Reading comprehension

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Perhaps the hardest of all on the Verbal are the reading questions. Everybody hates them and there is a reason: Reading passages are hard to understand and require much more time than anyone can afford.


In the last 75 minutes of your GMAT, you will encounter 4 Reading Comprehension passages with 3-4 questions for each passage. Usually, there will be one very long passage of 75+ lines, two middle sized passages of about 45-65 lines, and a short one of about 30 lines. They can appear wherever in your test and there is no real way to tell when a passage will come up. One sure thing is that Reading will start with a long passage; it seems strange but, the passages show up in the order we have indicated: long, two middle sized ones, and a short one.

There are several theories about Reading questions. One says that each passage has 3 or 4 questions with it and that the difficulty does not change from question to question but from passage to passage. On the other hand, for some reason The Official Guide has on average 7-9 questions after each reading passage, with some questions easier than others (general idea vs. except questions for example). Therefore, it is still possible to conclude that questions are not identical in difficulty. In any case, we are not defending any of the theories; all we can do is guess, which is not using our time effectively, so let’s assume the worst: the difficulty level changes from question to question.


One problem with Reading is that it is a bottomless pit. You can invest as much time into it as you can, and it will still raise questions. If you could, for example, score perfectly on the entire quantitive section if you just had another half an hour or so, there is never enough time for reading. Thus, the goal is to spend just enough time to answer the questions as good as you can. There is the famous 80/20 rule that states that you will spend 20% of time to answer 80% of the questions and then 80% of time to answer the remaining 20 per cent. Therefore, we recommend that you evaluate how much time you will need for CR and SC, and then subtract that from the 75 minutes available. Usually, it takes 1-1.5 minutes for a sentence correction question, 1.5-2 mins for critical reasoning and that leaves you about 30-28 minutes for reading or 7 minutes per passage.


The best way to use that time would be to read the passage in 3-4 minutes and then spend another 3-4 minutes answering the questions. You need a good reading practice (see our reading recommendations) and practice following GMAT way of reading to make it in 3 minutes. It usually takes my students about 4 minutes to read with taking notes, and then about 3-3.5 minutes to answer the questions and score 75% right. On the other hand, when they read the text in 3 minutes, usually they save time by not taking notes, it takes them as much as 5 minutes to answer a similar set of questions. Thus, it is highly advised that you take notes while reading.



The key to success in Reading is answering as many questions correct in the time span that you have


At the end of the day, after you read through the passage, you need to know the thesis – main idea, and understand the process explained in the passage.

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