GMAT Reading Comprehension Tips

Reading Comprehension constitutes about one-third of the 41 Verbal questions. You may see as many as 4 passages in this section up to 450 words in each passage, followed by 3 or 4 interpretive, applied, and inferential questions.

The GMAT Reading Comprehension is a speed-reading exercise with relevant questions. It measures your ability to speed read, understand, analyze, and apply information and concepts presented in written English. Specifically, it evaluates your ability to:

· Understand words, terms and statements.

· Understand the ideas, concepts and logical relationships between significant perspectives and to evaluate the importance of arguments.

· Draw inferences from facts and statements.

· Understand and follow the development of quantitative concepts as presented. Then interpret and use the data to reach conclusions.

As the GMAT is administered as a CAT and all three categories of verbal questions are intermingled, the first three or four questions you may face in the Verbal section may be Reading Comprehension. Unlike the random mix of Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning questions, a short series of Reading Comprehension questions is presented consecutively in a group.

GMAT Reading Comprehension - Key Facts

The topics in Reading Comprehension are typically related to social sciences such as politics and history, physical or biological sciences such as geology and astronomy, business-related areas such as marketing, economics and human resource management, along with other advanced subjects. Because the Reading Comprehension section includes passages from various different content areas, you may have general knowledge about some of the topics. All questions are to be answered on the basis of what is stated or implied in the reading material. Though no specific familiarity of the material is required, if you regularly read articles of broad topics, you will be at a slight advantage and be more confident.

Since it is particularly important to get the first few questions right, a great deal may be dependent on your understanding of a Reading Comprehension passage if it comes up first. Please also note that in a CAT, you will see only one question at a time. Therefore you can no longer apply the approach of going through all the questions first and reading the passage with the questions in mind.

Bear in mind that you have only an average of 110 seconds available for each Verbal question! This means you have just over seven minutes to read one passage and answer a group of four questions - not a long time. As mentioned earlier in Sentence Correction, Manhattan Review recommends you to bank some extra time for the Reading Comprehension section by completing Sentence Correction questions a little bit faster.

There is only one way to become proficient with the GMAT Reading Comprehension exercise - you must practice with all the material you can get your hands on!

How to Tackle GMAT Reading Comprehension Problems

Here are some useful points for dealing with Reading Comprehension in the GMAT:

Identify the structure

After you understand what the text is about by scanning the first question and reading the first and last sentences and/or paragraphs, try to identify its structure while you are reading. That means that you should get a feel for how the paragraphs are structured together. The typical categories include:

· Supporting example

· Discussion of a counter argument

· Thesis-antithesis-synthesis

· Evidence-analysis-conclusion

· Change of direction, change of emphasis or introduction of new material, signaled with transitional "flags" such as: but, however, alternatively, furthermore, despite, on the other hand.

Effective Note-keeping

You do not need to memorize every single detail. The goal is to be able to pinpoint the location where specific information is to be found later, not to retain the information in your memory. You may stop after each paragraph and briefly note on your scrap paper how it fits into the context of the passage, thus building up a list of a few key words that will allow you to rapidly find a particular reference in the passage.

Paraphrase Internally

As you are reading the introduction and body paragraphs, try to mentally recap each main point in very simple language. Some people find it helpful to ask themselves after every sentence "What was the point of saying that?" In this kind of writing, where a case is being constructed and argued, every sentence should "carry some water". If you find it effective, jot down a few key words. The purpose of this technique is to make sure you are grasping the essential information and messages being imparted, instead of being diverted or confused by florid language or unfamiliar constructions. Imagine that you must explain the paragraph succinctly to a child.

Consider answers to the generic question types

While reading, make it your second nature to come up answers for generic questions such as main idea, topic, purpose, structure, tone and conclusions. These questions do recur often in Reading Comprehension. Meantime, knowing those answers while reading through does help you deepen your understanding very effectively. That way you can save more time for content-specific questions (which often start "according to the passage...") to go back to check the source. The following shows how to deal with two typical questions.

· Think of a suitable title for the passage

This is a common question in the GMAT. Also, this will help you determine the "boundaries" or scope of the subject matter under discussion, which relates to another common question, concerning the author's overall scope. When asked about the author's scope, main point, or area of interest, choose an answer that encompasses as much of the passage as possible, rather than a subsidiary point that may have been addressed in one or two paragraphs.

· Determine the author's attitude

A common question concerns the author's attitude to the matters he is describing. As with the GMAT as a whole, strongly worded text is not favored, so be cautious of extreme words (e.g. "disgusted"). Observing convention, there should be even less emotional content in science and engineering passages.

· Determine the author's likely conclusion

You may also be asked to identify which statement that the author would be most likely to agree. Remember that you are being asked to put yourself in the author's shoes, and that he might draw a broad general conclusion from the restricted and specific subject matter of his analysis.

Watch out for Negation questions

One of the most common mistakes made by test-takers is that they overlook Negation questions, which is surprisingly easy to do under the stress of the exam. Negation questions look for an answer which is unsupported or contradicted by the passage. A good way of spotting that you may have fallen into a Negation trap is if you find that more than one answer appears to be correct. In a Negation question, four of the answers will be supported by the passage, and you should be looking for the "odd man out".

Be objective & draw your conclusions based on provided text

Stay within the confines of the passage; do not be tempted to incorporate your judgment, opinions or external knowledge. You are being tested on your abilities as an analyst, and so should restrict yourself to a literal interpretation of the words in the passage.

Look up the information asked

When you answer a question, always refer to the text. You are asked for specific details from the text and are often presented with intentionally misleading answers that ostensibly fit, so you must go back to the source. Do not rely on your recollection of the passage, which will begin to drift immediately after you have finished reading. Get into the habit of tying your answers back to specific wording in the passage, justifying each word in an answer choice.

Use the Process of Elimination

Process of Elimination is useful for Reading Comprehension questions. Answer choices can often be rapidly weeded out for being: too specific, too broad, too extreme, contradictory of the passage, or off-topic.

GMAT Sample Reading Articles

Passage 1

The paucity of archaeological findings dating back to the Late Bronze Ages (1600 - 1200 BCE) in the Transjordanian highlands has been thought to be due to the nomadic lifestyle of the populations of that region. But excavations over the past five years have unearthed more urban representation from that era. The most important recent finding revealed the presence of a Late Bronze Age monumental building.

Initial excavations a few years ago uncovered two small rooms with a combined area of twenty-five square meters. But the architecture suggested that they were part of a larger building. Subsequent excavations have confirmed this, so far uncovering five rooms with walls of semi-hewn stones still standing to a height of over two meters. Excavators have found a cultic installation in the largest known room of the complex. Facing the doorway of the room is a 1.2 meter-thick mudbrick wall, into which is carved a stepped cult niche. At its center are five standing stones. The central stone is finely shaped and symmetrical. The four smaller ones appear to represent a circle, a bare foot, a profile of a head, and what is known as a "complex chert nodule" - that is, a granular rock with a natural nodule and what appear to be additional carvings that give it an anthropomorphic character - respectively. Archeologists speculate that the stones were thought to originate in the world of the divine because of their peculiar shapes. Additional vessels were found on a plaster shelf near the five stones, including a clay figurine, lamps, and two carved bowls.

While it is as yet difficult to ascertain whether the entire complex was a cult niche, it is clearly not a domestic structure. The precise nature of the configuration of the rooms of the building, the special quality of the stones used to build its walls, and the exact and uniform nature of its dimensions are evidence for this. Future excavations will no doubt help determine what function the building served. For the moment, it is being hailed as a rare and significant example of Late Bronze Era cultic architecture.

Passage 2

It is relatively easy to determine the significance of animal food resources for prehistoric Sami populations of the northern subarctic regions. This is due to the discovery of articles such as spearheads, fishing hooks, and projectile points, as well as rock carvings and bone remains that provide evidence for the preponderance of hunting and fishing and provide clues into their broader cultural significances. It is much harder, however, to determine much about their uses of plant food resources. Neither ancient artifacts designed for the purpose of harvesting plants nor macrofossils of edible plants of those eras have as yet been firmly identified. Most references to plant uses are based on imprecise notes in historical sources and are not carefully or extensively quantified. An exception to this rule, however, is Sami use of the inner bark of Pinus sylvestris L., or the trees known as Scots pine.

There are several reasons for the much clearer picture that can be formed of Sami use of this inner bark. The first is the unusual existence of detailed descriptions of these uses in the earliest known records of the region. The inner bark was also harvested from live trees in such a way that trees survived (by leaving sufficiently thick strings of bark on the tree) as evidenced by peeling scars that can be observed on old trees. As a result, ancient use of inner bark can be dated and quantified more easily than other uses of plant resources. Additionally, the use of inner bark for food persisted among Inari and Skolt Sami in Northern Finland up until the beginning of the twentieth century and was therefore well-documented in their oral traditions.

This is a noteworthy aberration from the general lack of documentation on plant use, since it provides a rare window into Sami culture that cannot be gleaned from their uses of animal food resources. In particular, the logistics and techniques used for bark peeling can provide clues into the cultural context of this activity, as well as the social - and possibly religious or mystical - aspects of their use of plant food resources.

Passage 3

Studies performed in the old forests of the northern subarctic regions have provided evidence for the widespread use of the inner bark of Scots pine trees by the Sami peoples. Peeling scars have been found on Scots pine trees in all the traditional Sami areas. These include the northernmost parts of Sweden, Norway, and Finland, and range over national parks and other sites comprising old growth. Scots pine trees can live longer than 500 years and may therefore show identifiable traces of fire and bark peelings dating as far back as the Middle Ages. The healing process allows the identification and dating of old peelings: it produces lobes of wood containing annual rings that eventually cover the scar in favorable growth conditions. Based on studies of these peelings, the preponderance of inner bark use among prehistoric Sami peoples has been inferred with a high degree of certainty.

Three distinct types of peeling scars were identified, a larger one resulting from food uses of the bark and two smaller ones resulting from uses of the bark as wrapping paper for sinews and other products. Clear traces of horizontal knife cuts were found in almost half the incidences of peeling scars, and in one case, vertical knife cuts were identified along the stem. About a third of the trees surveyed had multiple peeling scars. The highest number of bark peelings were found in Stora Sjöfallet National Park in northern Sweden, though this is probably due not to the greater incidence of bark peelings as such, but rather to a combination of the following factors: an oceanic climate that reduced the incidence of forest fires; its remote location; the relatively poor timber-quality of the trees in that area; and the early legal restrictions imposed by making that area a national park in 1909. These findings support the claims made in historical sources that inner bark was commonly used as food among the forest and mountain dwellers in Sweden, semi-nomadic coastal Sami in Norway, as well as hunters and fishermen in northern Finland.

Passage 4

The Indian rope trick has often been called the world's most famous conjuring trick. The story, discussed by historians of conjuring as well as by magicians, scholars of religion, and countless popular press articles, is of conjurers who could make a rope rise up into the air seemingly of its own accord, whereupon a boy would climb up the rope and vanish at its top. Countless theories of varying extravagance have been offered to explain this phenomenon, and it is most commonly associated with Eastern traditions and mythology. The trick was purportedly reported by medieval and early modern travelers to India such as Marco Polo, and it is also claimed that in 1875, a reward of £10,000 was offered to anyone who could perform the trick for the Prince of Wales on his visit to India. An examination of the historical evidence, however, reveals that rather than being a mysterious Eastern tradition, the Indian rope trick along with its illustrious history is nothing more than a twentieth century Western fabrication.

None of the magicians who related the story about the reward have provided any evidence for its occurrence. The size of the reward is such that it cannot but have been newsworthy at the time, yet none of the newspapers discussing the Prince of Wales' India tour ever mention it. Neither do any of the contemporary books on Indian magic. Indeed, there is no reference to the Indian rope trick at all in any of these nineteenth century sources. Nor is it mentioned by earlier travelers such as Marco Polo or Ibn Battuta. As for the attribution of the story to Eastern mythology, it did not contain any more references to ropes ascending into the sky than did the folkloric traditions of any other culture.

As it turns out, the real origin of the story was a hoax newspaper article published in the Chicago Tribune by John E. Wilkie - a man who was to become chief of the United States Secret Service and gain a reputation for being an expert at disinformation - at the very end of the nineteenth century.

Passage 5

Greek and Roman understandings of the distinction between justifiable and unjustifiable killing (or murder) appear to have differed substantially from ours - as did their understanding of appropriate retribution. The earliest surviving Roman law code, the Twelve Tables (around 450 BCE), ordered parents to kill deformed infants at birth. The head of the family also had the right to execute at will any member of his family -including his slaves. If a slave murdered his master, however, all the slaves in that household were put to death. By contrast, in Athens, while a master could inflict bodily injury on his slave, he was not allowed to kill him. However, the killing of a burglar in one's home, of an attacker who struck first, or of an adulterer caught red-handed was allowed. Based on information of this kind, we are able to form a general idea of what constituted murder for the ancients and of how their understanding of it differed from ours.

It is much harder, however, to form a clear picture of the incidence of violence in these societies or of what in contemporary terms we might call crime rates. In both Athens and Rome, the responsibility for bringing a murderer to justice rested with the victim's next-of-kin. Since there was no organized police force in either state, murders often went unpunished and undocumented. The only recorded autopsy for forensic purposes was performed on the body of Julius Caesar, the result being the recording of twenty-three knife wounds. Many homicides were settled privately, either by payment or by vendetta, a practice that often resulted in vicious cycles of revenge-killings that continued indefinitely.

Additionally, there is virtually no recorded information or statistical evidence about the frequency of the incidences of murder. Nor is there any information about motives or methods. This makes it hard to gauge what crime rates were like in Athens or Rome, and equally hard to guess at the most commonly used methods used by killers and murderers. The best we can do is form conjectures on the basis of stories gleaned from their literary traditions.