Important Tips to Improve Your GMAT Reading Comprehension Performance


No doubt that The Princeton Review strategies to approach GMAT Verbal questions are the best and help students ace the GMAT with the 700+s.

But when it comes to the GMAT Reading Comprehension (GMAT RC) strategies, students do get stumped, overwhelmed, sullen, depressed, anxious, and this attitude continues. There could be so many reasons for this, yet Reading Comprehension is a significant part of the GMAT Verbal section, with 13 questions to solve from 4 passages! That is almost a third of the total number of GMAT verbal questions. Given this, shouldn’t the attitude towards RC change? Indeed!!

Let’s look at how you can improve your performance in passages of GMAT Reading Comprehension:


Tips for Reading Comprehension:

The Topic of a Passage Should not Impact the Way we Read a Passage-

You are bound to get topics such as physical sciences, social sciences, history, astronomy, business, etc. Not every such topic could be interesting, but that shouldn’t create any resistance or passivity towards passages. Every passage has a say in your score, so no discrimination.


Read the Passage Thoroughly

There should be a purpose for reading the passage. It’s certainly not to gain knowledge or test your knowledge on certain topics that you read a passage about. Read the passage to get the answer to what it conveys to you. What do you get to know about the topic? What was the takeaway from the reading of the passage?

These questions can be answered only if you can cull out the author’s statements in the passage that usually come in the form of conclusions, suggestions, objections, or mere opinions made from facts, evidence, or data given in the passage. There may be several such statements in the passage, but who matters most to us is the Author of the passage.

The verbal questions on the GMAT revolve more around the author’s statements in the passage.


Practice Reading a Passage by Skimming and Scanning:

When we have to get to the main point of the passage, skimming works best. It helps us track information about the passage’s topic and get the more important points faster. By skimming, you can get an outline of the passage, the flow of ideas in a passage, and the author’s stance on the topic.

Scanning on the other hand helps us in getting specific pieces of information from specific parts of the passage. Some lead words or phrases stand out while reading and help us get more details about that part of the passage.

So by this process of skimming and scanning, you will be able to answer the more general questions which ask about the entire passage and even the specific questions that focus on particular sections of the passage. You learn the art of reading more efficiently during your GMAT preparation


Active Reading Helps Find the Main idea:

So when we skim, we look for the topic of the passage which is almost always the first thing a paragraph or passage begins with. Now it doesn’t stop there. What did the author want to convey about the topic to the reader? What does the author want the reader to know?

Some reading passages may have just one paragraph, yet others may have two, three, or even more paragraphs. Every paragraph will introduce a new topic or at least a new idea. That is what we need to look for first. Once we get that, we just need to check whether what follows goes along with the same idea or contradicts the idea in any way. The direction of the flow of ideas gives us a way to understand what information the author wants to pass on through the introduced topic. Tracing that information is done via Active Reading. Look for marker words-thus, so, indeed, of course…these support or take the idea in the same direction. Other marker words such as however, yet, but, although, nevertheless….these take the opposite direction and change ideas. Our eyes need to search these keywords to keep track of the structure of the passage and get to the main idea of the passage.

So three points need to be kept in mind to get to the main idea:

  1. What is the topic?
  2. What is the main information passed on by the author about the topic?
  3. What else is added to support the main information?

If you see that the additional detail supports just one main statement or sentence in the passage, then you have spotted the main idea.


Read the Passage Again after Getting the Main Idea!

Of course, we do! Once we get the main idea and the flow of the passage, we move to the questions. Going through the questions doesn’t mandate knowing the answer without looking back. In fact, that is exactly what GMAC is waiting for – You are falling for memory traps!

Never should you click on an answer that seems just apt or more likely or better….these type of answers are the laid traps for you. Always go back to the passage for PROOF. An answer MUST be supported by the passage-not halfway through but in full.

On the GMAT Verbal, the passages remain along with each question till you answer all of the questions – 3 or 4 in number under a passage. So get the information from the passage that will backup your answer and lead you to accuracy. Remember to use the process of elimination to come to the right answer, not choose an answer that seems like the passage or more appealing as an answer.


Work on Every Passage and Every Question under a Passage

Initially, we saw that Reading Comprehension questions cannot be compromised as they contribute to a third of the 36 questions in the GMAT Verbal section.

This means that we have to be cautious and calculative about which passages will matter most in a test. GMAT is a computer adaptive test. But there is a twist here; when it comes to RCs, the adaptiveness is per your performance in all the questions under a passage. Depending on how many questions out of 3 or 4 you got right, the difficulty level of the next question after the passage will be determined. Therefore, passages that come early in the test will obviously matter more to keep the difficulty level at a consistent level and not let it dip miserably at the beginning itself. If this damage is done quite early, it becomes very difficult to reach a respectable difficulty level. So, it’s best to concentrate on at least the first two passages in the section to maintain or boost the level of difficulty and keep it at par. Care has to be taken through to see that in the bargain, you don’t spend too much time in the two passages. You ought to know when to get out of a question. Pacing the test is of significance too!


Identify Bad Answers

Well, you know that options that do not have the support of the passage cannot be the right answer. Then how does GMAC construct wrong answers? Not one but four of them?

GMAC has to use only the information in the passage to do so. So how can an answer speak like the passage and still be wrong?

  1. Deceptive language – the words may be the same as used in the passage, but does the option answer the question? Is it in the paragraph that it should be in? NO! Eliminate such answers.
  2. Reversal – An answer option may just reverse the main idea or say the opposite of a statement in the passage. Careful reading is a MUST. Eliminate such answers.
  3. Extreme wording – Some options assert more than what the passage says by using strong, superlative constructions. Some answers may be humiliating too and authors are careful not to be harsh in opinion. Eliminate such answers.
  4. Comparisons – The comparatives in options make way for traps very easily. Just check whether the right things are compared in the passage too, or is there even a comparison? Eliminate such answers that make a bad comparison or a wrong comparison.
  5. Outside information – Such answers that use information not discussed in the passage may be very appealing because they synch with your thought process! Beware of such answers. Eliminate!


Can I skip the long passage?

You can’t skip any question on the GMAT; only probably give a random guess and move on.

Yes, if the long passages look threatening and very complex, it is a good idea to try doing a few specific questions, which don’t require the reading of the passage upfront. Try to get rid of answers that seem too strongly asserted by their use of words, or that use too many words of the passage literally. Then take a guess. This time saved would be better spent on questions that you can work on and get right. After all, you need to answer as many questions as you can correctly and finish the section on time too.


What do I do if a passage comes at the 30th question?

Fret not! Check out how much time you have at that moment. If you just have say 5 to 6 minutes left, your focus then should be on completing the test and not on performing well in every question. And we know passages take a lot more time than other question types.

In the 30th question, the difficulty level of a student is already gauged and will not vary significantly with mistakes. So if passages aren’t your forte, do not read the passage, work on maybe one or two questions that are paragraph specific, and guess the rest to move quickly to do justice to the completion of the test.

All the above points are the best study tips you need to keep in mind and practice to help you perform better in the GMAT Reading Comprehension questions. You are sure to see a marked improvement in your reading skills and subsequently in your GMAT scores very soon.

Wishing you the best!

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What are 4 Types of Reading Skills?

  • Skimming
    Also known as gist reading, is the process of skimming through a text to grasp the main idea. In this case, the reader does not pronounce every word of the text but instead focuses on the main theme or core of the text. Reading magazines or newspapers and looking up a name in a phone book are two examples of skimming.
  • Scanning
    The reader moves quickly across sentences to get to a specific piece of information. Scanning is the process of rejecting or ignoring irrelevant information from a text in order to find a specific piece of information.
  • Intensive Reading
    Intensive reading takes far more time than skimming and scanning because it requires the reader’s full attention. It entails close reading with the goal of achieving comprehension accuracy. In this case, the reader must comprehend the meaning of each and every word.
  • Extensive reading
    Extensive reading focuses on fluency rather than accuracy. It usually involves leisure reading and is more of an after-school activity. It is highly unlikely that readers will engage in extensive reading of text they dislike.

What are the 6 key types of reading comprehension?

Here are six essential skills for reading comprehension:

  • Decoding
    Decoding is the ability to sound out words that children have heard but not seen written down. This is an important step in the reading process because it serves as the foundation for all other reading skills.
  • Vocabulary
    A strong vocabulary is essential for academic success. This reading ability is required to comprehend the meaning of words, definitions, and context.
  • Fluency
    is the ability to read aloud clearly, accurately, and quickly. It is a necessary skill for good reading comprehension.
  • Sentence Structure and Cohesion
    Sentence construction and cohesion may appear to be a writing skill, but it is also an important reading skill. Cohesion is the ability to connect ideas between and within sentences.
  • Reasoning and Prior Knowledge
    This ability enables the child to use prior knowledge to make inferences and draw conclusions.
  • Attention and Working Memory
    These abilities are related but distinct, and they are part of a group of abilities known as executive function.

How Can I get Better at Reading Comprehension GMAT?

The first option is to read the entire passage first, then go over each question individually. The second option is to read the first question first—just the question, not the answer options—to get a sense of what you’re looking for before beginning to read the passage. Feel free to experiment with both methods to see which one works best for you.

How long should I Spend on Reading Comprehension GMAT?

You are given a lengthy Reading Comprehension passage with two paragraphs of approximately 180 words each, for a total of 360 words. Each paragraph takes about 1.5 minutes to read, for a total of 3 minutes of reading time. Then answer three questions about the passage, each of which takes about one minute to complete.

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