The best GMAT non-native speaker prep strategies

by: Apex GMAT
Contributor: Ilia Dobrev
Date: 6th July, 2021

GMAT non-native speaker test tips:

  1. Practice your English daily.
  2. Expand your vocabulary.
  3. Work on your grammar.
  4. Learn to understand the context.


The GMAT is a multiple-choice, computer adaptive test (CAT) that is offered in over 110 countries worldwide. If you are a non-native speaker that wants to sit the test to gain admissions to a prestigious business school then you will be required to not only work through the questions but to also build a solid understanding of the English language in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and semiotics. Although the GMAC has taken some measures towards reducing the semantic complexity of the exam (like reducing idioms), it remains rather challenging for people with limited fluency in English. Section wise, even good mathematicians find the English on the quantitative section more challenging than the actual problems.

However, being a non-native speaker is not necessarily a disadvantage. Since the exam is actually created specifically for native English speakers, a lot of the test itself is meant to trick native English speakers. What’s really important here is that native speakers and non-native speakers pick up language differently and, more often than not, looking at the test from a non-native speaking background can actually help you skip over all of the little traps that are set up for native speakers. The key is to adopt a bit of a different approach to GMAT preparation in order to overcome and even capitalize on your language fluency. The way you have learned English or any other foreign language gives you access to secondary grammar that improves your semantic skills and allows you to effortlessly navigate in different types of contexts, which is vital for the verbal section. Some languages (French, Latin, etc.) have similarities to English in terms of roots and word formation, and even grammar, which you can use to your own advantage.

With more than a decade of coaching GMAT test takers to elite performance, we have compiled a succinct list of strategies that will help non-native speakers improve their grasp of the language requirements necessary to achieve a 700+ GMAT score.


  • Practice your English daily.

The best way to improve your English is to immerse yourself in it daily. Employing practices that were familiar to you when you started learning the language like watching movies, TV series, or YouTube videos with English audio and subtitles, reading books, listening to music etc., help you develop a sense of the structural flow of speech. The rise of podcasting and the abundance of blogs on different topics also allows you to find the resource you are searching for in your desired form. Even changing the interface of your personal devices like smartphones or laptops helps you keep up with practice.

Useful online publications to read are The Economist, Financial Times, The Daily Mail, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, etc.


  • Expand your vocabulary.

You need a broad vocabulary for the quantitative section at least as much as for the verbal one. It lays the groundwork of any skill related to tackling problems on the GMAT test.

You can enrich your vocabulary by creating two types of dictionaries:

  • One can include all unknown words you encounter while you are solving GMAT practice tests, reading through guides, studying whiteboards, or even watching GMAT videos. Of course, you should be mindful that this does not guarantee that you will encounter every possible word use, or even any of those worlds on your GMAT test, but it will considerably help you to navigate within context.
  • The other dictionary should include words that you are familiar with but you would like to use more often in your verbal and written speech. Such words might be expressions that you often find in problems or readings that you want to gain a stronger understanding about. You can revisit these words during your final GMAT preparation days. 


  • Work on your grammar.

While you are expanding your vocabulary you must make sure that your grammar knowledge is solid enough to allow you to apply new words and identify any structural mistakes, especially in the verbal section. Non-native speakers become well versed in grammar through practicing grammar rules rather than learning English by ear, during childhood. This makes them more disciplined upon evaluating alternatives in Sentence Correction problems. Reading scientific content, doing practice tests, exploring proven media outlets and blogs can all give you examples of strong grammar usage and teach your eye to catch fallacious sentence structures.


  • Learn to understand the context.

Finally, focusing on the context of a paragraph, answer choice, question, etc. is the last piece of the jigsaw and should be central to your GMAT preparation. Being able to filter out pillar keywords and context is more crucial than knowing every single word. 

Parts of this article emphasized on vocabulary and grammar because they play a crucial role in understanding a bigger portion of the gist of the text, which lowers the chances of missing out on important pieces of information. Focusing on the scope and extracting the underlying knowledge that each problem is built around is the main solution path for deriving the right answer. In fact, if you are good at this in your own language it will be easier for you to get the logic behind the question as the GMAC is aiming to test one’s language skills irrespective of English specifically.

If you would like to speak to a GMAT instructor about how you can accelerate your GMAT preparation as a non native speaker, schedule a call here: Book a Call.

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