Almost every MBA hopeful, at some point in their GMAT journey, discovers the truth that quant is only half the battle – even lifelong English-speakers can’t take Verbal Reasoning for granted! Rather than viewing the verbal section as another hurdle, successful GMAT preppers embrace verbal as another avenue for improving their overall score. This series of articles will help you understand the Verbal Reasoning section and get the most out of your verbal prep time. This first article will be longer than most and will introduce strategies that we’ll cover in greater detail as the series continues.

GMAT Verbal Reasoning: Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension

There are three question types on the Verbal Reasoning section: Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension.

Question Type Number of Questions
Sentence Correction 13-14
Critical Reasoning 9-10
Reading Comprehension 13-14
Total 36

The distinction between these question types is more significant than the distinction between Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency on the quant side of the test. Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency are different tasks that interact with the same core of quantitative concepts and abilities. The Verbal Reasoning question types, on the other hand, correspond to three distinct (although related) proficiencies.

Sentence Correction measures your ability to determine the clearest, most coherent, most conventional, and most concise way to express an idea in a single sentence. It depends not on grammatical nitpickery but on ready familiarity with what we might call “professional” English.

Critical Reasoning measures your ability to understand and interact logically with arguments – and more specifically, as we’ll see later, to find their “gaps.”

Reading Comprehension measures your ability to quickly absorb and retain explicit and implicit information in a short passage. 

Differences between Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning

Verbal Reasoning again differs from Quantitative Reasoning in that it is less time-dependent. Given two hours instead of one for Quantitative Reasoning, many test-takers could get most of the questions right. But on Verbal Reasoning, a test-taker’s chances of getting Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning questions right are not likely to improve with additional time. Reading Comprehension is the only part of Verbal Reasoning that is, in essence, a speed game. The passages are not indecipherable; you just have to be able to comprehend them in no more than a few minutes.

GMAT Verbal Reasoning Strategy

This brings up a key strategy point for Verbal Reasoning: when you simply can’t find a reason that one Sentence Correction answer choice is better than the rest, or when you can’t make heads or tails of the argument in a Critical Reasoning prompt, do not overinvest your time. There are good reasons for chipping away at quant questions via “brute force” (when you can’t find a quicker method) instead of just guessing randomly on them, even if it will take you longer than the two-minute average you’re allotted. But spending another twenty seconds, and another, and another, staring at a Sentence Correction or Critical Reasoning question you don’t understand is unlikely to increase your chances of getting that question right. Instead, you’re just using up time that would be better spent on another question later in the section.

If you are decisive on Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning questions – whether you know them or not – you will have enough time to answer the Reading Comprehension questions with a reasonable degree of confidence. This doesn’t mean you should simply guess on a Critical Reasoning question as soon as it confuses you. We’ll discuss strategies for finding your bearings on head-spinning Critical Reasoning questions later in this series. You’ll have to practice in order to fine-tune your timing strategies on verbal. 

As this series continues, you’ll have chances to see and try your hand at several Verbal Reasoning questions of each type. In this introduction, we’ll limit ourselves to a single example of each. Here’s a highly-characteristic Sentence Correction question:

GMAT Sentence Correction Problem

According to scientists, human expansion and the human appropriation of Earth’s finite resources is the cause of what may be the most sweeping wave of species extinctions since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

(A) expansion and the human appropriation of Earth’s finite resources is

(B) expansion and human appropriation of Earth’s finite resources are

(C) expansion and its appropriation of Earth’s finite resources is

(D) expansion, along with their appropriation of Earth’s finite resources, is

(E) expansion, along with its appropriation of Earth’s finite resources, are

Your job is to figure out which answer choice works best when substituted for the underlined portion of the given sentence. (Note that answer choice A is always identical to the given version of the sentence. It’s the “no change” answer choice.)

Sentence Correction questions can pull your attention in many directions at once, and not all of these directions are necessarily productive or worthwhile. Notice how long this sentence goes on after the underlined portion. The more you practice Sentence Correction, the more you’ll develop a sense for determining whether this part of the sentence has any bearing on your task. Sometimes there is a single word or phrase well after the underlined portion that makes some answer choices incorrect. In this case, the long ending of the sentence is just a distraction. Read it once, and then turn your attention back to the underlined portion itself.

The best way to tackle Sentence Correction questions is to correct the sentence yourself before getting tangled up in the answer choices. Understand what this sentence is trying to express, and come up with a way that it should be constructed in order to effectively express its meaning. If you think the given sentence has problems, put your finger on them, diagnose them, and correct them yourself. Then look for an answer choice that is similar to what you came up with.

If this fails (if you don’t understand the sentence or can’t come up with a clean way to structure it), then you can turn to the answer choices as a key to the issues in the sentence. The various alternatives that exist in the answer choice set will help you find the grammatical “point(s) at issue” in the sentence. Let’s try out these methodological steps on the sentence at hand.

Methodological Steps

At first, the repetition of the word “human” in the underlined portion feels redundant and unnecessary. The first correction you might consider is, “human expansion and appropriation of Earth’s finite resources…” But here’s the problem: this could easily be interpreted to mean that both words, “expansion” and “appropriation,” are being applied to Earth’s finite resources. But that’s not what we mean to say here.

It is not that Earth’s finite resources are being both expanded and appropriated by humans. It is that Earth’s finite resources are being appropriated by humans while those humans are expanding on the Earth. As we’ll see in future articles, recognizing and eliminating these ambiguities of meaning is a big part of Sentence Correction. In this case, eliminating the second use of the word “human” creates more problems than it solves. We want to keep it.

You should also notice that since we’re talking about two subjects, (1) human expansion and (2) human appropriation of Earth’s finite resources, the use of the singular verb form “is” at the very end of the underlined portion is incorrect. We wouldn’t say something like, “Expansion and appropriation is causing extinctions.” We would say, “Expansion and appropriation are causing extinctions.” So we want some form of this sentence that keeps the second use of “human” before “appropriation,” and we want the underlined portion to end with “are” instead of “is.”

Looking down at the answer choices, only B and E end with “are,” and only B keeps the second use of “human” before “appropriation.” Substituting in answer choice B for the underlined portion of the given sentence, the whole thing reads like this:

Human expansion and human appropriation of Earth’s finite resources are the cause of what may be the most sweeping wave of species extinctions since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

This works.

Ignoring the is/are feature for now, answer choices C, D, and E try to avoid the repetition of the word “human” by using possessive pronouns like “its” or “their.” But neither of these pronouns can properly refer to the adjective “human.” “Its” could refer to “humanity’s” (i.e. “humanity’s expansion and its appropriation…) and the plural possessive “their” could refer to “humans’” (i.e. humans’ expansion and their appropriation…). Still, these choices don’t work because we’re stuck with the adjective “human” before “expansion.” Here’s what I’m getting at: it’s important to pay attention not only to the underlined portion itself but also to the words outside the underline that control what can work inside the underline.

GMAT Critical Reasoning Problem

Let’s move on to an exemplary Critical Reasoning question. There will be a prompt and then a question: “which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?” See if you can answer this question without referring to the answer choices, and then see if you can find the answer you came up with in the answer choice set. This is similar to what we did on SC, correcting the sentence ourselves before getting mixed up in the five choices.

Infotek, a computer manufacturer in Katrovia, has just introduced a new personal computer model that sells for significantly less than any other model. Market research shows, however, that very few Katrovian households without personal computers would buy a computer, regardless of its price. Therefore, introducing the new model is unlikely to increase the number of computers in Katrovian homes.

Which of the following is an assumption on which the argument depends?

(A) Infotek achieved the lower price of the new model by using components of lower quality than those used by other manufacturers.

(B) The main reason cited by consumers in Katrovia for replacing a personal computer is the desire to have an improved model.

(C) Katrovians in households that already have computers are unlikely to purchase the new Infotek model as an additional computer for home use.

(D) The price of other personal computers in Katrovia is unlikely to drop below the price of Infotek’s new model in the near future.

(E) Most personal computers purchased in Katrovia are intended for home use.

(You’ll learn to love the made-up companies and countries of Critical Reasoning questions.) Why did I ask you to answer the question without referring to the answer choices? Because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how are you going to distinguish it from four fakes (the wrong answer choices)? Doing so is not impossible and will sometimes be necessary on Critical Reasoning questions (we’ll learn strategies for this in future articles), but it’s far better to come to the answer choice set with an idea of what you’re hoping to find there.

So how do you go about finding an assumption on which the argument depends, using the prompt alone? First, identify the conclusion of the argument. Words like “therefore” in this prompt are a dead giveaway. Conclusion: introducing the new model is unlikely to increase the number of computers in Katrovian homes. Once you have the conclusion, you answer Critical Reasoning questions by identifying “the gap” – the gap between what the premises prove and what the conclusion asserts.

So what do the premises prove, either by direct statements or by logical consequences of those statements? That despite the lower price of the new Infotek computer, almost no Katrovian households without computers will be buying this cheaper model. Meanwhile, the conclusion asserts that the release of the new model “is unlikely to increase the number of computers in Katrovian homes.” On the surface, this may seem like a reasonably safe conclusion from the given premise. When you can’t see a “gap” or an assumption right away, ask yourself questions like these:

“Is there any way that the conclusion could be false even while the premises are true? What would it take for this to happen?”

To contextualize these questions: is there any way for the new Infotek model to increase the number of computers in Katrovian homes even if very few households without computers buy it? Yes, there is! Hopefully now you’re seeing the limited range of the premise, and the gap that it creates. The prompt only talks about Katrovian households without computers. It didn’t even mention Katrovian households with computers.

If these households purchase the cheaper Infotek model as a secondary home computer, then, contrary to the argument’s conclusion, the new model will increase the number of computers in Katrovian homes. So there’s our gap, and our assumption. The assumption is what the argument would have to say in order for the conclusion to be proven, with no gap. This argument would have to say that Katrovian households with computers won’t purchase the new Infotek model as a secondary computer. Now answer choice C leaps of the page

(C) Katrovians in households that already have computers are unlikely to purchase the new Infotek model as an additional computer for home use.

Improving on CR usually involves thinking about the wrong answer choices, how they try to trick you, and why they’re wrong – even after you’ve answered a question correctly. But we’ll save that kind of study for future articles that go into more detail about CR. Those articles will also explain how the “gap” strategy can be used to answer almost every Critical Reasoning question type, not just assumption questions. For now, we’ll look at a shorter Reading Comprehension passage and a single follow-up question.

GMAT Reading Comprehension Problem

Passage: In recent years, Western business managers have been heeding the exhortations of business journalists and academics to move their companies toward long-term, collaborative “strategic partnerships” with their external business partners (e.g., suppliers). The experts’ advice comes as a natural reaction to numerous studies conducted during the past decade that compared Japanese production and supply practices with those of the rest of the world. The link between the success of a certain well-known Japanese automaker and its effective management of its suppliers, for example, has led to an unquestioning belief within Western management circles in the value of strategic partnerships. Indeed, in the automobile sector all three United States manufacturers and most of their European competitors have launched programs to reduce their total number of suppliers and move toward having strategic partnerships with a few.

However, new research concerning supplier relationships in various industries demonstrates that the widespread assumption of Western managers and business consultants that Japanese firms manage their suppliers primarily through strategic partnerships is unjustified. Not only do Japanese firms appear to conduct a far smaller proportion of their business through strategic partnerships than is commonly believed, but they also make extensive use of “market-exchange” relationships, in which either party can turn to the marketplace and shift to different business partners at will, a practice usually associated with Western manufacturers.

The passage is primarily concerned with

(A) examining economic factors that may have contributed to the success of certain Japanese companies

(B) discussing the relative merits of strategic partnerships as compared with those of market-exchange relationships

(C) challenging the validity of a widely held assumption about how Japanese firms operate

(D) explaining why Western companies have been slow to adopt a particular practice favored by Japanese companies

(E) pointing out certain differences between Japanese and Western supplier relationships

GMAT Reading Comprehension

Future articles will discuss and provide guidance for the various types of questions that accompany GMAT Reading Comprehension passages. A “main idea” question like the one above is the best place to begin. These questions usually appear as the first question with a given passage. That’s a good thing, because you won’t be tempted to skim and scan for the answer as you might be on a “supporting idea” (detail) question.

The best way to approach Reading Comprehension on the GMAT is to read the passage attentively. DO NOT try to answer the questions without reading the passage. That approach will take you more time, not less, and you’ll miss questions that you could have gotten right by simply reading the passage. Be thankful for “main idea” questions, especially when they come first because they force you to do the right thing and read the passage attentively.

The main idea or purpose of a passage is the key to the whole thing. Only when you understand a passage’s overall purpose can you understand the flow of its logic and the roles and relationships of the details it provides. This is why we start essays with thesis statements. They provide the map, the key, and the compass. GMAT Reading Comprehension passages will jump in without such an orienting thesis statement. You’ll have to read the whole thing and come up with that statement or main idea yourself. But once you have a clear vision of this main idea, you can understand the whole passage and, with practice, correctly answer pretty much any Reading Comprehension question the GMAT will throw at you.

The first sentence of the second paragraph is the most important sentence in this passage. The West overestimated the prevalence of strategic partnerships in Japanese producer-supplier relationships, regardless of how effectively “a certain well-known Japanese automaker” (coughtoyotacough) manages its suppliers. Usually, you can make quick calls on the main idea answer choices from their first words alone. Here we have

(A) examining

(B) discussing

(C) challenging

(D) explaining

(E) pointing out

Here “challenging” looks promising. This passage is indeed primarily concerned with challenging the validity of a widely held assumption about how Japanese firms operate. 

Once you’ve read attentively and answered the main idea question or if there was no main idea question, expressed the main idea yourself, you’ve crested the hill of the Reading Comprehension passage. The ease or difficulty with which you answer the rest of the questions will depend on how carefully and accurately you completed those first two steps.

Thanks for reading our introduction to the GMAT Verbal Reasoning section. The strategies covered here are just a taste of what’s to come in this series, so keep joining us for in-depth looks at Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension questions. 

If you are looking for extra help in preparing for the GMAT, we offer extensive one-on-one GMAT tutoring. You can schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation call with one of our tutors to learn more! 

Contributor: Elijah Mize (Apex GMAT Instructor)