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.

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.



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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