In 2013, about 60% of MBA applicants were non-native speakers. According to international surveys, that number is only growing. For students who are non-native speakers, the GMAT can be particularly difficult.
Many international students are able to tackle the quant sections with ease, but find the GMAT verbal section much more of a challenge. However, there are a few things that native speakers can do to conquer the sentence correction section of the GMAT.
GMAT Sentence correction questions can be quite maddening for non-native speakers, partly because identifying incorrect English usage is a very difficult skill to teach. Many native speakers have difficulty explaining why they knew which answer was correct, they can only say that the phrase “sounded right.”
Non-native speakers feel as though they must learn a huge list of intricate rules to even compete with their native speaker counterparts. However, one of the most common mistakes of non-native speakers is spending too much time trying to memorize the explanations. As most native speakers can tell you, it’s nearly impossible to memorize the rule behind every grammatical feature of the English language.
One of the best ways to spot errors in GMAT sentences is to become familiar with the structure of the English language. Take the time to read high-quality English publications and articles about subjects that you enjoy. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times are all good sources for standard English. Because the GMAT tests your grasp of American English, you should focus on American newspapers and magazines. While it’s important not to get bogged down in endless grammar rules, you should never be afraid to ask a question about a concept that confuses you.
When it comes to approaching questions, many students recommend looking at the answers before reading the rest of the question. You might be able to eliminate choices with obvious grammatical errors before you even look at the rest of the question. When choosing your answer, remember that the underlined section might have more than one mistake. GMAT questions frequently test multiple grammatical concepts in a single question.
The best thing that non-native speakers can do is train themselves to spot patterns in common sentence correction questions. One way to do this is to scan the answer choices for differences. If the first answer uses “it” and the second uses “they,” you obviously need to consider on pronoun agreement. It helps to identify keywords that you can then match to grammatical concepts. For example, if the choices use “as,” “than” and “like,” the question is probably testing your ability to find comparison errors. If the question that focuses on some kind of quantity, like “half of the students” or “the price fell by 80%,” start looking for errors in subject-verb agreement and redundancies. Identifying keywords can help non-native speakers approach the GMAT more efficiently and strategically.
While non-native speakers face extra challenges in the verbal sections, they do have one major advantage over native GMAT test takers. Many native speakers find that a lifetime of English makes it extremely difficult to separate standard English from common English, whereas non-native speakers are starting with a “clean slate.” Native speakers who rely on intuition and choosing the answer that “sounds right” will often choose the answer with the common (and incorrect) usage rather than the answer with the standard English usage. Non-native speakers who rely on rules and strategies will often fare better on the GMAT than students who rely solely on intuition.