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FAQ: How do I improve on the Reading Comprehension?

Typically when I have a student who is struggling with the reading comprehension I have them do a little exercise. I give them two minutes to read an entire passage (yes, you should always read the passage first before attempting the questions.)

After this time, I have them immediately close the book and have them tell me what the passage is about.
Some students will give me a vague answer. Say the passage was about three competing theories on dinosaur extinction. The author endorsed a meteorite impact theory because it could account for the uneven dispersal of iridium.

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Know the Passage
If a student is struggling with the passage they will say it was about dinosaurs. They may throw in the word meteorite, maybe even mention something about iridium. What they will not provide me is a unified synopsis such as the one I provided above. Essentially their understanding is fragmented.
Understanding the passage in your own words is essential to getting the questions right. If you approach the questions without an integrated understanding of the passage you will fall for the traps the GRE has deftly arranged in the four wrong answer choices.

Slow Down
So what should you do? Learn to read passages, slowly even, to make sure you can accurately paraphrase what the passage is talking about. In fact, you shouldn’t even worry about the questions until you are able to do so.

Don’t Trust the Gut

Many students balk, saying that slowing down to read the whole passage eats up time. The truth is most time is wasted on questions that students don’t know the answers to because they have an incomplete understanding of the passage. They will vacillate between two answer choices and pick one based not on logic but on gut-feeling.

So the key is to slow down and really understand the passage. One way to make sure you are doing so is to write down the three main points after you’re done reading the passage. Once you get in the habit of doing this it will come more naturally and you won’t have to spend time writing down bullet points.

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25 Responses to FAQ: How do I improve on the Reading Comprehension?

  1. Mi T October 20, 2017 at 11:12 am #

    Hi Chris,

    If I understand you correctly: I find that your advice on reading the passage first prior to attempting the question is not a totally popular one–Princeton Review, for example, suggests otherwise especially when it comes to longer passage (i.e. only read the first sentence of the intro and each body paragraph and the last sentence of the final paragraph). However, your approach works wonderfully for me (I’m assuming you mean skimming the entire the passage to get a sense of it, not close reading). I am often at a loss if I only read a few sentences out of one passage even if I’m dealing with main idea questions.

    On a related note, after I do a practice passage, I would like to take notes on my thinking process as well as what went right or wrong. Do you think writing my own explanations for answer choices as part of the correcting/reviewing process a good strategy for RC or do you think it would be a waste of time? I have a 6-month timeline for GRE prep.


    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 21, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi there,

      We definitely know that students get different advice from different test prep resources, which is why we suggest that students do exactly what you did: experiment to find an approach that works for you! It’s important to keep in mind, however, that ETS creates test questions and answers designed to trap test-takers who don’t read the passage carefully. In our experience here at Magoosh, skimming is not a good strategy precisely for this reason. On a personal note, I’ve also found that when I skim, I end up having to go back to the passage multiple times while answering questions to find the correct answer–it actually takes more time overall. If you learn to read the passages carefully and actively the first time around, you should save time on questions because you will understand the passage better and know where to find the answer to detail questions. Continue to practice, experiment and find the best approach for you–you have plenty of time to prepare for the test, so you can really work to develop your reading comprehension skills this way!

      We ABSOLUTELY recommend that you take notes on your processes and what went right or wrong. This is the BEST way to learn from your mistakes, understand patters in the test, and improve your skills and confidence for the test. We call this an error log, and you should answer the following 4 questions for each question that you get wrong:
      Why you missed the question?
      Why your answer is wrong?
      Why the correct answer is correct?
      What will you do to avoid this next time around?

      You can read more about this approach and why it’s so effective in the following blog posts:
      Good! I Got it Wrong!
      GMAT Study Approaches: Systematic Vs. Random (this is 100% applicable to the GRE).

  2. Mrunal Korwar June 23, 2017 at 9:25 am #

    which is the good book for practicing Reading Comprehension

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 28, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi Mrunal,

      If you’re looking for good resources to practice RC problems, I would recommend the Official Guide and Magoosh! If you want to get a better sense of what we have to offer at Magoosh, I would suggest signing up for our free 1-week GRE trial. This will allow you to see how the site works and try out a selection of lesson videos and practice questions.

      Now, if you’re looking to just practice your reading with GRE-level content, I recommend the following:

      The New York Times
      The Economist
      Arts & Letters Daily
      The New Yorker

      I hope this helps! Have a great day! 😀

  3. Vishal P Miskin August 29, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    Chris i’m really facing problem in RC and 25 days left for GRE what should i do? should i take one month package?? please help me out with this ! i want a good score in verbal and i feel too nervous while reading the passage i wont feel that i have read the passage at all!

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert August 31, 2016 at 8:28 am #

      Hi Vishal,

      Happy to help! If you decide to become a Premium Student, you will definitely have more resources at your fingertips to improve in reading comprehension! You can go through our comprehensive video lessons which provide strategy and tips for how to approach reading comprehension. You will also have access to hundreds of high quality practice questions and support from test prep experts to help you when you have trouble 🙂 You can try our free 7-day trial if you want to try us out!

      In the meantime, the best way to improve your reading comprehension is to read GRE-level material consistently. This will help you to get used to processing and understanding complex information. I recommend that you learn about active reading and use these strategies on these articles.

  4. Bong May 30, 2016 at 9:40 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Thank for this post. From your example, the student had to read the passage for two minutes and try to explain it in his or her own words. As you provided with the answer to the student, I do not have someone that can provide me with the “correct answer”. How would I know if my explanation would be correct? Do you know a website or resource that could help me verify my understanding of the passage?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert May 31, 2016 at 2:54 am #

      Hi Bong 🙂

      Excellent question! If you’re using practice GRE passages, you can post your questions or summaries on forums like Urch’s Forum or GRE Prep Club. There may already be a thread on the specific passage you’re working on, but if not, you can create one 🙂

      Another way to practice this technique is with a friend or in a study group, you can all read the same passage or article and summarize the passage in your own words. Then, you can present your interpretation to the group and see if it matches with what the others understood. If you’re interested in study with a group, I’d recommend checking out this blog post for suggestions on how to do so 🙂

      I hope these suggestions help, at least a little 🙂 Happy reading!


  5. Bryan August 7, 2015 at 6:33 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I have been practicing GRE comprehension for almost 2 months now but I still cant seem to get the hang of it. I attempt 3-5 comprehensions daily and try to understand the comprehension however the text is very often beyond my understanding and even after 2 months it seems the number of errors is increasing dramatically. Please suggest what to do.
    Thanks in advance for your advice which I am looking forward to.


  6. Diana May 6, 2015 at 6:07 am #

    Hi Chris!! Thank you for suggesting this technique…it works wonders for me.

    • Rita Neumann
      Rita Kreig May 6, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

      Hi Diana,

      I’m so glad you find this useful! 🙂

  7. KRISHAAN February 9, 2014 at 2:17 am #

    Hi Chris,
    How do I go about the questions during the test day? i.e. With which part should I begin with? (sentence equivalence. text completion or reading comprehension) for time management.

  8. Namratha February 2, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Can you recommend any websites from which i can read passages which can help me with rc on Gre.

    Thank you in advance

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele February 4, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

      Hi Namratha,

      For improving your general reading comprehension, I’d recommend reading the academic parts of the nytimes (Science, Arts, etc.). Or pick long articles from The Atlantic magazine or The New Yorker.

      For GRE specific practice, Magoosh offers hundreds of RC questions.

      Hope that helps!

  9. Pallavi September 20, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Hi there, Chris.
    My GRE is a week away; I’ve gotten 163/170 in Verbal and 169/170 in Math doing Powerprep’s test, and I aim for the upper 330s. I found out that almost all the questions I’ve gotten wrong in Verbal are from RCs, although I’ve practiced significantly using Manhattan’s 5lb book, RC strategy guide and ETS’s official guide. With one week left, I have a few of Manhattan’s and Kaplan’s online tests left.

    What would you suggest I could do to brush up on my RC skills, just as much as I can in the coming days?

    I’m a non-native speaker of English, and while I’ve been an avid reader all my life and followed your tips for reading The New Yorker etc(which are wonderful, by the way), RCs still elude me. I would really love to achieve my aim; they seem to be the only obstacle right now. Any suggestions on books/online resources? Will GMAT books help?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris Lele September 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      Hi Pallavi,

      Wow, those are already good scores! That’s great as a non-native speaker that you are looking to push your verbal score up even higher. And RCs can be tricky–even if you can perfectly understand a complex piece in the New Yorker.

      For practice, though, I’d stay away from the Kaplan and MGRE passages, and instead focus on the RC passages released by the publishers of LSAT and GMAT. The former release practice tests on Amazon. Not only does each test come with 25 RC but you also get 50 Critical Reasoning questions (the LSAT focuses more on those than those the GMAT or GRE). The GRE Official Guide has close to 200 questions relating to reading passages and even more Critical Reasoning questions. Both tests have difficult questions (esp. the LSAT) and, in some cases, very dense passages.

      Hope that helps, and good luck!

  10. Ashish July 8, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    hi cris i m very weak in RC.i read the passages.and out of 4 sometimes i got 0,1 or maximum 2.i find passages very diffucult because from passage there are many words that i dont know thats y i hv to look at dictionary.after knowing also meaning to words i cant give a proper ans. so can u suggest me how can i improve my RC?

    • Chris Lele
      Chris July 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

      Tackling RC will definitely take awhile. You are on the right path. Look up unfamiliar words and make a note of them. The truth is GRE RC success will not happen overnight. It will take months. Improving your general reading by reading in context is a good way to start. That means reading sources such as NYtimes. etc.

      To learn more, check out our ebook on learning vocabulary. Though RC isn’t quite the same as vocabulary (SE/TC), by doing more reading you will improve not only your reading comprehension but your vocabulary too.

  11. julius June 26, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    This is a well-illustrated point. Rephrasing is essentially how to check if we truly understand the passage we just read. I really enjoy this blog, because it adds some more fun to my GRE preparation. Thanks for the awesome posts

    • Chris Lele
      Chris June 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      You are very welcome 🙂 ‘Rephrasing’ is one of the most oft-looked strategies to Reading Comprehension.

  12. shabnam February 25, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    Hi chris
    you are a genius
    your strategies are very helpful and you have comprehensive knowledge
    I enjoy your posts
    good luck and thank you so much

    • Chris Lele
      Chris February 27, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      Thanks for very much! I’m always glad to be able to share my tips! Let me know if you have any questions 🙂

  13. Silver89 December 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    I’m an international student who faces a big problems in RC.
    I don’t know lots of the vocab in the passage, and even after translation them, I still can’t get the big picture of the passage.

    Should I work on my vocab first then go for RC ? or i should work on both at the same time even I’m too weak on RC and can’t answer the majority of question.

    Thank you in advance

    • Chris Lele
      Chris December 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

      I would definitely work on vocabulary first. I would also start reading – not from GRE prep books, but from English magazines and periodicals. Your goal should be to develop your vocabulary by reading and understanding words in context.

      You may find this post very helpful:

      Hope that helps!

      • Silver89 December 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

        I highly admire your advices
        I’ll be working on that , thanks

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