Read time: 5 minutes
The GMAT’s reading comprehension questions can pose a serious challenge for some students. Not used to reading complex material? Learning English as a new language? Tend to read slowly, or get distracted by unfamiliar vocabulary?
There are many ways to get sidetracked (and frustrated!) while wading through those notoriously dry passages.
But like any GMAT challenge, there are several techniques you can leverage to cut through the noise, optimize your approach, and improve your score.
Start by adding these 3 reading comprehension tactics to your GMAT prep strategy.
Do a Quick First Read to Grasp the Main Idea
You’re under tremendous time pressure when writing the GMAT, so it’s normal to feel a bit panicked when presented with a lengthy and convoluted RC passage.
Worried about losing time, students often rush through a first reading—and move on to the questions, without even the most basic understanding of what the passage is about.
Then, they encounter a question that confuses them, and end up having to start all over again, meanwhile the minutes tick by.
So how long should you spend doing that first reading? And what should you be looking to learn?
First of all, you don’t need to understand every nuance of the passage—just the main ideas and overall structure. Since the RC passages range from 200 to 350 words, this won’t take very long.
Set aside about two minutes to read the shorter passages, and three minutes to read the longer ones.
Time yourself during GMAT prep. Most students discover that 2-3 minutes is ample time to grasp the theme and main ideas, before tackling questions.
Streamline Your Note-taking (don’t go overboard!)
Many successful test-takers swear by taking notes while reading the RC passage for the first time. Others dismiss this tactic as an outright waste of time. But, it really depends on how you approach it.
If you’re going overboard and jotting down every little detail (essentially re-writing the passage), then yes, you’re definitely wasting time.
On the other hand, if your note-taking is disciplined and strategic, it can be beneficial on several levels. What do we mean by strategic?
Your notes should briefly summarize what’s going on in the text, namely:
- The author’s primary argument, point of view, or main idea
- The evidence presented to support the main idea
While you read, summarize the main points of each paragraph in 10 words or less. Use abbreviations and symbols to save time (just make sure you can understand your own notes afterward!)
Why is strategic note-taking worth your time? It can help you:
- better understand and remember what you’ve just read
- identify where key information is located in the passage, so you can find these details quickly when answering questions
- immediately determine the structure of the passage (two opposing sides vs. one sided; author’s opinion vs. informational)
Practice the “Search & Extract” Technique
Once you’ve completed the first two steps outline above (an effective first reading and strategic not-taking), you shouldn’t ever have to go back, and read the entire passage again.
Instead, you’ll use the “search and extract” technique to zero-in on the details that pertain to each question. This means quickly scanning parts of the passage and pulling out just the information you need.
Your initial reading and notes will help you know exactly where to look.
Let’s say you need to identify the author’s stance on an issue, and the possible answers are “negative”, “positive”, “neutral”, etc.
Instead of re-reading the entire passage, quickly scan the text and extract keywords that reflect tone, and reveal how the author feels about the matter.
The truth is, you don’t need to understand every vocabulary word, factoid, or piece of data to answer questions quickly and accurately. What you really need to know is:
- How to locate and extract the most relevant details
- What the GMAT is looking for when it builds a “best” answer to a question
Incorporate these tactics into your GMAT practice, and watch your accuracy and speed improve significantly.
Need more help with reading comp, or other verbal challenges?
Consider a quality GMAT course to learn a wide range of problem-solving strategies—or start by attending a free Verbal Refresher for a general overview and helpful study tips.