Studying for the new GRE to get into graduate school? Get off Facebook and Twitter, put some classical music on Pandora, and brush up on your reading comprehension strategies for the GRE test. Apply these tips to practice tests and you’ll be on your way to acing the GRE and getting that masters!
1. Focus on the opening and closing paragraphs of longer passages. – The majority of the passages you will encounter on the reading comprehension questions of the GRE will be shorter, but one or two will be longer. If you are running out of time, read the opening and closing paragraphs and skim the middle. The first and last paragraphs contain the passage’s main idea in most passages. You can go back and read body paragraphs more carefully as questions call for it.
2. Use context to help you. – If a question asks about a particular line, don’t go back in to the passage and read just that line. A good rule of thumb is to read at least 2 sentences before and after the line in question. This will give you an idea of where the point started and where the author is going with it.
3. Save unfamiliar passages for last. – The GRE passages will cover a variety of subjects, from history to science to literature. Like with any question type, do the questions that are easier first and save the harder ones for last. Each question is worth the same amount, so you don’t want to waste a big chunk of time on a passage with a few questions when you could answer twice as many questions on easier passages. If science passages are confusing to you, come back to that one after you’ve completed the rest. The great thing about the GRE is that it lets you skip around within a section, so use this to your advantage.
4. Really understand what the question is asking. – Reading comprehension questions have the most “gray area” of any question type on the GRE. Some people skim through the question, not really understanding what it is specifically asking, start reading the answer choices, and pick the first one that sounds true. This is not a good strategy–many times more than one answer choice will ring true or partially true with the passage, but only one will specifically and best answer that particular question.
5. Do not bring in outside knowledge. – The GRE does not require you to have any outside knowledge for the reading comprehension passages, so check any you have at the door. Your own biases might actually hurt you when answering the questions, especially if it is an opinion passage.
Try this GRE reading comprehension application question for practice.
6. Note how vocabulary is used in the sentence. – You will come across some “vocabulary in context” questions where you will be given possible definitions of a vocabulary word in the passage. There may be more than one answer choice that gives a correct definition for the vocabulary word, but only one choice will fit the word in this particular context. Notice how the word is used in the sentence, and plug in the answer choices to see which one works best.
7. For “Select One or More Answer Choices” questions, consider each choice separately. – For some of the reading comprehension questions, you will have to choose one, two, or three of the answers. This format can lead you to second-guess yourself more than with a typical multiple-choice question where you can eliminate choices decisively. To avoid these issues, consider each choice separately and only select it if you feel that it could be the only correct answer to the question.
8. Underline and take notes as you read. – Read the passage actively. Underline key words or sentences that contain the main idea. Jot down any notes, probably just a word or two, that you think might help you. If the author is taking a side on a certain issue, write a positive or negative sign next to the passage to remind yourself later what his or her position is.
9. Avoid extreme answers. – Generally, if an answer choice sounds very extreme in tone, it’s not the best choice. Be wary of answers that use words like never, always, completely, etc. There’s usually an exception to the rule.
10. Don’t make assumptions. – Inferring and assuming are not the same thing. When you infer, you make an inference based on the information in the passage. When you assume, you make an assumption that brings in outside information or biases and is not based solely on the given passage. An assumption may seem valid, but if you can’t back it up with statements from the passage, it’s probably best to stay away from it.
Looking for even more strategies for reading comprehension and all other verbal content? Try a 10-question quiz: