Once you have developed a good way to read the passage, the next step in reading comprehension is to develop a way to attack the questions. First and foremost, test takers should be able to translate the questions into a question that is answerable by them. This means understanding what the question is asking you to do and the subject of the question. The two most common question tasks that the GMAT asks are: “what did the author say about
…” and “ why did the author do this
.” If you can put your question into either one of these categories you will help to set up your thinking before you move on to the next step, predicting the answer.
The most common question type on the GMAT asks some form of “what does the author say about…” When you are confronted with a question that asks this, you are essentially looking for a paraphrase of information within the passage. Your main goal will be to go back into the passage and find the information requested.
Some examples of questions that ask what the author says are:“According to the passage, young apes use their strength in which of the following ways?”
The use of the words “according to the passage
” indicates that the question is asking what the author said about the topic. This question can be translated into “What did the author say was a way young apes use their strength?”
Similarly, the question “The passage suggests which of the following about “monochromatic photos
”” uses the key words “the passage suggests
” to indicate that it is asking a question about what the author said. This question should be translated to “What did the author say about monochromatic photos”
One especially tricky one is the word infer, or inference. The question “it can be inferred from the passage that a study limited to children under 6 years of age would have which one of the following advantages over the study presented by Dr. Coop
?” On the GMAT, inference
is just another way of asking the test taker to paraphrase information from the passage. The question above can be translated to “what is the advantage of a study of children under 6 to that of Dr. Coop?”
A final common question that asks you to paraphrase is “which of the following statements about the modernization of the telephone exchange is supported by information in the passage?
” Asking what is supported by the passage
is just another way to ask for a paraphrase of information contained therein.
Once you have determined that the question is asking you for a paraphrase of information, your next task is to go to the passage and retrieve the information necessary. Easier questions will have answers that closely paraphrase the information directly from one section of the passage and harder, more complex, questions may require you to find two pieces of information from different parts of the passage and combine them into one paraphrase. It is important in your initial read of the passage that your summary give you an indication whether one topic is discussed in multiple paragraphs so that you can be sure to check if a combination of information is appropriate.
When you go back to the passage to look for the information, your goal is to get a sense of what the answer should be before you start looking at available answer choices. You don’t have to have a full answer ready but you should know have some idea of the content that could or should be in the answer choice for it to be correct. If you do not open yourself up to predicting the answer in some form, you are leaving yourself open to the traps the test writers often leave for you.
The second most popular question type is that which asks why did the author do something. One of the most recognizable version of this type of question is “what is the primary purpose of the passage
?” This question is often mistaken for a main point question but instead should be viewed as a question directly asking “why did the author write this?” Was the author’s objective simply to convey facts, or does he want to convince the reader to take a particular action, or does he want to debunk a popular theory. There are many reasons why an author would write a particular passage but focusing on the why generates a very different result than focusing on what he said. Looking for the primary purpose will require looking at words other than the main point words.
There are three main purposes for writing an article, to convince someone of an argument or course of action, the refute an argument or to simply present facts and come to a factual conclusion.
When the author is attempting first and foremost to convince the reader of an argument or a course of action many of the paragraphs will come to a conclusion. If the author uses sentences such as “clearly the Bonobo Ape is the supreme primate” or “therefore, investors should use caution when purchasing California Bonds” indicate that the author is attempting to convince you of something with the facts he is presenting. Several paragraphs of this type regarding the same issue indicate that the purpose of the passage is to advocate this position.
When the author is refuting a position, the author often begins by describing that position and then using words such as however, but or yet to introduce his point. When the passage uses these
shifts in language alone with negative descriptions of the point of view he is rebutting, it becomes more clear that his purpose is to rebut that point of view instead of simply promoting his own.
When the author is simply presenting facts, or discussing an issue, the passage will generally have few, if any conclusive language clues. These passages tend to list more facts and contain less words of opinion; any conclusion reached in them will be of a more factual, dispassionate nature. Many of the Science passage fall into this category.
Looking at the way in which the author presents his information, and paying attention to the words outside of the specific subject matter is a good way to predict the answer on a primary purpose question. Of course, beyond knowing the basic argumentative purpose of the argument, you will also have to have a firm grounding of the subject matter discussed and the author’s opinion on that subject.
The Final question type explored in this article is specific questions that ask why an author used a specific word or introduced a specific fact. These questions often contain the words “in order to
.” For example, one such question from the Official Guide reads “The author of the passage mentions the supervision of schools primarily in order to
.” It is important to differentiate these questions from the specific “what” questions mentioned in the beginning of this article because they are asking a very different question and ask a test taker to look for the same types of clues mentioned in the primary purpose questions directly above. Looking at indicator words can help you to determine the author’s purpose in using specific facts. For instance, “the author mentions chimpanzees in order to” can be translated to “why does the author mention chimpanzees”. This is a very different question from what does the author say about chimpanzees. Again, looking at the surrounding language is an important factor to determine why an author mentions something. If he uses words such as “for example” or “consider” before the terms then, he is adding the term in as an example for something that was most likely described above. If instead he starts the sentence with the term, or simply introduces facts about it without any introductory words then he is most likely mentioning the term in order to convey a fact about it.
To see the difference between these two types of paragraphs consider this set of sentences:
All primates have opposable thumbs. Consider the chimpanzee, which uses its opposable thumbs not only for climbing trees but also for peeling bananas.
Chimpanzees use their opposable thumbs not only for climbing trees but also for peeling bananas. This anatomical adaptation allows it much greater versatility when living in the wild.
In each of the precedeeding sets of sentences the author mentions the same fact about chimpanzees. However, his purpose for doing so is drastically different. In the first sentence, the use of the word consider makes it clear that he is mentioning chimpanzee as an example of one of many primates that have opposable thumbs. His purpose is not to explain the thumbs but instead to prove his assertion. In the second sentence, there is no introductory language and in this sentence the author mentions chimpanzees in order to tell you about the uses of their opposing thumbs. Think about this in opposition to what the answer to a what type question would be. For instance, if the question had asked “according to the passage what is a characteristic of the chimpanzee?” In this case the answer would be the same regardless of whether you were looking at the first sentence or the second sentence. The answer would be that a characteristic of the chimpanzee is opposable thumbs.
Of course, this is a small example and there are many variations on this theme. Regardless of the variation, it is important to know whether you are answering a question about what the author said, versus why he said it. Clarifying this in your mind before you go back to the passage to predict an answer will make you more accurate in your predictions, and if practiced regularly will make predicting the answer an easier task.
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