GMAT verbal section study tips strategies

What’s Tested on the GMAT: Verbal Section

The GMAT Verbal Section is designed to test your command of standard written English, your skills in analyzing arguments, and your ability to read critically. The section consists of 3 question types: Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction, and Reading Comprehension.

  • Time: 75 minutes
  • Format: 41 questions
  • Tests: Reading, Grammar, Analytical Reasoning

A little more than half of the multiple-choice questions that count toward your overall score appear in the Verbal section. You have 75 minutes to answer 41 Verbal questions in three formats: Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction, and Critical Reasoning. These three types of questions are mingled throughout the Verbal section, so you never know what’s coming next. Here’s what you can expect to see:

GMAT Verbal Section


GMAT Verbal Section: Critical Reasoning

Critical Reasoning tests the skills involved in making and evaluating arguments, as well as formulating a plan of action. You will be presented with a short argument and a question relating to it. You will be expected to find the answer choice that strengthens or weakens the argument. You may also be asked to find an assumption the argument makes or to make an inference yourself.

Succeeding on Critical Reasoning questions requires 4 things:

  1. Understand the argument’s structure.
  2. Identify the conclusion.
  3. Determine what evidence exists to support the conclusion.
  4. Determine what assumptions are made to jump from evidence to conclusion.

Most importantly, read carefully. Critical Reasoning questions are notorious for their tricky wording.

GMAT Verbal Section: Sentence Correction

How are your written English skills? You’ll find out with Sentence Correction questions. You will typically face very long and contorted sentences. A part—or all—of the sentence will be underlined; and you will be asked to find the best version of the underlined section out of the original or one of four alternatives.

Sentence Correction questions commonly contain 2 or more errors. Time is of the essence as sentences vary in length and complexity. You’ll need to move considerably faster on the shorter questions to have time to tackle the more difficult ones.


Expert Tip

There is a big score penalty for leaving questions unanswered at the end of the multiple choice sections of the GMAT. Pay attention to the countdown timer, and plan to complete one-third of each section in about 25 minutes.

For the Verbal section, that means reaching question #14 in the first 25 minutes and question #28 when there are 25 minutes remaining on the clock.

GMAT Verbal Section: Reading Comprehension

You have probably become quite familiar with Reading Comprehension questions over your standardized testing career. These questions test your critical reading skills, more specifically, your ability to:

  • Summarize the main idea
  • Differentiate between ideas stated specifically and those implied by the author
  • Make inferences based on information in a text
  • Analyze the logical structure of a passage
  • Deduce the author’s tone and attitude about a topic

You will be presented with a reading passage on the topics of business, social science, biological science or physical science and then asked 3-4 questions about that text. The tone is that of a scholarly journal.

When reading a passage, remember that you’re not trying to memorize all the information. First, read through it quickly, trying to get an idea of the general topic, the author’s purpose, his or her voice, and the scope of the passage. Most of all, don’t obsess over details—you can always look them up in the passage.

Words like “obviously,” “clearly,” and “hence” show that an author’s opinion is expressed in the passage. If you can identify the author’s opinion (or lack thereof) by spotting opinionated words like these, that’s an automatic indication of the point of the passage. This will help you move easily move through many of the Reading Comprehension questions.

Now that you know how boosting your test knowledge might boost your score, find out more about how you might do on the GMAT if you took it today. Check out our GMAT Pop Quiz to get a sense of where you stand.

GMAT Verbal Section: Scoring

Your total GMAT score is calculated from “scaled scores” from the Quantitative section (75 minutes, 37 questions) and Verbal section (75 minutes, 41 questions). Theoretically, these scores range from 1 to 60, but the extreme scores exist only to allow room for future expansion. Currently, possible scores range from about 11 to 51. These scores are meant to provide a timeless, absolute measure of skill. For example, a Quant score of 40 in 2006 represents the exact same level of ability as a Quant score of 40 does in 2016.

The scale might seem arbitrary to you. You may be wondering, “Why 11 to 51, of all possible scales?” One reason to have a scale such as this one is to avoid confusion with percentiles or percentages. If scaled scores ranged from 0 to 100, for example, a score of 70 might be confused with answering 70 percent of the questions correctly.

While the scaled scores haven’t changed over time, the population of test takers has. Quant performance has gone up over time, and Verbal performance has gone down. While Verbal section scores still follow a fairly even distribution, Quantitative scaled scores now skew high. In recent years, up to 12 percent of test takers received a 50 or 51 on the Quant section. Because of the shift over time and the nature of the population, percentiles don’t match exactly to scaled scores. As that fact indicates, there is a third way of slicing and dicing GMAT performance: percentiles.

The most important score on the GMAT is the total score, which ranges from 200 to 800. This score is the GMAT result that schools look at primarily. The population of these scores follows a standard distribution: most students score near the mean score, and more than half of all GMAT test takers score within 100 points of 550, the approximate mean. Pulling yourself out of that cluster is an important part of distinguishing your application: the top 10 business schools accept students with an average GMAT score of 720, the 94th percentile. Learn more about what’s considered a good GMAT score >