Knewton GMAT Prep Tip: How to stay focused on your Reading Comprehension

By - Jan 19, 06:57 AM Comments [2]

When the text starts to blur, use these tips to stay on track (photo by mr. wright)

When the text starts to blur, use these tips to stay on track (photo by mr. wright).

Jen Rugani is one of the lead teachers at Knewton, where she helps students rock their GMAT prep.


If taking the GMAT is like running a marathon, then the Reading Compr passages are like a set of steep hills in mile 23. They’re dense, complicated, insipid pieces of text that test your stamina. After powering through the AWA and math sections, it’s easy to arrive at the first reading comp passage and start to zone out – your eyes are still on the screen, but you’re re-reading the same sentence over and over again without taking in any of the meaning. At Knewton, we call this “glazed eyes” syndrome, and it can be a major time-sucker on the verbal section.

So how do you make it up the hill and power through to the finish line? There are some concrete steps you can take both now and on test day to avoid glazed eyes and stay focused on the passage.

Start reading GMAT-like texts now

It’s obvious that a reading comp passage won’t be as thrilling as your favorite Dan Brown novel, but the GMAT actually makes RC passages boring on purpose. The test-makers go out of their way to make the text complex, and they like to use natural science and social science topics with which potential business-school students may not be familiar. To prepare yourself, start reading real-world texts that mimic GMAT passage structures. The Economist, Scientific American, and The Wall Street Journal are good places to start, and magazines like Time and Newsweek feature editorial articles that can help you learn to recognize authorial arguments. Get comfortable with this type of writing now so that the passages on test day seem familiar and manageable.

Take notes

Writing quick notes will keep your brain naturally engaged and help you move through the passage deliberately (at Knewton, we call this process Active Reading). Jot down a quick summary for each paragraph and note the main ideas or theories mentioned in the passage. People often skip this note-taking step because they worry it takes too much time. But think about it this way: It’s much better to take a few extra seconds to jot down helpful notes than to waste potential minutes staring blankly at the screen. Plus, your notes will provide useful pre-phrases for some of the broader reading comprehension questions, which can actually help you save time in the long run.

Fast-forward to test day. What should you do if you’re in the middle of a reading comprehension passage and your brain is starting to wander?

Don’t panic

Try to stay calm; panicking about your lack of focus will only make it harder to come back to the passage. Be patient with your brain – it’s working hard! If you feel glazed eyes starting to set in, look away from the passage. This might sound counter-intuitive – why am I turning away from the thing I’m supposed to be reading? – but think of it as hitting a reset button on your brain. Look away from the screen, take a deep breath, and then return to the passage. You’ll be amazed at how much a few quick seconds of break time can center you back on the task at hand.

Return to something interesting

Once you’ve taken those deep breaths and are ready to come back to the passage, don’t start reading the same sentence that tripped you up the last time. Go back a few sentences, or even to the previous paragraph, to the most recent idea that interested you. Your brain will be much more likely to reengage on an interesting thought than on one that was difficult to understand. Then, you can use your note-taking skills and Active Reading to stay focused throughout the rest of the passage.

With these tools, you’ll be able to beat – or avoid – glazed eyes syndrome. Did you make it through this post without falling asleep? Then you’re well on your way to reading comprehension success!

Click here to learn more about Knewton's GMAT prep course or find more helpful articles on their GMAT blog.

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