How to prepare for GMAT Verbal Section in 30 days


Rarely, a decision to take the GMAT test is impulsive. You would have been mulling over it for some time, talked about it with your peers, asked yourself a bunch of questions, done your research, and then taken the dive in. This entire process must have culminated in this grueling question – How can one prepare for the GMAT verbal section in one month? But in this series of small steps, just before the inevitable eventuality, you may have stumbled into an even more daunting question – Can it be achieved, or is it all smoke and mirrors?

This blog intends to address both of these questions.

Verbal Reasoning Section and Scores

This section has 23 GMAT verbal questions which are split into two categories – Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. The duration of the section is 45 minutes. The score range is the same as the Quant and DI section, i.e., from 60 to 90. In essence, this segment evaluates the capacity to comprehend written content, assess arguments, and reason effectively. Reading Comprehension questions gauge the aptitude to grasp vocabulary, discern logical connections among key ideas, infer conclusions, and track the progression of numerical concepts. Critical Reasoning items assess the capability to construct arguments, assess their validity, and devise or appraise a course of action.

Since the section, like the other two, is adaptive, the difficulty rises with every question that you get right, and it dips when you get the question wrong. Getting a good score in this section is contingent on three parameters: 

  • The number of GMAT verbal questions answered,
  • Whether the GMAT verbal questions are answered correctly,
  • The difficulty of the attempted GMAT verbal questions.

To get to more difficult questions, one has to answer the preceding questions accurately. Let us understand this phenomenon.

Every test taker will start off with questions that are of medium level difficulty. If the test taker continues to answer correctly, then the algorithm will continue to adjust the estimate of the score upward. However if he continues to answer incorrectly, the algorithm will adjust the score downward.

It should be evident that when you get the very first verbal question wrong in a section, you are in a pickle. Then, you have to make sure that hook or by crook you get those next three questions spot on. But what did you gain? Zilch, Zero, Nothing!! You are more or less still at the same difficulty level where you started. Also in the process you wasted four questions. Since the final sectional score depends on where you finish on the difficulty scale on the algorithm, you are pretty much playing catch up.

GMAT Verbal Syllabus

GMAT Verbal Syllabus

Even though zero is a great number to start from, you don’t want to be stuck at zero forever. So, complete understanding of the GMAT verbal syllabus is paramount. Knowing the syllabus like the back of your hand would come in handy whilst navigating the deep waters of GMAT.

The syllabus is broadly divided into two categories of GMAT verbal questions: Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning.

Most of us would be familiar with reading comprehension question types. We would, at one point or another in our academic journey, have come across these questions. In the exam, you would see a passage and a few questions corresponding to that passage. Out of the given five option choices, you have to pick one that is best supported by the information from the passage.

On the other hand, let’s just not going to go out on a limb and assume that everyone knows what are critical reasoning questions. But any GMAT aspirant worth his/her salt would have found his/her way into jargons such as argument, strengthen, assumption, weaken etc. Well critical reasoning questions are pretty much that and some more.

Study Plan

First Week

A good GMAT verbal preparation must start with a self-assessment. So, on Day 1 of your prep, go to mba.com and make a free account to take GMAT Official Focus Practice Test 1. The reasons to start the prep with a test are manifold. 

  • First, you will get to know where you stand, and it will help you set a realistic target.
  • Second, you will get to know the structure of the exam and more importantly how it feels like to take an adaptive test. 
  • Third, you’d get acquainted with the various question types in the exam. Fourth, it will help you analyze your strengths and weaknesses.

Once you have taken the diagnostic test, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, figuratively speaking. Verbal syllabus has two question types: Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. Don’t work on them simultaneously. Pick one at a time. It will help you track your progress efficiently. Let’s say you decide to go with Critical Reasoning questions, the next couple of days should be spent towards working on the basics and building a strong foundation. Get yourselves well acquainted with the eight different types of of CR questions. Know what an argument is; what the various components of an argument are; what does it mean to weaken, strengthen, or find the assumption in an argument; what are major argument questions, what are minor argument questions; what sort of CR questions you are likely to see in the exam etc.

Once you have worked on the fundamentals, the next three days should be spent on practicing GMAT verbal questions, but not all of them, just focus on easy and medium difficulty questions for now. Try to get as many questions under your belt as possible. Maintain an error log. Whenever you get a question wrong, write down the reasoning or the logic behind it. Make an entry in the error log if you come across something new, even though you got it wrong. 

Now, it’s time to get a reflection of yourself in the mirror. On the last day of the week, you have got to take another test, i.e. Practice Test 2 from the official site. Assess your performance over the week. Hopefully, you will see an improvement in your score. More notably, since the exam is adaptive and given the fact that you only focused on easy to medium questions, you want to evaluate your performance in the first 10 questions in the mock, and also on how you managed time. Being done with the section with 10 mins in hand or not being able to finish the section are both worrisome.

Second Week

Overall you want to remain true to the strategy, even if it didn’t pay huge dividends in the 2nd Practice Test. Remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Just as you spent your entire first week studying and practicing Critical Reasoning questions, the second week should be almost entirely dedicated to Reading Comprehensions.

Reading Comprehensions in the GMAT exam fall mostly under three subject areas: Business, Science, and Social Science. The length of the passages can range anywhere from 200-350 words. If you are not a habitual reader, reading articles on business and sciences is advisable. Stick to more reputable magazines or periodicals.

There are essentially two distinct types of RC questions: General and Specific. Questions that deal with the passage as whole are called the general questions, and questions that deal with a specific part of the passage are known as specific questions. General questions include main idea, primary purpose, author’s tone, structure etc. Retrieval, Purpose, Infer, analogy, strengthen, application etc. constitute specific questions. Recognizing and analyzing these varied question types will help you to respond to the task at hand effectively.

It is very important to have a strategy whilst approaching these questions. Even though a passage can have 3 or 4 questions, you will only see one question at a time. Furthermore, you don’t know what the next question is going to be. So, it doesn’t make sense to start with the question and then look for that information in the passage as you may end up rereading the same excerpt over and over. And God forbid if there is a general question at the end, well you guessed it, you’d have to read the entire passage again. Hence, you must start with reading the comprehension first. And remember you are not reading for pleasure, so take notes after every paragraph. Keep those notes as succinct as possible. This approach not only helps you figure out what the passage is about but also helps you in specific questions because you’d have some idea about different topics that are being discussed in the passage. In a three para comprehension, let’s say that the first para is talking about Capitalism, second about Communism, and the third about Libertarianism. If the question is asking something specific about communism, you’d know to look for that information in the second para.

After going through the nitty gritty of the question types, you need to spend a lot of time on solving easy to medium questions for the remainder of the week. Also at some point during the second week, go through the error log that you have been maintaining from the very first day so you don’t lose touch with the other topics. This has to be done throughout the GMAT verbal preparation.

Just as we did on the last day of the first, it’s time again to take another test. Assess your progress, learn from your mistakes and move over to the next week with a comprehensive grasp of the fundamentals.

Third Week

If you have been reading this blog attentively, you know exactly what’s coming up next. You guessed it: Harder questions. At this point, the entire nature and structure of the exam should seem like the back of your hand. So, dedicate the third week for just practicing the harder questions. But this time, you’re not going to limit yourself to either RC or CR questions. That’s right, bring them all together. Maintain the entries into error log religiously. Third week is the time when you’d also crank up your prep by spending more time. If possible take a couple of weeks off from work, or take a sabbatical. If not then find whatever time you can and manage it properly. And on the last day of the week, take one more test. 

Fourth Week

At this stage, you more or less would know strengths and weaknesses. This week is all about tightening the loose ends. Concerted efforts should be made towards refining existing skills and working the problem areas. 

Hone your reading comprehension prowess. Learn to read quicker while still maintaining comprehension. If you are able to comprehend the passage down to a tee, but still are getting one or two questions wrong every time, then try to understand how the options are structured, the subtle differences in the language in the options choices, and the characteristics of a good answer. If two options look similar, then why did the GMAC prefer one over the other? What is the difference between ‘analyze’ and ‘discuss’? Asking the right questions will help you get over that hump. There is this notion that widely floats around that one would always get one question wrong in a passage. Above all, it must be noted that you can be 100% accurate in RCs. Don’t let anyone gaslight you in believing otherwise.

When it comes to CR, practice the most difficult questions especially in those topics where you are already excelling. Every now and then you’d get these questions wrong. Regardless, the point here is to understand the underlying logic. It’s not about what you think is the right answer, but what GMAC thinks is the right answer. Try to decode their logic. In question types where you are weak at, find out when does it all go south? As in are you not able to grasp the concept or are you not able to get the questions right after they hit a certain point in difficulty? Work in a sequential manner, and don’t cut corners.

What should you do on the last day of the third week? If you didn’t know it before, you should know it by now. You guessed right. It’s time to take another test.

The Last Two Days

During the entire preparation, look after yourself. Maintain proper diet and nutrition. Get enough sleep. Try to avoid anything that can make you sick.

On the penultimate day, just recap everything. Go through all your notes and error log. 

On the last day, get up super early. Take another test. Have a little down time and relax. If you are naturally very anxious then either watch a movie or a TV show or just keep studying till the last moment. The latter helps you feel that you’re in control and helps with the anxiety so I have heard. 

Since you got up early in the day, by evening you’d be exhausted. Go to bed early and get proper sleep.

Essential Resources

GMAT Essential Resources

For Practice

There is a lot of study material available for the GMAT prep in the market. Not all of it can be good. Rely on manual and practice books published by reputed test prep companies such as www.princetonreview.com, www.manyagroup.com. In addition to the above, purchase the official test prep material. Splurge a little on those. For basics in verbal, get the official Verbal Review, and for practice questions, buy the OG or the official guide. The latter is going to be imperative in the entire GMAT verbal preparation process.

For Tests

Various test prep companies offer their own tests which are exceedingly good. They are very true to the actual nature of the exam in terms of difficulty and adaptability. Don’t worry if the money is tight since many of these companies will let you take one test for free. But statistically speaking, the performance in the official Practice Test is more or less replicated in the actual tests. In other words, variations in the scores are least observed in the official practice tests and the actual GMAT exam. The first two tests are completely free, the remaining four can be bought for $108.

Please visit the GMAT Focus Official Prep Store for more information.

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Is it possible to prepare for the GMAT verbal in 30 days?

Yes, it is possible to make a good headway within 30 days. A structured approach along with individual diligence and adaptability would be paramount.

Is 80 in the verbal section a good score on the 60-90 scale?

A score of 80, even though not bad, is merely 60th percentile. To get into great schools which are ranked Top 20 or 30 in the world, one needs to get an average around 90th percentile overall. In verbal, that 90th percentile is somewhere around 83 and 84.

How important is taking tests and what’s the ideal number of tests that one should take?

Test taking is imperative as far the GMAT verbal preparation goes. As regards to how many tests, the answer can vary depending on the time and resources at hand. But you should at least take 3 tests: one before starting the prep, one during the prep to assess your progress, and one at the end.

Does it help to hire a tutor or to join GMAT classes just for the verbal section?

The long and the short of it is YES! You if have hit a ceiling in terms of score and are not able to go beyond that, then it does make sense. But be careful in who/what you choose. Stick to the more reputed names.

How should I analyze my verbal performance on the mock tests?

Focus on couple of areas:

  1. How much time are you spending on the first 10 and the remaining 13 GMAT verbal questions? What’s the split like? If you are already getting a good score, should you be spending more or less time on the first 10 GMAT verbal questions?
  2. Which question types are you getting wrong most?
  3. When are you getting questions wrong?

What should I do on the days leading up to the GMAT exam?

Focus on building on your strengths, examining your weaknesses, and keeping your confidence. Avoid cramming and instead prioritize relaxation and rest to achieve peak performance on exam day.

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