One Phrase to Change Your GMAT Verbal Life


Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - One Phrase to Change Your GMAT Verbal Life by James Brock

Did you know that you can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GMAT courses absolutely free? We’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here.

A bold claim to be sure! But as I’ve used this phrase with a number of tutoring students over the past several years, I’ve seen it pay huge dividends. And I’m a big fan of simple rules and phrases that you can easily remember and apply across many different questions and even different question types. So here it is:

Eliminate Wrong, Not Weird

That’s it. That’s perhaps the single best piece of advice I can give you for the GMAT Verbal section. Now, let me unpack that phrase some more.

First, this little phrase is dependent upon following the proper process for each type of GMAT Verbal question. In particular, on Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning, you MUST work from wrong to right, eliminating all four wrong answers before choosing the right one. On Reading Comprehension, if you see the right answer easily, you can choose it and go on, but otherwise you follow the same process of eliminating four wrongs.

Second, you need to understand the typical patterns of getting GMAT Verbal questions wrong. In my experience, the most common way that students get Verbal questions wrong is getting down to 2 answers that both seem okay and then choosing the wrong one between those last two. But the second most common way to get a GMAT Verbal question wrong is to eliminate the right answer right away and then find yourself choosing between a handful of bad answer choices.

Eliminate wrong, not weird really gets at avoiding that second pattern. Typically, the right answer gets eliminated because it sounds funny (Sentence Correction) or seems out of scope (Critical Reasoning or Reading Comp). In other words, it’s weird. But just because it’s weird doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It really just means you don’t understand it or see how it fits or connects right now, but you want to realize that you may be missing something that will come into focus more as you spend more time working through the question.

So instead of eliminating that weird answer, just leave it alone and look for the ones that are clearly wrong. Eliminate the ones where you see exactly how the test writers are messing with you: one that is a clear violation of a grammatical rule or that goes in the opposite direction of what you need or that mixes up pieces of the argument or that changes a word for one that’s really not a synonym and no longer fits the argument. Once you’ve eliminated all the clear wrongs, you can usually be down to those two tempting answer choices and make your choice between them.

In fact, once you get down to those two, especially in CR, eliminate wrong, not weird can still help. Sometimes you’re looking at two answer choices and you understand one of them, but it doesn’t quite fit in the argument. You look at the other and you really don’t even fully understand what it’s saying or why it’s there. It’s weird. Guess the weird one. It feels very strange to choose an answer that we don’t really understand, but it’s better than choosing the one that we do understand but know doesn’t really fit!

The final benefit of eliminate wrong, not weird is that it helps make your process more efficient, saving time and mental energy. Instead of wrestling over whether a particular answer is right or wrong, just leave it alone and move on to the next one. Your first pass through the answer choices can really be pretty quick, just looking for the ones that are clearly and easily wrong. That cuts out the clutter and lets you focus your efforts on making the right choice between the last two or three choices.

Saves you from common mistake patterns, gives you a guessing strategy for CR, and makes your process more efficient. What’s not to like? Eliminate wrong, not weird! 📝

Want some more amazing GMAT tips from James? Attend the first session of one of his upcoming GMAT courses absolutely free, no strings attached. Seriously.

James Brock is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a B.A. in mathematics and a Master of Divinity from Covenant Seminary. James has taught and tutored everything from calculus to chess, and his 780 GMAT score allows him to share his love of teaching and standardized tests with MPrep students. You can check out James’s upcoming GMAT courses here.

  1. knappi October 12, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Evan – here’s James’s answer:

    Hi Evan, the best short answer I can give you for improving your performance between the last 2 is when you get down to 2, “pause and re-focus”. Sometimes in the process of eliminating the first 3, you lose some of the nuance of exactly what the question is asking and the last choice can trip you up. So take a brief step back, look at the question again, look at your two last answer choices fresh and make your choice.

  2. Evan October 11, 2017 at 5:53 pm


    This post really resonated with me because on Verbal my most common error is getting down to the right answer and my answer and selecting the wrong choice.

    Besides the method discussed in the article, is there any other advice you can give o help me reduce this error? It is very frustrating and time consuming to get down to two choice and then get the question wrong.