GRE Reading Comprehension: Mastering the Passages

GRE Reading Comprehension: Mastering the Passages

Each Verbal section on the GRE consists of two blocks of Reading Comprehension questions. Reading comprehension questions consists of either a long (2-3 paragraph) or short (1 paragraph) reading followed by several questions. Each block will have 4-5 questions. You should be aiming to spend 1-3 minutes reading and 1 minute answering the question.

Both long and short readings have their difficulties. Let’s look at some strategies for how to master both.

 

Long Readings

Read the entire passage before looking at the first question. Each long passage on the GRE will have anywhere between 4 and 7 questions. In order to develop a greater understanding of the passage, it’s imperative that you focus on reading the entire passage before trying to answer any question. Looking at the question first could distract you from the passage’s purpose, main points and/or inferences.

Take notes while you read. That scratch paper isn’t just for the quantitative section! It’s important to note several things when reading:

  • The main topic of each paragraph.
  • Any transition from paragraph-to-paragraph, focusing on whether these transitions are contrary or complementary to each other.
  • The points and conclusions the author draws in the passage.
  • Hints or clues that will help you answer less explicit aspects of the passage.

Do not try to memorize details. Do not get bogged down by trying to remember the passage’s specifics. Read to get a general sense of the passage’s main ideas and structure. Spending too much time on the intricacies of a 747 jet engine or the DNA structure of Ebola will slow you down. You’ll be able to revisit any specifics, that is, if a question forces you to.

Once you finish reading the passage, read each question very carefully. The test-makers want to see if you’re a good reader. Make sure you understand what the question’s asking of you. Far too many test-takers get questions wrong because they misread the question.

Always refer back to the passage, no matter how sure of the answer you are. Referring back to the passage shouldn’t take too much of your time, especially if you’re positive you know the answer. Remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Read each and every answer choice before confirming your response. It’s always tempting to choose the first answer that seems right, especially if you’re running short on time. It’s important to look at each answer choice, though, as there could be an even better answer for the question being asked.

Know the different types of reading comprehension questions and how to answer them. There are five types of questions the test will ask. They revolve around:

1)  The main point of a passage

2)  What’s explicitly stated in the passage

3)  Inferences based off what’s in the passage

4)  Ways in which the information in the passage may be applied to other situations

5)  The author’s logic, or reasoning, in the passage

 

Short Readings

Short passages on the GRE may be a paragraph or two in length. Although they’re less to read than long passages, GRE test-makers use the same tricks and types of questions to evaluate your reading ability.  Proper test prep will make it so you easily master short passages on the GRE. And the good thing is that the same types of questions are, and similar strategies can be, used for short passages and long ones! Look below to see the five types of questions you’ll be asked as well as the top strategies for doing well on short passages.

The five types of reading comprehension questions:

1)  The main point of a passage

2)  What’s explicitly stated in the passage

3)  Inferences based off what’s in the passage

4)  Ways in which the information in the passage may be applied to other situations

5)  The author’s logic, or reasoning, in the passage

Make sure you know how to answer each type of reading comprehension question.

The top six strategies for acing short passages:

Make sure you read the entire passage before looking at the first question. Reading the question first could trick or mislead you into thinking the passage’s main topic is something other than what it is. Simply read the passage first to avoid this mistake.

Take notes while you read. Although these passages are not long, you’ll save time when answering the questions if you take some notes. Notes should focus on:

  • The main topic of each paragraph.
  • Any transition from paragraph-to-paragraph (or even sentence-to-sentence in short passages), focusing on whether these transitions are contrary or complementary to each other.
  • The points and conclusions the author draws in the passage.
  • Hints or clues that will help you answer less explicit aspects of the passage.

Reading for the big picture. Trying to memorize the details in any passage—short or long—is a waste of time. Make sure you understand the passage’s purpose, or main idea(s); you can find details if you’re asked about them.

Read each question very carefully. Most test-takers don’t get questions wrong because they aren’t able to find the right answer. Rather, they get them wrong because they misread the question. Make sure you know what the question’s asking.

Read every answer choice before confirming your answer. Choosing A may seem so tempting, and like a time-saving tactic, if it looks like the correct answer. No matter how perfect it seems, make sure you eliminate the other answer choices before deciding on it.

Refer back to the passage before answering a question…always! No matter how sure you are that B is the correct answer, back it up by returning to the text. Chances are that if you’re so sure about the answer, you’ll only spend a few seconds validating it. It’s good to be safe.

 

Practicing these strategies while you answer questions is an important part of preparing for test day. If you get plenty of test prep, play lots of games and ask instructors tons of questions, you’ll be sure to ace the GRE reading comprehension section.