The GMAT is not just a test of your analytical skills or reading ability. It is also a test of your focus. How long can you focus and perform at a high level. This does not come easy, and it requires practice and a plan.
One place in particular where our focus can wain is in the Verbal section. There is so much to read, and so much of it seems uninteresting. But the moment you let that idea slip into your mind, you’ve lost the battle. You need to have a strategy for staying focused and interested, even during the most banal passages.
Let’s look at some ways to stay focused and engaged.
Tip #1 — Ask Questions
Don’t let the words just wash over you when you read. Engage with them and ask questions about what you are reading. The key is to continually ask questions, to ask the same questions, and change your answer as you read more. Iterate through a set of questions and update the answer as you encounter more information.
For example, you should ask yourself: What’s the purpose of this passage? What’s the main idea? Where’s this going? How does the author feel about all this? Use these questions as a basis for investigating this unknown topic. At first you may want to have these written on a slip of paper to refer to every time you read something—not just passages on the GMAT. As you practice, these questions will be imprinted in your mind, and your reading, out of habit, will involve answering these questions.
Tip #2 — Have a Pen in Your Hand
Pens aren’t just for writing! Use the pen to keep track of what you are reading. Follow each line with the pen. It gives your hand something to do and will keep you focused on pushing forward and moving through the passage.
This may seem outdated and something you did when you were just learning to read. And it probably was, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help you to stay focused. By using a pen and moving it across the screen or page, you make reading a physical act. As such, you will engage more with what you are reading.
Tip #3 — Take Notes with that Pen
If you’re holding a pen, you might as well put it to good use. But don’t just write down things when you see something in the passage that sparks your attention. Rather, focus on taking notes on the flow of the passage, the major points and shifts in tone in the passage.
For example, the first paragraph will introduce some idea, generally, and you can make note of what that is. Then in the next paragraph, there are a few things that might happen. The author might reverse directions and argue against that idea, or she might present a counterpoint of view. Or, the next paragraph could easily be an example of what was just introduced, give supporting evidence, or move on and talk about the result of what was just mentioned.
You should keep track of this flow and change. Don’t worry too much about writing down what is in the paragraph. Rather focus on the purpose of the paragraph or the purpose of a section.
Tip #4 — Be Curious
Of all the things you could do, the most important is to be curious. You need to cultivate a general curiosity, which is not easy to do, but will help you so much on the test. If you approach something and your first reaction is, “This is ridiculous! Who wrote this?!? Who cares about this stuff?” You will struggle through the entire test, and you will quickly lose focus.
But if you approach a passage, and your reaction is, “Woah! That’s weird! Why’s that?” you will find the test much easier and less like work. Remember that the passages you read, although esoteric, come from actual articles and journals. The information does have a connection to our world. And if you can dive into the test, open to learning something new, if you are up for a challenge and down to solve some puzzles, you will dominate the test and never lose focus.
No one comes into this world born to focus. Focus is something cultivate. We have to train ourselves to focus. If you want to stay focused, and you want to improve your score, you will need to take these tips and start applying them. Don’t expect them to work right away. Adapt these tips as you develop and grow. Over time you will see the benefit.