The Most Common Types of Verbal GMAT Questions

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The Most Common Types of Verbal GMAT Questions

“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in 100 battles.  If you do not know your enemy nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”  Sun Tzu wrote these words in reference to war, but they could just as well be applied to GMAT prep.  If you don’t know what you’re up against, your setting yourself up for danger.  And for the unprepared, the GMAT verbal section can be a real danger to their total score.

Of course, you’re likely familiar with the distinct question types of the Verbal section, such as reading comprehension and sentence correction, but this equates to knowing your enemies’ names and nothing else.  If you wish to heed Sun Tzu’s dictum, then your knowledge of the enemy must extend further.  To tackle the Verbal section with confidence, learn the specific concepts and question stems you’ll see most often.  While you cannot predict the specific questions you will see on the GMAT, you can predict their tendencies.

How Verbal GMAT questions are organized

The verbal section of the GMAT accounts for 41 of the exam’s 90 questions.  It follows the Analytical Writing Assesment, the Integrative Reasoning section and the Quantitative Reasoning section, which proceed in that order.  Three question types make up the Verbal section: reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction questions.  Each question type accounts for approximately a third of the section, roughly 13 to 14 questions each.   During the exam, you’ll have 75 minutes for the entire verbal section, which averages to around 1 minute 48 seconds per question.

Unlike the Quantitative section where a host of math concepts belong to both Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving questions, each Verbal question type has their own unique unique concepts and question stems.  These common verbal concepts and question stems are broken down below according to question type.

Reading comprehension

Reading comprehension questions can range in length from a single paragraph to several.  However, all reading comprehension questions test your ability to quickly pick up on the central ideas contained in dense, often dry writing.  To do this, the GMAT uses a few predictable question stems again and again.  In particular, look to answer a majority of questions that direct you to do the following:

  • Find the author’s main idea: In these questions, you’ll have to distill the main thought or “thesis” of the writing.  This is a staple of reading comprehension questions; in fact, you’ve probably seen this before on many other standardized tests.
  • Infer information: Inference questions can take many forms.  Some may ask you to speculate what the author’s reaction would be to proposed situations while others may ask you to identify underlying assumptions of sections of the text.  Regardless of their specific directive, inference questions require you to flex your mental muscles by reading between the lines.

Critical Reasoning

You could create a detailed taxonomy of critical reasoning questions given the many different types, but here, we’ll just focus on the three most popular.  Mastery of critical reasoning questions requires an ability to break down arguments into their connected parts while not becoming confused by irrelevant details or tricky logical structures.  The GMAT often tests your understanding of an argument by asking you questions about the argument’s assumptions.  The majority of assumption questions will be in one of the following forms:

  • Find the assumption: These questions ask you to uncover the correct assumption from the information.
  • Strengthen the argument: Here you’ll have to determine which new information in the answer selection makes the conclusion of the argument more likely to be true.
  • Weaken the argument: This is the opposite of the above question stem.  You need to find the information that best weakens the conclusion, making it less likely to be true.

Sentence Correction

In sentence correction questions, grammar reigns supreme.  However, we’re not talking about simple grammar rules like when to capitalize nouns or when to use “whom” rather than “who.”  At its core, the GMAT is test of logic and reasoning, so when it comes to grammar, the GMAT tests more abstract grammar concepts that deal with the finer details of meaning and clarity.  This does not mean, however, that the basic rules of grammar are unneeded.  The GMAT assumes you have already mastered these skills.  Here are a few of the most common concepts these questions address on the GMAT:

  • Logical construction and word order: This includes misplaced modifers and other ambiguities spurred by word order.  Small changes in word order can result in can muddle a sentence’s meaning.
  • Parallelisms: Similar to logical construction, parallelism refers to the requirement that items in a list or compared terms must be similar.  This is another subtle rule of grammar that can be easily overlooked by an untrained eye.
  • Idioms: Idioms have less to do with logic and more to do with accepted standards of English.  Idioms are those often unstated rules that in form common — though not always commonly used — phrases and constructions.

Of course, for each type of Verbal question there are more question stems and concepts that we couldn’t fit into this post, including many you should be familiar with.  However, if you study these concepts and practice answering these question stems, you will create a solid foundation for all of your Verbal section studying.

Check out our other blog posts that teach strategies for specific verbal concepts and practice all the question types by downloading our free app.

Do you find any of these concepts more challenging than others?  Let us know by posting a comment below.

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