10 Tips for Non-Native Speakers on the GMAT

Even if English isn’t your first language, you can still achieve an excellent score on the GMAT Verbal section. Here are a few tips to get you started!

1. Build your grammar skills first. You can ignore most of the challenging vocabulary on sentence corrections as long as you identify what part of speech each word is, and how it functions within the sentence. To do this, you’ll need to spend some time with a solid English grammar review book. I recommend pairing a heavy-duty review book, like the Oxford Guide or those published by McGraw-Hill or Longman, with a “fun” book like Writer’s Express or English Grammar for Dummies. Start identifying the subject and the verb of every sentence correction, as well as any dependent clauses. Strategy alone won’t get you the Verbal score you want. Start your Verbal studying with grammar.

2. Keep a vocabulary journal. Write down any words you don’t know as you encounter them. You’ll start to notice that certain words appear over and over again. Make flashcards for the ones that have tricky definitions or mean the opposite of what you’d expect. (For example, the word “noisome” does not mean “noisy.” It means having an offensive odor or bad smell.)

3. Apply your idioms. Yes, you absolutely need to memorize English idioms, but don’t just be an idiom robot. Start applying them in your everyday speech, emails, and English compositions. The more you can incorporate them into your English writing, the more confident you’ll become.

4. Think like a thesaurus. It is much easier to memorize synonyms for words than their full definitions. Start grouping words together mentally (and on paper) according to their meaning. For example, words like “pusillanimous,” “poltroonish,” and “timorous” would go on the “shy” list.

5. Read and listen to high-quality English publications. My recommendations include The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or any scholarly journal that you find interesting. Listen to NPR or audio books of English-language classics. Set a regular schedule for your reading and stick to it. Even twenty minutes a day will help you conquer Reading Comprehension.

6. Create a study group. Whether in real life or online, connect with other native and non-native speakers who are prepping for the GMAT. Check out your local library and schools and set up a weekly coffee shop meet-up to discuss your progress. Create a Yahoo group. Join Grockit (of course!). This will not only help you stick to your goals, but also help you learn about new resources from other non-native speakers and gain insight from those who have more advanced English skills.

7. Consider the difference between British and American English. Many English-language schools outside of the United States focus on British English, while the GMAT is an American-administered test. There are subtle differences in word choice and spelling between the two. While British spellings are officially acceptable in the AWA section, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with their American counterparts and using them to be safe.

8. Challenge yourself with CR. Aiming for a 700+ score? Once you’ve practiced identifying the conclusion, evidence, and assumptions and are confident with the Critical Reasoning question types on the GMAT, consider buying an LSAT practice guide like the LSAT LR Bible. The LSAT has significantly more challenging CR questions and the format is the same as those found on the GMAT. Don’t neglect your GMAT practice, but if you can master the LSAT CR, then the GMAT questions will start to feel easier.

9. Spend more time on Word Problems. Though Data Sufficiency certainly requires a significant amount of Quantitative study, remember to save extra time for Word Problems. Practice translating these questions from English keywords to Math equations. Be patient at first – these questions may be especially frustrating. Luckily, the common phrases such as “less than,” “is the same as,” and “product of” are easily memorized.

10. Look at your situation as an advantage! Many native speakers are confused by answer choices that include have slang, contain popular (though incorrect) grammatical phrases, or just “sound right.” Non-native speakers learn the exact same question types and strategies as native speakers, but can apply them without any prejudice. It really is an advantage!