How to Approach GRE Reading Comprehension

I’ve already talked about an effective, powerful strategy for dealing with Reading Comprehension questions: Active Reading. In this post, I want to focus more on the questions themselves, especially the best approach to avoid getting trapped by misleading answer choices.

The RAMA Method – For Success on the new GRE Reading Comprehension

The RAMA method is one I’ve refined over the years, while tutoring for the GMAT, SAT, and GRE. While there are differences between each test in terms of approach, and what to look out for, the tests are overall very similar. Below is the RAMA I’ve adapted for the New GRE.

So, you’re probably wondering, what does RAMA stand for? R (Re-phrase), A (Anticipate), M (Match), A (Awareness). Let’s take a closer look!

1.     Re-phrase question your in own words

Reading the question is the obvious part. The not-so-obvious part is putting the question into your own words. What often happens is you will read the question, and then go back to the passage without understanding what the question was asking in the first place. At this point, you are likely to grasp at words in the passages that look important. Then, you may go back to the passage and simply look for those words in the answer choices. The test writers know this, and will, therefore, make sure that even the wrong answer choices include words from the passage.

Instead of falling into this trap, it is best to rephrase the question in your own words. The more straightforward your interpretation of the question, the better you will be able to navigate through the passage when looking for the answer.

2.     Anticipate the answer

Now that’s you’ve re-phrased the question in your own words, you must return to the passage and find the answer. Once you think you’ve found the answer, try to phrase the answer in your own words. If you are noticing a common theme, i.e. putting everything in your own words, that is because doing so is the single most effective away to avoid getting trapped by the answer choices. On other hand, if you immediately begin scanning the answer choices without anticipating the answer, you’ll likely get trapped. This is especially true on primary purpose/main idea questions.

3.     Match Answer

Once you have come up with your own answer, you want to return to the answer choices and match them up with the answer choice that you think is the closest. If none of the answers works, you can return to the passage and read it one more time to see if you’ve misinterpreted something. Or, you can eliminate answer choices to see if you are left with one answer. To effectively eliminate wrong answer choices you need an…

4.     Awareness of Wrong Answers Choices 

When the test writers are creating a multiple-choice question, they create wrong answer choices that fall into several categories. Knowing these categories can help you correctly identify and eliminate wrong answers.

    • Too Extreme

For an answer to be correct it has to be indisputable. If there is some room for argument then the question is not valid. Answer choices containing words like always, never, not, impossible, are usually incorrect. On the other hand it is a lot safer, at least from the test writer’s perspective, to come up with a correct answer that has words like might be, sometime, usually, tends to be, etc.

    • Assumes Too Much

Similar to (A) Too extreme, wrong answers that assume too much usually are partially right, but then they go a little too far; that is, you cannot back up the question with the information in the passage. And this part is key – every correct answer can always be backed up by information in the passage. If you start to make logical leaps from information in the passage, then you begin to assume too much. If that’s the case, then you are more likely to fall prey to wrong answers that assume too much. So again – be careful and always back up the answer with information in the passage.

    • Rotten Fruit

When we shop for fruit, we don’t grab a specimen because one side appears unblemished. Instead we hold up the fruit, rotate slowly in our hands, until we’ve given the entire fruit a good once over. Only then do we toss it in our cart.

Oftentimes, when we scan the answer choices, we are looking for the part of the answer that is correct. Doing this is much like picking up the fruit based on only what looks good. In Reading Comprehension, as in fruit buying, we want to look for the rotten spot. For if one part of an answer choice is wrong, the entire answer choice is wrong.

    • Beyond the Scope of the Passage

If an answer choice includes information that is not even mentioned in the passage, then the answer choice is incorrect.

    • Too Broad/Too Specific

This type of wrong answer pertains specifically to main idea, or primary purpose, questions. If an answer choice is only about a specific part of the passage, then it is too specific. Or

    • True…But Doesn’t Answer the Question

Sometimes, an answer can be true, but that doesn’t mean it is correct. Often, the test writers will include something that is true in the real world, i.e. a factual statement. However, that statement might not answer the question, or it simply can’t be backed up by the information in the passage (which would make it a type of “Beyond the Scope of the Passage”).

Other times, an answer is correct, but it pertains to a different part of the passage. Therefore, it does not answer the question directly.



This may all seem rather complicated, and it can be. But don’t worry – by doing a few reading comprehension passages and applying the RAMA technique, you will start to get a sense of how all of the above comes together. 




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