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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-3a. The Five Steps- Short Essays (One to Three Short Paragraphs) Less Than 85 Lines
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These passages will naturally be a lot easier to navigate than the long passages because there simply isn't as much content to wade through. Read (don't skim) every sentence because there will be a lot of information contained in a short space.


Understand what each paragraph is about (tone, main idea, relation to preceding paragraph) and jot down a short summary of the main idea.

Big Picture
Pay particular attention to the tone and main idea of the first paragraph. When you have finished the passage, you should have a good mental road map.

Here is a sample short passage with accompanying commentary:

Read the commentary as you are reading the passage to see the underlying logic of how mapping works.

Paragraph One



What's going on?


(1) As in the case of so many words used by the biologist and physiologist, the word acclimatization is hard to define. (2) With an increase in knowledge and understanding, meanings of words change. (3) Originally, the term acclimatization was taken to mean only the ability of human beings or animals or plants to accustom themselves to new and strange climatic conditions, primarily altered temperature.

(1) First sentences are often topic sentences. This first sentence sets up that the topic will be a discussion of the meaning of acclimatization.
(2) Setting up a contrast: old definition vs. new model.
(3) So acclimatization meant getting used to a hotter or colder climate. If you live in Vermont, think of moving to Florida.

A person or a wolf moves to a hot climate and is uncomfortable there, but after a time is better able to withstand the heat. (4) But aside from temperature, there are other aspects of climate. (5) A person or an animal may become adjusted to living at higher altitudes than those it was originally accustomed to. At very high altitudes, those which aviators may be exposed to, the low atmospheric pressure becomes a factor of primary importance. In changing to a new environment, a person may, therefore, meet new conditions of temperature or pressure, and may also have to contend with different chemical surroundings. On high mountains, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere may be relatively small; in crowded cities, a person may become exposed to relatively high concentrations of carbon dioxide or even carbon monoxide, and in various areas may be exposed to conditions in which the water content of the atmosphere is extremely high or extremely low.

(4) "But" signals contrast. That was then, this is now. Old definition vs. new, more encompassing one.

(5) We thought we had the meaning down, but there is more. Temperature isn't the whole ball of wax. There is higher altitude, new chemicals, all kinds of exciting stuff.

(6) Thus, in the case of humans, animals, and even plants, the concept of acclimatization includes the phenomena of increased toleration of high or low temperature, of altered pressure, and of changes in the chemical environment. (6) "Thus" is a major, major word. It means "Hey, I'm going to say something important now." For GMAT passages, it sometimes means "Now, let me state the Big Idea," which here is an expanded set of phenomena for a deeper understanding of acclimatization.

Paragraph Two

(1) Let us define acclimatization, therefore, as the process in which an organism or a part of an organism becomes inured to an environment that is normally unsuitable to it or lethal for it. (2) By and large, acclimatization is a relatively slow process. (3) The term should not be taken to include relatively rapid adjustments such as those our sense organs are constantly making. This type of adjustment is commonly referred to by physiologists as "adaptation." Thus, our touch sense soon becomes accustomed to the pressure of our clothes and we do not feel them; we soon fail to hear the ticking of a clock; obnoxious odors after a time fail to make much impression on us, and our eyes in strong light rapidly become insensitive.

  What's going on?

(1) A new definition... that's important. Make sure you know the contrast between the old definition (temperature) and the new, improved one (temperature, pressure, chemicals).
(2) OK, the new definition encompasses a lot more than the old one, but there is this other issue of time. . (3) Another important contrast: fast vs. slow. Acclimatization is slow. It is what happens when you've been hanging out in an environment for a long while.


Paragraph Three

(1) The fundamental fact about acclimatization is that all animals and plants have some capacity to adjust themselves to changes in their environment. This is one of the most remarkable characteristics of living organisms, a characteristic for which it is extremely difficult to find explanations.

  What's going on?

(1) First sentences of last paragraphs are usually important, especially when they contain a giveaway phrase like "fundamental fact."


So here is a paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown of the passage:

P1: Acclimatization: more than just temperature

P2: Fast adjustment = adaptation vs. slow adjustment = acclimatization

P3: Characteristic of all living things = Capacity for change

3. See the Organization

3b. Long Essays