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How to Improve Your GMAT Verbal Score

Some people, stereotypically American students, are more comfortable with verbal information and find math challenging.  Other students, especially native speakers of other languages, find the math do-able, but find the GMAT Verbal section daunting.  If you don’t have a good sense of how your math & verbal skills compare to what is demanded on the GMAT, please take the Magoosh GMAT Diagnostic Test.

In both math and verbal, there are the individual facts and individual strategies to know, and then there’s the good instincts, the “feel” of the subject matter, which cannot be explicitly communicated.  In math, this “feel” has to do with mathematical thinking and number sense, and with breaking an over-reliance on formulas.  How does one, especially someone who has learned English as a second language, learn this “feel” for the Verbal side?

Different people reading this blog are probably at different places with respect to the English language.  If you still need to take the TOEFL exam, I highly recommend Magoosh’s TOEFL blog and TOEFL product.   If you sign up for both the TOEFL product and the GMAT product, we will give you a discount on one of these!  You may find our GMAT idiom flashcards helpful.  You may also find helpful our three-month study schedule focused on Verbal skills.  Of course, there are a number of articles on this blog that discuss points of grammar and other subtleties of the GMAT Verbal section.  All of this can help.

I think the real difference-maker, though, is a single habit that can transform the depth of your understanding.


The habit of reading

As is often the case, the best advice is often the simplest.   If you want to improve on GMAT Verbal, then READ.  Read every day: at least an hour a day of reading each day would be a good time to devote.  Read hard, challenging material in English.  In particular, force yourself to read what business executives have to read every day.

If you are taking the GMAT, then implicitly you are making the statement that want to spend your life in the modern business world.   If you plan to spend your life in that world, shouldn’t you spend as much time learning about it as possible?  Read the Wall Street Journal every day and the Economist magazine every week.  Bloomsburg Businessweek is also excellent.  It can also be helpful to read the business and world politics sections of well-respected newspapers, such as the New York Times.   Part of success in business is understanding the trends.  Start learning all these trends now, before even begin business school, so that by the time you start your career, you already have the pulse of your sector.   Read as if it might make the difference between a mediocre career and wildly successful career, because that just might be the case.

For more suggestions on what to read, see our GMAT reading list.  The goal is to read real-world material of the sort that GMAT often samples or imitates.  After all, the GMAT Verbal is designed to measure your readiness to read and analyze real-world material, so it makes sense to practice that which is the actual goal and focus of the exam.


How to use reading for GMAT skill-building

For some folks, at early stages of learning, it might take extraordinary effort to fight through even one news article.  If someone is at that stage, this person is certainly not GMAT-ready yet.  Let’s assume the student can, with some effort, read through a whole article and get something out of it.  How can this student use this reading for GMAT practice?  Well, think about what the GMAT will ask.

Think about GMAT Reading Comprehension skills.   Whenever you read an article from any of these sources, make sure you can identify the “main idea.” Make sure you understand the role that each paragraph plays in the argument as a whole.  If the author mentioned a particular detail or fact, make sure you understand why the author mentioned it.  Think about what the author is implying, that is, what we can infer even though it is not explicitly mentioned.

Think about GMAT Critical Reasoning skills.  All the newspapers and journals I mentioned above present arguments.   They certainly will report on public figures and business figures who are making arguments of various kinds.  In the Op/Ed section of a newspaper, the editors of the newspaper state their own opinions, often in the form of logical arguments for or against something.   In all these arguments, apply GMAT CR analysis.  What are the evidence, the conclusion, and the assumptions?  What are possible strengtheners or weakeners? What additional information would you need to have to evaluate an argument?  Pay close attention to what kinds of information are most persuasive, and what kinds of assumptions are typical.  This is a very funny thing about GMAT Critical Reasoning: you don’t need outside expertise on any particular topic, but you do need a general sense of the push-and-pull of real world scenarios, and you only get this through outside reading.

Think about GMAT Sentence Correction skills.  Sentences in the New York Times and the Economist are of particularly high quality.  Look at long complex sentences.  What are the independent clauses and what are the subordinate clause.  What modifies what?   Identify parallelism wherever it occurs, and figure out the omitted words in the second branch of the parallelism.  Notice how rarely the passive voice is used, and when it does appear.  Notice how the language is used to transmit meaning and avoid ambiguity or redundancy.

If one brings all this analysis to each day’s reading, one will make tremendous progress over time.


Time spent reading

Of course, do not misinterpret me.  I am not at all suggesting that all the outside reading could replace GMAT-specific practice: studying GMAT preparatory material and answering GMAT practice questions.  Of course, you have to do all the GMAT-specific practice.  The hour of reading I am suggesting is over and above any time spent on GMAT-specific practice.

Essentially, I am recommending an additional hour of work each day.  I know some folks already have tight schedules, fitting in GMAT practice after a demanding day-job.  Of course, many business executives use the occasion of a meal alone to read.  You might also consider whether you can reduce any electronically-supplied entertainment.

Especially for a student who is not a native English speaker, a habit of daily reading is one of the habits of excellence.  The reason most people don’t achieve excellent results is that they are not willing to commit themselves fully, including the sacrifices needed to bring excellence to every day’s practice.   Don’t underestimate how much your little everyday choices shape the course of your life.



The habit of reading is one of the best ways to develop a “feel” for the language and for the GMAT Verbal tasks.  If you have been doing your reading and have found benefit in your GMAT performance, we would love to hear about that.  Please let us know in the comments sections below.


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5 Responses to How to Improve Your GMAT Verbal Score

  1. Ankur September 3, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    Hi Mike,
    I have taken the GMAT three times. I am from India. My scores have been 650, 680 and 680. As you can see i find little sense in retaking the GMAT as i feel there is very little scope for improvement in my score. Do you suggest i apply with this score? I am targeting schools in the Top 25 list in the US. Most of these schools have average GMAT scores in the range of 690 and above.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert September 5, 2016 at 10:20 am #

      Hi Ankur,

      This is a tough position to be in! Ultimately, applications are about a host of things including scores, essays, work experience, and much more. I would say this: clearly you are consistently scoring in your current range and getting above that is going to require significant changes in the way you prepare and potentially a larger time commitment. If that is not something you can do, then you will need to look at potential schools a little lower than the ideal Top 25 and apply to “back up” schools with good programs that are not on that very top list but will still give you a quality education. Keep in mind that if the average is 690, that means the people anywhere below this probably have stellar recommendations, resumes, etc. If you look at your own situation and don’t feel that you are an ideal candidate in other ways, you will need to make these hard choices between committing to a more rigorous study regime or setting your sights on different schools.

      Good luck! 🙂

  2. emeka okafor August 24, 2015 at 11:45 am #

    Hi Mike,how are you doing? thanks for the write up on improving on the verbal section of the GMAT. I am scheduled to write the gmat in 2-3 weeks time but i have been stuck between 33-44 on the magoosh verbal result summary but i am aiming for a 42-44 Verbal score. I scored a 34 on my last gmat 4 months ago. I fully understand the content of the verbal section but i seem to get a 70% score on my test and I am not happy with that. In what ways can I improve my proficiency in the verbal section.


  3. Quynh November 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    I actually realize that I read better when I was in college (and I have just graduated from college for nearly 6 months.) The reason is that when in school, I was in the habit of reading 30 to 40 pages per day for classes, which made me read faster and more critically than I do now. It is a shame that we do not read better when we are older. It is just whether we want to make it our habit, our lifestyle.

    Given the fact that if I want to further my study, I think being ready for critical reading rather than waiting until I start school and read papers makes a great point. The idea of familiarizing with reading professional reading and making reading a priority everyday makes GMAT much more than just a test preparation. It is a life skill, reading critically and feeling comfortable to read any topics with an open, relaxed and critical mind. To be honest, I am a person who does not like taking standardized test, but the fact that GMAT reading helps me read things for my career more proficiently, and do better outside reading motivates me to continue to work on my verbal.

    • Mike MᶜGarry
      Mike November 21, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

      Dear Quynh,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I couldn’t agree more! Yes, critical and thoughtful reading is not just a GMAT skill: it’s a life skill that everyone will need. As I said, the difference between poor reading skills and excellent reading schools may well have tangible effects on your career development.
      Thanks once again!
      Mike 🙂

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