Mastering GMAT’s Verbal Section

Spend Some of Your Free Time Reading Sophisticated Material

The more you read, the better a reader you’ll become, and being a better reader will significantly help you on all of the verbal question types. In your life outside of GMAT prep, try to spend a few hours a week reading periodicals that maintain high standards for their writing, such as The Economist, The New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, Smithsonian Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and Scientific American. If you know the type of subject matter that gives you trouble when you practice Reading Comp, do some digging to find a reputable journal that publishes that type of material and force yourself to work through it.

When you read, strive to find the main idea of each paragraph and of the writing as a whole. Additionally, ask yourself: why did the author include this sentence, or this paragraph? Try to get inside the author’s brain. Continue to ask yourself: What is this all about? Why is this paragraph here? What is its job? What is the main conclusion? What is the tone? With how much conviction is the author writing? And, remember, as you read, try to see the story playing out.

Let your peers spend their free time watching Netflix while you bolster your reading comprehension skills by spending time with well-written material.

Get to Know the Signal Words that Writers Commonly Use

For writers, words are tools, and each tool serves a unique purpose and function. Certain words are used to guide a reader through the writer’s logic. These rhetorical cues–a fancy name for “keywords” or “signal words”–point out the relationships between clauses, thereby aiding us in understanding what we are reading. Consider the following three sentences:

1. I am studying for the GMAT because I’d like to go to business school.

The word because is a support word that signals that evidence is about to follow. Support words, such as for example, additionally, similarly, and moreover can each signal the presentation of evidence.

2. However, my family and work duties limit the amount of time I can devote to studying.

The word however is a contrast word that indicates that evidence from the opposite viewpoint is being presented. Other important contrast words include but, although, paradoxically, incongruously, and heretofore; each signals that a contrast is in the offing.

3. Therefore, I will need to develop an efficient study plan..

The word therefore often signals a conclusion. Additional signal words indicating a conclusion are consequently, ultimately, as a result, thus, hence, and accordingly. A note of caution: sometimes these words might signal a subsidiary conclusion, not a main conclusion.

Recognizing and understanding these common signal words, will help you become a much stronger reader and will provide you with a competitive advantage over your peers.


The verbal section of the GMAT can be beaten, but your everyday familiarity with reading and speaking English can lull you into a false sense of confidence in approaching the verbal section. The specific demands of the test go far beyond the demands made of these skills in your daily interactions with others. A sound strategy is to first identify all of your weaknesses through diagnostic testing early in your studying journey, and thereby maximize your chances of turning them into your strengths on test day.

You can earn an impressive verbal score. But you must treat your preparation and strategy with as much care and attention as you do your quant. No part of the GMAT is easy, so don’t take the verbal section for granted. Create as meticulous and thorough a study plan for verbal as you would for quant. On test day, the results will be a sweet payback for all those hours invested. Plan well. Work hard. Study smarter than your peers. Follow the tips in this article. Good luck, GMAT Nation!


Scott Woodbury-Stewart

Scott Woodbury-Stewart

Scott Woodbury-Stewart is Founder and CEO of Target Test Prep, one of the fastest growing GMAT test prep firms on the market. Scott is writing a special four-part series for Poets&Quants with advice for the GMAT. He and his team can be contacted for a personal consultation.