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    Reading Comprehension
  I: Introduction  
  II: The Challenge  
  III: The Five Steps  
     1. Passage Classification  
     2. Breaking Down Each Passage  
     3. See the Organization  
     3a. Short Essays  
     3b. Long Essays  
     4. Find the Big Idea  
     5. Diagnose Author's Purpose  
  IV: Question Types  
  V: Tips  
  VI: Sample Essays  
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III-1. The Five Steps- Passage Classification
 
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There are two areas of classification for each passage: Its main subject and its purpose. Classifying both of these areas is critical to understanding the passage and successfully answering the questions.

Passages essentially have three categories of Subjects: Science, Business or Cultural Studies

A. Science

These passages deal with topics such as biology, chemistry, and medicine. Although these passages often can be unexciting and dare we say boring, they also often are straightforward and thus manageable. You are not likely to see any inference questions here. Instead, you most likely will see several factual questions that can be answered by direct, accurate reading of the text. So long as you don't allow yourself to be blinded by the flashy jargon, science passages should be the easiest reading comprehension questions you encounter.
 
 
Science isn't objective
We tend to think of scientists as clear and logical, like Spock on Star Trek, and scientific fact as static. The reality is that science is full of conflict and contains controversial ideas, such as the Big Bang, global warming, and whether Pluto is a planet. Science essays on the GMAT will often delve into controversy and its your job as the reader to see the points of view, bias, and the conflict.

B. Business

These essays also may be jargon-intensive. If you are a business school candidate you may have background knowledge in this area. This can be beneficial, as it makes the passage easier to read, but remember that specific outside knowledge will never be needed to answer a Reading Comprehension question. All the answers can be found in the passage itself.

 

 

Don't use your own information
Maybe you were a business major and read the Wall Street Journal everyday. That's great and it may help you skim through passages faster, but you should choose the answer best supported by the text, not your general knowledge.

 

C. Cultural Studies

These passages deal with topics such as history and politics.

GMAT passages are often designed to persuade. Follow the argument as best as you can and be able to summarize it before you go on to the questions.

From the standpoint of test-taking strategy, you can be assured that any passage about a historically-oppressed identity group will take a positive tone towards that group, and the author's purpose will be sympathetic.


Passages have three categories of Purpose: Describe, Evaluate, or Persuade

The author's main purpose is to convey information, presenting a situation or an idea as objectively as possible. The author will present some opinions or judgments, but there is a pretense of objectivity. The author wants to explain a topic. If you understand the passage, you've met the author's objective.


The author describes a phenomenon, situation, viewpoint, or theory and analyzes it. The author is giving you the strengths and weaknesses of the topic in a methodical, detached manner.


The author is advocating a particular position, often against another point of view. Think of this author as an idea salesman who wants you to become a True Believer and reject opposing opinions.


 

 
Don't argue with the essay
Maybe you don't think Peruvian weaving is as nice as the author thinks it is. If your personal understanding or view of the issue happens to contradict that of the author in a Persuade essay, this could inhibit your ability to comprehend the author's point of view. Leave your opinions out and try to get in the same mental mindset as the author.



Examples

  Describe Evaluate Persuade
Humanities Newspaper article on Harlem Renaissance Book review of Margaret Atwood novel Essay arguing that the romance is a distinctly American literary genre
Social Science Textbook section on Civil War Newspaper opinion column about a politician’s economic plan Environmentalist’s op-ed piece arguing for tighter controls on the use of a new chemical
Science Museum pamphlet on volcanoes Commentary in a physics journal on a new plan for solar power A scientist’s explanation of why he believes the Big Bang Theory is wrong
Business Newspaper account of the collapse of the real estate market Harvard Business Review assessment of a new theory of corporate leadership A corporate manager’s letter to a newspaper defending his company against accusations of mismanagement

III. The Five Steps

2. Breaking Down Each Passage