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05 Aug 2013, 09:24
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One question I am asked often is “how do I read the passage in reading comprehension?” The 40 to 60 lines of text can seem a daunting obstacle on the way towards achieving your goal GMAT score. Often test takers find themselves either spending too much time on irrelevant information, skimming so quickly they lose a sense of meaning or, worst of all, reading the entire passage and looking up to realize they don’t remember much, if anything, of what they just read.

There is lots of advice on how to read the passage, most of it conflicting. Some classes recommend reading carefully, others a quick skim and many variations in between. It is important to note that each technique is ultimately geared toward the same goal: Getting enough out the passage to understand what point the author is trying to get across to the reader, understanding the author’s tone and getting a feel for the basic structure of the argument. If your current reading strategy leaves you with confusion on any of these topics then it may be time to implement a new strategy.

These summaries don’t have to be a whole sentence but they should be more than notes. You want to keep your summary short and sweet – you are only trying to represent what the paragraph was about. Lists of key words and details will keep you from integrating all of the information. Think of the level of summary you would like to hear about a novel or movie. Listing every great scene or point of action in the plot would be tedious and likely bore you, however simply listing characters and setting doesn’t give enough information. You might even practice by trying to sum up the plot of a few of your favorite movies into one or two thoughts. For instance, the movie Titanic might be summed up as: “a love story between a rich woman and a poor boy that takes place directly before and during the sinking of the titanic.” While this summary gives no specific information it is enough to portray what the movie was about.

At first this reading strategy may seem to take longer, and it probably will. Stopping and thinking appears to be a luxury, and jotting down a few sentences would seem to require even more time. However, with time and practice you will be able to implement this strategy as fast or faster than simply reading the passage and your understanding will greatly improve.

It is important to note that not every paragraph is written in the same way, or intended to convey the same type of information and understanding different paragraph constructions can help you to determine the best way to summarize each type.

Paragraphs with clear conclusions

Some paragraphs are written by the author to argue a specific point. These paragraph types can contain trigger words such as therefore and clearly, counter a factual argument using transitions such as however, yet or but, or use words of strong opinion such as “disappointingly he chose to move to New York.” Here is an example of this type of paragraph and its summary:

Notice that this summary is not really a sentence nor is it a full synopsis of all of the facts in the paragraph. It is just a quick statement of the main point of the paragraph. The summary focuses on the effect of internet radio the author indicates his position with the word “However.” When an author describes a set of facts and then uses a transition word that switches direction, such as however, yet or but, the transition word serves to emphasize the idea that comes after. In this case radio has remained the same for about 30 years HOWEVER internet radio is changing the dynamics. Thus it is clear that the author intends to highlight and focus on the change to internet radio and its effect on advertisers

Paragraphs that list facts

Some paragraphs are simply lists of facts. The facts can be about a single subject or multiple subjects and sometimes can be highly scientific in nature. It is the reader’s job in these types of paragraphs simply to note what connects the facts and not list or try to remember each one individually. If the reader needs any specific information to answer a question, he can go back and find it when the question asks. Trying to remember all of the specific details on one read can backfire and lead to incorrect answers.

Here is an example of this type of paragraph:

Notice this summary does not really contain a conclusion. This is because the paragraph is a listing of services RightSpot offers and not an analysis of those servies. The job of this paragraph is not to advance the author’s agenda but instead to give the reader specific information about a company. Beware summarizing this type of paragraph by taking notes on every fact, instead sum up the collection of facts into one cohesive idea. If you need specific information for a question later, you can always go back to the passage.

Paragraphs that explain one of more important factors

Yet another type of paragraph lists one or two factors and explains them in detail. The reader’s job in this type of passage is to take note of the important factors and not to focus on the details. A summary would be a list of the important factors listed in the paragraph.

An Example of this type of paragraph might read:

Several factors led to the fall of the Roman Empire in A.D 476. The most important factor was the Christian religion. In the early 4th century A.D. the church leaders became more influential and began to take power away from the emperor. Because Roman civic life was heavily integrated with religious life, Christian beliefs and allegiances conflicted with the traditional roles of priestesses and prophets and created an impediment to the working of the empire. Another factor was the sheer size of the empire. Soldiers and families in distant parts of the Empire began to adopt local customs in favor of Roman customs. The degradation of Roman culture lead to a further decline in the power that Rome had over its populace and corruption became rampant.

A summary of this paragraph might read: “Christianity and the size of the Empire led to the fall of Rome.”

Listing the important factors and leaving the details for when you are answering questions is the key in summarizing this type of paragraph. Looking for key words such as “important factor” or “Most importantly” will help you to identify the key elements of this type of paragraph.

Once you have developed paragraph summaries for each of the paragraphs in a passage, you should be able to state the main point of the passage as well as identify the author’s attitude toward the main elements of the passage. Practice this technique on magazine articles as well as Reading Comprehension paragraphs and soon you will find yourself with an increased understanding of each passage in a much faster time.
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05 Aug 2013, 09:27
Hi Becky,

Such a nice article. We all would like to see more of interesting tricks & articles on RC. Hope you would come up with something great soon.

Regards,
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05 Aug 2013, 09:35
Good stuff +1
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05 Aug 2013, 10:21
Hi Becky,

Thanks for the wonderful piece. I am a struggler as far as adopting the 'right' process for RC is concerned and have a few questions, answers to which might help me adopt your suggested idea.

1. How and when do I stop to paraphrase, or is it that you suggest that I should stop for paraphrasing only after completing the entire paragraph?
2. Summarizing the entire content of the passage is wonderful idea for answering main point questions, what about other question types? What do you suggest?

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05 Aug 2013, 10:49
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argha wrote:
Hi Becky,

Thanks for the wonderful piece. I am a struggler as far as adopting the 'right' process for RC is concerned and have a few questions, answers to which might help me adopt your suggested idea.

1. How and when do I stop to paraphrase, or is it that you suggest that I should stop for paraphrasing only after completing the entire paragraph?
2. Summarizing the entire content of the passage is wonderful idea for answering main point questions, what about other question types? What do you suggest?

Argha

I suggest that you stop after each paragraph as a basic guideline. If a paragraph is particularly long and switches clearly from one point to another then you might stop mid-paragraph but generally paragraphs are broken up by ideas and so you want to read the author's entire point before you summarize it - otherwise you are just taking notes.

As to your second question I always suggest going back to the passage for specific questions. I am working on a new article on how to deal with the question types but this read is really something that should ultimately take a few quick minutes and then you have plenty of time to go back for the specific information in specific questions.

Hope that helps
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08 Aug 2013, 20:36
While the idea of "stopping" is quite common, I have never met "types of paragraphs" before. I think it will help me to sum up parafraphs. Thanks for the topic and kudos from me. Looking forward to the next one.
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08 Aug 2013, 23:21
A really nice strategy. I used always re-read and re-read 2nd type (factual paragraph) to get all the details and still select the wrong answer as some paragraphs contains lot of jargons esp. scientific or art related.

One thing which i do is skim through the questions before reading the paragraphs. This helps me to answer at least one question without reading the whole RC. Works great when you have only few minutes left.
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14 Sep 2013, 17:59
Hi,

Really nice explanation. Thank you.

I have a question. While skipping the details, should I not try to comprehend at all? To what level should I try to comprehend the details, if at all?
1. If yes, then there is a chance of getting bogged down with the details and loose focus on the main structure.
2. If No, then if at all subsequent paragraphs refer back to the factors, then we can't understand the idea behind the paragraph.

For instance, in Roman Empire passage, should I NOT try to get more details in addition to the 2 important factors in fall - factors A & B..or should I try to understand, if at all author discusses that in the following paragraphs?

How to handle this situation?
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