GMAT Reading Comprehension: 10 Tips & Strategies for a Foolproof Preparation Strategy

Author: Nomi | Published on: February 6, 2019, 5:30 P.M. (IST)

The reading comprehension section of GMAT can be intimidating given the variations between long and short RC passages. Despite the structure variations, concentrating on both equally will enable a better outcome.

For the long RC passages, the questions are more or less targeted, i.e., specific. Short passages on the other hand are not as structured as long passages and the question asked are less specific.

Because of this phenomenon in GMAT Reading Comprehension section, approaching the right way will save time and also help in tackling both the section with minimum constrain.

In this article, we will cover information relating to all aspects of GMAT reading comprehension. We will go over them through the topics listed below. 

GMAT Reading Comprehension: A Brief Overview 

GMAT Reading Comprehension: Question types 

  • Question Type 1: Main Idea 

  • Question Type 2: Supporting Idea & details 

  • Question Type 3: Inferences 

  • Question Type 4: Application of data 

  • Question Type 5: Logical Structure 

  • Question Type 6: Style & tone 

GMAT Reading Comprehension: X Tips & Strategies to Ace the Section 

Conclusion: Key Points to Remember  

GMAT Reading Comprehension: A Brief Overview 

Reading Comprehension (RC) features under the Verbal Reasoning of the GMAT exam. Being able to score well in reading comprehension will contribute towards an overall score competent in the exam, and for precisely this reason it is important to ace it. Given this goal, a solid reading comprehension strategy will come of best use to tackle the exam. 

The GMAT verbal reasoning section consists of 36 questions with a time limit of 65 mins, of which nearly 1/3rd will be devoted to reading comprehension question type. This is narrowed down to 12-14 reading comprehension questions. Among these, both short as well as long passages will surface, usually three short and 1 long reading passage. However, the possibility of 2 equal passages in both short and long category should not be dismissed. 

An important point to note is that no exterior knowledge of the subject matter is required to tackle the questions as they’re strictly focused on the passage content. This is because the reading comprehension category in the GMAT verbal section has the objective of finding a candidate’s ability to understand and interpret the data given, rather than directly testing the knowledge and memory capabilities. The GMAT exam has such a layout wherein the questions for the reading comprehension question type appear one by one, and there is no other option but to go forward. This means a candidate will not have the option of returning to questions as they wish, and can only move onto the next question.

GMAT Reading Comprehension: Question Types 

The questions that come under GMAT reading comprehension is categorized into 6 question types, namely: 

  1. Main idea 

  2. Supporting idea & details 

  3. Inferences 

  4. Application of data 

  5. Logical structure

  6. Style & tone 

During the exam, the candidate will not be told the different question types that are in question. However, with the use of certain words, phrases, and structure it is possible to determine the question type. Understanding how tackle each question type will help the candidate efficiently solving each question under the reading comprehension section. 

Question Type 1: Main Idea 

A main idea question will ask the candidate to identify the main purpose or the main idea behind the passage, as the name suggests. To understand it better, this question type is concerned with the overall intent and idea behind the passage, as opposed to minute details. It is important to pay attention to the passage as a whole, and not be side-tracked by the specific details. Some common words or phrases that appear in this question type are, 

  • The main point of the passage…

  • The central idea of the passage…

  • The passage is mainly focused on…

  • The author ‘s main intent…

  • The passage can be summarized by…

Question Type 2: Supporting Idea & Details 

In contrary to the main idea question, supporting idea question will require the candidate to explicitly looks for supporting ideas, details and facts stated in the reading passage. This question type is direct, and does not ask for any form of interpretation. For this reason, many test takers deem the supporting idea question type to be the easiest to handle. Some words and phrases that can make an appearance in the question are, 

  • According to the passage, which of this is true…

  • According to the passage, which is not mentioned…

  • According to the passage, all the options are true except…

  • The author states all the options except…

Question Type 3: Inferences 

An inference question type asks for what the passage is trying to imply. Here, the inference is not stated directly in the passage, but has to be identified by the candidate. The correct answer for this question type will be to identify the option that will be true in relation to the passage given, yet is not stated by the author. It is important to note that inference question types do not present new information that is not stated in the passage to the candidate. 

Practicing with sample questions can help the candidate ascertain the question type perfectly, as well as help in avoiding confusing between assumptions and inferences. Some words and phrases that are used in this question type are, 

  • The passage suggests that…

  • It can be inferred from the passage…

  • Which of the following can be inferred…?

Question Type 4: Application of Data 

These questions are basically out-of-context questions that will ask the candidate to apply the information provided in the reading passage to a context outside the passage. It is often that the question will ask the candidate to identify a parallel or analogous example from the given options. 

There are times when this question type will ask for the candidate whether the author will agree or disagree with a given notion. Unlike inference questions, out-of-context question type will present data that is outside the reading passage. Some words and phrases that show up in the question type are, 

  • The author would most likely agree to…

  • The author would most likely disagree to…

  • The author would most likely recommend…

Question Type 5: Logical Structure 

This question type will ask the candidate to identity the main purpose behind different elements present in the reading passage. These elements include a specific detail of information given, term used, a quote, a sentence, etc. Overall, these questions are focused on the function. Sometimes the candidate is asked to identify the strengths, weaknesses, etc. of the given passage. Some words and phrases that appears in the question are, 

  • The last paragraph carries the central idea of…

  • Which of the following describes the structure of the first paragraph? 

  • The author’s argument is strengthened by…

Question Type 6: Style & Tone 

As the name suggests, the style question will ask the candidate about the author’s tone, diction, and usage of words in the reading passage. Here, the style question will test the candidate’s ability to ably ascertain the author’s word choices and general tone to identify the attitude, and thought process behind the writing. Since it will not be explicitly mentioned by the author, the candidate’s ability to notice and assess the mood, motivation, stance, etc. behind the passage is most important. Some words and phrases that will be present in the question are,

  • The author of the passage most likely believes in…

  • The author of the passage will most likely agree…

  • The author of the passage will most likely recommend…

GMAT Reading Comprehension: 10 Tips & Strategies to Ace the Section 

Now that the question types are in place, it is important to learn and practice the different tips & strategies to score well in the reading comprehension section. A compiled list is as follows. 

Tip 1: Thorough Reading 

It is always advised to read the entire passage given before getting to the first question. While it maybe tempting to look for answers in the passage directly after reading a question, it is highly likely that the candidate will miss specific details, and transitional meaning that is required to score well in the section. Avoid speed reading and matching words from the question to the passage. Instead, read the passage thoroughly and understand the given information to your ability before starting with answering. 

Tip 2: Time of Pace 

Given that there is a fixed time limit for the GMAT Verbal reasoning section, reading comprehension must be properly paced. Since reading the passage will significantly take more time than straight away solving a question, it becomes important for the candidate to pace themselves stably through the section. While practicing reading comprehension questions, the candidate has to be sure to set timer and learn to pace themselves.  

Tip 3: Key Information 

While reading the whole passage at the beginning is important, an effective skill to build is to know where the key information is available and is placed in the passage. Though this is not a one-size-fits-all solution, this skill will come in handy when trying to figure out which is the right information that is needed in the passage. The main point of needing to develop this skill is to approximately understand where the information is placed in the passage, so that when a question is asked the candidate can revisit the portion in no time. 

Tip 4: Understanding the Main Idea 

Main idea questions are almost always present in the GMAT reading comprehension section. Since the main idea question type requires the candidate to only identify and interpret the primary theme/idea of the passage, thinking about the main idea right after reading through the passage at the beginning will save time. One of the important things to keep in mind is that the main idea takes the overall passage into consideration, and hence is not found stated somewhere in the passage directly. The best strategy to go about is to immediately think of what the main theme could be right after reading the passage initially. 

Tip 5: Note-Taking 

When it comes to note-taking, it boils down to each specific candidate. While some may feel that dotting down notes can get overwhelming, others may feel it helps them break down information. Find the best strategy that is most effective to a candidate can be identified only through practice. However, experts believe shorthand is the only way to go. Jotting down mere points, or keywords will the best option not to waste any time. 

Tip 6: Important Words 

Reading through the passage, it is important to make note of words that help in transition. These words connect sentences, ideas and themes with one another. Since the question types of the reading comprehension section asks the candidate to not only identify, but also interpret and assume, these words are important. Identifying and interpreting these words in the passage will help the candidate make connections, and understand the progression in flow. This especially holds true when it comes to heavy duty subject passages. 

Tip 7: Reading the Passage

It is highly important to revert back to the passage before answering every reading comprehension question. Even though it may feel like everything is in memory, it is imperative to check with the passage, to make sure the right answer is picked. Given that the passage is already read initially, it will not take much time go back while answering the question. Hence, it is advised to not be haste or rely completely on the memory to pick the right answers. 

Tip 8: Attention to Viewpoints 

It is possible that sometimes the reading passage will contain multiple viewpoints from the author. It will carry an argument they agree with, points they disagree with, and other widely different viewpoints. Pay attention to these differences, and similarities while reading through the passage and mentally make note of them, so that on a revisit to the passage, it is easier to interpret and understand. 

Tip 9: Avoid skimming 

While skimming or reading quickly happens when the candidate revisits the passage a few times to choose a final answer, skimming and speed reading must be avoided initially. Again, if the subject matter of the passage is easy, it maybe tempting to skim across to quickly get to the questions. However, this must be avoided so that none of the connecting details, and specifications are missed out while answering the questions. 

Tip 10: Importance of Practice 

In addition to taking up practice tests and sample questions, one thing that can be of use is to reader reading comprehension-type writing. Practice reading good quality content from newspapers, magazines, websites, that can carry sophisticated writing style and subject matter. As with practice, reading quality content will make sure the candidate is exposed to quality content beforehand. Making a daily habit out of the same will render useful even beyond just answering reading comprehension questions. 

Conclusion: Key Points to Remember 

Through the article, we have discussed the questions types, along with tips & strategies that will come of great use. A summary of points to always keep in mind are, 

  • Read through the given passage fully 

  • Notice the different points presented by the author 

  • Keep track of transitional words that connect ideas and themes 

  • Be aware of the time that you take through answering 

  • Think about the main idea/theme of the passage after initial reading 

  • Make notes when necessary, and if they’re personally helpful 

  • Make a point to revisit the passage before choosing the final answer 

  • Avoid skimming, and practice reading RC-like passages 

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