The 11 Best GMAT Verbal Tricks and Tips

feature_gerundwordmapThe GMAT Verbal section is notoriously difficult to do well on: a perfect score is 51, but only 1% of people score above 45. Luckily, there are some GMAT Verbal tricks and tips that you can quickly implement to maximize your performance.

In this post, we’ll give you the best overall GMAT Verbal tricks as well as the best tips for each question type, including sentence correction, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension. By the end, you’ll know all the key tricks and tips you can start using right away to improve your Verbal section score.

But before we dive in, let’s take a second to go over what these GMAT Verbal tips and tricks can and can’t help you with.

 

GMAT Verbal Tricks: What Can They Help With?

GMAT Verbal tricks are great for helping you find the most advantageous approach to each question type. Some tips are geared toward guessing strategically when you’re stuck, which can be a big help in such a stressful situation.

But here’s the hard the truth: the only way to ensure that you score highly on the GMAT Verbal section is to put in hours of focused, targeted preparation for months before the exam. No tip or trick is going to get you out of the hard work of mastering the fundamental skills tested in the exam. In other words, the number one tip for doing well on the GMAT is to study, study, study!

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With that said, let’s dive into the general GMAT Verbal tricks you can use on top of your studying to maximize your performance on this challenging section.

 

There's no magic trick for doing well on the GMAT Verbal section—but there are some regular tricks that can help!
There’s no magic trick for doing well on the GMAT Verbal section—but there are some regular tricks that can help!

 

Overall GMAT Verbal Tricks

The GMAT Verbal tips and tricks below apply to all three question types.

 

#1: Simplify Language

All three question types on the GMAT Verbal section feature sophisticated vocabulary and scholarly concepts. As such, it can be helpful to rephrase confusing language into your own words.

For reading comprehension and critical reasoning questions, this strategy could take the form of boiling down the passage or argument, or it could take the form of simplifying the question itself. For example, a question that asks about “what purpose” a certain reference in the passage serves can be boiled down into: “why did the author include this reference?”

For sentence correction questions, this strategy might involve reading a very complex sentence in your mind but omitting the parts that aren’t being tested and can be removed to make the sentence easier to understand, like an appositive clause or a bit of parenthetical information.

 

The brain loves simplicity!
The brain loves simplicity!

 

#2: Focus on the Question Being Asked

Many GMAT Verbal questions will give you tempting wrong answers that are true to the content of the prompt, but don’t actually answer the question being asked. Focus only on identifying and addressing the task of the question, and ignore the other noise.

For example, on a critical reasoning question, you may be asked which piece of evidence, if true, would most weaken the conclusion of the given argument. In this case, you don’t have to address whether or not the evidence in an answer choice is sound or if it constitutes a plausible finding giving the context in the passage. You can take all the choices as de facto truths, and simply identify the one that most weakens the argument.

Similarly, many big picture reading comprehension questions (like main idea questions) will give you choices that are true to the content of the passage but are too narrow or detailed to correctly answer the question being asked.

By focusing on the task in the question and not worrying about whether the answer choices are true or not, you can often eliminate wrong answers right off the bat.

 

#3: Read All the Answer Choices and Use Process of Elimination

Getting rid of wrong answers is an integral part of the process of getting to the right answer. Rather than trying to find the right answer, go choice-by-choice and eliminate the wrong answers until there’s only one left.

This is also a good strategy for when you’re stuck between answer options: focus on disproving each one, and then go with the answer option that is hardest to disprove. It’s almost always easier to weed out the wrong answers than it is to find the right one.

Even if you’re immediately certain of the right answer, you should always take a brief moment to eliminate the other answer options. Even our best instincts can be wrong. Not to mention that you can’t go back to questions on the GMAT—once you click “next question,” your answer is final. So it’s better to spend a little time up front ensuring that all the answers you didn’t pick can be disproven before moving on.

 

Eliminate wrong answers one by one until there's only one choice left!
Eliminate wrong answers one by one until there’s only one choice left!

 

GMAT Critical Reasoning Tricks and Tips

Below are the best GMAT critical reasoning tricks and tips.

 

#1: Read the Question Stem First

For critical reasoning questions, it’s a great idea to read the question stem before reading the argument. This way, you can determine what type of question you need to answer, and read the argument looking for what you need. For example, if it’s a weaken the argument question, you’ll be looking to identify the conclusion of the argument, and keeping an eye out for any flaws. But if it’s an inference”question, you won’t be looking for flaws, as inferences are an extension of the argument (not something that weakens it).

 

#2: Look for the Evidence, Conclusion, and Unstated Assumptions

There are essentially three main parts of most GMAT critical reasoning arguments: the conclusion, which you should take care to identify; the evidence that supports the conclusion; and any assumptions (which are often implicit) within the jump to the conclusion from the evidence. Sometimes there will be multiple pieces of evidence, assumptions, and conclusions in the same argument, but one conclusion will always be the “main” conclusion.

Being able to clearly identify these three elements in a given argument helps significantly with answering the different questions.


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In fact, the majority of GMAT critical reasoning questions will ask you to do one of four things: strengthen the argument, weaken the argument, find the assumption underlying the conclusion, or draw an inference or conclusion from the argument.

For the first three of these four question types, simply reading the argument with an eye for the flaw in the assumption can help you identify the correct answer.

This trick goes hand in hand with the last one, because you’ll need to have read the question stem first and identified it as one of the three “flaw” questions before diving into the argument.

 

Those detective skills come in handy on critical reasoning questions!
Those detective skills come in handy on critical reasoning questions!

 

Example Critical Reasoning Question: Highway Tolls to Pay for a Commuter Rail Line

The following example is a great illustration of how many of these GMAT critical reasoning tricks—and some of the general GMAT Verbal tricks—play out in action:

According to the Tristate Transportation Authority, making certain improvements to the main commuter rail line would increase ridership dramatically. The authority plans to finance these improvements over the course of five years by raising automobile tolls on the two highway bridges along the route the rail line serves. Although the proposed improvements are indeed needed, the authority’s plan for securing the necessary funds should be rejected because it would unfairly force drivers to absorb the entire cost of something from which they receive no benefit.

Which of the following, if true, would cast the most doubt on the effectiveness of the authority’s plan to finance the proposed improvements by increasing bridge tolls?

(A) Before the authority increases tolls on any of the area bridges, it is required by law to hold public hearings at which objections to the proposed increase can be raised.

(B) Whenever bridge tolls are increased, the authority must pay a private contractor to adjust the automated toll-collecting machines.

(C) Between the time a proposed toll increase is announced and the time the increase is actually put into effect, many commuters buy more tokens than usual to postpone the effects of the increase.

(D) When tolls were last increased on the two bridges in question, almost 20 percent of the regular commuter traffic switched to a slightly longer alternative route that has since been improved.

(E) The chairman of the authority is a member of the Tristate Automobile Club that has registered strong opposition to the proposed toll increase.

First, as always, let’s look at the question before diving into the argument. This question doesn’t look like it falls into a familiar question type, but after we simplify it, we realize it’s just a “weaken” question in disguise: we’re being asked what would weaken the argument for the authority’s plan to finance the improvements.


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Now, let’s hit the argument. It’s a good thing we read the question stem first, because this question does have a slight twist: it’s not asking us to focus on the main conclusion, which is that the plan is unfair—rather, it’s asking us to cast doubt on the plan’s effectiveness. To answer the question, we’ll need to identify the flaw in the assumption behind the financing plan itself, and then poke holes in it. We don’t need to address questions of fairness.

One big assumption in the financing plan is that drivers are going to continue to use the bridges for those next five years, even after the toll is raised. You may have been able to come up with that assumption on your own, or you may have come up with something else, or you may have gotten stumped. Either way, let’s head to the answer options.

Objections to the plan at a public hearing wouldn’t necessarily stop the plan, so (A) doesn’t much weaken its effectiveness—not to mention that opposition isn’t the same as ineffectiveness, so it doesn’t look like (A) is fully addressing the question being asked. (E) can be ruled out for this same reason. (B) looks good at first, but the one-time fee to change the automated toll machines probably doesn’t outweigh five whole years of increased revenue. (C) suffers from a similar issue: the token hoarding is unlikely to make a huge dent over a period of five years.

What would make a bigger dent is if 20% of bridge-users took an alternate route for the next five years: that one-fifth loss in revenue would be sure to add up to much more of a loss than the one-time fee or the initial token-hoarding. Therefore, (D) most weakens the case for the increased tolls financing the improvements to the commuter rail, and it is the answer.

Even if you weren’t able to identify this assumption beforehand, you can clearly get to (D) using the above process of elimination. And even if (D) jumped out at you immediately, you should always take the time to disprove all answer options before moving on anyway.

 

If (D) is true, then the transportation authority would need to figure out another way to fund the commuter rail!
If (D) is true, then the transportation authority would need to figure out another way to fund the commuter rail improvements!

 

GMAT Reading Comprehension Tips and Tricks

Below are the best GMAT reading comprehension tips and tricks.

 

#1: Read the Passage First

When you come across a passage-based question, read the passage first, not the question. This is often the better strategy for two reasons. First, you can only see one question at a time, but there will be three or four questions for each passage. So if you read the passage trying to “hone in” on the answer to the first question, you might subconsciously disregard aspects of the passage that are important for the subsequent questions.

Second, even questions that seem to be about a small detail or sub-topic will require a holistic understanding of the passage to answer correctly. 

 

#2: Look for the Main Idea

As stated above, you actually have a better chance of identifying the right answer in the majority of questions if you aren’t biased toward one detail or sub-topic, but are reading for the main idea instead. As you’re reading, ask yourself: what is the “big picture” of this passage?

You’ll always have the passage up on the left of the screen, so you can return to the little details if need be for a certain question—but you don’t want to waste time re-reading for a general understanding. That should be accomplished on your first go-through.

 

#3: Take Notes

Along these lines, it’s incredibly helpful to use your scratchboard to take notes on the passage. Specifically, you should focus on jotting down the main idea. Some people like to draw a passage map, or a simple outline of the main idea and some key supporting arguments, definitions, or distinctions. But don’t get too in the weeds with your notes: the point of them is to stay out of the weeds and focused on macro-level organization.

 

Taking notes is incredibly helpful for understanding the sophisticated GMAT reading comp passages
Taking notes is incredibly helpful for understanding the sophisticated GMAT reading comp passages

 

Example Reading Comprehension Passage: Meteor Streams

As practice, you may want to take notes on the passage below as you read. We’ll give you our notes at the end.

A meteor stream is composed of dust particles that have been ejected from a parent comet at a variety of velocities. These particles follow the same orbit as the parent comet, but due to their differing velocities they slowly gain on or fall behind the disintegrating comet until a shroud of dust surrounds the entire cometary orbit. Astronomers have hypothesized that a meteor stream should broaden with time as the dust particles’ individual orbits are perturbed by planetary gravitational fields. A recent computer-modeling experiment tested this hypothesis by tracking the influence of planetary gravitation over a projected 5,000-year period on the positions of a group of hypothetical dust particles. In the model, the particles were randomly distributed throughout a computer simulation of the orbit of an actual meteor stream, the Geminid. The researcher found, as expected, that the computer-model stream broadened with time. Conventional theories, however, predicted that the distribution of particles would be increasingly dense toward the center of a meteor stream. Surprisingly, the computer-model meteor stream gradually came to resemble a thick-walled, hollow pipe.

Whenever the Earth passes through a meteor stream, a meteor shower occurs. Moving at a little over 1,500,000 miles per day around its orbit, the Earth would take, on average, just over a day to cross the hollow, computer-model Geminid stream if the stream were 5,000 years old. Two brief periods of peak meteor activity during the shower would be observed, one as the Earth entered the thick-walled “pipe” and one as it exited. There is no reason why the Earth should always pass through the stream’s exact center, so the time interval between the two bursts of activity would vary from one year to the next.

Has the predicted twin-peaked activity been observed for the actual yearly Geminid meteor shower? The Geminid data between 1970 and 1979 shows just such a bifurcation, a secondary burst of meteor activity being clearly visible at an average of 19 hours (1,200,000 miles) after the first burst. The time intervals between the bursts suggest the actual Geminid stream is about 3,000 years old.

 

Passage Summary

If you were taking notes on the passage, did they look something like this?

Main idea: a computer simulation of the Geminid meteor stream has found that meteor streams broaden over time and form a hollow pipe shape.
Differs from conventional theory, which predicted broad, but centrally dense (not hollow)
Observational data from real Geminid meteor shower supports hollow shape theory: two bursts of showering when earth entered and exited the pipe.

Note how I drilled the passage down to just the key ideas—this is more or less what your own notes and/or mental summary should look like for this passage.

 

Meteor showers are cool!
Meteor showers are cool!

 

Example Reading Comprehension Question

Here’s a sample question that’s based on the passage above.

The primary focus of the passage is on which of the following?

(A) Comparing two scientific theories and contrasting the predictions that each would make concerning a natural phenomenon

(B) Describing a new theoretical model and noting that it explains the nature of observations made of a particular natural phenomenon

(C) Evaluating the results of a particular scientific experiment and suggesting further areas for research

(D) Explaining how two different natural phenomena are related and demonstrating a way to measure them

(E) Analyzing recent data derived from observations of an actual phenomenon and constructing a model to explain the data

This is a classic “main idea” question. Let’s use our notes with our passage summary and process of elimination to figure it out.

(A) doesn’t quite get at the big picture: although the model confirmed only part of the conventional theory, the passage isn’t mainly concerned with contrasting the predictions of the two competing theories. No further areas for research are mentioned, so (C) is out too. Only one phenomenon is described in the passage, so (D) doesn’t work either. And (E) actually gets it backwards: the model is what churned out the surprising prediction, and data from real-life observations are what confirmed the model’s prediction.

(B) nails it: the passage first describes a new model, and then it explains how real-life observations confirm the new model. Note how (B) is also the closest option to our passage summary as well—it goes to show how helpful passage summaries are in answering questions.

 

Who knew that meteor streams formed a hollow shape?
Who knew that meteor streams formed a hollow shape?

 

GMAT Sentence Correction Tips and Tricks

Below are the three best GMAT sentence correction tips and tricks. For more content-specific tips, check out our guide to the six GMAT grammar rules you absolutely must know.

 

#1: When in Doubt, Go Short

In addition to the rules of grammar, you also have to keep an eye out for concision and clarity on sentence correction questions. Often—but not always—the most concise answer will be the correct one. When in doubt, scan the shortest of the answer choices for errors, and then pick it if you can’t find any.

Here’s an example:

If the proposed expenditures for gathering information abroad are reduced even further, international news reports have been and will continue to diminish in number and quality.

(A) have been and will continue to diminish
(B) have and will continue to diminish
(C) will continue to diminish, as they already did,
(D) will continue to diminish, as they have already,
(E) will continue to diminish

In this case, (E) is both error-free and the most concise option. It’s correct.

 

#2: Abbreviate Big Words

Many sentence correction questions are intentionally filled with technical jargon or other ten-dollar words, which make it harder to discern the errors in grammar and syntax. If you find yourself bogged down by big words, simply abbreviate them when you’re reading the sentence in your mind.

Here’s an example:

Displays of the aurora borealis, or “northern lights”, can heat the atmosphere over the arctic enough to affect the trajectories of ballistic missiles , induce electric currents that can cause blackouts in some areas and corrosion in north-south pipelines.

(A) to affect the trajectories of ballistic missiles,induce
(B) that the trajectories of ballistic missiles are affected,induce
(C) that it affects the trajectories of ballistic missiles are affected and induces
(D) that the trajectories of ballistic missiles are affected and induces
(E) to affect the trajectories of ballistic missiles and induce

In this sentence, you can skip “aurora borealis” and just sub in “northern lights” when reading it back to yourself. Moreover, you can abbreviate “ballistic missiles” to simply “b-missiles,” and “electric currents” to “e-currents.”

With these simplifications, the sentence reads as follows:

Displays of the northern lights can heat the atmosphere over the arctic enough to affect the trajectories of b-missiles, induce e-currents that can cause blackouts in some areas and corrosion in north-south pipelines.

The issue with the sentence is now a bit clearer than it was: the conjunction “and” should replace the comma to show that the missile trajectories changing and the electrical currents getting induced are two separate and equal effects. (E) fixes that issue and is the answer.

Note also that even though (A) is slightly shorter than (E), (E) is still one of the more concise options—so the “go short” trick still holds up here as well.

 

Apparently the GMAT likes passages about astrological phenomena!
Apparently the GMAT likes passages about astrological phenomena!

 

#3: “Group” Together Wrong Choices

Another sentence correction tip is group together answers that make the same mistake and eliminate them. For example, look at this sample question that tests the simple past tense and modifying clauses:

Visitors to the park have often looked up into the leafy canopy and saw monkeys sleeping on the branches, whose arms and legs hang like socks on a clothesline.(A) saw monkeys sleeping on the branches, whose arms and legs hang
(B) saw monkeys sleeping on the branches, whose arms and legs were hanging
(C) saw monkeys sleeping on the branches, with arms and legs hanging
(D) seen monkeys sleeping on the branches, with arms and legs hanging
(E) seen monkeys sleeping on the branches, whose arms and legs have hung

The “have” from “have often looked” carries over to “saw,” which means that we need to use the past participle “seen” instead. Immediately, all the answer options with “saw” can be eliminated.

We can do a second grouping in this example. The second clause, as it’s written, is incorrectly modifying “branches”—it’s not the branches whose arms and legs are hanging, it’s the monkeys. Eliminate all the answer options in which the clause after the comma begins with with “whose.” Rewording to “with arms and legs hanging” corrects this issue, so (D) is correct.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know the best GMAT Verbal tips and tricks, check out our guide to the how to master the three Verbal question types.

It’s important to set score goals when you’re preparing, so be sure to read our guide to figuring out what a good GMAT Verbal score is for you.

Need more Verbal question practice? We’ve got you covered there too.

Happy studying!

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Author: Jess Hendel

Jess Hendel is a Brooklyn-based academic advisor, test prep tutor, and content writer for PrepScholar. A graduate of Amherst College, she has several years of experience writing content and designing curricula for the top e-learning organizations. She is passionate about leveraging new media and technology to help students around the world achieve their potential.

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