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GMAT Study Strategy for Non-native English Speakers: 4 Key Steps

GMAT study

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Not sure your English is advanced enough to tackle the GMAT? Concerned about performing well on the verbal sections of the exam?

On the one hand, you might have stronger skills than you realize. Where native speakers learn English “by ear”, non-native speakers often study the building blocks of English first—like the parts of speech and grammar rules. Your knowledge of structure could help you do well on the GMAT’s Sentence Correction questions.

On the other hand, reading comprehension and critical reasoning may be weak spots for you, due to a limited vocabulary, and lack of experience reading complex English texts.

In the months leading up to the exam, there are several ways you can strengthen your performance across all of these areas.

With the right strategies and consistent practice, non-native English speakers can achieve a competitive verbal score. Here are four steps to get started.

1. Attend a Free Verbal Refresher at a B-School Near You

Before you create a GMAT study plan, ensure you know exactly what kinds of questions will appear on the verbal sections of the exam.

Look for a free GMAT verbal refresher class, most likely held at a business school near you. Quantum partners with B-schools to run free verbal workshops on a regular basis. They are designed to help students understand the verbal skills they must learn to successfully challenge the exam.

The verbal refresher will provide an overview of GMAT verbal topics and question types. An experienced GMAT instructor will explain the rules of usage and principles of composition most often violated on the exam.

This is an excellent way to understand what you’re up against, and start identifying your own verbal strengths and weaknesses.

See a list of upcoming GMAT Verbal Refreshers

2. Read, Talk & Think in English Every Day

Immersing yourself in the English language is an important key to improving your verbal skills. Immersion means talking, reading, and even thinking in English as often as possible.

An excellent first step is to set daily goals for reading in English. Challenge yourself to read one short story, essay, or news article each day.

Talk about what you’ve read, in English, with a friend or colleague. Discuss the subject or argument, offer your own point of view, and ask your friends what they think.

This is the ideal way to study idioms, structure, argumentation, and new vocabulary in context—rather than simply memorizing concepts from a study guide or grammar book.

Plus, daily reading practice will dramatically improve your reading comprehension in English, which is crucial for performing well on both the verbal and quant sections of the GMAT.

Not sure where to look for quality material? Try publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Economist for articles and essays on a wide range of topics, including politics, business, technology, culture, and international news.

3. Keep Your Dictionary Close: Never Ignore an Unknown Word

On the popular GMAT forum,, one non-native English speaker shared the study techniques she used to boost her exam score from 460 to 760. In particular, she emphasized the importance of using a dictionary:

it is important to have a dictionary with you when studying, especially for the verbal part. Do not ignore any unknown word; check the meaning from a dictionary for any such word. Do that even when you don’t remember the meaning of the word the second time you see it. This helped me a lot, especially for Critical Reasoning questions when knowing the meaning of a single word can make a significant difference…

It’s a good idea to make a list of the new words you have learned, and use flashcards to test yourself. But don’t stop there. Whenever possible, challenge yourself to use those new words while speaking, writing, and thinking in English.

4. Consider a Verbal GMAT Course for Extra Support

Self-study can be especially challenging for non-native English speakers. Finding the best study materials and collecting authentic practice questions is time consuming. Figuring out which strategies work best for different verbal questions is tricky, and analyzing your performance after practice tests can be particularly difficult.

One of the top advantages of a professional Verbal GMAT course is getting personalized help from an expert instructor. Courses generally take place over two or three days, and review every aspect of each verbal section: Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension.

All of the study materials and practice questions are provided. And most importantly, students learn proven strategies for approaching and solving each verbal question type.

Of course, it is possible to prepare for the GMAT without taking a course—but the extra support and guidance can offer a real strategic advantage (and confidence boost) to non-native English speakers.

Looking for more information on GMAT prep? Want to take a free verbal or math refresher, trial class, or enroll in a GMAT Workshop?

Click here for a list of free GMAT events and resources

Check out Quantum’s Comprehensive Verbal GMAT Course

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