Beyond Quant: Reading Skills Are Essential for Future MBAs

Guest post by Margo Diewald, Senior Tutor, The MBA Exchange

Success in business school – and throughout your career – hinges on the ability to read and understand challenging material, whether that means a textbook, a technical journal, a business proposal, or a legal contract. Of course, getting admitted to the most selective MBA programs requires earning the highest possible score on the Verbal section of the GRE or GMAT.

To perform at your personal best, you should start by building a solid foundation. Based on our experience from guiding more than 5,000 applicants over the past three decades, The MBA Exchange suggests these 4 steps:

1. Read a variety of written materials.
Reading about topics outside your primary domain will help you expand your vocabulary and associate new words with appropriate contexts. Standardized tests typically include passages from the Sciences, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Business & Economics. Both GRE and GMAT takers will find that increasing the breadth and sophistication of their vocabulary will sharpen their understanding of passages and associated reading comprehension and critical reasoning questions. GRE takers will find that many of the more obscure words tested in the Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence questions are words used in only one of a narrow set of domains, such as Law & Politics, Fine Arts, or Religion & Philosophy.

2. Read high-quality content.
Much of today’s written content – especially digital content – is motivated more by speed than quality. In the race to publish, errors in word choice, spelling, and grammar are common. Worse yet, many websites rely on offshore “content mills” to produce articles, which contain errors due to the limited English language skills of the authors. Repeated exposure to low-quality material can “normalize” mistakes in word choice, spelling, and grammar. This normalization of errors can make it much harder for you to recognize what is correct when you sit down to take the GMAT or GRE.

So, The MBA Exchange encourages you to read articles from sources with a well-regarded history and reputation, as these sources typically employ professional fact-checkers and editors. In addition, focus on sources that target educated and sophisticated readers, so the subject matter and style are appropriately challenging for a future graduate school student. For instance, you should seek well-written articles about scientific discoveries, economic events, government policies, etc., as well as nuanced, professionally-written opinion pieces so that you can develop an understanding of what makes a logical and effective argument.

3. Read every day.
Repetition is the best way to internalize and improve any skill. In preparation for your GMAT or GRE, you can make it a point to read at least one or two high-quality articles each day. It can be helpful to schedule reading time as part of your routine. For instance, you can set aside time for a session immediately after dinner or following your workout at the gym. Pretty soon, reading will become an enjoyable and enriching habit.

4. Get professional support.
The steps above are proven and valuable for all test takers. However, for some individuals reading is a challenge. This doesn’t necessarily mean having a learning disability. Reading requires more patience, attention and engagement than many people are willing to invest. Moreover, for some, it can conjure up unpleasant memories from childhood or teen years when reading was not pleasurable for them. In such cases, engaging the services of an expert test tutor is a wise move. Having a professional provide guidance and feedback along the way can make all the difference. For those experiencing anxiety issues, engaging a licensed specialist can help individuals overcome or work around an aversion to reading.

The tips outlined above can help you succeed, not only on your GMAT or GRE, but also in your professional and personal life. In addition, your family, friends, colleagues and boss are likely to view you as a more interesting, better informed communicator.