GMAT How To’s: How to practice when you’re not doing practice problems

Everyone knows that preparing for the GMAT takes practice — a lot of practice. But GMAT problems and practice tests aren’t the only things you need to get ready. Check out this how-to video for five strategies that will help you sharpen your CR and RC skills — even in everyday life. More on those strategies after the jump:

There are many ways you can strengthen your reading and reasoning skills even when you’re not using a practice book or taking a prep course. In fact, depending on where your weaknesses may lie, it may be more efficient to do skill-centered practice than to do 500 practice CR questions over and over again.

So, to supplement all the practice you’re doing in your GMAT prep course or with your official guide, try out one of these five strategies:

1. Read News Websites

News sites are great for practicing both Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension. Short, detail-heavy articles from The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post make for a good GMAT-level challenge on their own. In terms of evaluating arguments, however, the real value comes from the comments on these articles that people leave online. Here you have a wonderful chance to test your CR logic skills.

As people bicker about market trends or Obama’s economic policies, you will see examples of good and bad reasoning in action. Treat them all like GMAT excerpts. Ask yourself what their arguments rely on, and you will sharpen your ability to identify assumptions.

2. Read Opinionated Authors

Instead of re-reading the GMAT official guide for the ninth time, try taking a good book along with you for your long train rides. There is a wide variety of opinionated non-fiction writing that can help refine your understanding of tone and rhetoric. From Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics, to Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, to Jack Welch’sWinning, you’ll find strong arguments in non-fiction across a wide variety of topics. Analyzing these books will help you more easily recognize argument structure and author’s attitudes, key skills for when you encounter passages on the GMAT.

To keep it GMAT-like, try to stick to business, economics, and social science topics. Avoid extremist satirist types (Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, etc.) as GMAT passages are neither extreme nor funny. Ever.

3. Engage in Debates

Formal and informal debates are a great ways to see CR concepts in action. Whether you watch political debates online, have heated discussions with strangers over AIM, or argue with your roommate about who should take out the garbage, try to pay attention to the types of arguments employed. It will help you learn to quickly make inferences and apply principles to new cases, since one of the most common debate tactics is to think of examples and create analogous situations.

4. Join Book Groups

Attending a book group is a fun and relaxed way to get some reading and critical thinking practice with friends. Whatever book the group picks, you can always practice analyzing and discussing common elements of CR questions like tone, authors’ perspectives, and roles of statements. Bouncing observations and ideas off of other book group members will give you new insights, assuming your group members are have read the book!

5. Participate in Forums

You might do this one already. Whatever your interest, be it video games, gardening, or underwater basket weaving, a Google search should put you in touch with plenty of like-minded folks and their related discussion forums. These are great places for all sorts of creative RC and CR practice. You can find passage-length readings on topics, debate with people in the community, and even pose your own GMAT-like questions about a topic and see how people respond.

All of these five broad methods are really just suggestions meant to broaden your understanding of GMAT preparation. Whatever you do to practice, remember that variety and fun are two essential elements to add to any test prep regime. So have fun, and happy studying!

Jonathan Bethune is a content developer for Knewton.