GMAT Verbal for Non-Native English Speakers

by Target Test Prep, Dec 20, 2022

If you’re a non-native English speaker planning to take the GMAT to apply to business school, you may be concerned that the fact that English is not your first language will make achieving your GMAT Verbal score goal difficult. However, non-native English speakers are not at as much of a disadvantage in GMAT Verbal as you may think. Furthermore, there are things you can do to master GMAT Verbal even if English is not your native language.

So, in this article, I’ll first discuss what the creators of the GMAT do to make the GMAT Verbal section as fair as possible for everyone. Then, I’ll provide GMAT Verbal tips that non-native English speakers can use to master the section and achieve their score goals.

Let’s begin by discussing what the GMAT does to be fair for non-native English speakers.

How the GMAT Levels the Playing Field for Non-Native English Speakers

The GMAT is written in formal English; it is not offered in any other languages. Accordingly, making the test an even playing field for native and non-native English speakers may seem like a big task. How exactly does GMAC, the maker of the GMAT, achieve this ambitious goal of fair play?

Lots of ways, actually. Let’s look at a few of the main ones.

No Speaking or Listening

The GMAT is a test of formal written English. That fact may sound unimportant, but written and spoken English are genuinely distinct languages. Each contains many basic grammar rules and constructions that do not, and cannot, even exist in the other!

The comma + -ing modifier is one basic element of formal written English that is completely absent from speech. Try saying a sentence like this one out loud: I dropped the bags onto the floor, scaring my dogs. It will be plain that you’re not really speaking English, but rather just reading a written sentence aloud.

So, virtually nobody is a “native speaker” of written English (except a very small population of deaf test-takers, who do in fact tend to do quite well on the GMAT Verbal section). Thus, the GMAT avoids a huge potential source of bias against foreign test-takers by testing only written English.

Passages Say What They Mean

In casual real-world conversation, we often just imply points we think are obvious, trusting listeners to infer them. For instance, at 7:30 some Friday evening, we might yell to a friend: “Our dinner reservations are at eight! And the restaurant is 40 minutes away!” The actual point is, We’re going to be late—which we trust our friend to pick up, along with the pace!

In everyday speech, we omit points large and small alike. Exactly what can be omitted and when, though, vary considerably from one language to another. Consequently, omitting any conclusion from an argument unfairly advantages native speakers of the language used. Thus, one of GMAC’s most powerful weapons against linguistic bias is simply to state every point or conclusion explicitly in reading passages.

The only exception to this practice is the Critical Reasoning problem type that gives you an argument’s supporting premises and asks you to identify the conclusion toward which the argument is headed. On those problems, the conclusion is indeed omitted—but only because you have to provide it!

No Obscure Vocabulary

If you’re a non-native English speaker, you may worry that a single word could ruin your chance of correctly answering a GMAT Verbal question. Maybe a question will depend on a word you don’t know or don’t remember. The GRE Verbal section doesin fact depend rather heavily on advanced vocabulary. If you’ve done any significant studying for that test, you may be especially afraid of this scenario.

As far as the GMAT goes, though, you can rest easy here. In any given language, few things favor native speakers as much as advanced vocabulary. This bias is especially pronounced in English, which has far more words than any other language in the world. As a result, to ensure fairness, the GMAT refrains altogether from using unnecessarily obscure words.

To read the complete article, please visit the Target Test Prep blog.