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Why reading comprehension on the GMAT is not like reading “The Times of India”?

Posted on July 13, 2012

What have you read since morning? The newspaper? Typically the sports column (to be more specific – reading about how your favourite IPL team is doing these days). What else do you typically read – emails? Looking at just the sender (boss) and subject line (report needed EOD) you know how to react and what to do.
In both of these scenarios you have a “context” of what is being said. Now in this flow, you start feeling you have been reading all through your life in different forms, so you can just use brute-force to manoeuvre your way through the GMAT RC.
However, once you start reading the passage, you find the language, the topic, the structure of the passage so difficult that you find yourself re-reading the same sentence, but still getting nowhere!
That is when you realize that reading the Sunday Times and a passage on “Women’s voting rights in Mississippi in 1878” requires 2 totally different reading styles/approaches.

Following 4 pointers can help you move yourself smoothly over a tricky GMAT passage.


Pointer 1: Remember the reason you are reading the passage.

You are reading the passage not for entertainment (you bet not! ) but for 1 simple reason: to score higher on the GMAT. My favourite set of questions (yet it’s a set of 2 questions) goes something like this:
Question 1: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to understand the passage?
The responses I get usually vary from a low 4 to a high 9. I would say it averages at around 8.
Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to answer the questions correctly?
Not surprisingly, I don’t find anyone telling me anything less than a 10!
The point I am making here is that it is more important to answer correctly than to waste time trying to understand 100% of the passage. Infact it is pointless to know 100% of the passage when you perhaps are going to get questions which will expect you to understand 30% of the passage.

Pointer 2: Do not tend to focus on trying to remember details but understand the GIST

GMAT is not a test of your memory and you are supposed to just skim through the passage to glean enough relevant examples. The analogy to that is a quiz where I ask you to come to my house and spend 2 minutes understanding the layout.
Now I take you out and start asking questions about the house. The catch here is you can come inside the house anytime to cross-check your answers. So I ask “How many lights in the bedroom?” and you say give me a minute and get inside directly to the bedroom to check the answer.
The first reading should give you enough to know where the bedroom is, and not remember how many lights there were. This strategy is called taking the “blue print” of the passage.
While reading the first few sentences in the starting of each paragraph, check the rest of the text in between, looking out for the logical keywords such as names, dates, and other stand-out words such as furthermore, despite, nevertheless, in addition and so on.
So what do you look for in this blue-print a.k.a over-view? You look for the GIST.
GI -> General Information
S -> Structure
T -> Tone
If you know how to spot the above – the rest of it should be a cake-walk.

Pointer 3: Speed up, or slow down!

Depending on where you are on the test, how you are doing, and the type of the passage, you also need to remember to either speed up, or slow down.
You can speed up in 1 of 2 ways. You can either read with a sense of urgency (not a sense of anxiety – get the drift?) and hit the questions as fast as possible. Or you chose to read the 1st paragraph and then hit the questions to see if you can play the hit-and-miss game. Do the latter only if you are in a dire situation – say, a 7 questions and 7 minutes kind of situation.
You can slow down if you feel the passage is very dense and it would be pointless for you to rush through it. The typical ones are on science, which has a scope of including a lot of jargons, and terminology.
If you are out of breath you can always catch a breath by taking your eyes away from the screen and looking at a distant object to clear your mind. I am not an opthomologist but it works!

Pointer 4: Practice, Practice and Practice…

Caveat: a monotonous practice of reading comprehension passages in isolation will not help. It is very crucial for you to get used to practicing in a test environment – under the stress and fatigue of a 4-hour marathon.
That is where your reading speed and ability to quickly eliminate wrong answer choices would come into question. While taking a test every day is not feasible you may want to keep RC as the last topic to practice for the day.
So, the next time you read Times of India, you will realize how different it is from reading your GMAT reading comprehension. Infact, I would suggest enjoy both of these, just with a different approach – take the first one with a pinch of salt and the second one with a quick grasp!
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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