In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how to read Reading Comprehension (RC); if you have not yet read that post, do so now, and then continue with this post.
The RC Question Types
Do you remember the last thing I said at the end of the first post? When you have mastered the reading skills, you are then ready to tackle the questions. Do not make the mistake of thinking that you can ignore the previous post and just go straight for the questions. You will be slower, and you will make more mistakes if you do that.
RC has three main question types: Main Idea, Specific Detail, and Inference. Each of those question types can have nuances or subtypes. We will tackle the first two in this post and cover Inference and the minor Why question type in the next post.
Most passages will include one Main Idea category question. Most commonly, you will be asked for the “primary purpose” (i.e., the main idea) of the entire passage, though a question could also ask for the primary purpose or role of just one paragraph.
If you are asked for the purpose of the entire passage, then the correct answer has to cover the overall “real estate” of the passage as a whole. Wrong answers will often be too narrow (e.g., something that applies primarily to just one paragraph) or too broad (e.g., something that includes the main idea but goes beyond it to encompass ideas that were not presented in the passage). Follow the link at the beginning of this paragraph to get some practice.
This category refers to questions that ask about a particular detail in the passage. Most commonly, these questions will begin with “According to the passage….” Your task on these is to find an answer choice that matches something stated specifically in the passage.
That sounds easy—if the information is stated right there in the passage, how hard can it be?
As you already know very well, they can make it quite hard. First, the language in the passage is seriously complex; it is not always easy to understand what they are talking about. Second, right answers will often contain synonyms for words that appeared in the passage, while some wrong answers will often contain the exact language used in the passage. If you are not careful, you will be tempted to cross off that right answer because the language does not match exactly!
Specific Detail Rule: Use the question wording to figure out where to go in the passage. Then reread that detail carefully. Do NOT rely on your memory!
Why not? I was once taking a standardized test (not the GMAT, but similar), and I was about to pick an RC answer. Then I remembered that I should check the proof in the passage first, so—even though I was sure I was right!—I made myself find the proof.
The passage was about some mammals, one of which was the kangaroo rat. I looked at the passage, glanced back at my answer… and suddenly realized that the answer said kangaroo not kangaroo rat! I would have been really mad to get a question wrong for that reason!
The moral of the story: find the proof in the passage. Every single time.