Learn what to read now to best prepare yourself for GMAT Reading Comprehension
Not surprisingly, one of the very best ways to prepare for GMAT Reading Comprehension is simply to read, preferably from a high-quality reading list of GMAT-style material. If you have only a few weeks between now and the GMAT, you probably should stick to GMAT RC passages for practice. If, though, you have several months between now and your GMAT, you can afford to invest time in reading for the GMAT. If you don’t like to read, that is all the more reason to do so — to get your mind in shape for the reading you will have to do on the GMAT.
What to read for the GMAT
First of all, what subject areas would be relevant? All GMAT Reading Comprehension passages fall into one of four areas:
1. Physical Sciences
2. Biological Sciences
3. Social Sciences
A good reading plan for the GMAT should cover all four of these areas, and should all be material written at a high level of English usage. While reading a Wikipedia article about a science topic you don’t understand might stretch your mind, there’s no guarantee that the grammar or the choice of vocabulary will be of the highest quality.
The easiest area for which to make a recommendation is business, and there are more Reading Comprehension passages on this in the Official Guide than on any of the other three categories. If you are planning to go to Business school, get an MBA, and pursue a corporate career, you already should be reading the Wall Street Journal newspaper every day and the Economist magazine every week. I also recommend Bloomberg Businessweek. If you have never taken economics, it would be worthwhile to get either an Economics text book or some other introductory books, such as Yoram Bauman‘s Cartoon Introductions to Micro and Macroeconomics. Those latter two books may not be at the highest level of English usage, but if you are lacking a strong background in economics, those books would be an excellent way to catch up.
For both the physical and biological sciences, Scientific American is an excellent source. If you have a relatively weak background in the natural sciences in general, pushing yourself through Scientific American articles could be excellent training for wrestling with similar passage on the GMAT. If you are more ambitious, get your hands on a textbook (borrow from a friend or from the library) and force yourself to read a couple chapters.
For the social sciences, unfortunately, most popularly available publications (e.g. Psychology Today) are not nearly academic enough. Occasionally, the New York Times will cover an academic social science issue; in particular, if the Sunday NYT Book Review reviews a book about a social science, that can be good material to read. Here, unfortunately, there is no analog to the Economist magazine or Scientific American. If you really want social science reading practice, I have to banish you to the academic journals. Go to a good academic library and peruse the highly respected social science journals. Yes, this will be very dry and cerebral, but if you can stomach these, then anything the GMAT throws at you will seem easy. You may also try this open access listing of online academic journals.
The New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly are exceptionally well-written journals. The focus of each is a little more literary, so the topics are somewhat less likely to appear on the GMAT, but because the writing is of exceptionally high quality, these still provide excellent practice for sophisticated reading.
How to read for the GMAT
You know a question the GMAT Reading Comprehension almost invariably asks is the “main idea” question, so whatever you read, you should constantly be in the habit of summarizing the main idea(s) and the roles of each paragraph. That’s a bare minimum.
Ideally, you will find a GMAT reading partner. Then, if both of you struggle through the same article, you can quiz each other on the main idea, you can discuss points of view and tone and details. If you are very ambitious, you can even start to write full practice GMAT Reading Comprehension questions for each other. (If you practice having to create four tempting and credible-sounding wrong answers for each question you write, that process will give you great insight into the patterns that the GMAT uses in crafting its wrong answers.)