GRE Reading Comprehension - Tips and Techniques
How to score better at GRE Reading Comprehension:
- You need to understand the passage well.
- You should possess strong verbal reasoning - you can eliminate two choices easily. The third can be dropped with a little bit of thinking. It usually requires strong reasoning to select from the remaining choices.
Understanding the Passage
Here are some hurdles that pop up in the way of fully understanding a Reading Comprehension passage:
- Some passages can be difficult regardless of the topic
- Some can be understood given ample time - but time is in short supply
- Some passages can be from specific areas that are unfamiliar or obscure
What style of writing populates GRE Reading Comprehension passages?
The passages are usually short scholarly treatises. This style of writing can be found in academic papers and journals. Some passages are on politics, economics or on social issues and are similar to what appears in the editorial section of newspapers and magazines.
The passages are usually not stories, narration of events, incidents or newspaper reports.
The passages are constructed around a serious issue and the author's opinion or analysis of the same. The tone as well as the views are usually strong. At times, the author's opinions might not be explicitly expressed, but the reader might have to sense it from the words chosen.
The sentences used are usually long and complex.
Some passages could be factual or informative, where the author merely provides details in a subject area and does not offer opinions. Such passages could be long and may contain a number of terms, definitions and details. The challenge in such passages could in handling the volume of details, though the passages are easy to understand.
- The effect of industrialization on the role of women in society. Whether it helped or hindered them.
- The contributions of a poet, author or an artist and how it influenced society.
- Two schools of thought on a subject - Whether the universe is expanding or contracting? The author may provide thoughts on the subject.
- A new discovery or observation in the world of science and the promise the discovery holds to answer some of the unanswered questions in that field.
- The author provides a hypothesis to explain a situation or the author attacking someone else’s claims through counter examples or arguments. The area could be science, economics, sociology or history.
Nature of the questions asked on the passages
The questions may be worded differently, but they usually revolve around the following;
- Have you clearly understood the purpose of the passage?
- Have you understood the author’s view or hypothesis?
- Were you able to sense the tone in the passage (severely criticizing, appreciating, skeptical, lauding, cynical etc)?
- Were you able to locate key information, especially from a factual passage?
- Were you able to understand the approach taken by the author (in other words, how is the passage or the flow of the passage organized)?
Tips to read a passage and understand it well:
1. Be totally focused while reading
You cannot read these passages as though you are reading an online news article. You should read minutely and pick up on possible clues. The easiest way to do that is to understand what the subject of the passage is - which is usually clear in the first two lines.
2. As you read, try to understand what the purpose of the passage is
Is it pure factual information or a hypothesis? Is the author trying to criticize or laud something or someone? Is the author talking about a new development or trying to compare two views or theories?
In some passages, the author's intention is clearly outlined at the outset. Most often, the onus is on you to determine the author's intention. At times, the author may conclude towards the end of the passage. If it matches your guesswork, then you know you are on the right track.
3. Gathering other relevant elements in the passage
As you read, learn to identify statements that reveal the tone of author. Mentally note where they lie in the passage so that you can revisit them when you are answering questions.
4. Handling long and factual passages
If the passage is factual, understand the flow or organization of the passage. Note the key terms introduced and in which paragraphs they are detailed. Skim through the passage and create a memory map of the key points in the passage. Revisit any paragraph if there is a question associated with it. After practicing about 10-12 passages, you will develop a good judgment of what to read in detail and what to skim through.
As you read, make notes for your reference. Ideally, a memory map of where which point is works best and with practice, you will get good at creating memory maps. As you answer questions, you may revisit the passage to understand details or to verify. The memory map will help you get there in the least amount of time.
5. Increasing your reading speed
Do not worry about time during the initial part of your practice. Focus more on comprehension and answering the questions correctly. Analyze your incorrect questions and understand why it happened.
With time, your speed will increase as you get familiar with the typical sentence structures and the presentation styles used.
Also, read editorials, essays and opinion pages of prominent newspapers and magazines to increase your reading speed and improve your exposure to a variety of topics.
Complete focus, a memory map, and continuous practice will help you develop reading skills. Not just for the verbal section of the GRE, but also for your graduate studies and later, your professional career.