GMAT Reading Comprehension
Updated 26 February 2021
GMAT Test Practice
Approximately one-third of the section is comprised of Reading Comprehension questions, in which there will be three or four passages, each with three or four questions.
The answers you give to these questions will demonstrate your critical reading skills. In particular, they indicate your ability to summarise, differentiate between specific and implied ideas, make inferences, and analyze the structure and intent of a piece of written communication.
This article will cover what to expect from the Reading Comprehension questions, how to get better at them, and will give some examples to practice with.
You will answer a number of questions – typically three or four – about a provided passage that you will have been expected to read.
65 minutes is allocated to the entire Verbal section, of which the Reading Comprehension is part; it is recommended that you take around six minutes to answer a set of three questions, with a few minutes allocated to reading the passage.
There will be a combination of short passages (200 to 250 words) and longer passages (300 to 350 words).
A split-screen presentation is used for Reading Comprehension questions. On the left side of the screen will be the passage, which is always visible; questions will appear on the right-hand side of the screen.
In common with the remainder of the GMAT, you will only see one question at a time and cannot return to any previous question.
According to The Official Guide for GMAT, the purpose of GMAT Reading Comprehension questions is to assess your ability to ‘understand, analyze and apply information and concepts presented in written form’.
This is done by providing long and short passages of text and then asking questions about the text: typically a mix of specific, detailed and comprehension questions.
The GMAT requires active reading to read the passage and correctly identify the answers to the questions. It does not test background knowledge – everything you need to answer correctly is contained within the supplied passage.
The passages are selected at random and will vary between the long and short passages, but they have covered topics such as astronomy, biology, business, economics, history, marketing, politics and sociology.
Remember, you will not be expected to have prior knowledge of these topics, just to be able to read and understand the passage itself.
Types of Question
Expect to answer a combination of the following questions:
- Main idea questions – These questions check your understanding of the passage as a whole, including recognizing the main idea when it is phrased differently. Main idea questions challenge you to spot the big idea or theme to the passage without getting derailed by any smaller or sub-themes.
- Specific detail questions – These questions, conversely, are about specific details, facts and descriptions within the passage.
- Purpose, style and tone questions – These questions often query whether the author is enthusiastic or critical, or what their attitude is towards a specific issue.
- Out-of-context questions – These questions will provide a context not mentioned in the passage and then ask you to apply the contents of the passage to it. You may also be asked whether the author might agree or disagree with a new concept not mentioned in the passage, but based on the viewpoint of the passage.
- Inference questions – These questions will be about what the author implied something rather than explicitly stating it, so you will need to make the connection. Remember, however, that the correct answer will always be supported by the passage.
- Logical structure questions – These questions are about the function of the passage or the construction of the piece. Questions may also be related to how the author achieves a specific task, such as persuasion.
Reading Comprehension questions can be tricky so you will need to prepare thoroughly. Here are our top tips for success:
1. Before You Take the Test – Read Every Day
It doesn’t matter what you read; you should take the opportunity to build four key skills with your practice reading.
- Active reading – Do not consume content passively as if you were watching TV, but read with an intent to summarise and with consideration as to the purpose of the piece.
- Background knowledge – Although you do not need any specific background knowledge for the GMAT, you should prepare by reading about topics that could be unfamiliar or complicated. Ensure that you have read around a wide variety of subjects so that no topic is a complete surprise. Practice reading about subjects that bore or confuse you. In the GMAT, you will have no choice over the topic, so start practicing.
- Focus – The Reading Comprehension portion of the GMAT is just one-third of the test and you may well be fatigued by the time you reach it. Practice reading and understanding long passages to improve your focus.
- Speed – You will need to read thoroughly and quickly without skim reading. Practice reading quickly and then writing down the main idea of the piece. The more you read, the easier you will find this.
2. Before You Take the Test – Practice
Take practice tests and set a timer to keep to the required pace. Rinse and repeat until you can easily answer practice questions within the time, without becoming stressed or blind to what you’re reading.
3. During the Test – Read the Passages Carefully
Make sure you give yourself enough time to read the passage without skim reading.
You will need to spend two or three minutes reading the passage carefully so that you can take in all the information and detail without having to go back and reconsider the information.
These questions will take significantly longer than the other question types in the Verbal section and you won’t have time to go back and re-read the entire passage for every question.
4. During the Test – Make Notes as You Read
Use your provided pad/paper to make notes on each paragraph as you read.
Remember, you are not making notes to remember the contents of the passage, but to summarise concepts and how they connect with the facts. Think about the main idea in the passage and how and why it is being conveyed, as well as how it is split up into paragraphs and what each paragraph adds to the topic.
You will see the first question alongside the passage (but will not see any further questions until the first is answered). It is tempting to read that first question and then use that information to inform your first reading of the passage, but this could leave you less prepared to answer the following questions.
It is often better to read the passage in its entirety, to try and get a good overall sense of its main points before approaching each question, but do what suits you best.
5. During the Test – Answer the Question That Is Being Asked
The answer to each question will be 100% contained in the passage. You will be given answers that seem factually correct, but may not relate to the question being asked.
First, try to quickly identify what type of question is being asked. For instance, is it a main idea question or a structure question? This will help you immediately eliminate some answer options.
If two answer choices serve a function that isn’t related to the question type, then both must be eliminated as neither can be the correct answer.
Do not use outside or background knowledge, or apply anything other than what is asked in the question.
This is an example of the type of question that you can use in your practice. You would expect to spend two minutes reading the text and a further six minutes answering a set of three questions.
This would be an example of an easier question. The GMAT test will automatically and randomly provide easier and harder questions to you as you go through the test based on your previous answers.
Between 2018 and 2019, confidential calls to the RSPCA about puppy farming rose by 35%. This rise could be attributed to the demand for designer dogs seen on social media sites like Instagram. Breeds like French bulldogs have increased in popularity in recent years due to celebrity promotion and endorsement.
Hashtags like #puppiesforsale and #dogsofinstagram have been accused of unwittingly feeding into the hands of puppy farmers. The platform has been accused of turning a blind eye to animal welfare issues. However, animal groups like the RSPCA have used the platform to promote rehoming to great success.
Puppies born at a puppy farm are more likely to have behavioral issues, infectious or inherited diseases and may have a shorter life-span. They are more likely to be aggressive or fearful and often have to be put down. Vet trips for puppy-farmed dogs will be significantly more frequent than for other types of puppy.
More than 50,000 dogs are left without a home in shelters every year. There is a common misconception that dogs in shelters have something wrong with them; however, most dogs up for adoption are healthy, vaccinated and fully assessed and will be placed with the right family for their needs. They are usually significantly cheaper than puppy farmed dogs, as most shelters will only ask for a donation and will usually pay for any vet treatment that is necessary long-term.
1. Which one of the following can be inferred from the passage as a possible consequence of puppy farming:
(A) Puppy farming leads to more dogs in shelters
(B) There are more designer breed dogs than mongrels
(C) The RSPCA get more confidential calls
(D) More people will own dogs
(E) Puppies from puppy farms are more expensive to keep than rescue dogs
The correct answer is: E
To answer this, you need to focus on the parts of the passage that focus on puppy farming. As the passage clearly states that puppy farmed dogs require more vet trips, you can infer that it will be more expensive to keep a dog from a puppy farm.
2. The fourth paragraph of the passage serves to:
(A) Persuade prospective dog owners to rescue a dog from a shelter
(B) Point out possible disadvantages of owning a dog
(C) Elaborate on the effectiveness of social media advertising
(D) Provide further details on the benefits of dog ownership
(E) Show that dogs, generally, don’t have health problems
The correct answer is: A
The fourth paragraph contrasts its argument with the description of puppy farmed dogs to show that rescued dogs are usually healthier and cheaper. The purpose of this is to persuade people to adopt from a shelter.
3. The author’s attitude toward social media can best be described as which of the following?
(B) Wholly critical
(D) Somewhat objective
The correct answer is D
We can see that the author is, in part, talking negatively about social media. So we can straight away eliminate answer E. Answer A suggests the author doesn’t care about the topic, which is clearly not the case, so this can be eliminated.
We can now choose between B, C and D. You may be tempted to choose answer B, however, we can see that he does talk positively about social media at the end of paragraph two, so this answer can be eliminated.
The author is presenting a series of facts about social media and it’s connection to the puppy trade, both positive and negative, therefore the answer is D rather than C.
GMAT’s Reading Comprehension questions should not be rushed into or undertaken lightly. There is a defined way to approach and answer these questions and the best results will be achieved by preparing for the test in a methodical and thorough way.
You must practice active reading whilst maintaining speed and momentum to ensure you reach the end of the questions.
Learning to read passages for intent, detail and meaning is a different skill to being able to read to remember information.
You will never need to know the contents of the passages again so you must find ways of assimilating the information and intent without bringing in any prior or learned knowledge.
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