Ask Dr. David: Low GMAT Verbal Score

A student recently asked me how she could have gotten such a low score on the verbal section when the questions seemed so easy. Here is my response:

I have had students in your situation before and let me say that sometimes when things feel too easy on the VERBAL section, it is when a person allows herself or himself to get caught by assumptions and easy answers and does not dig as deeply as they should. This often happens when students finish the VERBAL section too quickly or feel like it was easy. 

Remember, there are lots of traps on the GMAT. A difficult question does not necessarily feel difficult when you fall for these tricks. For example, on sentence correction at Veritas Prep we talk about the “decision points” that help you to quickly work through multiple answer choices. Things like “singular/ plural” or “past/ present tense” are great decision points.

But there are also “False Decision Points.” Some people think that “being” is an automatic elimination for an answer choice. Others think that you can eliminate choices because they change the meaning from answer choice A. Still others get caught up in picking answers that “sound better” without first considering grammar and logic.

The person who “relaxes” too much on sentence correction is likely to make a decision based on one of these traps – these false decision points. Now this person will think, “that was an easy question, I just had to eliminate all the choices that sounded weird to me.” And of course, they will have missed the question.

The same is true for critical reasoning and reading comprehension as well. If you relax too much on critical reasoning you will likely end up making an assumption or going for an answer that plays on your prior knowledge or your preconceptions. Of course this will make the question seem easier as well, so that the person who misses the question will think it is easy while the one who answers correctly will see the complexity.

So relaxing too much on the verbal, often because of being tired and unwilling to dig deeply into the questions, can lead to an unexpectedly low score on the verbal section.

On the Quantitative section you would likely at least know that you did not understand the question. On the verbal section things can appear to be going easily, too easily in fact, and the low score can be a surprise. It is up to you to work hard during the test and to not fall for the assumptions and easy answers that will be all too tempting on the GMAT.

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David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star!