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    Reading Comprehension
  I: Introduction  
  II: The Challenge  
  III: The Five Steps  
  IV: Question Types  
  V: Tips  
  VI: Sample Essays  
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V: Tips for Finding the Right Answer
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"Scope" refers to
1. Specificity. The answers to most GMAT questions will be of a medium scope. Don't choose overly broad answers that the passage can't support. Take a look at this example.

The author is primarily concerned with:

A. Penguin mating patterns
B. Antarctic Penguins
Birds of the world
D. Penguin behavior and life cycle
E. Animals of the southern hemisphere

is likely to be correct as it is closest to medium scope. It deals with an animal and its habitat, but is neither too narrow nor too broad. It fits nicely in between:

Animals of the southern hemisphere
Birds of the world
Penguin behavior and life cycle
Penguin mating patterns

Watch out for words such as all, never, always, or only. These qualifiers are strong, and usually are outside a passage's scope. Just think how hard it would be to write a short passage that argued:

All climate change is a result of human activities. (Really, all of it? Every last bit?)
Every new medical treatment improves the quality of medical care (No screw-ups at all, huh?)
Only the Federal government can improve public school education (What about states? Individuals?)

Look for answers that use "some, most, or many." These qualifiers indicate a limited scope.

Does every reading comprehension question have one correct answer and four incorrect answers?

Yes, you say? Well... not exactly. Rather, there is one best answer and four not-so-good answers. For example, main idea questions generally have one or two answers that are partly correct, but flawed in some way. A wrong answer to the question What is the main idea? might summarize the main idea of only one part of the passage.

Your goal is to pick the best answer to the question, not hunt for the One True Answer. By eliminating the worst answers, you at least improve your chances to guess correctly.

Unless you are highly pressed for time, always read all answer choices before making a decision. An answer that seems basically right could be rendered incomplete by a better choice. Therefore, don't answer the question until you have read every answer choice and are sure you have found the best answer. Do not ask yourself if an answer is correct. Ask yourself if it is better than the other choices.

Presto, one word turns the question on its head. Say you're asked:

Which of the following assertions in the passage is supported by an example?

Now, turn it on its head:

Which of the following assertions in the passage is NOT supported by an example?

The words "not," "least," and "except" indicate that a question has been turned on its head. What can you do to make these questions easier? Practice! You have to learn to reverse your thinking, and practice helps you get into that mindset. One pitfall is to overlook the critical reversal word and then wonder why all the choices seem correct. The reversal word (NOT, LEAST, and EXCEPT) will be written in caps to indicate you're looking for the reverse answer. Rephrasing the question before you answer it is helpful.


Not at first. You might accidentally skim over the Big Idea. As a beginner, you should concentrate on finding the Big Idea and using the Five Steps for working through a passage. Skimming is an advanced skill, as it demands you quickly distinguish between the significant and the extraneous. If you skim over the important stuff, you'll have to go back, or even worse, you'll get the questions wrong due to misreading.

As you get the hang of spotting the Big Idea and mapping the passage, you'll approach a point where you can begin skimming. Eventually, the Big Idea will become so obvious, it will jump off the page, signaled by tone shifts, passage structure, "slam on the brakes language," and your understanding of the author's purpose and bias. At that point you will be able to spot important content quickly enough to skim over everything else. You will save precious time by skimming everything that isn't centrally related to the Big Idea or the structure.

Time is a precious commodity on the GMAT. Do you want to waste it reading the extraneous detail of the passages? The GMAT writers want you to trip up doing exactly that. Often (but not always!), the unimportant information contains the most challenging language – complicated technical explanations or strange business jargon.

Remember: The longer you spend reading the passage, the less time you have to answer the questions. Getting to the questions in the most efficient way is very useful in saving time. Tip: The "Huh?" Test
If, when you finish reading an essay, your first thought is “Huh?” then you probably read it too quickly, weren't reading for the author's idea or may have gotten buried in details and a blur of jargon.

As a rule, if you have to return to the passage extensively for macro questions, then you probably read it too quickly. It is better to read it carefully once than to read it carelessly twice.

You will often have to go back to the essay when you are answering Micro questions because it will be close to impossible to answer them without returning. Indeed, you should map out a longer essay's structure in order to dig up micro answers quickly.


IV: Question Types

VI: Sample Essays