With regard to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. In this blog series, Manhattan Prep’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.
Part 1 of this series covered how to read Reading Comprehension (RC), and Part 2 introduced the first two major question types: Main Idea and Specific Detail. Start with those posts and then continue with this post.
In this section, we are going to talk about two big things: how to handle inference questions and how to analyze RC problems in general (you can then use these techniques on any question type).
Inference questions ask about specific details in the passage, but they add a twist: we have to deduce something that must be true, given certain facts from the passage.
For example, if I tell you that my favorite type of book to read is biography, what could you deduce?
Watch out for the trap: do not use your “real world” conclusion-drawing skills. In the real world, you might conclude that I like reading books in general or perhaps that I am interested in history or maybe that I am a nerd. (Really? Biographies are my favorite?) These things do not have to be true, though.
What has to be true? I do not like fiction as much as I like biographies. I have read at least one book in a nonbiography category (otherwise, I would not be able to tell that I prefer biographies, which implies a comparison).
What is the difference? GMAT deductions are usually things that would cause us to say “Duh!” in the real world.
“My favorite category of book is biography.”
“Oh, so you must not like fiction as much as you like biographies.”
“Uh… well, yeah, that’s what ‘favorite’ means. I don’t like anything else better.”
A GMAT deduction should feel like a “duh” deduction—something totally boring that must be true, given the information in the passage. Here, try out an Inference question.
That article also explains how to analyze your work and the problem itself. Did you miss something in the passage? Why? How can you pick it up next time? Did you fall for a trap answer? Which one? How did they set the trap, and how can you avoid it next time? And so on.
Specific questions can come in one other (not as common) flavor: the Why question. These are sort of a cross between Specific Detail and Inference questions: you need to review some specific information in the passage, but the answer to the question is not literally right in the passage. You have to figure out the most reasonable explanation for why the author chose to include a particular piece of information.
Test out this Why question to see what I mean.
As I mentioned earlier, we really do not have much time to read RC passages. Aim for approximately two to two and a half minutes on shorter passages and closer to three minutes for longer ones. Of course, you cannot possibly read everything closely and carefully in such a short time frame—but that is not your goal! Our goal is to get the big picture on that first read-through.
Aim to answer main idea questions in roughly one minute. You can spend up to two minutes on the more specific questions. In particular, if you run across an Except question, expect to spend pretty close to two minutes; Except questions nearly always take a while.
As always, be aware of your overall time. If you find that you are running behind, skip one question entirely; do not try to save 30 seconds each on a bunch of questions. Also, if RC is your weakest verbal area, and you also struggle with speed, consider guessing immediately on one question per passage and spreading your time over the remaining questions.
Great, I Have Mastered RC!
Let us test that theory, shall we? Your next step is to implement all these techniques on your next practice test while also managing your timing well. Good luck!