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How to Improve on GRE Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension is probably the most difficult section to improve on. Even when improvements occur, they occur slowly. Many become discouraged—and rightly so. After all, there are few sections in which you can still feel flustered and perplexed even after reading the explanation. Perhaps my number one piece of advice on this matter: don’t give up.

There are of course more specific pieces of information that can help you improve on Reading Comprehension. This advice is aimed not at somebody who is just starting off (though it is relevant as well), but for those who feel they’ve hit a plateau.

You may have even applied my other advice: read widely from publications noted for their high-quality prose. Doing this will help you strengthen your reading brain. But to get over the hump, you will want to apply the strategies below.


Practice, as much as possible, using official material

Content-wise nothing beats practicing with actual GRE questions. The style and tone of the passage, the why questions and answer choices are worded, and the subtlety between the correct answer and the incorrect answers can only be found in actual questions.


Know why the wrong answers are wrong

The wrong answers are the soul of the Reading Comprehension question. That may sound odd, like I’m trying to channel Shakespeare, but let me elaborate. Oftentimes, you may know the general answer to a question. That is not what the GRE is really testing. It is testing whether you can tell the difference between an answer choice that is almost right and one that is clearly right. Indeed, while sifting through the verbiage of the answer choices, you are truly employing your critical thinking skills.

Only by having a strong sense of why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answer incorrect will you truly have mastered a question.


Re-do passages

Many times students balk at doing the same reading passages: ‘I’ve done that one before.’ Unless you have the photographic memory of an autistic savant, you’ll probably have forgotten most, if not all, of a passage you read six weeks ago.

Second, it is not about getting questions right. It is about knowing why the correct answer is correct and the wrong answer incorrect (as I just noted above). The chances that you remember the nuances between answer choices are slight to none. Thus each time you go through the answer is a fresh opportunity to exercise your analytical muscles.


Be aware of your propensities for mistakes

Often there is a pattern to your mistakes. It could be that you infer too much in inference questions. It could be missing a single word in the passage that makes all the difference. It could be misinterpreting answer choices. Anticipating these mistakes can help you greatly.


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