Although the tasks you are required to perform on the Reading Comprehension section of the GMAT are without question some of the most routine and familiar on the exam – namely reading a text and responding to a set of questions about that text – many students nonetheless report approaching the passages with tremendous anxiety. Why? Well, for one, students have a tendency to feel overwhelmed both by the length of the passages, but also by their structure and content. Fortunately, these are two aspects of these questions that can be compensated for and from which it is even possible to benefit.
Your first goal when you read a GMAT Reading Comprehension passage is to avoid getting bogged down in the details. Not only would it be impossible to anticipate exactly which details will be key to the questions that follow the text, the majority of the questions will have nothing to do with details; thus, spending an inordinate amount of time trying to understand and commit to memory details likely irrelevant to your success on the test is tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot. Don’t fall into the trap of reading in order to understand every aspect of a passage at the expense of your pacing. In order to maximize your time and minimize your efforts, you must make an outline. This should be as brief as possible and done while initially reading through. Your goal here is not to capture every nuance of the text, but rather to mark structure and placement of ideas. Pay particular attention to lists (of reasons for, or aspects of, something, for example) and the logic of arguments. Knowing where topics and concepts are located in the passage will allow you quickly revisit relevant sections when a question requires it.
Next, it is possible to prepare for both recurrent question and answer types with their tailor-made strategies. For example, for a question concerning the main idea, I know I must avoid any and all answer choices that may be true of a paragraph or two but are not true of the passage as a whole. This method alone typically eliminates a majority of wrong answer choices on these kinds of questions. Questions concerning details and elements of the author’s reasoning are best addressed after consulting your outline and re-reading the corresponding parts of the passage. For the preponderance of questions, researching the relevant sections of the passage in order to formulate a question-specific prediction of the correct answer is the way to go. Occasionally, the question type will not allow for a prediction (as with questions about implications or inferences) and you must work backwards to eliminate wrong answers instead. Every question demands that you eliminate answer choices that are beyond the purview of the passage (often called “out of scope”), and choices that misuse or distort details.
Learning how to apply these methods and more well in advance of the test will ensure that you make the most out the predictability of the GMAT. Make it work for you!