The GMAT can be intimidating for anyone: there’s the high-stakes of business school admissions, the computer-adaptive format, and not to mention, the math you haven’t visited since high school. And, if English isn’t your first language, you also have complex sentence structures and unfamiliar words and concepts to contend with. Actually, that’s challenging for everyone. Read on for our top seven tips for GMAT domination for ESL students.
As much as you have access to, watch English language news, television, and movies. You can “train” your ear to recognize correct sentence patterns, word meanings, and charges. There are many free avenues to hear high-level English: recorded TED Talks on YouTube, podcasts such as Freakonomics and Stuff You Should Know, and free courses on Coursera. Try and “think” in English and speak only in English.
We know you see this tip frequently, but we cannot overstate how important it is to improve your reading of complex passages and arguments. One of the most challenging aspects of GMAT reading for ESL test takers is pacing and timing. Remember that you have roughly two minutes per question, so you need to develop both comprehension AND speed. Forget long novels and opt for shorter content that is engaging and timely and containing content you’re less familiar with. Consider scholarly journals, magazines such as the New Yorker or Mother Jones, and websites like the Intercept.
Often, ESL students are more proficient at grammar and spotting grammatical errors than native English speakers. The drawback is that it may take you longer to work through those Sentence Correction problems. The good news is that you have the fundamental skills, all you need is practice! And, while vocabulary isn’t a standalone component on the GMAT, your own native language can help you work through some of the more challenging words in Reading Comprehension passages. Many languages share word roots, prefixes, and suffixes with English, use that to your advantage. For example, our French speaking students can use their understanding of ‘acrimonie’ to work through ‘acrimonious’. Remember to work on your idioms, as these language conventions can be especially challenging for ESL preppers. Memorize the most common ones and try and spot them in your reading.
At its core, we know that the GMAT isn’t a math test, it’s a critical thinking test. As such, you’ll need to not only understand the basic geometry or algebra, but also what the Problem Solving question is asking you to do. Because mathematics are often taught at a higher level outside the US, many international GMAT preppers think they don’t need to spend time revisiting their quant concepts. You may also need to review or refresh the terms used to describe certain mathematical concepts if you learned your math in a non-English setting. For example, integer wouldn’t mean anything to French-speaking students, who know it as nombre entier.
When responding to the Analyze an Argument essay, it’s good to have a few phrases as go-to paragraph starters and transitions. Study essay templates to see how a great response is structured and follow the formula. The Analytical Writing section isn’t a writing competition and you don’t have to be Hemingway to get a great score.
Be honest with yourself about your schedule and commitment to studying, and don’t rush your preparation. When you consider your application deadlines, work backwards to when you need to take the GMAT by. Think about giving yourself an extra “buffer zone” or time to re-prep and retake the test if needed. Remember that you can take the GMAT once every 16 calendar days and that it takes up to 15 business days to get your official score.
Tens of thousands of non-native English speakers take the GMAT every year and have tremendous success, so why not you? Know that this test is challenging for everyone but that doing well goes a long way to show business schools that you’re prepared for the rigors of graduate study.
Are you a non-native English speaker currently studying for the GMAT? What are your best study tips? Share with us in the comments.