The GMAT verbal section presents a unique challenge. While many test-takers spend hours and hours mastering the strategies and formulas necessary to do well on the quant section, the verbal section can often seem more opaque and intimidating. In this guide, I’ll give you concrete, actionable strategies that you can use to demystify and master the GMAT verbal section.
First, I’ll talk about what’s on the GMAT verbal. Next, I’ll talk about the three question types on the GMAT verbal section, and give sample questions for each. Finally, I’ll give you some strategies for preparing for the GMAT verbal and for acing the verbal section on test day.
What’s on the GMAT Verbal Section?
The GMAT is designed to show your skills to prospective business schools. The verbal section is an important part of evaluating your capabilities as a candidate because it shows how well you’ll be able to understand and communicate ideas. The GMAT verbal section tests your ability to read and understand written material, to evaluate arguments, and to correct sentences so that they conform to standard written English.
The verbal section is the fourth section on the GMAT. You’ll take the verbal section right after your second 8-minute break. You have 65 minutes to complete the 36 multiple-choice GMAT verbal questions.
The GMAT verbal test is computerized and adaptive. What that means is that you’ll take the test on a computer (as you will with the rest of the GMAT) and that the difficulty of the questions you get will be adjusted as you get questions right or wrong. If you’re struggling, you’ll receive easier questions. If you’re doing well, you’ll receive more difficult questions. The questions you get right or wrong on the GMAT verbal section contribute to your GMAT total score.
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Verbal scores range from 0 to 60. Your verbal score contributes to your GMAT total score, which ranges from 200 to 800, and is made up of your scaled verbal and scaled quantitative scores.
The 3 Types of GMAT Verbal Questions
The GMAT verbal section has three question types: reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. I’ll explain what skills each question type tests and walk you through a sample question for each type.
The reading comprehension questions test your ability to understand, analyze, and apply information and concepts presented in written form.
What does this mean? Basically, you’ll be reading passages and answering questions based on what’s directly stated or implied within the passage. These questions are designed to show business schools how well you are able to understand written material.
Directions: After reading the passage, choose the best answer to each question. Answer the question on the basis of what is stated or implied in the passage.
Transnational cooperation among corporations is experiencing a modest renaissance among United States firms, even though projects undertaken by two or more corporations under a collaborative agreement are less profitable than projects undertaken by a single corporation. The advantage of transnational cooperation is that such joint international projects may allow United States firms to win foreign contracts that they would not otherwise be able to win.
Which of the following is information provided by the passage?
- Transnational cooperation involves projects too big for a single corporation to handle.
- Transnational cooperation results in a pooling of resources leading to high-quality performance.
- Transnational cooperation has in the past been both more common and less common than it is now among United States firms.
- Joint projects between United States and foreign corporations are not profitable enough to be worth undertaking.
- Joint projects between United States and foreign corporations benefit only those who commission the projects.
Correct Answer: C
The question asks us to determine which information is provided in the passage. For this question, we’ll need to find textual evidence that supports our answer, because the question stipulates that the information is “provided in the passage.” For each of the answer choices, ask yourself whether or not you can find textual support.
Answer A is incorrect because the passage doesn’t directly discuss or imply anything about the size of the projects the companies are working on. Make sure that you only focus on answers that are supported by the text.
Answer B is incorrect because the passage directly states that the value of transnational cooperation is in winning foreign contracts. The passage doesn’t talk about any results regarding high-quality performance.
Answer D is incorrect because while the passage does state that transnational projects are less profitable than single projects, it doesn’t imply that they aren’t profitable.
Answer E is incorrect because the passage suggests that joint projects benefit the United States firms, since they are awarded new contracts (“may allow United States firms to win foreign contracts that they would not otherwise be able to win”).
Answer C is correct because the phrase “experiencing a modest renaissance” implies that the transnational projects are coming back into favor after being out of style for a while.
Critical reasoning questions focus on arguments. Critical reasoning questions measure your skills in crafting and evaluating arguments, as well as making or evaluating a plan of action based on an argument. These questions are designed to show business schools how well you’re able to present and defend information.
Directions: Select the best of the answer choices given.
The interview is an essential part of a successful hiring program because, with it job applicants who have personalities that are unsuited to the requirements of the job will be eliminated from consideration.
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This argument logically depends on which of the following assumptions?
- A hiring program will be successful if it includes interviews.
- The interview is a more important part of a successful hiring program than is the development of a job description.
- Interviewers can accurately identify applicants whose personalities are unsuited to the requirements of the job.
- The only purpose of an interview is to evaluate whether job applicants’ personalities are suited to the requirements of the job.
- The fit of job applicants’ personalities to the requirements of the job was once the most important factor in making hiring decisions.
Correct Answer: C
Start by considering the argument. The argument of this passage statements that the interview is an essential part of the hiring program. That means that we are looking for the answer that a.) focuses on the interview, and b.) focuses on what or how the interview is made successful.
Answer A is incorrect because the passage states that the interview is “an essential part” of a successful hiring program. The word “part” indicates that the hiring program is only one piece of a successful hiring program, which means that the hiring program must contain other pieces in order to be successful.
Answer B is incorrect because the passage doesn’t discuss developing a job description. In fact, the passage doesn’t even imply anything about a job description. You can rule out this answer because it talks about something that’s not part of the passage. Always stick to the information that’s actually contained or implied in the passage, rather than extrapolating.
Answer D is incorrect because, while the argument does state that the interview evaluates applicants’ personalities, it doesn’t suggest that that’s the only purpose of the interview. Note the word “only” in the answer choice. Be careful of categorical words like “only,” “all,” “always,” “never,” and “exclusively.”
Answer E is incorrect because the argument focuses on how to find people who don’t fit to the program, not how to find people who fit with the program. It doesn’t imply that an applicant’s personality is the most important part of the hiring process, either.
Answer C is correct because the argument focuses on eliminating candidates whose personalities are unsuited to the job. The ability to eliminate unsuited candidates assumes that interviewers are able to determine what makes a candidate’s personality suited or unsuited.
Finally, sentence correction questions test you on conventions of standard written English. In these questions, you’ll be asked to correct sentences that may contain grammar or word usage errors in order to show your ability to present a clear, concise, and grammatically correct argument.
Directions: This question presents a sentence, part of which is underlined. Beneath the sentence you will find five ways of phrasing the underlined part. The first of these repeats the original; the other four are different. If you think the original is best, choose the first answer; otherwise choose one of the others.
Executives and federal officials say that the use of crack and cocaine is growing rapidly among workers, significantly compounding the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, which already are a cost to business of more than $100 billion a year.
- significantly compounding the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, which already are a cost to business of
- significantly compounding the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, which already cost business
- significantly compounding the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, already with business costs of
- significant in compounding the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, and already costing business
- significant in compounding the effects of drug and alcohol abuse, and already costs business
Correct Answer: B
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Answer A is incorrect because the phrase “are a cost to business” is in the passive voice. The conventions of standard written English consider the passive voice to be unclear and inexact.
Answer C is incorrect because the phrase “already with business costs of” is awkward and wordy. The GMAT prefers sentences to use clear, simple language that is logical and easy to understand.
Answer D is incorrect because the phrase “significant in compounding should modify effects of drug and alcohol abuse” is unclear and wordy. The use of the word “and” incorrectly suggests that the sentence is referring to the “drug and alcohol abuse,” instead of the “effects.”
Answer E is incorrect because the phrase “significant in compounding should modify effects of drug and alcohol abuse” is unclear and wordy. The use of the word “and” incorrectly suggests that the sentence is referring to the “drug and alcohol abuse,” instead of the “effects.”
Answer B is correct because the word “which” correctly correlates to the subject (“effects”) and the phrase “already cost business” simplifies and clarifies the language in the original sentence.
GMAT Verbal Tips
In this section, I’ll take you through some tried-and-true GMAT verbal tips for acing each question type.
Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension Strategies
The reading comprehension questions on the GMAT verbal section measure how well you understand a text. The critical reasoning questions measure how well you can analyze an argument. Though these GMAT verbal questions are fairly different form each other, I’ve grouped them together here because there are a lot of similarities in how you should approach them.
These questions might seem intimidating, but the GMAT verbal tips I’ve outlined below will help you read and understand more easily.
Ask Yourself Questions
Active reading is an important skill for achieving a good score on the GMAT verbal section. The passages on the GMAT aren’t designed to be particularly interesting. However, by continuously asking yourself questions, you can engage yourself in the passage and make sure you’re focusing on important ideas. Think about asking yourself the following questions:
- What’s the main focus of the passage? (What’s the passage mostly about?)
- What’s the purpose of this passage? (Why did the author write this passage? What’s the author trying to convince the reader of?)
- How is the passage organized? (Think about the introduction, body, and conclusion – what happens in each of those sections?)
- What evidence is used to support the main idea or argument in this passage? (Once you’ve figured out the main idea or main argument, think about what the author is saying to support those ideas).
Understand the Basic FormulaS
For both the critical reasoning and the reading comprehension, there are just a few basic question styles you’ll see again and again. Figuring out what kind of question you’re answering will help you determine what kind of answer to look for, because you’ll be able to hone in on the specific parts of the text that will help you find the answer.
There are three general types of reading comprehension questions:
- Questions about the main idea of the article, which require you to think about overall ideas.
- Questions about specific details, which ask you to find and paraphrase a specific claim.
- Questions about inferences, for which you’ll have to understand ideas not explicitly stated in the passage.
Similarly, there is a limited set of question styles you’ll see on the critical reasoning:
- Questions about strengthening or weakening the argument, which require you to determine the evidence that would bolster or undermine the passage’s main point.
- Questions about assumptions and paradoxes, which ask you to identify the ideas underlying the argument.
- Questions about inferences, which ask you draw logical conclusions from the argument.
Pick a Reading Strategy and Stick to It
It’s important to have a solid reading strategy when approaching the GMAT verbal. Reading on the GMAT is different from reading in your daily life. The texts on the GMAT verbal test are purposely dense and hard to read. It can be easy to get lost in these passages, or waste time focusing on insignificant details. Having a reading strategy will help you target your reading to find the most important information from the passage. You’ll also be able to better budget your time because you’ll have a specific way you’re approaching each text and question set. Having a reading strategy ensures that you’ll be able to immediately be able to dive in and dissect a passage, without wasting time trying to figure out your approach.
There are few different approaches to reading for the GMAT. Some ask you to read the passage in full first before turning to the GMAT verbal questions. Some ask you to read the questions first before searching for information in the passage. Some ask you to skim the passage first, then look at the questions, then go back to the passage. Each of these strategies has its own pros and cons. I’m not going to recommend a specific strategy here, because a lot of this recommendation depends on what you’re good at as a reader. During your practice, try out each of these strategies. Find the one that feels the best to you and yields the best results, and then stick to that. That way, you’ll get faster and better as you keep working.
Don’t Draw on Outside Knowledge
Everything you’ll need to know to answer the questions will be found in or directly inferred from the passage. You’re not required to know anything special, and you’ll find all the information you need to learn in the passage itself.
If the passage’s topic seems confusing or obscure, don’t worry! That’s the point. Even if you do know something about the topic, resist the temptation to rely on that knowledge to answer the question. Stick to what’s in the passage and you’ll have all the information you need.
Focus on the Argument
Critical Reasoning passages are all about the argument. The GMAT critical reasoning section tests your ability to analyze an argument. The arguments cover the types of topics that you’ll be likely to see during and after business school. You’ll be expected to be able to analyze the validity of the argument, even if you’re not at all familiar with the overall topic.
While you may be worried that you lack the background information to understand an argument, the GMAT doesn’t require you to have any prior knowledge. You’ll be able to learn everything you need to adequately answer critical reasoning questions by reading each passage. To make sure that you’re drawing the right conclusions, keep your focus on the argument itself, without getting distracted by extraneous information. What is the main argument of the passage? What details support or weaken the main argument? By finding the main argument of the passage, you’ll be able to clearly work through the details in the passage and decide whether or not each detail supports or detracts from the argument.
Sentence Correction Strategies
The sentence correction questions on the GMAT can be tricky, especially for non-native English speakers or those who don’t have a strong command of standard English grammar conventions. Check out my tips below to help you succeed in your prep.
Review Grammar Topics
The grammar tested on the GMAT is very different than grammar you use in everyday life. For instance, many people use the word “this” in everyday life to refer to a nebulous idea. For the GMAT, the word “this” needs to clearly refer to a noun in the text.
Most people don’t talk with the kind of formality tested on the GMAT, so review the rules tested on the exam to make sure you know what to look for.
Look for Multiple Grammatical Errors
On sentence completions questions, many answer choices have more than one grammatical error. Before you mark an answer as correct, make sure every part of the answer is actually correct.
Don’t “Rely on Your Ear”
Like I mentioned before, the GMAT follows esoteric grammar rules that we rarely use in day-to-day speaking. Don’t go on what “sounds right” for grammar questions (with the exception of idiom questions). Make sure you’re figuring out what actually follows the grammatical rules, not what you’d say when talking to your friends.
Overall GMAT Verbal Tips for Test Day
Even the most prepared test-takers can feel some anxiety on test day. Here are some GMAT verbal tips that you can use across the GMAT verbal test to help you succeed.
Find The Evidence
For the reading comprehension and critical reasoning questions, make sure you can find the evidence to back up your answer. You should be able to point to a direct part of the passage that explains why your answer is right. Even in the case of inferences, you’ll be able to find parts of the text that imply why your answer is correct. If you can’t find any evidence, then your answer is likely wrong.
Break Down the Questions
The questions on the GMAT verbal section follow specific question patterns, meaning that they often ask about the same kinds of things.
For instance, many critical reasoning questions ask you to “find an assumption” made in the text. To answer these questions, you’ll need to determine what assumptions strengthen the passage’s main argument. You’ll also be asked to find answers that either strengthen or weaken an article’s conclusion. For these questions, you want to make sure you know the article’s main argument so that you can figure out what will best support it or detract from it.
On the other hand, many reading comprehension questions may ask you to decide what an author would agree with. For these questions, you’ll want to find evidence in the text that supports a potential perspective. By spending some time figuring out what the question is actually asking you, you’ll know what to look for in the passage.
REPHRASE INTO YOUR OWN WORDS
The GMAT verbal uses long-winded phrases and esoteric language to try to intimidate test-takers. You’ll be asked to read passages about boring topics that you know and care little about. The GMAT verbal section purposely uses complex language and potentially dull topics to try to confuse you as a reader. One of the ways that you can combat the difficulty of the passages is by rephrasing into your own words. Find the parts that you understand and translate it into clear phrases that make sense to you.
Save Energy (and Take the Breaks)
The verbal section is the last section of the GMAT, and it’s a doozy, with the most questions of any section. It also requires a lot of reading. You’ll need to conserve some energy through the first three sections to ensure you aren’t totally burnt out when you get to the verbal.
Make the most of the eight-minute break you’ll get before this section. It’ll refresh you and help you get back in the swing of things after you’ve finished the quant section.
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