Reading comprehension strategy!
Here’s how you can improve your Reading Comprehension on the GRE
Alright! I know you read novels, blogs, magazines, newspapers and a wide range of recreational material every day. If that’s true, and I am sure it is, then why do you think is reading comprehension questions so hard for you?
See, when you read stuff from any of the above mentioned reading sources, you are reading passively which means you are not reading to retain information and more importantly, you are reading topics and styles that personally appeal to you.
Contrary to this, on the GRE, as well as in graduate school, you will be expected to intently read and thoroughly analyze dense, non-fictional passages which may be on topics you could not possibly care less about.
Looks like an uphill task, right?
But not if you know exactly how to deal with it.
There are many ways to prepare for this new challenge, but in particular I recommend reading passages and pieces from publications like The Economist, The Atlantic, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, or The New York Times.
You should approach the material that you come upon in these publications in a deliberately active manner; that is, be aware of all the concepts and techniques that you would apply to passages you might read on the GRE as well.
This includes actively assessing such concepts as
the topic of the passage
the author’s main idea
the organization of the passage
In particular, practicing assessing the “Big Picture” of a complex piece while reading it is a very helpful tool for preparing for GRE passages.
Here is a passage from a scientific source, and is full of dense, technical details. Instead of reading as you would for pleasure, practice your GRE approach.
Many bacteria that live and bring about chemical changes in acid drainage environments are known as lithotrophs (“rock-eaters”). These microbes utilize just a few inorganic compounds or elements for energy growth. Iron-oxidizing bacteria obtain energy by oxidizing ferrous iron (Fe2+) to ferric iron (Fe3+). The best-known lithotrophic iron oxidizer, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, thrives in acidic (low pH) environments. Bacteria that use organic compounds for energy or growth are known as heterotrophs (“diverse eaters”). Important heterotrophs are sulfate reducers that use (SO2-), rather than oxygen as most bacteria do, to aid their decomposition of organic matter. The end product of this decomposition, sulfide (S2-), is produced almost exclusively by sulfate-reducing bacteria. Sulfide reacts to for HS(g) (hydrogen sulfide gas), the compound that produces the odor of rotten eggs. The best-known sulfate-reducing bacteria are in the genus Desulfovibrio, but many other sulfate reducers are present in nature.
1. What is the Topic of the passage?
The Topic of this passage is bacteria. It can be deduced fairly quickly by reading the first sentence of the passage.
2. What is the Main Idea/Purpose?
The Main Idea of this passage is that by decomposing chemicals for energy, bacteria alter the chemical composition of their environment.
3. What is the Tone of the passage?
The tone of this passage is very clearly objective, academic, and informative.
4. What is the Structure of the passage?
The structure of the passage can be described as follows: different bacteria are described and classified based on what chemicals they decompose.
These were just four types of questions but the reading comprehensions on the GRE test you on several other types. Here is the list:
Meaning of a word/sentence
Since the approach for each type of these question types is different, you need to learn different strategies to tackle each one of them.
1. Global questions
These questions ask you something about the passage as a whole.
Here are some of the question prompts for such type of questions:
What is the primary purpose of the passage ?
What can be an appropriate title for the passage ?
Which of the following best states the central idea of the passage ?
The author of the passage is primarily concerned with which of the following ?
The author’s primary objective in the passage is to
How do you approach questions of this type?
First and the most important of all, you should never look at the answer choices for a global question type until you predict an answer.Once you predict an answer, you should move through the answer choices looking for a match.
Ideally, the moment you finish reading a passage and before you even move to the first question, you should summarize the passage yourself. Predicting the answer becomes much easier this way.
One of the classic wrong answer types which the GRE test makers put up in global questions is that one or two options state the primary purpose of one of the paragraphs of the passage. So, the you may think that it must be the primary purpose, since you have read this particular paragraph in the passage and the option states the summary of that paragraph, but it is not. You should carefully read each answer choice for such traps.
Also, you may not want to take more than 30 seconds in global questions and this you would be able to accomplish only if you predict the answer. If you don’t predict it will take you a lot of time so prediction is the key to tackle such questions.
2. Specific questions
These questions will ask you for something explicitly stated in the passage. Let’s have a look at the question prompts for such questions:
According to the passage.. which of the following is true about … ?
According to the passage, each of the following about … is true EXCEPT ?
The author makes which of the following statements concerning ….. ?
How do you approach questions of this type?
In specific type of questions, you would not be able to predict the answer. So, you should try to rephrase the question in your brain and ask yourself what exactly you are looking for.
After that, your first step should be to go through the options and eliminate all the answer choices.There are usually two answer choices in such questions which are way off the mark and can easily be eliminated.
Then,for each choice that’s left, scan the passage and see whether it conveys the same meaning as is being conveyed by the text in the passage.
Beware of the following type of traps which the test makers set in detail questions:
1. Half correct answers: In this type of trap, the first half of the answer choice would usually be correct and the second half is where things go wrong. By the time,you finish reading the first half, your mind switches off and assumes that the rest of the option is also correct.
2. Misrepresentation of data: Sometimes a fact will be changed very subtly and that is why you should ensure that you verify each contender(the options left after eliminating the absurd ones) with the relevant text in the passage. For example, a passage may state that “the employment rate in xyz country has decreased in the last 30 years” and the option will state that the “number of people employed has decreased in xyz country in the last 30 years”. Did you notice that the two sentences mean different things ? If you didn’t, you have fallen in a classic trap in such questions
3. Exaggerated/Extreme option: The option will use words which be exaggerated or extreme. For example, the passage may state that “the unemployment rate has increased in the last 5 years” and the option will state that “the unemployment rate has increased tremendously in the last 5 years”
These techniques may seem strange or out of place when reading scientific, political, or other literature, but in fact this kind of practice will go a very long way in helping you refine your methods for the test. So when you read for pleasure, keep these kinds of ideas in mind; you will find that they can be effectively applied to almost any well-written piece with ease!
Expand your horizons when practicing these kinds of techniques. You will most definitely NOT face only passages that appeal to your literary tastes on the test, so try not to limit your reading practice to these kinds of passages during your preparation.
Practicing these techniques on material that does not appeal naturally to you will also help prepare you for the difficult, abstruse passages that you face on the test.
Despite the variations of the content itself, though, you can rest assured that the common questions (Main Idea, Structure, Tone) can be answered analytically for every passage you encounter.