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Beginners Guide to GMAT Reading Comprehension

There are four sections on the GMAT: Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning and the Analytical Writing Assessment. Quantitative and Verbal ability is determined on the scale of 200-800 score while your AWA essays and Integrated reasoning are given a rating between 0-6 and 1-8 respectively.
The Verbal section consists of 41 questions that you must complete in 75 minutes. Those 41 items are divided among three types of questions: Critical Reasoning (CR), Sentence Correction (SC) and Reading Comprehension (RC).

GMAT Reading Comprehension is very similar to GMAT Critical Reasoning in that you read a passage and answer some questions about it. Here, we are assuming that most of you have taken standardized tests before, and are aware of the basic format of multiple-paragraph passage followed by a few questions.

The two essential differences between CR and RC are-
RC passages are long and thus tiring for students. They vary in lengths; however, you can expect them to be between about 200 and 400 words. Few will consist of two long paragraphs; others will be divided into four or five short paragraphs. As the passages are lengthier, they can be quite a bit more involved. The shorter CR passages may use unfamiliar or more technical language, but there’s very little to understand in a three-sentence argument. While in Reading Comprehension, you can be given an unfamiliar topic with complicated language and twisted questions and be expected to answer anything from physics to archaeology to the history.

In RC, there’s a wide variety of questions on passages and there are a number of ways they can be broken down, but we’ll divide them into four broad categories:

Topic/Idea: The most important question will be “What is the main idea of the passage?” The GMAT has multiple ways of asking this and you’ll probably come across at least a half-dozen. The key is to find the answer choice that not only matches the topic, but also the specific focus of the passage.

Detail: These usually come with the phrase, “According to the passage,”. The answer is just another version of something in the passage. In such questions, GMAT is testing your attentiveness skills on whether you read the passage and understood the structure well enough to find a specific detail that you may not have remembered.

Analysis: There aren’t many assumptions and strengthen/weaken questions in RC, but they give many inference questions. GMAT expects you to grasp the differences between different viewpoints on the same issue, or determine which parts of the passage are facts and which are the author’s opinion.

Structure: These are less common, but don’t fit into any of the other three paragraphs. You might be asked how a certain sentence functions, or what is the purpose of one of the paragraphs. Structure questions are not too different from the bold-face items in Critical Reasoning.

Reading Comprehension Tips and Tricks

  • You should start reading stuff from a diverse range of topics. You can take subscriptions for magazines like Scientific American, The Economist, The Guardian, The New York Times. Start reading articles, newspaper and journals from most popular places say IEE, MIT Technology Review, Oxford university press, JMIR publications etc.
  • Good books and novels are the best sources of enhancing reading skills and learning new words. You can make it a practice to read a book, at least a few pages before you go to sleep and you may continue this habit even after your GMAT. Few good books to start with are The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler and many more…
  • Create your own journal and keep a record of all the words that you encounter while Reading books, watching shows or solving GMAT type questions.
  • To boost your performance on reading comprehension section of the GMAT, it will be a good practice to write the summaries of whatever you read in magazines, newspaper and books. Try to cut short the long journals or top stories you read and write them in your own language in six to seven lines.

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