There are many who might feel that, while quantitative questions are clear-cut and objective, verbal questions are shrouded in the ambiguity of language and that, as a result, achieving a high score on the verbal section is to some degree a matter of luck that is determined by the whims of the little evil verbal GMAT goblins.
This could not be farther from the truth. The language and communication skills that the GMAT tests are as straight-forward as any algebra problem. So let's look at how you can take control of your score on the verbal section.
As you probably already know, the GMAT is an adaptive exam. This means that whether you answer the question presented correctly determines the level of the next question. For example, say you are given a critical-reasoning question at a 600 level. If you answer the question correctly, the next question will be at approximately a 650 level. (These figures are not precise, for the exact calculations are not disclosed.) If you get the question wrong, however, the next question might be a 550-level question. If, say, you answer the next question correctly, then the third question may be around a 575 level, and so on.
Key to Cracking Adaptive test
In this way, the exam tracks your level. Whatever the level of the last question you answer correctly, minus a penalty for questions you left unanswered at the end, is your score. Therefore, you cannot skip questions or go back. To get to the next question, you must answer the one in front of you. It is like a train that makes no stops—you cannot get off!
After practicing a bit, you will start to get a sense of the different levels of critical-reasoning and sentence-correction questions.
But how can you assess the level of difficulty of a reading-comprehension question if test-takers with a science background find the science texts easy and those with a business background find the business texts easy?
Leaving questions unanswered - Expect significant drop in your score
You can't! This is why reading-comprehension questions are given slightly (and I do mean slightly) less weight in determining your level on the adaptive exam. You can walk away with a score in the mid 40s, having gotten a few reading comprehension questions wrong. Get more than a couple critical-reasoning or sentence-correction questions wrong, however, and you will see a significant drop in your score! Also, since the penalty for questions left unanswered at the end is heavy, you really need to get to the end of the exam to score well!
41 questions in 75 minutes-- that is under two minutes per question! But there are texts to read as well! So how do you answer questions correctly that quickly?
Don't read too fast
What you do not do is try to answer every question in less than two minutes. There is actually a very important strategy to granting yourself enough time to do the careful reading that is necessary to answering reading-comprehension and critical-reasoning problems correctly: Master the sentence correction! While there is a limit to how much time you can save on critical-reasoning and reading-comprehension problems (after all, really meticulous reading is required regardless of whatever tricks or tips you implement) a tremendous amount of time can be saved on sentence-correction problems if you really study the GMAT's ways to create a wrong answer.
Your timing goals should be the following:
Sentence-Correction questions: 1 min/problem
14 problems=14 minutes
Critical-Reasoning questions: 2 min/problem
13 problems= 26 minutes
Reading-Comprehension questions: 2.5 min/problem (including the reading of the passage)
14 questions= 35 minutes
Total: 75 minutes
If you really have to, you can guess-and-go on a couple of reading-comprehension questions (in different texts, not within the same text!!) if you are falling behind.
About the Author
Sarai yaseen is a native of Boston, Massachusetts with an M.A. in English Literature, Sarai has been teaching the verbal portion of the GMAT at GMAX for over five years and has taught more than 600 hundred students world wide. Don't forget to check out her website -
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