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)


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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-Doesn’t replace but adds to historical documents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! 🙂

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  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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23 Responses to GRE Reading Comprehension Passage Outlines

  1. Prasad N R March 18, 2018 at 12:29 am #

    Thanks to Chris and team, I was able to score 313 in GRE in 2015 (165 in quants!).

    But, with a verbal score of 148, I have decided to give it another shot.

    For reading comprehension, these three sources helped me immensely (apart from Magoosh resources of course!) :

    Also, Magoosh verbal Flash-cards are a must-read in my opinion (there would be no time to read meanings in context. It would be much better if the meanings are already known).

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert March 18, 2018 at 3:23 pm #

      Congrats on such a high Quant score, Prasad! And thank you for sharing these resources. GMAT Club offers RC advice that is also very applicable to the GRE, and Quora is a great forum for test prep questions. (Watch for answers from Magoosh staff, because we weigh in on Quora at times. 🙂 ) The Manhattan link is really great too. Manhattan may be a Magoosh competitor, but they’re a competitor we respect and often recommend!

  2. Pawan Sharma April 3, 2017 at 7:16 am #

    Hey Chris
    You told above that

    “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.”


    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.

    So do we need not to take notes in the starting??

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert April 3, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

      Hi Pawan,

      Great question! Oftentimes, students like to write out their notes and then they become too reliant on them, making the transition to not using notes harder. They will still need to go through the process of mentally taking notes. We find that many students have more success taking mental notes from the beginning. Yes, it may be tough, but it will be good practice and save time. However, every student is different. Definitely utilize the technique that fits your style and needs the best! 😀

  3. Sunny December 27, 2016 at 6:51 am #

    I have read this article. very well written. I am also weak on RC. can you please give me few tips to improve this and also can you please share with me some more articles for which you have made outlines.
    I’ll wait for your response.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert December 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

      Hi Sunny,

      The best way to improve your reading comprehension skills is to read as much as possible! I can’t stress this enough–reading will help you to improve your vocabulary as well as your ability to understand and process complex texts. You can see our GRE Article of the Month series for some ideas of where to find articles. I recommend that you read for at least 30-60 minutes per day.

      As for more article outlines–the point of these outlines is to provide you with tools to assess different types of reading comprehension passages. They can help you read actively and think about the difficult passages in a critical way. I recommend that you study these outlines and then apply them to other reading comprehension practice questions that we have on our blog. It may be hard at first, but soon you will begin to understand the outlines more and apply this knowledge on different questions 🙂

  4. Danny November 24, 2016 at 12:26 am #

    Hi Chris,

    I almost get 90% of the RC wrong!!! Please help the things that I should work on to improve my RC. 50% of the time will choose 2 out of 5 options and always end up choosing the wrong one.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 25, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

      Hi Danny,

      I know how frustrating it is to feel like you aren’t improving! The skills that you need for success on reading comprehension are ‘big picture skills.’ This means that you have to improve your overall reading comprehension skills in order to be able to quickly understand and process complex reading passages. This is something that doesn’t happen overnight: you must dedicate time and effort to improving these skills. The best way to improve your overall verbal skills (and your performance in RC questions) is to read as much as possible. We recommend that our students read GRE-level articles for at least an hour a day. This will improve your speed and accuracy for reading comprehension questions and improve your ability to understand vocabulary in context. Truly, reading is the best way to improve your verbal skills, I promise! You’ll find a lot of resources on our blog with information about where to find GRE level reading passages. I suggest you start here:

      Another important element for reading comprehension is having strong strategy. This will especially help you when you have to decide between two answer choices. We recommend a strategy called RAMA, which you can read about here:

      The final “A” in RAMA refers to Awareness of wrong answer choices. This is what commonly happens when you can’t decide between two answer choices: one choices is correct and the other is almost correct but not quite. This is a trap that is meant to lure you away from the right answer! I recommend that you study the common wrong answer types in the RAMA post I linked above so that you can figure out where you are falling into these answer traps 🙂

  5. Sarthak November 17, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    I am able to summarize the passages but when comes to questions I am completely clueless. I am in a puzzled state what to start with and where to begin.
    Please give me specific starting tips. Tips to start from scratch.

    Thanks a lot.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert November 17, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

      Hi Sarthak,

      We recommend a problem-solving strategy called RAMA for reading comprehension questions. These are four steps that you should take after reading (and understanding) the passage and before choosing an answer choice. RAMA stands for Rephrase the question, Anticipate the answer, Match answer and Awareness of wrong answer choices, and you can read more about each step here:

      This approach takes some time to get used to, and it may seem awkward at first, but it is a great way to improve your accuracy on tough reading comprehension questions! Try it out 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

    Hello, Christ

    I can’t open the LSAT file. 🙁

    • Rita Neumann
      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! 🙂


  9. 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!

  10. 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 🙂

  11. 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!

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

    Effective as always

  13. 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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