Many non-native speakers have trouble with the GMAT reading comprehension section, even those who would consider themselves very competent English speakers. For some students, this is a relatively straightforward problem of vocabulary and comprehension. Other students find that they’re perfectly capable of reading and understanding a passage, but that it takes them much longer than their native speaker counterparts.
However, there are several ways for non-native speakers to become more comfortable with reading comprehension passages and move through them as quickly and as effectively as English-speaking students.
Unsurprisingly, the best thing you can do to prepare for the reading comprehension section is read. Articles from publications like the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times, and the Economist can help you increase your reading speed as well as your ability to read long passages without losing focus. After you read the articles, try to identify the article’s main idea or argument, as well as the main points. In fact, reading well-written English publications can be a huge help for non-native speakers looking to improve their verbal scores.
You should also make sure that you’re practicing reading on a computer to simulate the test conditions. Reading the passages online doesn’t allow students to mark important points. One of the best ways to make sure you’re understanding and processing an online passage is by taking notes on things like the key ideas, argument, and even summarizing paragraphs. Of course, you certainly don’t have to take notes on everything you read in the months before you take the GMAT, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind.
GMAT test-takers are often advised to scan critical reading passages, and there are many strategies and techniques that can be used to filter out the unimportant details or answer questions while only reading certain sections of the passage. However, this can be much more difficult for non-native speakers, and can lead them to miss crucial ideas within the passage.
When you see a vocabulary word that you don’t understand, write it down or look it up. You don’t want to misunderstand a valuable part of the passage or feel unable to answer one of the questions. Remember that it’s much easier to remember the synonyms of a word than it is to memorize the entire definition. However, don’t make the mistake of getting too bogged down in memorizing definitions. It’s important to find the balance between learning the necessary vocabulary to understand the passage and learning the exact meaning of every word you come across.
Just as important as general vocabulary is the ability to understand and quickly recognize transition words in GMAT reading comprehension passages. You can find a more extensive list here, but transition words like “Therefore” and “because” are often used to introduce a new idea into a passage or summarize an author’s argument. Remember that the makers of the GMAT will sometimes try to trick students who didn’t read the passage fully by complicating the initial argument with words like “however” and “on the other hand.”
The higher your comfort level with GMAT English, the easier you will find topics like idioms and reading comprehension.
This article is part of an ongoing series of tips for international students and non-native speakers taking the GMAT.