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There’s no point in sugar-coating it. Preparing for the GMAT as a non-native English speaker presents a whole new level of difficulty.
Not only will you face tough math and verbal challenges, you’ll also have to deal with the tricky way GMAT questions are phrased.
That’s right: the GMAT actually uses language to mislead test-takers. Many of the questions are designed to confuse you, and require very careful reading to interpret correctly.
On the bright side, the GMAT’s traps are fairly predictable—and with the right techniques and plenty of practice, you can learn how to outsmart them.
What else should non-native English speakers know about successfully challenging the GMAT?
Here are 6 steps, tips, and resources that will help you beat this exam, even if you’re still learning English.
1. Test your English skills before you start GMAT prep
Before you invest time and money in GMAT prep, first make sure that your English skills are advanced enough to challenge the exam.
The best way to do this is by taking the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Chances are, you will have to submit a TOEFL score along with your graduate school application, so it makes sense to do this step first.
The TOEFL exam tests your reading, listening, writing, and grammar skills, with a total possible score of 120 points. If you score at least a 90, you should be ready to tackle the GMAT.
ETS (the makers of the TOEFL exam) offer some helpful prep resources on their website, including a free online course and practice quizzes. Take a look below.
2. Review the content & structure of the GMAT exam
Before you jump into studying, make sure you know exactly what topics are tested on the GMAT—and what kinds of language challenges you’ll be up against.
Attend a free GMAT information session to get an overview of the Verbal, Quant, Integrated Reasoning, and Analytical Writing sections. You’ll learn how each section is scored, work through some sample GMAT questions, and get some valuable study advice.
Many test prep companies run free GMAT info sessions year round. They’re usually held on university campuses. Click below to see upcoming events in Toronto and Montreal.
3. Take a GMAT mock exam to discover your strengths & weaknesses
Once you have tested your English skills, and attended an information session, your next step should be a GMAT mock exam.
Don’t make assumptions about which parts of the test will be easiest for you, or where you should focus your study (a common mistake).
The mock exam will reveal the topics and question-types that are most difficult for you, and from there you can build a personal study plan.
Whatever you do, don’t start prepping for the exam until you’ve taken a mock, figured out your baseline score, and mapped out a prep strategy.
4. Improve your English skills through targeted daily practice
If you want to quickly improve your reading comprehension, vocabulary, and speed, you’ll need to do daily reading practice. Use tough, academic-style articles, like the ones you’ll see on the GMAT.
Get started with these:
Work on summarizing what you’ve read, identifying arguments, and formulating your own opinions.
Test yourself by discussing each article with a friend—briefly explain what it was about, where you stand on the issue, and see if you can answer any questions that come up.
Come across words you don’t know? Take the time to look them up, and learn their meanings.
Work on your writing skills at the same time by noting down your article summaries, vocabulary definitions, and follow-up questions.
The goal here is to practice analyzing and thinking critically about what you’re reading. It’s not enough to just understand the words—you need to grasp the context and deeper meaning of these articles, and be able to explain it to someone else.
Do this kind of targeted practice each day, and you’ll see big improvements in reading speed and comprehension.
5. Don’t ignore GMAT Quant!
Many ESL students make the mistake of focussing all of their GMAT test prep on verbal topics. The truth is, the quant section of the exam presents its own unique challenges to non-native English speakers.
First of all, the way questions are phrased can be difficult to understand. You will need to learn specific GMAT math “vocabulary” to avoid losing easy points.
Secondly, GMAT quant is full of traps, just waiting to lead you astray. You’ll only have a few seconds to decode the question, spot the trap, and figure out which steps to take next. It will take serious practice to master these skills in a new language.
Ignoring quant, and focussing mainly on verbal, will definitely threaten your chances of a high score.
6. Consider a GMAT course or private tutor
Not sure you’ll be able to prepare for the GMAT, and improve your English skills, all by yourself? Worried you won’t be ready in time for the exam—or end up with a disappointing score?
You might want to consider a GMAT course or private tutor.
Your GMAT instructor will provide you with the best study materials and preparation strategies—plus help you master language challenges to improve your speed, accuracy, confidence, and overall score.
If a GMAT course or private tutoring is simply too expensive, your next best bet is free GMAT study help.
There are plenty of free quant and verbal workshops out there. Click below to see events happening near you, and save yourself a seat.
Looking for more advice? Need help combining English study with GMAT prep? Give us a call, or leave us a comment. We’ll help you make a plan that works.