In this fourth part of a series of posts on the GMAT’s Verbal Section, we take a look at Reading Comprehension (RC) and reveal some key takeaways that mean more points for you on test day. If you’ve not yet read the first two posts in this latest GMAT Verbal series, check out GMAT Verbal: Some Big Ideas, pt. 1, Beat GMAT Verbal by Making Predictions, and GMAT Critical Reasoning: How to Make Predictions. Ideally, read those first then come back in here and let’s crack GMAT RC.
To get mine as many points as possible from these questions, you absolutely must have a standard method for attacking both Reading Comprehension passages and the banks of questions that follow them. Furthermore, it is important to note the adaptive nature of the GMAT’s scoring algorithm. Recall that as you do better on the exam, it gets harder.
On test day, the GMAT has a cache of passages of varying difficulty level as well as banks of questions of varying difficulty level pertaining to each of these passages. Moreover, the level of RC difficulty with which you will be presented is not only derived from your performance on previous passages and RC questions. Doing well on Critical Reasoning (CR) and Sentence Correction (SC) will yield more difficult passages and questions, as well. All this to buttress my earlier point: you absolutely must have a standard method for attacking both Reading Comprehension passages and the banks of questions that follow them. Let’s take a closer look at that method…
The Kaplan Method for GMAT Reading Comprehension
- Step 1: Read and map the passage, strategically. From the start, note that you should not read a question before reading the passage. Contrary to our approach to Critical Reasoning questions where you must read the question first, reading the question first in RC does you no good and only costs you time. By the end of the passage, you will have long forgotten what that question was and you will just have to read it again. Additionally, since you can expect several questions (usually three) on a passage, precursory knowledge of one question will not help frame the passage in any meaningful way.
- Next, let’s look at your charge to both read and map the passage. While you read a GMAT passage, you will simultaneously take notes on what you are reading. These notes will be very short, very ‘big picture’. Usually one or maybe two quick bullets per paragraph is enough. You goal is to capture the main ideas and structure of the passage. This leads us to the final takeaway from Step 1: strategic reading/mapping.
- You read all sorts of things all sorts of ways. You read a summer novel differently than an email from your boss. You read a textbook differently than a magazine on the train. The way in which you read a GMAT passage is different, as well.
- The most important thing for you to do when reading an RC passage on the GMAT is to ask the author questions. What are you writing about? What about this do you find interesting? Why are you writing this passage? What’s your opinion, if any? What is the opinion of others you write about? Why did you tell me this detail, what function does it serve? I think you are going here next, am I right?
- The author is always the star of the show, even if we know nothing of her particular take on the issues about which she is writing. Regardless, she always chooses to write on a particular Topic, within a particular Scope, and for a particular Purpose. Reading strategically allows us to succinctly capture and accurately understand each of these elements, which are the most important elements of every GMAT passage.
- Step 2: Read the question. Your primary goal for this step is to identify the type of question asked. Just like in Critical Reasoning, we will see the same types of questions over and over again, passage after passage, and each of these question types has its own set of attributes and ways to attack. If you cannot identify which RC question is before you, then you will not be able to effectively comprehend it.
- There are four primary RC question types that represent approximately 92% of RC questions you will see on test day: Global, Detail, Inference, and Logic. The remaining 8% is aggregated by three additional types: Critical Reasoning (yes, you can get Argument Family questions on RC passages), Parallelism, and Application.
- Secondarily to identifying the type of question, you will also be looking for any referent or contextual clues built into the question that will help you target your research. Which brings us to…
- Step 3: Research. You will use your Map first. If the answer to the question is not noted there, then you will use your Map to locate where in the passage the answer lies. Then, focus your research efforts only in that area. Since you have already read and mapped the passage strategically, your comprehension of the passage will be very high and you will be tempted to skip this step. However, even if research will only confirm your suspicions, do it nonetheless to avoid a careless error.
- Step 4: Predict the answer. I truly hope you do not need an additional soliloquy ruminating on the crucial import of making predictions. If you do, well, then read this: Beat GMAT Verbal by Making Predictions.
- Step 5: Evaluate the answer choices. Remember to base your evaluation on your prediction! A prediction is only useful if you: (1) make it, and (2) use it.
Appropriately, the real money is made in Step 1. After all, the namesake of this aspect of GMAT Verbal is Reading Comprehension. It stands to reason that your skill at both reading and understanding what you have read is paramount to your success on these questions. You must appreciate, though, that the GMAT is not testing whether you are literate. Of course we can all read. To beat the GMAT, it is how you read that matters, so you must learn how to read for the GMAT.
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