Over the course of a few weeks in December and January I received a number of practice test results from students preparing to take the GMAT. As the fourth or fifth result came my way I noticed that all of these students happened to be struggling to break the 35-point barrier on the verbal section. The realization gave me pause (I mean, I’m a test prep geek, why wouldn’t it?). Over the years I’d come to realize that many students at one point or another struggle to maximize their verbal score, and more importantly, these struggles were usually tied to reading comprehension.
I wanted to see if I could quantify this a bit for folks, so I started by going back through those student’s results to see if there were any trends. Sure enough, an initial investigation revealed what looked to be a pretty strong correlation between RC and Verbal subscore.
My interest piqued, I started to dig a little deeper. Bear with me, there’s gonna be a few numbers with this. Numbers? you ask. In a blogpost about verbal? Yup. Think of it like an integrated reasoning blog post.
So, with the help of one of our interns (big shout out to Cannie L!) we tabulated the results of about 220 GMATPrep, and broke out their respective accuracy %s on CR, RC, and SC. After grappling MMA-style with those percentages (grappling I’m not going to bore you with – let’s just say it was ugly…almost as ugly as this knockout), were able to see some pretty clear – and surprising – trendlines. Let’s take a look at our sample:
Total GMATPrep Results: 216
# with Verbal 35 or greater: 92
# with Verbal 34 or less: 124
Essentially, I aggregated and compared these results to see if, in fact, there was some strong correlation between RC accuracy and Verbal score. Turns out, there kind of is. Of the 92 results that scored 35 or above on the verbal, only 3 of those had managed that score with an RC-accuracy below 71%. It’s important to note that we just studied results where test-takers answered all of the Verbal questions. Reading comprehension totals 14 questions of the verbal, and 71% is 10 out of 14 questions correct. So basically, only three of the 92 results had fewer than 10/14 of the RC questions correct. That’s approximately 3.2% of the sample. 96.8% of the results that were 35 or higher had 10 or more RC correct! The breakdown is illustrated here:
Before I started jumping for joy at the discovery, I wanted to see what was going on with the results for scorers below 35 on the verbal. The numbers weren’t quite as cut and dry below 35, but the the trend did continue. 80 out of the 124 sub-35 results had 9 or fewer RC questions correct. That’s 70%. Even more damning, of those with 9 or few correct, only 7 out of 87 managed to score 31-34. That’s 8%. Lot’s going on here, I know. Here’s a graphical breakdown:
So what does all this tell us? Let’s boil it down and recap:
- There’s a very strong correlation between RC accuracy and Verbal Score.
- Essentially, any hope of breaching 35 on Verbal requires getting 10 or more of the 14 RC questions correct (71%).
- Any hope of scoring above 30 on verbal requires getting at least 9 of the 14 RC questions correct (64%).
Certainly these trend lines are not ironclad. Exceptions exist. For logical reasoning lovers, we must point out that the above are correlation, not causation. So it’s not to say that if you get 10/14 or better on the RC then you’ll get above a 35. Instead, its more apt to say that it’s exceedingly difficult to score above a 35 without scoring 10/14 on the RC. Ditto for the 30 barrier and 9/14 RC. Simply scoring 9/14 won’t ensure a 30+, but you really can’t score 30+ without 9/14 or better on the RC.
So what’s the cause of this particular trend? Well, for starters, we have to point out that the algorithm utilized on the GMAT and on GMATPrep is far too complex for there to be any ironclad conclusions or strategies. These are trends, designed to help you make the most of your practice and target your preparation if you need to. We also have to consider another logical reasoning facet, namely whether this is a chicken or egg situation. Are people that are good at RC better at scoring 35+? Or are 35+ scorers just better at RC? It doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that to do well on the verbal, to break the 35+ barrier, one pretty much must do well on the RC. You must do exceptionally well on the CR and SC to compensate for poor RC.
Armed with this knowledge, you can now turn your preparation energies to RC if you’re looking to get that score. If that’s the case, here are a few suggestions to help you boost your RC accuracy:
- Slow down (until you can speed up again) – people worry that they’re “spending too much time on RC.” It really doesn’t matter how much time you spend or don’t spend if you’re not getting the questions right. RC is all about details and language. Until you’re more adept at working with the details it might be advisable to take your foot off the gas pedal a bit.
- Base everything on the passage – the answer is in there. Find it! If you don’t have it from the passage you stand a good chance of freestyling your way to a wrong answer.
- Answer in your own words – taking what you’ve found to be the answer from the passage and using that to answer the question helps to confirm that you understand both. The language in the choices can be deceptive, but you can cut down on that by putting things in your own words.
- Be disciplined on POE – ultimately, your goal on RC is to get it down to 2 answer choices and compare those to see how they’re different. But to do that you have make sure you don’t eliminate the right answer too early. On your first round of POE, only eliminate choices that are patently incorrect. Keep anything you’re not sure of. Don’t eliminate remaining answer choices in a vacuum. Compare them to another choice. This is a game of relativity. If you try to eliminate with absolutes you’ll find yourself in trouble more often than you’d like.
So. that’s the nitty-gritty on the role of RC in Verbal. Best of luck with your prep!
For more information on how Bell Curves courses or tutoring might help you maximize your ability on RC and the rest of the concepts tested, visit us here to register for a free sample class.