When was the last time you read a dense, complex text about phytoplankton diversity or the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein? Many test takers find the Reading Comprehension questions challenging, frustrating even. ETS, the organization that makes the test, intentionally crams texts with complex vocabulary, so an unprepared test taker will find it very difficult to make sense of them. However, with serious preparation, you can successfully sail through these questions and even enjoy them.
Where are the GRE Reading Comprehension questions?
The GRE has three sections — Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE contains three types of questions:
- Reading Comprehension
- Text Completion
- Sentence Equivalence
There are three types of Reading Comprehension questions:
- Multiple-choice questions, where you are asked to select one answer from five answer choices.
- Multiple-choice questions, which provide three answer choices and ask you to select all that are correct; one, two or all three. To get points for these questions, you must select all the correct answers, and only those; there is no credit for partially correct answers.
- Select-in-Passage questions ask you to select a sentence in the passage that meets a certain description.
Check out: GRE Reading Comprehension (Video)
Tips to improve your GRE reading comprehension skills
Know the structure of Reading Comprehension passages
Most Reading Comprehension passages follow the same general pattern. First, there is an introduction of an idea. Then there will be some background information about the idea. Sometimes the text will also include a similar or alternative idea. The end of the passage is typically dedicated to discussing the implications of the arguments.
Typically, a passage has the following structure:
- The Point
The more you practice the better you will become at spotting the main idea, or the point, of the passage. You can train yourself to examine texts and recognize the role of each sentence in the passage, even if it’s a convoluted one.
Find strong evidence for your answer
You must find evidence for your answer in the passage. If the passage does not offer evidence for an answer, it is most probably not the right option. Also, bear in mind that if an answer choice is only partially supported by the passage, you need to look for another option. It is vital not to choose an answer based on gut feeling and not on evidence.
Many believe that the Verbal section of the GRE is predominantly a test of vocabulary. In fact, Reading Comprehension questions require advanced reasoning and critical thinking skills. These questions are designed to test your ability to distinguish between an answer choice that is almost correct and one that is 100% correct.
Don’t worry if the passage is on a subject you know very little about. Indeed, if you know too much about a topic it can become a problem because you might find yourself disagreeing with the text.
Mind the linking words
GRE Reading Comprehension passages are known for their ample use of linking words such as ‘but’, ‘however’, ‘in addition’, ‘on the other hand’ etc. Pay special attention to these words because they serve as guideposts and help you understand the structure of the text. For instance, if you see the expression ‘in contrast’, you know that a new (competing) idea is likely to be introduced.
Don’t get bogged down in detail
As a GRE examinee you are very likely to have to read a dense scientific text. Do not waste your time trying to understand the whole passage. Since only a few questions are connected with each passage, try to work your way from the questions to the passage and not the other way around. It’s much easier to answer the question if you know exactly what you are looking for. It would be best if you look at the passage as a map. A map is not something that you read in its entirety. You open it, see what you are looking for, and you close it.
Another tip is to take notes to establish the structure of the text instead of using your memory. Mental notes are useful in the short term but when the text is complicated you run the risk of forgetting what was where in the text. Remember, you will have the passage in front of your eyes all the time.
Reading Comprehension is arguably the most challenging part of the GRE Verbal section, yet you can beat it if you take it seriously and prepare accordingly. You will need to do a lot of reading, so start now!