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Should I Take Notes on GRE Reading Passages?

To answer this question, I am going to employ two metaphors:


Training Wheels

As little children many of us pedaled about on a bicycle equipped with training wheels. Were it not for the training wheels, we would have an unfortunate spill. That day would finally come when, after our legs had become stronger and our core able to balance comfortably, our parents would undo the training wheels and—whoosh!—we’d be off down the road. The training wheels provided us with the necessary practice to ride a bicycle.



As children many of us have seriously injured our legs, be it a twisted ankle or a broken femur. Afterwards, we have to move about on crutches as our legs heal. Crutches are necessary to help our injury heal. Once the cast is off, however, our legs are withered and an act as simple as walking to fridge for some milk becomes very difficult. Indeed, we are tempted to use the crutches, as our ability to move with them is far more efficient than it is as we hobble about on our atrophied limb. Ultimately, we must ditch the crutches in order to recover our ability to walk normally. Otherwise, though we may be consummate crutch walkers, we’ll always move about in a compromised fashion.


The GRE RC Passage

Underlining the passage, or as is the case with the computer-based test taking notes, is an inefficient means of attacking a timed reading passage on the GRE. You may become relatively adept at it, but in doing so you are robbing yourself of a more effective means of doing a passage: active reading. Also, becoming a better note taker does not necessarily make you a better active reader. If anything, the more you rely on the note taking method, the harder it will be to break the habit.

By now, you should be able to tell that underlining/note taking is similar to the crutches. It works, but in a diminished sense, when you compare it to the far more effective active reading. As you guessed, active reading represents the training wheels, and ultimately, when you become adept at it, the bicycle.

Here is a post I wrote for our GMAT blog on active reading. It pertains 100% to the GRE Reading Comprehension. That is, whenever you see GMAT RC passage just substitute GRE RC passage. I highly recommend checking it out for more tips!


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4 Responses to Should I Take Notes on GRE Reading Passages?

  1. Deva Harsha December 4, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Hi Chris

    My mother tongue is not english . When I come across a long a passage I am not able to remember and summarize what happened in the previous passage. Can you give me some tips regarding this issue


    Deva Harsha

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele December 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      Hi Deva,

      How about starting with something easier than a GRE passage. For instance, the Economist magazine or even the New York Times has many articles that you can read and then practice summarizing. Start with small articles and then work your way up.

      Over time you will pick up on the patterns and the structure of the sentences in reading passages. I’ve seen students–even those who, like yourself, grew up speaking another language, become much more efficient at being able to retain information in the passage, with just a little practice.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Benjamin December 11, 2012 at 11:43 pm #

    Hi Christ,

    I second your opinion. My approach is that after moving to the next paragraph, I will briefly ‘recap’ the passage I just read, if you are well trained, this should take less than 2 second. For now, I am reading on LSAT RC passages, which is comparative long and much more complicated than the GRE ( in my opinion, GRE passages are hard to understand, especially with those complexity sentences, but once you concrete the main idea, GRE passage is really easy to understand), I hope by doing this I will horn my skill on GRE passages.


    • Chris Lele
      Chris December 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      Hi Benjamin,

      Those 2 seconds you take to reflect on what you’ve just read are very important. And I like how you are honing that skill with the even more difficult LSAT passages. It sounds like you’ll definitely be ready for the RC they throw at you test day!

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