I recently began working with a student who is confronting a fairly unique challenge. She is fantastic at Quant, but the two times she took the GMAT, her Verbal scores varied wildly: 36 her first sitting and 15 the next. When confronted with such a situation, my first assumption is that the student’s problem is only somewhat conceptual. After all, if she was able to get a 36 her first sitting, it’s unlikely that she suddenly forgot everything related to grammar and reading the next time she took the exam. The likely candidate for such a discrepancy, then, is the absence of any systematic approach.
Most students recognize that a step-by-step approach can do wonders for Quant, but because of the general belief that Verbal questions are arbitrary and subjective, they’re skeptical that there’s a “method” for Verbal. In a way, these students are right: There’s no formula that, if used, will suddenly translate into a high Verbal score. But, at the same time, it’s essential to recognize that the GMAT is a standardized test. All standardized tests, by nature, test a finite number of concepts. By understanding what these concepts are, what skills the test-makers are testing, and what traps most commonly appear when these concepts are tested, even the most scatter-brained test-taker can develop a systematic approach for whatever questions s/he sees on test day.
Though such an approach won’t guarantee you a 45 on the GMAT Verbal, it will have two indisputably beneficial effects:
1) Helping you reduce the time you spend on questions since you’ll have a concrete way of approaching them
2) Reducing anxiety since you will rarely encounter an unfamiliar situation on the exam.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that for students confronting test anxiety, the most ESSENTIAL element of their preparation should be developing as systematic and thorough an approach as possible. In the end, anxiety stems from uncertainty, and being methodical on the exam is the best antidote for unfamiliarity.