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Changes to the GRE Reading Comprehension Section

In the last few weeks, the GRE has released twice as much practice material as was previously available. Not only do we get more questions, but we also get greater insight into how the test has changed over the course of the last year. In a previous post, I discussed these nuances regarding Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions. Today my focus will be the Reading Comprehension section.

For the most part it is business as usual. What did surprise me was the range of passages types on the test: a short passage on the history of chocolate; a passage on the computer modeling of weather patterns; and one on the source and popularity of a pose common to 18th Century portraiture.

Sure, the range of passages has always been broad. Yet the tone and feel of these passages suggested they could have been taken from any source; not just the academic papers, as was the case with the old GRE (or a passage on a career move for obscure 16th Century author and playwright Alpha Behn).

So if you’ve taken me up on my recommendation to read from the Best of Essays Series and the Best of Science Writing, good for you. It is exactly this level of writing that is found in many of these passages (you of course will always want to critically reflect on what you are reading vs. slogging through a morass of words).

Of course these are all superficial considerations, compared to the actual questions themselves. There are still main idea questions, defining vocabulary-in-context questions, and inference questions. What I noticed more of is questions asking what the function of a line or quote was. In some instances, to answer the question you can’t just rely on a sentence above or below the quoted line; you have to look back a few sentences. Even then, you have to understand the flow of the author’s logic.

Therefore, not just understanding what is being said, but why it is being said is pivotal for Reading Comprehension success on the GRE.

Finally—and this hardly any different from the last Powerprep tests—always be careful not to plunge headlong into the answer choices. The difference between the correct answer and an incorrect answer choice can sometimes be very subtle. So always do your best to anticipate the answer to the question by going back to the passage, finding the relevant part, and then formulating the answer to the question using your own words.


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

7 Responses to Changes to the GRE Reading Comprehension Section

  1. Mike September 20, 2012 at 1:12 am #

    “Therefore, not just understanding what is being said, but why it is being said is pivotal for Reading Comprehension success on the GRE.”
    How can I train myself to understand a reading passage at this level? Just reading the best american series, or the economist is not helping. I comprehend the material, but I don’t posses the skill to tell someone quickly why a particular sentence is being said or what particular sentence would add support to the authors argument.

    Is there any books that could train me to read like this or will it eventually come to me if I just keep at the magoosh questions?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 24, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      Hi Mike,

      Sorry for the delay!

      That’s a good question, and truly an important one giving the nature of standardized testing. While a GRE passage may be written at a similar level, the information is not always packaged in the same way. And when you read the Economist, etc. there is never a set of questions–let alone questions written in the style of the GRE–awaiting for you at the end.

      As for a book that can train you on how to dissect passages, I’d recommend the Manhattan GRE Reading Comprehension guide. As Rachel mentioned in a support ticket, the general idea is to get a sense of the purpose of the passage. Phrasing that passage in your own words is also helpful. Noticing the relation between paragraphs and the function of each paragraph will help you on the GRE (you can do the same when you read the Economist, though, again, the information isn’t packaged as predictably as it tends to be in standardized tests).

      As for the granular level, “….particular sentence is being said…”, practice with the Magoosh questions as well as official questions should help you develop this skill (this level of reading won’t translate well to the Economist, because you’ll end up going crazy trying to interpret every sentence :)).

      That said, I encourage you to keep your reading brain in shape with Best of Series and the Economist, while remembering that only targeted practice on actual GRE reading passages (using the approach above) will help you improve.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Sid September 6, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I was wondering if you could help me out with an issue I seem to be having. I’ve done all the Manhattan Tests and have got an average of 324, but I’m hoping for a 330+ score and have my GRE this month. I’ve finished all the questions on Magoosh and my projected score is 161-166 (Q) and 160-165 (V), but I’m actually struggling to get a score within that range on my MGRE Tests in Verbal. Apparently my weakest area is the RC portion where my average across all the tests is 60%. I have been reading articles in The Economist, etc. over the last couple of weeks, but I honestly and am not improving at all on this one portion of the test. What do you reckon I should do to sort this out? Cheers!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris September 7, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Hi Sid,

      A few things:

      1) MGRE verbal tends to be a little more difficult. As a result, I think it is skewed down in terms of score.

      2) For RC, reading the Economist, etc., is good to get your reading brain back into shape. But it will only get you so far. You simply have to practice with a lot of passages and you have to practice in such a way that you are absorbing the details of the passage with greater fluency, and you are able to eliminate wrong answers with more confidence.

      For the latter point, practice official material will help greatly. The GMAT Official Guide will also whip your reading comprehension brain into shape.

      Hope that helps!

      • Sid September 24, 2012 at 8:52 am #

        Hi Chris,
        I’m happy to tell you that I go 331 on my GRE today. Your blogs and your lessons proved unbelievably useful. Some of the words on Magoosh came up on my actual test! Thank you so much, and keep up the amazing work!

  3. Yasir August 29, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Hello Mr Chris,

    Is it good to read the abstract of scientific journals? For example, when i usually read an article about pharmacology, which is my major, i found the abstract of the paper is written in a complex way. So what about if i read papers other than pharmacology?. Papers for physics, biology, NASA…etc, will be good to do so? By the way i’m not native english speaker and i’m totally not good in verbal section.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris August 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

      HI Yasir,

      I think reading the abstracts is a good idea, at least for that one passage on the GRE that may be lifted from a scientific paper. It is a good idea to also read at the level of The New York Times, as long as you understand the logical flow of sentences and paragraphs. The latter will definitely help hone you, as a non-native speaker, hone your reading chops.

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