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No “Almosts” on GMAT Verbal

So you’ve been studying a couple months for the GMAT. You’ve seen an increase in your Verbal score, but now you’ve suddenly plateaued. When you do a set of 20 Critical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension questions, you consistently get 15 right, but you’ve been stuck at this rate for a couple weeks. But, there’s good news! You were between the correct and incorrect answer on all the questions you’ve missed. This should be encouraging, right? It’s obviously a sign that, with a little more work, you’ll start seeing past those traps and get the right answer.

As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, “almost” getting the right answer on a GMAT Verbal question doesn’t always mean that you’re close to a breakthrough. Think of it from the perspective of the test-makers: Constructing five choices that are all very close would make most questions more demanding than is possible given the time constraints of the exam. Instead, the test-makers probably go through the following process: Write the question, write the correct answer choice, devise an evil answer choice that is close but that has some glaring flaws, devise three answer choices that are obviously incorrect. Choosing between the correct and incorrect answer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re on the way to mastering the questions – it just means that you’re seeing past superficial traps.

Now, if you’re content to flip a coin to get the question correct, then this advice isn’t for you, but if you want to focus on getting past that final trap and seeing a substantial jump in your Verbal score, you’re going to need to change your approach. When you’re between two choices, do you just choose what seems correct, or do you pay attention to the subtle differences between the choices and their relationships to the passage? For Critical Reasoning, do you go back and identify the main conclusion of the argument, or do you just compare the choices in a vacuum? For Reading Comprehension, do you look for evidence for the correct answer, or do you just go by what you remember from the passage?

There are other skills that you’ll need to develop, but the fundamentals are the same: developing an airtight methodology for each question-type, reading the passages and questions with precision, and understanding how each answer choice addresses the question being asked. Keep practicing these skills for all Verbal questions, but especially when between two choices, and, bit by bit, you should see encouraging improvements in your score.

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