How to Handle Short Passages on the GRE

One benefit to the Revised GRE test is that there are two short Verbal sections with 20 questions each instead of one long section. Another is that you can now freely move back and forth between questions within a given section. This means that you will be able to answer look at questions and choose the order in which you can answer them.

According to the official GRE website, “reading comprehension passages are drawn from the physical sciences, the biological sciences, the social sciences, the arts and humanities, and everyday topics, and are based on material found in books and periodicals, both academic and nonacademic. The passages range in length from one paragraph to four or five paragraphs.”

So how should your approach change from longer to shorter passages? For longer passages, it makes sense to thoroughly read and take notes on the important information presented (main idea, function of each paragraph, author’s point of view, etc.). Shorter passages, however, will usually only be accompanied by 1-2 questions.

Therefore it makes sense to read the questions first before looking at the passage. Quickly identify the pieces of information you’ll need to find. For example, let’s say the first question asks about the “Main Idea” and the second question asks about the Logic behind the author’s use of a specific detail. You will only have two tasks as you read: find the purpose, and find out why the detail is included. There’s no point in trying to focus on the author’s point of view if it isn’t necessary to answer any of the given questions! Make your job as simple as possible.

Creating these clear tasks for yourself is an effective strategy for shorter passages, since you don’t have as much text to decipher.

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