Did you know that the English section counts more towards that total score than does the Math section alone? Would it surprise you to hear that most Dutch students don't study for the English section, or study only 10-12 hours? This is a serious problem for those students, and especially so if they do not know it in advance. There is nothing easy about the English section. It is nothing like similar experiences that you may have had or heard about, such as TOEFL or television or university text. How much more difficult? And what can be done about it? That's what I'll examine in this post.
1. Your Overall Score. First off, know that your out-of-800 score is a weighted average of your quant and verbal scores. The exact weights are not publicly known, but it is certain that a good verbal score is more important that a good quant score. Just to illustrate this, look at the percentile rankings for the verbal section. A score of 45 on the verbal section (out of 51) is enough to put you in the 99th percentile - in other words, you made many mistakes, and yet still in the top 1 percent of the 250 thousand people who take this test each year. Contrast this with rankings on the quant section: a score of 51 - the very highest score possible - puts you in the top 4 percent of test-takers. That gives an indication of how much "easier" is the quant section, and how unwise to discount the verbal.
2. Sentence Correction. The GMAT Verbal section has three questions formats. Of these, Reading Comprehension (RC) is the most familiar. The other two sections are Critical Reasoning (CR) and Sentence Correction (SC). The first point to make is that you may never have seen anything like these two other sections before. Sentence Correction tests your grammar and your pattern recognition speed. You will need to know the rules, and to know the difference between things that sound strange but are legal, against ones that sound good but not are not. The first thing that Dutch students observe, when once they do look closely at this question type, is that they experience much more uncertainty about the rules of Academic English Grammar than they ever imagined. Phrases and formulations that are considered totally okay and understandable in Movie English, Spoken English, and even in much Written English, are just not okay in Sentence Correction English. We teach a four-week, 24-hour course about this question type alone. SC is the most important section, because you cannot advance your overall, out-of-800 score without cracking it. So, do not underestimate Sentence Correction, and know that it certainly can - and should!- be learned
3. Critical Reasoning. The other great-mystery section of the GMAT could better be called The Logic-of-Business-Life Section. It is a test of logical relationships and logical fallacies, but in the context of a business environment. The situations that you will be asked to analyse are drawn from real-world examples that business executives could be called to evaluate. It is perhaps the most educational section of the test and my personal favourite. And I cannot stress enough that one can improve the results here, if only one studies the technique. Untrained intelligence is just only going to get you so far. It may be far enough. But you could go so much farther with technique. Contrast this with Reading Comprehension, where improvements are possible but much more difficult to have.
4. Reading Comprehension. The most familiar format, at least at first glance. This dirty secret of this section is that, in spite of all the books, there is not that much that can be done about it. My recommendation is, Leave it alone for now. Of course, you can run through a few questions, pick up a few new words, but don't invest in a meaningful score improvement here until you've crossed 650. I remember on my last test, I saw a section that I was sworn not to tell about, but I think no harm in saying I was really shocked to see such an obscure academic topic, words I'd never read before, and sentences that did not seem to connect. It was a top-level text - to match my score, okay - but the point is, they managed to shock me. They probably manage that on a regular basis. My short advice is, just accept it. Spend your time improving the sections that can be easily improved, and thereby buy the time to read slowly what will surely be the most difficult reading material you have ever encountered.