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Top 10 GMAT Reading Comprehension Tips

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Alex Sarlin is the Verbal Lead for Knewton's GMAT prep course.

For many test-takers, the Reading Comprehension section is one of the trickiest parts of the GMAT. The passages are long, convoluted, and often boring -- more likely to put you to sleep than to pique your interest in the midst of a 3.5 hour exam.

Lucky for you, we’ve put together a list of 10 concrete tips to help you conquer the beast that is GMAT Reading Comprehension. With these strategies in hand, you’ll whiz through those passages in no time – and answer the accompanying questions correctly to boot!

1.      Don’t draw on outside knowledge.

Every answer can, and should, be found or inferred directly from the passage. If the subject of the passage seems obscure, don’t panic! Test-takers are not expected to know anything ahead of time about the topics covered on RC passages.

2.      Look out for logical keywords

Logical keywords, or direction indicators, are words that indicate to the reader what direction the author’s argument is taking. Keep an eye out for these as you read. Many of these keywords fall into two groups: those that indicate continuity (e.g. furthermore, in addition, also), and those that indicate contrast (e.g. despite, but, nevertheless).

3.      Learn how to recognize question types

Nearly all RC questions fall into three distinct categories. Global questions ask about the passage as a whole, detail questions require test-takers to locate and paraphrase a specific claim, and inference questions require test-takers to note implications not explicitly stated. Knowing what type of question you’re looking at will help you identify the most effective strategy to use.

4.      Keep your perspectives straight!

As you read through GMAT passages, remember that many passages will provide multiple perspectives: One person will suggest a theory, and another will disagree with it in certain cases for a specific reason. Be sure to keep track of which side of the argument the author is on.

5.      Start reading GMAT-like texts now

Reading comprehension passages on the GMAT tend to be dry (read: boring), even by standardized test standards. Reading similarly convoluted and/or jargon-heavy texts prior to test day will help your brain prepare. For suggestions, check out our tips on what to read to help your Reading Comprehension.

6.      Practice RC skills in everyday reading

Occasionally, you will see questions on Reading Comprehension that ask you to identify the author’s tone, extend passage information to new situations, and/or determine how and why the passage is structured a certain way. Practice identifying the author’s tone when you're reading newspaper articles, magazines, books, or blogs, and think about the author’s reasoning for using the structure s/he did.

7.      Pay attention to context

This is especially important when dealing with detail questions. Before answering, read the sentence or lines referenced, as well as a few sentences before and after. In certain situations, context can make all the different between a right and wrong answer choice.

8.      Use your scrap pad!

Write (brief) notes on the main idea of each paragraph to help you keep track of the paragraph’s progression, arguments, and main point. This strategy may seem to slow you down, but trust us: it will save you time in the end!

9.      Don’t let “glazed eye syndrome” get you down

Find yourself losing focus? Take a deep breath and look away from the passage for a few seconds. When you go back to the passage, start from the last sentence where you felt engaged by the material.

10.  Don’t panic!

If you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t let fear take over! Take a deep breath and be patient with your brain; it’s working hard, and often a quick mental break is all you need to get back on track.

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