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GMAT Verbal Prep: The Sherlock Holmes Approach (Part II)

By Ajay Amar, Ph.D., Sep 23 2014 04:28PM

“There comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."


Sherlock Holmes had that right. Preparing for GMAT verbal questions requires ignoring bad advice, unlearning bad habits, and not assuming that you already know all the answers. With that introduction, I present the “Austin GMAT Review Verbal Dogma” – Part II.




You may be skilled at communications, but you are not necessarily good at GMAT verbal.


Even if you write or read on a daily basis – perhaps as a marketer or business communications professional – do not assume that you will ace the GMAT verbal section.


Many communications professionals actually do not excel on GMAT verbal questions. The colloquial style of writing used in marketing, ads, PR copy, and of course, Twitter, can dull rigorous grammar skills. Unfortunately, they focus so much on their GMAT math skills that they skip studying for GMAT verbal.


“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence,” said Sherlock Holmes. Don’t assume that you have the GMAT verbal section covered. Take a practice test, and find out.


Just because you are answering GMAT verbal questions does not mean that you can forget logic or math.


Whatever the circumstances, Sherlock Holmes never abandoned logic as his method of reaching the truth. When the evil Professor Moriarty murdered a witness, “Let us consider this in the light of pure reason,” Holmes calmly said. If Sherlock Holmes could retain his logical methods when hunting Moriarty, you can retain yours when outwitting the GMAT verbal section.


Do not suddenly turn off your logical reasoning when you begin the GMAT verbal section. Do not fall for the erroneous belief that “verbal is easier than math” or “I can write, so how hard can it be?” that cause people to miss the hard logic behind verbal questions.


GMAT critical reasoning? That is logic. Reading comprehension? Logic. Sentence correction? Logic based on known grammar rules.


And just because you are in a GMAT verbal section doesn’t mean that you’re done with math. If you are given a paragraph or question asking about “average,” “greater than,” or “less than,” the test is, in fact, referring to specific math meanings. Put your math hat back on.


GMAT follows a very logical pattern in all of its questions – not transparent, but logical.


Reading comprehension means just that – reading and comprehending the important points.


"It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated," remarked Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson. That advice is equally true for preparing for the Reading Comprehension section.


First, read each paragraph all the way through without skipping to the question.


Most people read the question before starting to read the paragraph; I have found this to be a limiting approach for our students. You may be able to answer the first question quickly, but will you be able to answer the second?


Second, strike the right balance on speed. When you read, neither skim nor try to comprehend every detail. Your goal is not to understand the passage’s subject matter. Your goal is to understand the passage’s main points.


Finally, put most of your focus on understanding exactly what the question and the accompanying answer choices say. Reading comprehension does not apply only to understanding the paragraph. It also applies to the question (that is, making sure that you do not misinterpret the question).


Avoid bad advice as you would the Hound of the Baskervilles. It will bite you in the end.


Many times, MBA hopefuls are so intent on getting more GMAT practice that they turn to questionable sources, unaware that this approach may do more harm than good. The Internet abounds with practice questions that are free. Most of these are – to put it bluntly – junk. In fact, practice with bad questions, questions that would never make it to the official GMAT, can be worse than no practice at all. Many GMAT test prep companies that release practice tests really do not understand what the GMAT is testing, and none come close to replicating the GMAT.


You are stocking your brain with useless information from faulty preparatory materials. When you are just starting your GMAT preparation, you will not be able distinguish the good from the bad.


We recommend that you stick with the official GMAT questions provided by GMAC at mba.com. These are legitimate practice questions that are consistent with the real GMAT test.


Bottom line: Learning the intent and concepts behind the GMAT verbal section is more useful than endlessly practicing without deep understanding. Practice without understanding leads to guessing. As Sherlock Holmes said, “I never guess. It is a shocking habit — destructive to the logical faculty.”


“Excellent!” I cried. “Elementary,” said he.


If you have practiced consistently with the GMAT verbal questions, and avoided the traps listed in The Austin GMAT Review Verbal Dogma, you should do well on the GMAT test. However, the key is taking a GMAT practice test fairly early in the process. If you do not test well, you will need to take immediate steps toward improving your verbal skills, and that may include relearning your approach. Don't panic, and don't start scouring the Internet for GMAT verbal prep tips and practice material. Some if it may be useful, most is really unhelpful, and all has the potential to derail your preparation, because you have no idea which is which.


As we mentioned in Part I, we strongly recommend that you seek help earlier rather than later if you are struggling with GMAT verbal. An experienced GMAT professor can not only spot where you are having problems, but save you time by giving you targeted coaching. Elementary for the professor, excellent for your learning curve.


We leave you with a final thought from Sherlock Holmes: "Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last." GMAT preparation is just a step toward an MBA education, which in turn is a step toward, hopefully, a thriving career in which you develop more knowledge and expertise. Preparing for GMAT verbal can help strengthen your reading and logic skills, which will be useful in your MBA program and beyond.


Be sure to read Part I of The Austin GMAT Review Verbal Dogma.


Austin GMAT Review is the premier GMAT preparation company in Central Texas, offering structured GMAT courses and tutoring to professionals preparing to enter full-time MBA or executive MBA programs. Austin GMAT Review caters to busy professionals who don't have the time to sort through masses of generic study materials. Meeting with an experienced professor face-to-face in limited-size GMAT classes, students receive the personalized coaching that they need and strategies to excel on the GMAT.