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How GMAT reading differs from everyday reading

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Let’s first note the two reasons why we read in everyday life:

  1. We read because we are required (for real-life purposes) to be knowledgeable about the content we are reading: studying for a history exam, delivering on a business proposal, etc.
  2. We read because we have a natural interest in the topic at hand, as in leisurely reading: a novel, an analysis of a favorite sports team, etc.

You may have already known that the GMAT does not use particularly “interesting” topics. Most content of a passage deals with topics such as a biological process, a historical event, or a technological innovation. It would be silly to simply hope that your passages on the GMAT will be about specific topics that interest you.

However, you should also not view the passages as a set of details and factoids to be memorized. Any reading passage may have up to 350 words. That would be a lot to memorize, especially for a timed test. From this passage, you may be tested on as little as two different details. This doesn’t seem very efficient. Moreover, once you are done with a passage and its accompanying questions, you will never have to care about that passage and questions again. So why put so much effort to memorize something that you’ll forget about eight minutes later?

Instead, you should keep a couple of different approaches in mind. The first is to look for structural patterns. For example, if you see any biographical passage, you’re likely to see a few sentences about the subject’s childhood and what led to that person becoming interested in what she is famous for now, and a few sentences dedicated to how she worked toward that interest. A passage about contrasting theories almost always has one paragraph dedicated on one theory, and another dedicated to the other theory, and then some sort of conclusion -- sometimes advocating one over the other. Looking for structure will help streamline your reading.

In conjunction, when you start encountering specific details, think in the context of why the author mentions these things, as opposed to what those things actually are. Again, there’s no need to memorize -- the passage will remain on the screen as you’re answering the relevant questions. “Why is this detail important?” or “What’s the purpose behind this paragraph?” are the questions you want to ask yourself as you’re reading; by keeping these questions in your mind, you also won’t think “this is boring”, because there’s purpose behind your reading.

Reading Comprehension, more than any other question type, tests your critical thinking and time management abilities, which are the real-life skills that business schools are looking for. Mastering these will not only lead to success on the GMAT, but also through b-school. Good luck!

Arthur Ahn
Kaplan GMAT