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Building Your Strength in Reading Comprehension

Posted on May 26, 2014
GMAT RC

Reading newspapers and books may improve your general reading habit, but not your ability to crack GMAT RC. This is because the subject matter and structure of GMAT RC passages are quite different, and therefore, the mindset with which you approach them must also be different.
 
The best way to get better at GMAT RC is to practice official passages using the techniques taught in the CrackVerbal RC classes. However, if you have a 3-4month plan for the GMAT and want to build your strength in RC during this time, or if you don’t want to ‘use up’ official passages, here is a great way to build your strength in Reading Comprehension.
 
Go to resources – magazines and websites – that host passages similar to GMAT RC passages, and practice your techniques on them. Here are some sources we recommend –
 
economist.com – business, technology, culture.
 
historytoday.com – history
 
blogs.nature.com – science
sociology.org – social sciences
 
Now that you have identified WHAT to read, here is HOW you should read them –
 
Give yourself 2-3 minutes to read each passage.Don’t forget to practice the critical reading, skimming and scanning techniques taught in class.
 
Make a map.If you don’t think the first map you made was useful, review and revise it. Practice till you master the art of capturing the essentials – and only the essentials – of any passage in a map.
 
Answer the Big Picture question.All GMAT RC passages will have a big picture question. And you already know how these will be worded. So try to answer the big picture questions about the article you read – what is the central theme? what is the primary purpose?
 
Analyze the Structure.Was the article a description of something? Was it an opinion or perspective? Were there opposing viewpoints? Was it an analysis or evaluation?

 
Understand the Tone.Was it positive or negative? Did it question facts or events? Did it criticize any steps taken or conclusions formed?

 

Let me take an example:

 

Work on the world’s first underground railway started in 1860 when the Metropolitan Railway began building a tunnel more than three miles long from Paddington to Farringdon Street. It was largely financed by the City of London, which was suffering badly from horse-drawn traffic congestion that was having a damaging effect on business. The idea of an underground system had originated with the City solicitor, Charles Pearson, who had persuaded the City Corporation to put up money and he was probably the most important single figure in the underground’s creation. The first section linked the City with the railway stations at Paddington, Euston and King’s Cross, which had been built in the previous 30 years. A deep trench was excavated by the ‘cut and cover’ method along what are now the Marylebone Road and the Euston Road and turning south-east beside Farringdon Road. Brick walls were built along the sides, the railway tracks were laid at the bottom and then the trench was roofed over with brick arches and the roads were put back on top, though the last stretch to Farringdon was left in an open, brick-lined cutting. Stations lit by gas were created at Paddington, Edgware Road, Baker Street, Great Portland Street, Euston Road and King’s Cross on the way to Farringdon. The line was opened to the public on the following day, a Saturday, and people flocked to try it out. More than 30,000 passengers crowded the stations and pushed their way into packed trains. The underground had been mocked in the music halls and derisively nicknamed ‘the Drain’. There were predictions that the tunnel’s roof would give way and people would fall into it, while passengers would be asphyxiated by the fumes, and an evangelical minister had denounced the railway company for trying to break into Hell. In fact the railway was a tremendous success and The Times hailed it as ‘the great engineering triumph of the day’. In its first year it carried more than nine million passengers in gas-lit first-class, second-class and third-class carriages, drawn by steam locomotives that belched out choking quantities of smoke. As far as the City was concerned, the corporation was able to sell its shares in the Metropolitan Railway at a profit and the underground did ease congestion for a time. A more lasting consequence was to make commuting far easier and so cause London to sprawl out even more from its centre, while the number of people actually living in the City itself declined sharply. [Source: ‘First Day of the London Tube’, Richard Cavendish, History Today Volume 63 Issue 1 2013. http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/first-day-london-tube]

 

Take 2 minutes to read this passage and create a map. Afterwards, spend 5-6 minutes thinking about the following questions:

 
What is the primary purpose of this passage?
 
What is the organization of the passage?
 
What is the author’s tone?
 
What are the interesting words/phrases/ideas in this passage?
 

Here is how I would work>:

 
 

What is the primary purpose of this passage?

 

As I read, I realize that the article is about the origin of the London Tube. The author is not evaluating or questioning anything, but merely repeating facts. So, I would say that the primary purpose is to ‘describe the birth of the London Tube’. Now that I have this ‘pre-phrased’ answer in mind, I can eliminate other options and arrive at the right answer.

 
 

What is the organization of the passage?

 

Para 1 – how the Tube originated Para 2 – the construction of the Tube Para 3 – day 1 of operation Para 4 – outcome and reception

 

What is the author’s tone?

The author is reporting facts, but his tone is overall positive and approving as can be seen from the last paragraph in which he summarizes the outcome. A key indicator of tone would be ‘tremendous success’ in line 1 of paragraph 4.

 
 

What are the interesting words/phrases/ideas in this passage?

 

To me, the most interesting bits in the passage are in paragraphs 3 and 4, which describe the expected and actual outcome of the London underground. This information is sufficient for me to understand the passage sufficiently for now. The rest of my work depends on the questions I am posed, and the answer choices provided.

 

Do this exercise for 2-3 articles every day, preferably those with different themes. Over a period of time, you will see your ability to read and comprehend GMAT RC passages improving. Have questions on any part of GMAT RC? Please fill in the form and we will get back to you ASAP!

 
If you have taken the GMAT or have been preparing for it, you know that Reading Comprehension questions are a huge deal. A lot of it is about conserving your mental energy till the end.
 

Now that you can choose the order in which you want to take up the sections before starting the test, having a strategy on dealing with the Reading Comprehension questions is even more important.
 
This is a recent change to the GMAT test structure. It was introduced in July 2017. We have done a detailed analysis of what this means to an Indian GMAT test-taker in the this blog

GMAT Section Selection – Everything you need to know

 
Hope these techniques make a positive difference to your GMAT prep! If you’d like to share what works for you and what doesn’t, please leave a comment in the comment section below.
 
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