GMAT & MBA Admissions Blog

Common GMAT Mistakes & How to Avoid Them - The Verbal and Writing Sections

Posted by Luis Freire on Wed, Mar 28, 2018 @ 10:00 AM

Writing-an-Essay-Optimized.jpgThe Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is intended to evaluate the ability to interpret and process information or knowledge within a specified period of time. The majority of students who register for and complete the GMAT are, for the most part, considering an advanced degree in Business, Management, Finance, Accounting or Human Resources. If you’re unsure whether the GMAT or the GRE is the best option for your specific situation, see our advice here.

Typically, the main obstacles to reaching your target score on the GMAT begin with the bad habits we establish taking our first standardized exams. For a lot of us, that is the SAT. It is not certainly not unheard of for high school students to attempt multiple strategies besides the ones that work best and actually address the content they will be tested on. Too often, if we don’t have a good grasp on the content, we avoid hunkering down and tackling it; instead, many of us resort to last minute cramming or an all-night marathon session a couple of days before the test date. This works as well on the GMAT as it does for the SAT (not very well). 

Now that the education community has generally accepted that standardized exams are not IQ tests, we know that things like deliberate, focused practice, growth mindset, and studying over time does increase scores. Creating a study plan tailored to your strengths and weaknesses, taking practice tests, and working with a tutor who’s an expert on the exam and test taking strategies are all good places to start.

In this article, we'll focus on common mistakes made while taking the Verbal and Writing sections of the GMAT, and specific ways to avoid them.


The GMAT Format

In terms of the test format, the GMAT can be divided into two main sections: mathematical reasoning and verbal comprehension. In that sense, it is very similar to its SAT counterpart. The difference is that, unlike the SAT where the format poses an array of multiple choice questions with minimal interrelation to each other, both GMAT sections present a substantial amount of information that is expected to be processed not only simultaneously, but also in a more wholesome and systemic manner. This serves to separate memory or mimetic tactics from contributing to the scoring--a factor the GMAT purports to eliminate from the candidate pool.


The Verbal Section

To study efficiently, the student's best move is to identify their personal strengths and weaknesses. If their math skills and content knowledge are strong; then their focus should be centered on the verbal aspect of the testing. However, that does not mean that this student shouldn’t spend time reviewing elements of algebra, geometry, and arithmetic.

The verbal section hinges inordinately on mastery of English grammar and composition; on the part of the test-taker as well as through the reading passages provided, most of which are referenced from academic or industrial fields. An effective way to prepare for those types of questions are:

  • To read over diverse topics and themes in publications such as newspapers, magazines, classic literature well in advance of the test date. This is vital for learning the techniques for identifying the main idea, supporting evidence, implication, inference, and subtle conclusions of professional writing.


  • Obtain a grammar book from the public library. This will provide the student with clear and abundant examples and exercises and is a great way to reacquaint him or herself with basic writing skills if there is a serious lack of familiarity. This means reviewing: verb tense, subject-verb agreement, quantity, parallel phrasing, terminology, spelling, and so on. The sentence portion of the verbal section is merely highlighting a student's ability to spot basic grammar anomalies.


The Analytical Writing Assessment

The last consideration in the often formidable verbal test is the essay. The GMAT accomplishes this measurement of aptitude by listing an argument, hypothetical or actual, that is preceded with a brief summary of the topic followed by the writing requirement in the form of a prompt. There are two items that the student must adhere to in order to convincingly and compellingly exhibit a valid response to the essay portion of the test:

  • Precisely and accurately address the points emanating from the question.

 This may seem like common sense, but nervous test takers have a tendency to avoid directly addressing the question. For example, if the prompt asks you to choose a side, make sure you have chosen and stated your side within the first few sentences – and stick with it.   

The introduction paragraph must refer back to the prompt, at the very least. The first body paragraph should provide a description of the issue confronted in the question. The second paragraph should emphasize any counterargument to the original dilemma. The last body paragraph is the student’s position within the overall argument, supported by what has been said in all previous paragraphs. 

  • Correct grammar and structure is imperative to achieving a high score.

That is to say: proper punctuation, precise spelling and capitalization, organized and efficient phrasing of themes and discussion. The essay is testing the student's level of conveying concepts and expression through the English language, already expecting the individual to be a master of syntax.

Follow these tips on the Verbal and Writing sections of the GMAT, and you'll be well on your way to achieving that target score. When determining what your target score should be, here's some helpful info from GMATClub about the impact of GMAT scores on admission chances to top business schools. 

About the Author

Luis F. is one of MyGuru's experienced GMAT tutors

Topics: GMAT verbal, GMAT verbal tips, improving your GMAT verbal score, GMAT tutor, GMAT, MBA Admissions, gmat test prep, gmat essay