How to Improve Your GMAT Verbal Score

Improve GMAT Verbal Score - image by Magoosh

Some people—the stereotype is the American student—find math more difficult than verbal. Other students, especially non-native English speakers, find the math doable but the GMAT Verbal section daunting.  If you don’t have a good sense of how your math and 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 particular facts and strategies to know, and then there are 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 someone, especially someone who has learned English as a second language, learn this “feel” for the Verbal side?

The people reading this blog have various degrees of English fluency.  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!  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: ideally, devote at least an hour a day to reading.  Read hard, challenging material in English.  In particular, force yourself to read what business executives have to read every day.

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If you are taking the GMAT, then, implicitly, you are stating 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 Financial Times 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 these trends now, before beginning business school, so that, by the time you start your career, you will already have your finger on the pulse of your sector. Read as if it might make the difference between a mediocre career and wildly successful one, because it just might.

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

How to use reading for GMAT skill-building

For those in the early stages of learning, it might take extraordinary effort to fight through even one news article. People at that stage are certainly not yet GMAT-ready.  Let’s assume that a 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. When you read an article from one of these sources, make sure you can identify the “main idea.” Make sure you understand the role that each paragraph plays in the overall argument. 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—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 report on public figures and business figures who themselves make various arguments. In the Op/Ed section of a newspaper, the editors of the paper 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, conclusion, and assumptions? What are possible strengtheners or weakeners? What additional information would you need in order to evaluate the argument?  Pay close attention to which kinds of information are the most persuasive and which kinds of assumptions are typical. This is a very funny thing about GMAT Critical Reasoning: you don’t need to be an expert 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? What are the subordinate clauses? What modifies what?  Identify parallelism wherever it occurs, and figure out what the omitted words are 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 you brings this analysis to each day’s reading, you will make tremendous progress over time.


Time spent reading

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that any amount of 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.

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 non-native English speakers, 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. There are sacrifices needed to bring excellence to one’s daily practice. Don’t underestimate how much your little everyday choices shape the course of your life.

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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 that it benefits your GMAT performance, we would love to hear about it. Please let us know in the comments sections below 🙂


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10 Responses to How to Improve Your GMAT Verbal Score

  1. Swati Agarwal January 12, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    It’s a great write up! I agree with you.. Thanks for this!

    I am also wondering – would you suggest reading the US site version of these journals or India version?

    Thanks in advance Mike! 🙂

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert January 13, 2017 at 9:25 am #

      Hi Swati,

      For main articles, some of them will be the same on both versions. If you can, stick to the American version because its vocabulary and structure will be most like the GMAT, but reading Indian versions won’t hurt if that’s all you can get. 🙂

      • Yamini July 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm #

        Hi Mike,
        I couldn’t find any other place to ask you my question so I am posting it here. I took GMAT last month and scored 560 (45Q and 25V),IR 4.0 and AWA 4.0, my GPA is 4.0 and I have been working full-time in a well – reputed IT firm on an American Project. I have a good extra-curricular profile which includes fashion-blogging too. I am yet to give TOEFL. I am not targeting top business schools but I hope to get into an average business school (rank 50th to 100th). I have 2 questions, first is definitely whether I need to retake GMAT or not and the second is if I can grab a good TOEFL score(more than what my target universities require), will that have an impact on my admission with a GMAT score of 560?

        Please respond.

        • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
          Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 17, 2018 at 11:17 am #

          Hi Yamini,

          Thanks for reaching out! The answer to this question really depends on what schools you are looking at. This blog post might have some answers for you: What is a Good GMAT Score? Your first step is to determine which schools you want to apply to and compare your score to their average scores. This infographic can help you get started with your search! There are certainly plenty of school that accept students with a 560 GMAT score (particularly those with strong qualifications, as you seem to have). So, do some research and see where your scores fall, then make your decision.

          Every school is different, but most schools view the TOEFl as a test of language proficiency, not graduate school readiness. Most schools have a minimum or required TOEFL score for applicants. They use the TOEFL as a threshold score, which means that you must be above the threshold, but it doesn’t really matter how far above. Higher TOEFL scores can help you to get financial assistance through Teaching or Research Assistantships, but they don’t necessarily give you a leg up in the admissions process. You should definitely do some research to see how your chosen schools analyze TOEFL scores. Good luck!

  2. 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! 🙂

  3. 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.


  4. 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 🙂

      • Polivio November 11, 2017 at 3:19 pm #

        Dear Mike,

        I know it’s been a long time since you posted this, but I found it opportune to the let you know about a minor mistake you made when constructing the last sentence in this post. I assume that you were referring to “excellent reading skills” when you said “excellent reading schools”. 🙂

        I’m astonished by the glut of germane knowledge Magoosh blogs provide us with.

        I can’t thank you enough for everything you guys do!

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