The Best GMAT Reading Comprehension Strategy

Learn the Approach

On a GMAT Verbal Section, you will typically have four Reading Comprehension passages, each with associated questions.  The danger of Reading Comprehension is that it becomes a major time-sink, stealing valuable time away from Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning.

First of all, I will point out: no one strategy will be perfect for everyone.  You will need to tweak these suggestions to find what works best for you and your own study plan.  This post will give you a clear starting point for that process of exploration.

Read, Don’t Skim

First of all, the point of this question is to read.  Some GMAT prep sources will recommend skimming the passage, or reading only the first paragraph, then skimming the rest.  In my view, this is a mistaken approach.  Read carefully, so that you only have to read once.

What does it mean to read carefully?  First of all, it means to take notes, summarizing each paragraph briefly on scrap paper or on your notepad (on the real GMAT).  Students resist the process of taking written notes, but if you practice it and become good at it, it will always be a time-saver.  Even if you never again look at your notes, just the fact that you invested the mental effort in deciding how to summarize means that you thereby were understanding that part of the passage.

Reading carefully means summarizing paragraphs and identifying the main idea of the passage.  It DOES NOT mean reading every single stinking word.  For example, if an author makes a point and then follows it with a detailed example (“for instance”), you can skim that example.

This careful reading should take about 3.5 minutes for a short passage and about 4.5 for a long passage.  Then, spend about 1 minute per question, and that will leave you ample time for SC and CR questions.  You should time yourself, to verify to yourself that you can keep this pace.

Understand, Don’t Memorize

Your goal in reading the passage should be to understand.  It will help to feign interest in the material, to generate a genuine sense of curiosity about what’s being discussed.  If you are a visual person, it will help considerably to form a mental picture of what the author is describing.

Your goal is not to memorize obscure details: dates, complicated scientific terms, names of theories or processes.  It’s enough to note where that detail is in the passage, so if a detail question addresses it, you can find it quickly.

Remember: GMAT Reading Comprehension is not a speed-reading test.   It is not a memory test.  GMAT Reading Comprehension is about developing your own understanding of a passage in order to identify the correct answers in the questions that follow.


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