offers hundreds of GMAT video lessons and practice questions. Go there now.
Sign up or log in to Magoosh GMAT.

GMAT Reading Comprehension Technique: Read Carefully Once

GMAT test takers have a variety of ideas and suggestions about how to tackle the challenge of GMAT Reading Comprehension.  Some like to skim, or to speed read, or to read the first paragraph carefully and skim the rest.  Perhaps there are individual test takers for whom each of those is a valid approach.  For most people, though, I think there are three words that summarize the core of the RC strategy that will be the most successful for the widest variety of test takers.  At Magoosh, we recommend: read carefully once.


Basics of GMAT Reading Comprehension

Just as a reminder.  Your GMAT Verbal section will have 41 questions, which will be split approximately equally into the three question types: Sentence Correction, Critical Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension —- about 13-14 of each.  The RC questions, obviously, will be “clumped” around passages.  A “short” passage (200-250 words) typically has 3 questions, and a “long” passage (300-350 words) typically has 4 questions.  On your GMAT section, you most likely will see three “short” RC passages and one “long” passage, although you could see two of each.


Reading the RC passage

What we recommend at Magoosh is: take time to read the passage — actually to read it.  This would be 2.5 minutes for a short passage and 3.5 minutes for a long passage.  From now on, in all your GMAT RC practice, set a timer when you read to convince yourself that these times are, in fact, ample for digesting a passage.  GMAT RC is not about speed reading.  It is not about a mad rush through a passage.  It is about actually reading in precisely the way you will have to read articles and memos once you have your MBA and are out working in some management position.  You want to be able to read it once and get what you need.  Yes, you may have to go back and re-read a specific part to answer a detail question, but your first reading should be enough to give you the layout of the whole passage.

You goal is in reading is to follow the argument and understand it, but not to memorize.  Map, don’t memorize!  As you are learning, the practice of  note-taking can help you develop this absolutely crucial skill.  Students resist practicing with note-taking, thinking it will take more time, but in the long run, mastering the skill of  ”map don’t memorize” through note-taking is one of the biggest time-savings on the entire GMAT.

What notes do you take?  Write down the main idea, preferably in ten words or fewer.  Feel free to use arrows, symbols, any shorthand code that makes sense to you.  Write down the main idea of the passage very briefly, and write down just as briefly what each paragraph is about.  This is your “map” of the passage.  Eventually, you will be able to dispense with the physical notes and do this entirely in your head.  This is  important to practice: DO NOT plan on doing on mapping a passage the first time on test day.  Practice note-taking every time you read a GMAT RC passage, until you can seamlessly create a mental map every single time.

Here is one excellent test of your note-taking ability. One day, read a passage, at the relaxed speed we recommend, and take notes on it.  Put those aside.  A day, or a couple days, later pull out just those notes, not the passage itself, and try to answer the question from the notes.  Of course, you will not be able to answer every question, but from your notes, you should be able to answer any “main idea” question easily, and for detail questions, you should have a good idea about where you would re-read in the passage to find that specific information.  Over time, you can perform this same practice with your “mental maps” — read it once and set it aside —-  maybe not a day later, but a little later, say, after a couple math problems —- then without looking back at the passage at all, answer a main idea question.   Practice this way, and you will become someone who dispatches batches of RC question with lightning efficiency.



Read the GMAT RC passage once.  Read it carefully, for understanding.  Take notes, to learn how to extract a main idea and create a map of the flow of the passage, and use your map to locate details you need.  You can practice right now on this free question.



About the Author

Mike McGarry is a Content Developer for Magoosh with over 20 years of teaching experience and a BS in Physics and an MA in Religion, both from Harvard. He enjoys hitting foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Follow him on Google+!

8 Responses to GMAT Reading Comprehension Technique: Read Carefully Once

  1. Rahul Sehgal April 7, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Mike – Great article as always. I am hitting an error on trying to check the free question.

    It gives me an error that the question is not available at this time. Can you please check when you have a minute ?


    • Mike
      Mike April 7, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      Dear Rahul,
      I’m sorry. That was a link to a question we retired a long time ago. I replaced that with a link to a live question. It should work now.
      Mike :-)

  2. domenico October 18, 2012 at 1:56 am #

    I use this strategy from the first time. Is impossible to tackle the most difficult RC passage without understand he entire situation. This is a test about logic, if was a test about reading pieces of information, then it was not the GMAT.

    The Gmat prepare people that handle all the information at end, and understand the things deeply, how you could achive this statement, this goal only reading part of the information in front of you ??

    it doesn’t make sense at all.

    Read carefully to understand much deeper. ;)

    • Mike
      Mike October 18, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Domenico: with all due respect, your objections do not make sense to me. In this post, I am recommending that GMAT takers read the WHOLE passage, not only part of it; moreover, I don’t recommend skimming the whole, but rather, reading the whole thing mindfully and carefully, and absorbing all the logic of its argument. I am recommending one methodical reading to understand and master the content of the paragraph. I’m not at all sure what gave you the impression you conveyed.
      Mike :-)

      • Domenico October 18, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

        is weird. may be my words have been misunderstood.

        I said the same thing: it is important to understand the whole picture and read the entire passage, non only part of it or pieces of information (i.e.: read the first and last paragraph or simply scan the passage).

        I fully agree with you thoughts.

        Thanks :)

        • Mike
          Mike October 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

          Very good. Best of luck to you, my friend.
          Mike :-)

  3. Sourav October 5, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    Fully agree.

    • Mike
      Mike October 5, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      Excellent. Best of luck to you!
      Mike :-)

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply