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GMAT Tip: The Top 5 Strategies for GMAT Reading Comprehension (Part 1)

Today’s GMAT tip comes from Manhattan Review Germany, a provider of GMAT Prep courses in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich. In this article, they reveal Manhattan Review’s best 5 strategies for tackling GMAT Reading Comprehension questions. In fact, the tip is so detailed that we had to split it into two parts!

Reading Comprehension is probably the least fun part of the GMAT. The texts are frequently turgid, their subject matter is arcane, the questions are difficult to understand and the answer choices seem indistinguishable. Nonetheless, there is no way to avoid Reading Comprehension. There will be at least three, maybe four, passages to read in the test and at least 12, maybe 14, questions to answer in total. So it is good to go in with a positive attitude and with a clear strategy to extract maximum points in the minimum amount of time. Here are five tips to guide you:

  1. Don’t expect to be stimulated

    The texts are often dull, poorly written and concern subjects you either find uninteresting or know little about or have difficulty understanding. Don’t worry about that. Everybody is in the same boat as you. Don’t beat yourself up over not having read up on ceramics or superconductors or the lives of amphibians or the latest research on medieval poetry. The test givers don’t expect you to have any expertise on abstruse subjects. They are testing your ability to read quickly, to extract and process information efficiently and to draw inferences and make logical connections even when you know next to nothing about the material. Do keep in mind that there will be at least one passage that involves an issue in the natural sciences.So, settle down, grit your teeth, accept the challenge and start reading. Learning to focus is key. Before the test, practice reading esoteric texts to find out what best helps you to concentrate while you’re reading. Making notes is usually helpful. Remember: You’re not writing notes that you intend to use to prepare for finals. You’re writing notes primarily to help you to focus on the text.

  2. Anticipate the kinds of questions you will be asked

    You are not reading for enlightenment, intellectual stimulation or entertainment. You are reading for one purpose only: to answer questions set by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Therefore, don’t try to understand every single thing the author says or memorize every point he makes. You only have to extract enough information to be able to answer the GMAT questions. That means you need to understand the main argument and to know where to find the evidence on which the author is basing his conclusions.Read the passage in anticipation of answering three types of questions:First, there are Main Idea questions such as: What is the author’s central point? Why has the author written this text? What is the author’s tone? How has the author chosen to convey his argument? How has the author organized the passage?

    Second, there are the Supplementary Idea questions. Such questions focus on the details of the argument, on the evidence that the author presents to support his contentions. Such questions often, but not always, start with the phrase “According to the author/the passage…”

    Third, there are the Inference questions. Such questions focus on what is implicit in the text, on what the author appears to be suggesting but not necessarily stating baldly.  Such questions are often of the form: What is the author’s attitude to X? Why does the author mention Y? How might the author respond to argument Z?

  3. Read strategically

    It’s important to read aggressively. You’re actively extracting information, not passively absorbing it. Focus on the main points. Don’t get bogged down on details. Reading and re-reading sentences packed with information is how you lose time. You only get to read the passage through once; so don’t count on having time for a second read to pick up whatever you missed on the first.Be strategic. Get used to reading only certain parts of a passage carefully.  These include: the opening paragraph, the conclusion and the opening and closing sentences of each paragraph. The opening and closing paragraphs help you to answer such Main Idea questions as: What is the author’s main point? Why is the author writing this? The opening and closing sentences enable you to answer such Main Idea questions as: How has the author chosen to convey his main point? How has the author organized his material?Reading those parts of the text scrupulously will also enable you to answer such Inference questions as: What is the author’s attitude to X? How might the author be expected to react to Y? The author is bringing up Z in order to argue what?

  4. Don’t sweat the details

    The biggest challenge to Reading Comprehension is not losing time. It’s only natural to want to follow the author conscientiously through his argument, to understand how he arrived at his conclusions, to grasp every detail and to see how everything meshes with everything else. Unfortunately, there’s no time for any of that. A four-question passage has to be answered in 10, at most 12, minutes—and that includes reading time. Moreover, even that assumes that you’re spending no more than one minute on each Sentence Correction question.It’s crucial therefore not to sweat the details. This is how you answer the Supplementary Idea questions: Skim over the minutiae of the argument, get a sense of what they are and write a note to yourself as to where key points are to be found in the passage. This saves an awful lot of time. First off, in order to answer any question involving details you will have to re-read that part of the passage when you come to answer that question. Therefore, it makes no sense to waste time reading the same sentences carefully twice or even three times over.  Second, if you know where the crucial information is located in the passage, you won’t need to waste time starting to read from the beginning trying to find it.That’s another reason why taking notes is a good idea. As we’ve already said, taking notes helps you to focus. Now we can see that it also saves you valuable time.

  5. Answer choices to avoid

    Unlike the incorrect answer choices in Sentence Correction, and to a lesser extent in Critical Reasoning, those in Reading Comprehension can’t be identified and hence dismissed so easily. So here’s a guide on how to spot answer choices that can be ruled out right away as incorrect.  Avoid

a)   Answer choices that use categorical words such as “only,” “all,” “always,” “never” and “exclusively.”

b)   Answer choices that make use of information that doesn’t appear in the text.

c)    Answer choices in which not every single fact mentioned is correct.

d)   Answer choices in which correct facts are mentioned but they are not mentioned in the correct order. The GMAT likes to mix up cause and effect.

e)   Answer choices that ask you to make value judgments. Any answer choice that asks you to affirm that one method/approach/style of management/school of thought is “better,” “more successful,” “more efficient” or “more efficient” than another will be incorrect.

f)     Answer choices that sound unnecessarily contentious. Beware answers that include statements smacking of political incorrectness.

Stay tuned for the second part of Manhattan Review’s best 5 strategies for GMAT Reading Comprehension when we go over the strategies in the context of a full-fledged example. In the meantime, you can start practicing for the test immediately by taking a free GMAT practice test at the Manhattan Review website.