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GMAT Club's Reading Comprehension Strategy Guide

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Reading Comprehension Tips, Resources, Materials, Books, and Strategies

RC is one of the hardest areas to improve and probably the most challenging of all sections. I hope this thread will be a starting point for RC improvement and also a place to swap strategies/tips, and ask RC-specific questions.

Resources Available:

1. Read the entire passage very carefully first.
I prefer this strategy (it helped me to get from inconsistent 50% correct RC to about 80-90% and eventually in 96th percentile in verbal). It is outlined in various amount of details in Kaplan, PowerScore, and MGMAT books.
The idea is fairly straightforward - while critically reading the passage, you build a mental map, stopping to paraphrase after each paragraph and at the end to quickly summarize the passage. The strategy also involves critically reading - meaning constantly asking why a certain sentence/phrase is there, how they add to the development, and change the tone. It is important to master each of these elements before actually trying to put the entire strategy together. At first it does feel awkward - almost like wearing an armor suite that is clunky and seems useless - useless until GMAT shoots an arrow at you that is. Some of my challenges were questions such as - why do I need to stop (waste valuable time) and paraphrase the passage? (that answer comes in gradually). Also, how to actually stay interested and keep my thoughts from wandering around as I read? And finally - how to read critically? It took a while to learn to pick every word and notice subtle differences in tone (words such as however, but, still, and examples help reveal author's true intention). I trusted the strategy and strangely enough it worked. I could see improvement within just a week. My performance became a lot more consistent and the strategy was becoming a lot more natural. I was also starting to catch little traps planted in the text and noticing tone a lot more than before.

It is also good if you can start reading regularly to train your ear. (See this post for my recommendations on reading material I call GMAT Fiction). If you are not a native speaker, you should keep a notebook and a dictionary handy to keep track of all the new words you encounter. Some of them you will meet over and over in the book, so it will be much faster to look up. For international students, my recommendation is 1-2K pages within a month to get your mind tuned and prepped to absorb large quantity of English passages. Also, many recommend WSJ, Economist, NY Times, and other magazines, but I found those too short and very boring. Though the passages were hard, i could force myself to read only a few articles before my mind would start wondering somewhere else. with books this did not happen, so I preferred that option.

2. Skim the passage briefly.
This is another RC strategy. As Princeton Review puts it - "spend no more than a minute or two reading the entire passage." (Cracking the GMAT Cat)
The goal is to create a mental roadmap of the passage and get a very general idea about the tone and layout and then go back to the passage to answer each of the questions. This strategy works for a number of people but did not work for me. I could only use it if I were really short on time and had to pick my battles. In my experience GMAT passages are always tricky and it is not easy to figure out if the author is arguing for or against a certain point by simply skimming the text.

Tips
1. Always read the First and Last sentence more carefully no matter what. GMAT passages are very structured and the first stence will always contain the main idea and set the tone.
2. Watch for trigger words such as "but, however, still, regardless, nevertheless, although" and others
3. Always ask yourself why the author put this example here
4. Pretend that you are very interested in the reading material or another option is to play a game with the author and try to prove the author wrong - pick at every word
5. Always know what the main idea of the passage is, even if the questions are not asking for it
6. It helps to know the vocabulary but you can make it - as long as you know all of the tone and general words, you will be able to tell author's direction. Specifics may not matter, though again, I have found that good vocabulary helps on RC
7. Do whatever it takes to help you read/remember the passage better - write summary notes (even if you never go back to them), paraphrase each paragraph or even sentence, etc.

Common Pitfalls:
• More often than not, the most typical second best answer choice on the RC will be out of scope. I found it quite amusing and made a game out of it (I know, I am a bit over the top with RC but it was the hardest section for me to master). After a while, I can very quickly (i.e. immediately) pick out an answer choice that goes outside of the scope of the passage as a general question (purpose/title/etc) or even a more specific one.
• Another catch/trap you will see quite a bit is reliance on "trigger" words. For example, the passage will spend 2-3 sentences on one point and then at the end will flip it with a "but", "however", or another "trigger" word. This is designed to catch those who skim/skip or don't read attentively and is really a big reason to read the passage attentively (in my view) vs. just rushing through it. For example, a passage may talk about how the number of accidents has been growing and that many people have been injured in the last year in car accidents and at the end, say "but death rates have declined" and an example of a trap would be an answer choice that would say "Injuries and fatalities are rising as the result of car accidents."
• Finally a more subtle way to get many of us to pick the wrong answer choice is making the text very heavy fact-based with long complex words and terminology, which distracts from the simple task of analyzing the passage and asking why each sentence is put where it is put. Sometimes, you can get to the answer by just looking at why a certain sentence is in a certain spot. However, most focus on facts, understanding/remembering which minerals or microbes live in which environment, etc. The facts and dry details are there not to test your memory/knowledge of the subject but rather to distract and not let you see the passage structure clearly.

 ! Common Mistakes with RC1. Not following a strategy or changing it on the test - biggest issue 2. Poor English vocabulary/skills - if you don't know what you are reading, how do you expect to answer the questions?3. Taking too much time to answer each question4. Having to re-read the passage multiple times

"New Reading Comprehension Strategy" by Spiridon

I just developed a new strategy for RC and here it is available to you as well.
I tried several strategies but nothing has worked for me, I could not answer questions if I just skim through the passage or I would lose time reading the whole thing and ended up losing focus when answering question anyway.

So, here is the deal.
The good thing this technique really works for me and I want to share it with anyone whose brain works in a similar way. The bad news is that this strategy require you to take notes but very simple tho.

Lets start...

First, mark your paragraphs with Roman numbers I, II, III, IV etc... (Hope passage wont be longer then VIII cuz i forgot the Roman numbers lol)

Second, start reading your passage but (IMPORTANT!) from the last passage (eg IV) towards first (eg I)

Now, while you are reading take very simple notes as illustrated in this example: (remember to start from the bottom paragraph IV)

I
Recent years have brought minority-owned businesses in the United States unprecedented opportunities—as well as new and significant risks. Civil rights activists have long argued that one of the principal reasons why Blacks, Hispanics, and other minority groups have difficulty establishing themselves in business is that they lack access to the sizable orders and subcontracts that are generated by large companies. Now Congress, in apparent agreement, has required by law that businesses awarded federal contracts of more than $500,000 do their best to find minority subcontractors and record their efforts to do so on forms filed with the government. Indeed, some federal and local agencies have gone so far as to set specific percentage goals for apportioning parts of public works contracts to minority enterprises. II Corporate response appears to have been substantial. According to figures collected in 1977, the total of corporate contracts with minority businesses rose from$77 million in 1972 to $1.1 billion in 1977. The projected total of corporate contracts with minority businesses for the early 1980’s is estimated to be over 53 billion per year with no letup anticipated in the next decade. Promising as it is for minority businesses, this increased patronage poses dangers for them, too. First, minority firms risk expanding too fast and overextending themselves financially, since most are small concerns and, unlike large businesses, they often need to make substantial investments in new plants, staff, equipment, and the like in order to perform work subcontracted to them. If, thereafter, their subcontracts are for some reason reduced, such firms can face potentially crippling fixed expenses. The world of corporate purchasing can be frustrating for small entrepreneurs who get requests for elaborate formal estimates and bids. Both consume valuable time and resources, and a small company’s efforts must soon result in orders, or both the morale and the financial health of the business will suffer. III A second risk is that White-owned companies may seek to cash in on the increasing apportionments through formation of joint ventures with minority-owned concerns. Of course, in many instances there are legitimate reasons for joint ventures; clearly, White and minority enterprises can team up to acquire business that neither could acquire alone. But civil rights groups and minority business owners have complained to Congress about minorities being set up as “fronts” with White backing, rather than being accepted as full partners in legitimate joint ventures. IV Third, a minority enterprise that secures the business of one large corporate customer often runs the danger of becoming—and remaining—dependent. Even in the best of circumstances, fierce competition from larger, more established companies makes it difficult for small concerns to broaden their customer bases: when such firms have nearly guaranteed orders from a single corporate benefactor, they may truly have to struggle against complacency arising from their current success. Notes: I intro-civil rights activists-access-congress-money-fed n local agencies-percentages II big corp response-increase 72-77- risks for minors-expanding-fixed costs-morale-financial III second risk-joint ventures-sometimes legit-sometimes not IV minority-danger-dependent-example-single benefactor You can take more or less detailed notes its up to you. Notes act as a compass toretrieve and organize information fast. Now try questions (IMPORTANT) but read them upside-down as well starting from E D C B A marking off the obvious wrong choices, when you narrow down choices to 2 pick one and proceed 1. The primary purpose of the passage is to (A) present a commonplace idea and its inaccuracies (B) describe a situation and its potential drawbacks (C) propose a temporary solution to a problem (D) analyze a frequent source of disagreement (E) explore the implications of a finding 2. The passage supplies information that would answer which of the following questions? (A) What federal agencies have set percentage goals for the use of minority-owned businesses in public works contracts? (B) To which government agencies must businesses awarded federal contracts report their efforts to find minority subcontractors? (C) How widespread is the use of minority-owned concerns as “fronts” by White backers seeking to obtain subcontracts? (D) How many more minority-owned businesses were there in 1977 than in 1972? (E) What is one set of conditions under which a small business might find itself financially overextended? 3. According to the passage, civil rights activists maintain that one disadvantage under which minority-owned businesses have traditionally had to labor is that they have (A) been especially vulnerable to governmental mismanagement of the economy (B) been denied bank loans at rates comparable to those afforded larger competitors (C) not had sufficient opportunity to secure business created by large corporations (D) not been able to advertise in those media that reach large numbers of potential customers (E) not had adequate representation in the centers of government power 4. The passage suggests that the failure of a large business to have its bids for subcontracts result quickly in orders might cause it to (A) experience frustration but not serious financial harm (B) face potentially crippling fixed expenses (C) have to record its efforts on forms filed with the government (D) increase its spending with minority subcontractors (E) revise its procedure for making bids for federal contracts and subcontracts 5. The author implies that a minority-owned concern that does the greater part of its business with one large corporate customer should (A) avoid competition with larger, more established concerns by not expanding (B) concentrate on securing even more business from that corporation (C) try to expand its customer base to avoid becoming dependent on the corporation (D) pass on some of the work to be done for the corporation to other minority-owned concerns (E) use its influence with the corporation to promote subcontracting with other minority concerns 6. It can be inferred from the passage that, compared with the requirements of law, the percentage goals set by “some federal and local agencies” (lines 14-15) are (A) more popular with large corporations (B) more specific (C) less controversial (D) less expensive to enforce (E) easier to comply with 7. Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the author’s assertion that, in the 1970’s, corporate response to federal requirements (lines 18-19) was substantial (A) Corporate contracts with minority-owned businesses totaled$2 billion in 1979.
(B) Between 1970 and 1972, corporate contracts with minority-owned businesses declined by 25 percent.
(C) The figures collected in 1977 underrepresented the extent of corporate contracts with minority-owned businesses.
(D) The estimate of corporate spending with minority-owned businesses in 1980 is approximately $10 million too high. (E) The$1.1 billion represented the same percentage of total corporate spending in 1977 as did \$77 million in 1972.
8. The author would most likely agree with which of the following statements about corporate response to working with minority subcontractors?
(A) Annoyed by the proliferation of “front” organizations, corporations are likely to reduce their efforts to work with minority-owned subcontractors in the near future.
(B) Although corporations showed considerable interest in working with minority businesses in the 1970’s, their aversion to government paperwork made them reluctant to pursue many government contracts.
(C) The significant response of corporations in the 1970’s is likely to be sustained and conceivably be increased throughout the 1980’s.
(D) Although corporations are eager to cooperate with minority-owned businesses, a shortage of capital in the 1970’s made substantial response impossible.
(E) The enormous corporate response has all but eliminated the dangers of over-expansion that used to plague small minority-owned businesses

Other Resources:

RC Keywords
Keyword glossary with synonyms
General tips
Reading critically in action (You Tube)
List of all RC Tones (maybe overboard)
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Last edited by bb on 07 Apr 2015, 19:26, edited 17 times in total.
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31 Aug 2010, 12:15
Hi bb,

I can't find/see the answers (+explanations) of the questions from the 1st page.
Were they just an example ?
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31 Aug 2010, 13:56
lordspace wrote:
Hi bb,

I can't find/see the answers (+explanations) of the questions from the 1st page.
Were they just an example ?

Thanks - see this separate discussion: minority-owned-businesses-in-the-united-states-85600.html#p641497
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31 Aug 2010, 14:12
thanks, great post
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08 Sep 2010, 06:18
thankyou bb for the great advice...
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15 Oct 2010, 11:03
This is really helpful! Thank you so much for putting it together
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18 Oct 2010, 03:16
Have you heard about RC 99 book . Any comments on it
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25 Oct 2010, 07:37
thanks for the rc tips
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11 Nov 2010, 02:34
thanks for great info. reading the passage first works for me!
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11 Nov 2010, 08:17
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23 Nov 2010, 13:37
Excellent analysis!
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02 Dec 2010, 08:35
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I Like spiridon's approach. I tried it on many RC passages from OG 12 and it seemed to work fine for me.
I have developed my own notes to use this strategy that my help others. Also I have modified some parts of this strategy to suit my needs.
Steps:
1) Start from end
2) Read first line of each Para very carefully - (Take notes if required / I usually make a mental note of key points)
3) Skim through details
4) First Para - Read completely/in full
5) Create a mental map
6) Write down the main point/Idea
7) Write the tone of passage/author

Now, some insight on why it works. Contrary to spiridon I believe this should work for all people and not for only those people whose brain works in a certain way. I will need examples and testimonies from other people who try this strategy to prove this.

1) Usually the first para is complex in wording and ideas compared to last para. Last para usually states a conclusion or the last point amongst various points. Hence it is is easier to understand/comprehend
2) By reading the last para first you are forcefully trigeering your brain to actually make mental note of things. Why? Since it is the last para you are asking your brain to keep this fact in mind and in your mental map you are constatnly reminding the brain that this forms the lowest part of the passage and hence should be forcefully kept lower. So, if you are imagining the points together you by keeping an image of the passage (in form of short points) you are forcing your brain to keep this at the lower end and wait for other information that will be put later. This forces the brain to organise and hence increase retention.
3) When you move to other paras you then tend to relate information discussed in that para with the last para. You are asking your brain a) first to put this information above the last para's information in your mental image and b) secondly, now to relate this information with the info in last para.
4) When you read the last para first, you will definitely not understand the complete context of the passage. However, when you revise the information of each para when reviewing/reading the para just above, you fill in those gaps. To put in other words, there is always hope that if you miss the context and meaning while reading this para you are going to understand/fill the gap of this para by reading/relating to information on the earlier para. Compare it with the straight strategy when you do not understand the first para and move on to read the second para. The hope to fill in residual information is all lost/you may not be able to rcover from that lost information unless and until you re read the first para.
5) Note taking becomes secondary as your brain is now taking them more furiously than it would have if you used the first strategy.

I hope this makes sense. However the strategy works for me and it seems that I am convinced to use it to give my real GMAT
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02 Dec 2010, 09:47
This is very interesting sleek. I am currently looking for a more efficient way to work with RC. I currently am reading the entire article and scoring very high. However, my time is severely effected. I will test your method at see what it's results are and respond accordingly.
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02 Dec 2010, 09:47
Thank you btw.
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11 Dec 2010, 01:45
Welcome spyguy.
Any updates on the strategy? Did it or did it not work for you
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09 Jan 2011, 23:17
Can any one provide me rc sets answer explanations. sets 1-63.
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23 Jan 2011, 22:21
Hi,

I am an average reader and takes around 15-20 min for an average size passage with 5-6 questions. The main problem here is even after spending so much time I am not getting the answers correctly. I am not able to comprehend the passages properly and corelate the passages.

Any suggesstions
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23 Jan 2011, 23:12
Are you stopping to paraphrase? Are you doing anything except reading?
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07 Mar 2011, 03:30
Hi bb,

According to u, how much time should one target to spend solving a RC with 3/4 questions... ?

I need a break up of the time. As in how much time shud one take to read the passage (carefully! + writing notes on each para) and then how much time shud be spent on answering each question.

Thank you!

Naina
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07 Mar 2011, 08:45
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Hi bb,

According to u, how much time should one target to spend solving a RC with 3/4 questions... ?

I need a break up of the time. As in how much time shud one take to read the passage (carefully! + writing notes on each para) and then how much time shud be spent on answering each question.

Thank you!

Naina

It depends on what's realistic for you.
I can spend hours on the RC but it came down to how much time I could have. I noticed that i needed on average about 45 secs on the SC and 1-1.5 minutes on CR (this is just from doing exercises and batches of questions), so I calculated the remaining time and split it up between passages (1 short, 2 medium, and 1 long). You don't want to spend reading the passage too long because you wont' have time for other questions later on. The time you should target to spend on the RC passage should be the time you have. Sorry there is no easy answer
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08 Mar 2011, 07:43
Thanks for your reply bb. I understand what you are saying. I will work out the time accordingly.
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