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GRE Reading Comprehension — Winning Strategies

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.

Beware

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.

Recap

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.

About the Author

Chris Lele has been helping students excel on the GRE, GMAT, and SAT for the last 10 years. He is the Lead Content Developer and Tutor for Magoosh. His favorite food is wasabi-flavored almonds. Follow him on Google+!

6 Responses to GRE Reading Comprehension — Winning Strategies

  1. Vijju March 6, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I am a non native English speaker. I have my GRE in a month. I have been giving Manhattan mock series and scoring around 155 in verbal.

    1. When I review the wrong answers, I realise that most of the RC questions which are wrong are of non – science passages(Humanities/social sciences). I studied science through out my life and find it really hard to understand this kind of prose. Also, I dont think I have enough time to start from the scratch by reading arts and letters daily. So is there any other way I can improve on these kind of passages.

    2. Also, I am targeting for an over all 160 in verbal.Do you think it is possible at this point of time? And if yes, how?

    Any help would be really appreciated. :)

    Thanks,
    Vijju

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele March 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

      Hi Vijju,

      While it doesn’t seem like a month can make up for a lifetime of humanities neglect, reading articles from aldaily.com during your free time will make you better.

      I also recommend reading GRE humanities passages without actually trying to answer the questions. You may even do this after actually finishing them, allowing your brain to soak in the information at a leisurely pace. Try get the “big picture” of what the passage is talking about. Unlike science-based passages, the humanities-based tend to be less about the details and more about the gist. Then go back later and go back to the questions.

      The point is you are not just encountering the passages in a stress-fueled context, but are actually allowing your brain to wrap itself around the kind of languages and thoughts expressed in these passages.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Gulu July 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    Thank You Chris :) I have already practiced a lot. I am able to get most of the answers correctly but it takes me a lot of time. Can you give any tip to read the passage faster. Like some books say to read only the 1st sentence of each body paragraph and the 1st and last sentence for each of the introduction and conclusion paragraphs to get the big picture in a short time. But I didn’t find it useful.

    Thanks in advance

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 23, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Hi Gulu,

      Reading the first line of each paragraph is terrible advice (as your own experience shows). Definitely read the entire passage. in terms of reading the passage faster, make mental notes of each paragraph. These mental notes should be short sentences that sum up each paragraph.

      You should also make a mental note as to the transitions between each paragraph. By the end of the passage you will have the big picture, and be able to answer questions faster.

  3. Gulu July 19, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    Hi Chris,
    In the mock tests I am facing problem in RC in case of long passages(having 3 or more paragraphs). I take too much time to read the passage for the 1st time and run out time to attempt other questions. How to read the passage fast without losing the big picture especially in case of long passages (they are scary :( )?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Hi Gulu,

      I’d say practice, practice, practice. For now, don’t worry so much about time. I know that sounds counterintuitive but in order for you to really hone your approach to reading comp. you need to do so without the clock bothering you. With a lot of practice you will naturally get faster. Then bring the clock back in :).


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