It’s Just Reading, Right?
It’s just over two hours into the GMAT, and you are working your way through the Verbal section. Critical Reasoning prompts? You know the best strategy for each one. Sentence Correction? You could spot these errors in your sleep. Then up pops your first Reading Comprehension passage:
“According to a recent theory, Archean-age gold-quartz vein systems were formed more than two billion years ago from magmatic fluids that originated from molten granite-like bodies deep beneath the surface of the Earth.”
…What? That was English, right? You recognize most of those words, but you’re not quite sure how they fit together. And that’s only the first sentence of a passage that can be up to 350 words long. Yikes.
It’s many test takers’ biggest concern: how to handle the Reading Comprehension questions. Reading Comprehension passages on the GMAT can be rather dense and, quite frankly, boring. “Dry” is a more politic way of saying that, but let’s just call a spade a spade. The GMAT writers choose passages that are purposefully boring. These short passages on Science, Business, and Law can be dense and difficult to handle, making it difficult for readers to stay focused. The harder it is to focus, the easier it is for a test-taker to disengage, misunderstand details, and pick incorrect answers. That is why the GMAC chooses these passages.
The Reading Comprehension questions evaluate whether a test-taker can understand the “words and statements of the reading passages” – the “comprehension” part of the problems. They are testing your ability to wade through these passages and identify the general topic and details relevant to the questions. It is meant to be a challenge, and while some passages are more difficult than others, any test-taker can easily handle the RC questions, with the right strategy and enough practice.
The salient point to keep in mind is that the information you need to answer the questions will always be located in the passage. Even the dreaded inference questions can be linked back to a line from the passage. You will never need outside knowledge to answer these questions, so be confident that you can find the answer in those few paragraphs. If the subject of the passage seems difficult to grasp, do not worry. It is not necessary to learn everything about the passage, just focus on the details relevant to the questions and hunt for the information you need.
If you begin to lose focus while reading the passage, just relax. Take a deep yoga breath, reset your brain, and get back into the passage. Personally, when I lose focus, I cover my mouth and begin to read the passage aloud, very quietly, to force my brain to register what I am reading. Use whatever strategy will work for you in order to stay engaged with the passage, and this can help you catch the relevant details.
But what pre-exam preparation can you do? Practice, practice, practice. GMAT English is not like other kinds of English – it’s a special kind of English. You don’t usually see it from other sources. The best way to get comfortable with it is to practice with sample GMAT problems. You can even work your way up to GMAT passages by reading certain magazine and newspaper articles. The New York Times and the Economist are both excellent sources to build up your reading stamina. Remember to stick to the technology, science, and business articles, though, to get used to the style.
By familiarizing yourself with the practice of comprehending difficult passages, you can handle the GMAT Reading Comprehension passage, regardless of whether you’re a fluent business professional or an ESL student. All you have to do is stay focused, stay keen, and stay awake.