Reading Comprehension: the bête noire for most GMAT test takers. Why?

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I guess some questions are just not meant to be answered. Or is it that there is no coherent, logical answer for them. As a GMAT trainer, there can be nothing more frustrating than facing a class of aspiring test takers who just “hate” the reading passage content. In the case of younger students preparing for the SAT, I normally read into this “hate” and see an inclination to sound trendy. Yes, youngsters who read are not the ’in’ thing but a mature fairly seasoned person with some fair amount of work experience declaring that the reading passages are terrible sounds unreasonable.

All said and done, the reading comprehension does get the hackles up for most GMAT takers and my endeavor here is to outline the strategies that make negotiating the passages easy and that in the process debunk some, if not all, the myths attached to the reading tasks.

Strategy 1: Start at the start: You are clearly at an advantage if you read the passage even if quickly but coherently. This 4-5 minute reading process has its advantages- it familiarizes you with the content thus enabling you to construct a roadmap and it alerts you about what you can expect to be asked. This reading must of course be a conscious, cerebral act; do not go through it with eyes open but mind closed! Register, absorb and analyze while reading and this is actually possible to cultivate as a skill over time by practicing 2 passages per day for 30 days!

Strategy 2: Look out: While reading you must look out for some generically important content that usually invites questions. For example, the adjectives and adverbs in a passage are super important since they echo the tone and attitude of the writer, the title of the passage, the primary purpose and even the main objective of the passage. Keywords too must be given the due attention. Normally while reading, you ignore words that are too ‘ordinary’ by virtue of the frequency with which we use them in our daily language. In a passage, a simple word such as ‘however’ can upset your whole assessment of the purpose of the passage! Examples and references too are vital; it is almost standard for the GMAT to question why an example or a reference to a person or event has been incorporated. So when you spot an example, make sure to understand why the author has used it- to support a point, to refute a view, to illustrate an opinion or theory etc.

Strategy 3: Spot the Author: The author of the passage is either not present or present either explicitly or subtly. Passages in which the author nowhere comments or provides his own opinion and is hence absent from are objective passages that will not allow questions about the author’s opinion, tone, attitude etc.Passages in which the author is present are either strongly subjective with the author explicitly present (using ‘I’) or are subtly subjective with very guarded inputs by the author. Such author presence allows for questions on the author’s opinion, tone, attitude etc. So while reading, try to assess what the status of the author is.

Strategy 4: Align content: The content of most passages is organized in such a manner that the reader can spot 2 theories or maybe 2 opinions or then 3 interpretations. Such arrangement of the content makes it easy to handle the questions since very often the questions talk of what is common or different between say 2 theories. It is advisable then to have a rough sheet of paper ready at hand to jot down the points. Once the questions pops up on the screen, all you need to do is refer to your notes to spot the commonality or the difference.

Try pinning the reading passages down with these strategies and for sure you are not anymore going to declare them your worst enemy!

Good luck!

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