The GMAT is the most important test when it comes to MBA admissions and we have extensively written and talked about it in our blog. As Apex is a global brand, we have worked with clients from different parts of the world with various backgrounds and levels of English language skills. The exam requires a decent level of English fluency as test takers must not only get through the verbal sections of the exam, but understand the quantitative questions which can also have challenging language aimed to confuse the reader.

Is the GMAT Intentionally Harder for Non-Native Speakers? 

Despite non-native speakers experiencing a more difficult time with the GMAT than native speakers, the test is not designed to intentionally be difficult for non-native English speakers. The GMAT is not testing English language skills – unlike some of the other standardized tests e.g. the GRE – but rather it tests logic, understanding and decision making skills. 

Think of it like this: if you’re from Spain and you have lived there your entire life, only hearing Spanish every day, you would have a much easier time taking a standardized exam in Spanish than an American who has been studying it for years as a second language. The same thing goes for the GMAT. A non-native English speaker has a harder time taking the GMAT than a native speaker.

However, there are ways to ensure that non native speakers excel on the GMAT test. The way you’ve learned English (if you’re a non native speaker) affects the way we approach working with you on the verbal. Experience has shown that with the right tutoring, strategy and techniques, non-native speakers have scored above 700 on the GMAT too. Several practices could be really helpful with that and we will provide some examples and guidance. 

What Can be Done?

Reading full English articles, papers from reliable resources or academic journals such as the NY Times, Scientific American, Financial Times, will enrich your vocabulary and understanding of complex written text. 

Understanding words from context is equally as important when it comes to sentence formation. You might see words in a sentence which you don’t really understand. Getting stuck on these means losing valuable time. This is specifically important when it comes to the GMAT verbal section rather than the quant.

Instead, try to practice by finding out words you don’t know the meaning of, guessing what it means and then actually checking to confirm if you were right or not.

Listening to English speech is just as important as reading. Podcasts are a great source to listen to conversational English and get used to the way sentences flow. 

The more that you read or hear, the more your English language skills will improve over time without you even realizing it. Try to make these daily habits as consistency will result in better retention and faster growth in your English language skills. It’s about exposing yourself to this language and embracing its unfamiliarity in order to better understand it.

Writing is just as important when it comes to vocabulary and sentence formation. Practice writing GMAT questions and seek help whenever you can.

While everything mentioned above is essential, avoid focusing on the GMAT score. Score as high as you can and move on. It is not worth losing valuable time while taking the GMAT because of a few trick questions.

All things considered, personalized GMAT tutoring is highly effective for non-native speakers who need guidance. It helps our instructors address everyone’s specific needs and in this case, the fact that English is a second language will not be a barrier to getting a top score.

Can Apex Help? 

Yes, we can. Apex GMAT works very closely with all of our clients, offering exclusive one on one GMAT instruction, to offer them the best tutoring experience they can get. If one of the things they need to address is the fact that they’re not native speakers, we take care of that too. 

In most cases, whoever learns English this way, has to study the grammar and language rules and tends to be better than native English speakers who learnt the language just by listening to it and who form sentences because ‘it sounds right’. This is not always correct. 

The GMAT is actually created specifically for native English speakers and a lot of the test itself is meant to trick native English speakers. So coming at it from a non-native speaking background can actually help you skip over all of the little traps that are set up for native speakers.

We will make sure to address the weaknesses that a client might have as a non native speaker, specifically focusing on the verbal section. Even better, we will teach them how to use the fact that English is a second language as an advantage. 


To start off, feel free to schedule a consultation call with one of our top GMAT instructors to talk about your GMAT prep challenges and how you can overcome them. 


Contributor: Fatma Xhafa