar with or unsure about: metabolic, neurons, neurotransmitter, serotonin, compound, amino acid, tryptophan, insulin, tyrosine, leucine. I was still able to understand the passage and answer the questions because I used (1) what I already knew and (2) context clues to come up with a very good guess of what the words mean. Here's what I already knew:

(1) I remember hearing or reading that people who have a high metabolism eat a lot of food but don't gain weight. Subconsciously, I'm thinking, "metabolic" has something to do with eating or food.
(2) "Neurons" have something to do with the brain.
(3) Since the word "neurotransmitter" has the words "neuro" and "transmitter" in it, it must have something to do with the brain and transmitting.
(4) Serotonin has something to do with the brain. I once heard something like the brain releases serotonin when a person exercises, and that serotonin makes you feel good.
(5) A compound is a mixture of two things. I know it's a "science word".
(6) "Amino acid" and "insulin" are also science words. I know that people who have diabetes monitor their insulin level.

Here's what I subconsciously figured out by analyzing a combination of the context clues and what I already knew:
- metabolic processes have something to do with the body processing food
- neurons are located in the brain. They produce and release neurotransmitters (luckily, the word "neurotransmitters" was explicitly defined in the passage)
- seratonin is a neurotransmitter. In other words, it's a thing that is produced and released by neurons.
- tryptophan, tyrosine and leucine are amino acids (I still don't know what an amino acid is)
- insulin is a thing that is secreted by the body
- I'm still not sure what a compound is

Despite the fact that I wasn't 100% sure about what most of these words meant, I was still able to understand the central idea or essence of the passage. That's enough to answer questions correctly. If you don't know something, and I quote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, "don't panic!"

I hope these examples helped.
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 04 Jul 2012, 20:47
Thanks for explaining with examples H! Its really helpful :)
I will try out the context clues methodology tonight.

Do you take notes while going through the passage?
I take notes to help me stay focused, but i dont usually refer back to the notes to answer the questions, as i roughly remember the points in passage where the question refers to. Taking notes also help me understand the general idea of the passage, but its super time consuming!
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 05 Jul 2012, 05:32
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You're welcome, Joseph. I hope the strategy helps. I don't take notes on the RC section. I find that the following works extremely well for me: understanding as much as I can when I first read the passage and then rereading parts of the passage when answering questions. Also, I want to emphasize my two best strategies for the RC section:

1. It's important to refer to the passage before reading answer choices. Why? Because the test-makers often create very attractive incorrect answer choices. You're more likely to pick the wrong choice if you start reading the answer choices without having an idea (even if it's a faint idea) of what the answer should be. I learned this information while studying for RC questions on the LSAT, and it applies to the GMAT too. After reading the question and before reading the answer choices, reread the relevant part of the passage and do a little bit of analysis if necessary.

2. I often fall back on this strategy when none of the answer choices look good: eliminate the choices that sound bad and pick the best one I'm left with. This strategy works very well for me.
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 05 Jul 2012, 06:26
Referring to the passage first is a very interesting approach!
Thanks for the tips H, wish u had posted this earlier :)
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Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section [#permalink] New post 05 Jul 2012, 07:10
You're welcome. I hope it helps. :)
Re: Tips and strategies for the verbal section   [#permalink] 05 Jul 2012, 07:10
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