Knowing how to crack the reading comprehension passage is just half the battle. Having the right strategy in approaching the questions can be just as important.
Anyone who tells you that a good strategy is to avoid reading the passage should not be trusted. With the risk of sounding dogmatic—always read the passage first. The key, of course, is to actively read.
Control the Context
In reading comprehension, the answer choice is your enemy. To answer a question, you want to talk through and reason out the response. Only then should you go to the answers. If you dive straight into the answer choices, they are apt to influence your interpretation of the passage.
If we rely on this strategy, we can become victims of confirmation bias. When this happens, we are attracted to an answer choice because it “sounds good”. Then we go back to the reading passage and try to validate or confirm the answer choice based on information in the passage. In doing so, we end up looking for words or phrases instead trying to understand the big picture. or the actual meaning of the passage. Of course understanding how any particular part of the passage relates to the entire passage is a lot easier once you’ve actively read the entire passage first — always a winning strategy.
With reading comprehension, the test writers know that students are apt to look for words/phrases vs. overall meaning. When they write the questions, they take words that are in the relevant part of the passage. We tend to be attracted to those words because we have just read them. The test writers, however, twist the meaning of the answer choices so those “attractive” words are used to convey a meaning that the author of the passage did not intend.
The best strategy for reading comprehension passages is to always answer a question in your own words. To do so, go back to the passage, find the relevant part and then frame a response. Finally, match your answer with the answer choice that works best.
Follow this winning strategy and avoid falling for the traps that ETS has laid.