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GRE Reading Comprehension Passage Outlines

The following is a skeletal outline of a complex passage drawn from a real LSAT test ( I recommend LSAT RC passages because they’re very similar to GRE RC, and will be completely fresh to you, since you’ve probably seen many GRE passages (especially from the OG) before.

The idea here is that you pay attention to the way in which the passage develops via the paragraphs. The takeaway should not be, “Oh, I have to make these really long outlines as part of my GRE passage.” You don’t want to waste those precious 30 minutes doing any such thing.

When you are practicing RC at the outset of your studies, you may want to make a shorthand version of the below. What you should be doing is making mini-verbal summaries (in your head, of course) for each paragraph as you read. For instance, when you are done with the first paragraph, you should say, “This paragraph is about how documents aren’t the best way to learn about the evolution of the landscape in Ireland.”

So with that preamble out of the way, let’s dive into the passage. I am providing a link to the test. You’ll want to make sure to scroll down to the very last reading passage from the very last section, on page 28.

Topic: The use of plant pollen to chronicle the evolution of the Irish landscape (how’s that for esoteric!)

(I should probably mention, before launching into the outline, that you should not actually write out an outline like the one above. Instead, you should get into the habit of simplifying the passage in your head as you read each paragraph. The phrases below should be similar to what you think as you read through the passage. The key is not just to read each word, one after the other, but simplify what you read so that after each paragraph, you come up with your own mini-summary in your head).


Passage outline:

Paragraph 1

-Introduce topic

-Show how historic documents fall short (fragmentary and selective)


Paragraph 2

-Describe new method (using pollen grains)

-Doesn’t replace but adds to historical documents


Paragraph 3

-Specific example

-Pollen analysis reveals something surprising (cultivation before plough)


Paragraph 4

-Another specific example

-Pollen analysis shows that flax plant wasn’t cultivated as early as thought


Paragraph 5

-Pollen analysis as limitations

-Mad capper is example



This passage had only one position, i.e., pollen analysis is helpful in revealing aspects of the Irish landscape. There was one paragraph, however, that dealt with limitations of pollen analysis. In essence, this contrast, while not quite as involved as two or three competing theories on an issue, lends the passage some subtly. It is these types of qualifications—where the author shows that his theory, or at least the one he is advocating for, isn’t without its own shortcomings—that are the beating heart of the long GRE/LSAT passages.

Adding more variety to the Irish landscape passage, as it were, is the fact that the two specific examples are not overly straightforward either, but require you to sift through many details. The good news is that on the GRE you only get one passage of this length.


Now try the same with the very first passage in section 4, the passage about Rita Dove (page 22). Below is my outline.


Paragraph 1

– Synopsis of rift between poetry and fiction, a split that both poets and novelists implicitly support


Paragraph 2

– Author’s reason for the existence of rift: the public is wary of somebody who tries to do both (that person is a dilettante)


Paragraph 3

– Trend amongst writers against treating the poet and novelist as distinct

– Rita Dove is used as example


Paragraph 4:

– Provides Dove’s rationale: poetry and narrative fiction are very closely related. Why separate them?

– Gives example of how Rita sprinkles elements of poetry in her novels, and how the lyrical flow of her poetry allows for a plot. Therefore, Dove bridges the rift between poetry and fiction.


At this point, try out your own analysis of the Rita Dove passage! And then, practice this outlining + analysis method on your own with some passages and let us know how it goes! 🙂

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.

13 Responses to GRE Reading Comprehension Passage Outlines

  1. Sarah Fernandez August 20, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    Dear Chris,
    I am not performing good in RC. The problem is that I am unable to absorb info when i first read it despite spending around 3 mins on reading. I just get an idea that ok this topic is being talked abt n main points. Th result being that i have to return to passage for every q rereading that part relevant to the q. for instance, if i m asked that what was the benefit of blah bla being talked abt in passage. I will read all the benefits and match them with answer choices and then be able to answer. This takes a lot of time.!! 🙁 What to dooo?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 21, 2016 at 6:55 pm #


      That certainly does sound frustrating. You are on the right track, though. Looking at the questions and then going back to the reading to sport the answers is the most efficient way to go through GRE Verbal. The trick, of course, is learning how to do this quickly.

      Magoosh has a good list of Reading Comprehension strategies that can help you find the answers more quickly. I especially recommend that you read up on Method 1: Skimming in our blog’s Reading Comprehension overview.

      Another thing to remember about skimming is that you want to look for content words– skim over the reading for nouns, verbs, and possibly adjectives and adverbs. These are the words that carry the real meaning in a passage. Look especially for words that relate to the answer choices.

  2. Kumar Jivi August 1, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Hey Chris!!!
    Hats off to you, for you entirely changed the way I used to see Reading Comp. problems.
    Your techniques work and they work so so well.
    I can see significant improvement in my Reading Comprehension Results.
    I got 6 correct out of 8 from the World Wide Web passage from LSAC link you shared, just by following your your RAMA principle and creating shorthand version of each paragraph.
    I have a doubt in Question 21, I think the author mentioned the telephone example to present an excellent anology which can clearly present the current position of A and B (as in passage).
    I agree that it is a step to move towards the solution of the problem. but somehow I am not able to clearly distinguish between option B and D. Both appear correct. Not sure how to identify the more more accurate.

    If possible please help.

  3. SUNG WEON May 27, 2015 at 6:30 pm #

    Hello, Christ

    I can’t open the LSAT file. 🙁

    • Rita Kreig
      Rita Kreig June 2, 2015 at 2:09 pm #

      Hi Sung,

      Sorry about that! The link is working for me, so perhaps you need to change a setting on your computer. The file opens as a PDF at target=”_blank”>this URL. I hope that helps! 🙂


  4. Maha September 9, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    I have been using Magoosh for a month or two now and I have used other GRE sites too like Kaplan and Barrons and Princeton. But hands down, Magoosh seems to be the best! The vocabulary flashcards were a beautiful discovery. And I love the way you guys explain the tasks. Just wanted to thank you guys for doing all this. Truly amazing!

  5. Geetha Rajan October 14, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Hi Chris,
    I had hit a plateau on my RCs and working through this technique has brought back some rays of hope for me.

    I do need some clarification on the 4th question on Rita Dove. This is about the author’s attitude towards the drift between poetry and fiction in US.

    the answer says it is disapproval. I was thinking more of perplex or confused state as he is questioning why such a drift exists.

    Can you please help here?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm #


      Good question! The author HAS identified the source of the rift (generalists are viewed negatively), so he is not perplexed regarding the reason for the rift. The author disapproves of the rift, specifically the underlying logic: you can’t be both good at literature and poetry–the two are distinct fields.

      Hope that helps 🙂

  6. Rumya October 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    First and foremost, your positivity and kindness are both endearing and comforting! Thank you. I’m preparing for the GRE with as must gusto as I can muster, given that the RCs are draining me dry! I’ve hit the 160-165 mark on the Magoosh test-score indicator. I’m unable to push it beyond. I want to ensure that I get at least a 163ish (165 would be great!) on test day which means (at least that is what I presume) my lower level of the score-indicator needs to be up by a few more points. What would you suggest? I’m at present using the Manhattan RC strategy guide, practicing mostly on the 5lbs practice, Magoosh practice and trying random passages online (including the not-so-kosher codex!).

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele October 14, 2013 at 11:46 am #

      Hi Rumya,

      I admire your “gusto”– given that knocking out a bunch of RC passages is not the most fun way to spend one’s evening :).

      For some more material to help push you into the much-coveted 165, you should check out the real LSAT tests, the GMAT passages (you can also use these sources to prepare for the paragraph arguments as well).

      I’m not the biggest fan of the 5lbs. RC. Some of the reasoning–esp. on inference questions (actually on inference questions)–is different from what you’d see on the real GRE. The best is to stick with the official sources from LSAT, GMAT, and GRE.

      Hope that helps, and good luck!

  7. Aditya May 25, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Effective as always

  8. ogsm May 19, 2013 at 10:22 am #


    Honestly…your guides are just too awesome. I did just as you recommended. I vigorously attacked the passage. It took time though, and when I mean time, I mean hours. The bottom line is I was so excited that I overcome the passage and I got 6 of the 8 questions correctly:) So the question is how long and like how many of these would I have to work on to be able to do similar victory on GRE real questions which has to be devoured in less than 2 minutes?….my Exam is just 3weeks away! God!

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele May 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm #


      Thanks for the positive words!

      I’m happy you were able to effectively attack the passage. Continue practicing, speeding up as feels natural. Sure, 3 weeks is not a long time, but make this an everyday thing and bring that vigorous intensity to each session. You will definitely do well on the GRE passages come test day.

      And keep me in the loop on your practice sessions. If you hit a snag, let me know, and we’ll get you out of it :)!

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