Improve GMAT Verbal Timing (even you verbal superstars)

GMAT Verbal Timing Strategies

Improve Verbal Timing (and your verbal score)

Emails from prospective clients focus overwhelmingly on quant issues.

We see a ton of:

I’m comfortable with verbal

Verbal is fine

I’ve always been stronger at verbal

Verbal comes more naturally to me

And so on…

Thing is, the same people writing the above have tons of room to improve on the verbal side of things.

Even as a GMAT tutor scoring in the 99th percentile on verbal I was able to improve using some of the time management strategies outlined below.

I hit a perfect 51.

But actually, the most important thing was that I improved my consistency. So that I achieved a 99th% score on nearly every test (instead of dropping to the occasional 42).

Why does verbal get left behind?

It’s just that GMAT quant can “feel” more challenging. More foreign. More threatening.

GMAT quant percentiles are crazily out of balance so perfectly good quant scores “look” terrible.

So, point is, study verbal. A lot. Even if you are great at it and already scoring in the 90th%+ still work to improve.

Getting your verbal score up can have a HUGE impact on your composite (total) score.

And every point counts.

Today we talk about verbal time management

We have a in depth breakdown of GMAT timing that covers everything timing related but from a more theoretical/psychological perspective.

It is absolutely worth a read in conjunction with this post.

But let’s get into it and review a few practical things that can help you manage your time better on the GMAT verbal section.

I’m going to go ahead and address each question type.

Keep in mind that not every strategy will be appropriate for you.

There are some for people who are struggling mightily and others that can help just about anyone, even those already scoring in the 99th percentile on verbal.

Let’s start with critical reasoning.

Be Reasonable with Critical Reasoning Time Management

It’s not unobvious that if you simply get better at critical reasoning your timing will improve.

So, of course, sharpen those CR skills.

One way to improve CR is to practice on extra tough LSAT questions.

These have the benefit of being not only tougher, but generally longer and denser than their GMAT counterparts.

If you can manage your time tackling LSAT questions you will find GMAT CR timing easier.

This next idea may sound counterintuitive but here goes: read slower (to read deeper).

People tend to rush the initial read (all over the test). There’s just an instinct to push through as quickly as possible to get to the “real” work.

Well, that ends up being counterproductive. Because once you get to the answer choices you end up having to re-read. And at that point you really do end having to go quickly because you’re getting into overtime on the question.

So, make that first read great. So that you are well on your way to solving the question once you get to the answer choices.

You may have a tough time committing at first but keep at it!

You need to get into the habit of understanding things near 100% on that first go around.

Now, of course, if you get stuck on something and even after careful consideration can’t untie whatever reasoning knot is in front of you then get moving the answer choices to see if they unlock something.

But that is by far the back up plan and should be something you are doing relatively rarely if aiming for a top verbal score.

Reading Comprehension Timing

The RC timing suggestions are similar to the CR ones.

-Do LSAT reading passages. Again, they are generally longer and denser than GMAT. So if you can get LSAT done with proper timing then you should be in great shape on the GMAT.

-Read deeper the first time around so that you are on offense once you get to the questions.

There are two things unique to RC:

  1. After you’re done reading you should know the primary purpose and the main idea. So if you have those questions they are done. You shouldn’t have to dig into the passage for these.
  2. You should be very familiar with the authors tone/POV (if there is a clear one). This can really help you speed through some passages.

In addition, practice your basic reading skills by reading challenging articles. It’s also great to have a challenging novel that you pick up every evening.

Sentence Correction Timing Strategy

Sometimes people come in the door and the SC hit rate is good BUT the approach is terrible. What makes the approach sub-par?

It’s disorganized and unsystematic. It doesn’t take advantage of the nature of the question to make elimination much faster and easier.

And so these people get questions correct but it takes them a while and they expend a lot of energy.

Time and energy that could be spent on CR or RC.

Or even on some of the more difficult SC that might require additional effort to get correct.

So, how can you be more systematic on sentence correction? 

If you visit GMAT club you will see several very different explanations for the same sentence correction questions.

Some people rely on super specific grammar while others veer more towards meaning.

Of course, idioms are in the mix.

For the most part, seek out SC explanations that keep it simple (for you).

The resonate with you.

That shrink the SC universe and help you understand groups of questions.

Ideally, do every official SC question and keep track of the mistakes in every answer choices (use a google sheet for this).

Then, figure out which mistakes are easiest for you to understand.

And get really good at spotting those.

Things that are more in a gray area for you, don’t ignore, but give them more of a second tier status.

If you need to analyze something that’s a little more sketchy that’s OK just get your easy mistakes out of the way first.

By focusing on what is easiest for you, SC will be easier and you’ll get through questions quicker.

What if verbal timing is way off?

If we’re not talking about fine tuning but a major overhaul in your GMAT verbal time management then we may need to take more drastic measures.

Auto-skip weakest

Go ahead and pick three to four questions to skip. I would aim to skip questions in the middle of the section and would spread them out as much as possible.

In addition, if you are fantastic at sentence correction, don’t skip those! Meaning, aim to skip questions on which you perform poorest.

So if you picked lucky #13 as a skip and #13 is SC then go ahead and solve it and skip the next one.

The reading comprehension skipping exception

You may not want to auto-skip any reading comprehension questions.


Because you’ve already invested in reading the passage.

Skipping a question is a waste.

That doesn’t mean that you need to battle with every RC question. You may need to move on if you get stuck. But, in general, better to avoid auto-skipping these.

Critical Reasoning tends to be the target of auto-skips

For good reason CR often gets skipped.

Most people prefer SC to CR. And if those two are equal in difficulty then it comes down to timing.

And most people get through an SC question faster than a CR question.

So considering that we generally don’t auto-skip RC questions, it is CR that tends to get hit.

That’s totally fine.

And, it could be that you are great at CR and not so good at SC. And that you skip SC. That’s OK.

Or maybe you don’t have a preference and you skip whatever comes up (besides RC).

That’s also OK.

Picking off easy detail questions

Sometimes verbal timing is so off that we need to get even more radical.

If reading comprehension is really dragging and not only is the hit rate rather low but the timing terrible then it may make sense to limit the scope of the RC work on some of the passages.

Any RC in the first 10 questions or so I would commit to.

But after that, if you get a passage covering something on which you know that you are weak (many tutoring students hate science passages) then you may want to skip right to the questions and just try to pick off any easy detail questions.

If the question asks about main idea/primary purpose or anything broad then you just have to guess.

Again, we’re really looking for line reference questions. Vocabulary in context questions. Things that you could potentially solve without reading the entire passage.

The idea here is that you may be getting 60-70% wrong anyways so better not to commit the time and try to snag a couple of potentially easy wins.

Skipping an entire passage (as a last resort)

Some people do not have time to complete all of the RC passages.

And, with that, it is much better to just guess through an entire passage than to stretch your time thin.

Same advice as above: don’t skip reading passages in the first 10 questions or so. I’d probably extend that and say that you should avoid skipping in the first third of the section.

And then, go ahead and guess through an entire passage. No reading. Just blast through.

These last two strategies are somewhat extreme and are not intended for anyone aiming for a 40+ verbal score.

These are more for people who are trying to consolidate up into the mid or maybe high 30s.

Wrapping up verbal timing

Not every verbal timing strategy above will apply to you.

But, even if you are excelling, it is almost certain that at least one of the above suggestions will help you get your verbal time management in better shape.

Again, when I was preparing to perfect my GMAT score and was already scoring in the 99th% on verbal I used the SC methods above to squeeze out that last but of performance and to make my scores more consistent.

Same deal with the LSAT work.

I was already scoring 45+ and often getting 100% on CR sections. But, sometimes I would get stuck. And would need extra time to get through something causing me to rush the section.

Once I did a few weeks of tough as nails LSAT work, my verbal time management was far more consistently comfortable.

I hope that gives you some direction to refine your GMAT verbal timing. Please do follow up with any questions or comments on your own experience. Good luck with your GMAT prep!