4 Easy Steps to Rock GMAT Reading Comprehension Passages

Step 1. Find the answers as you read. You already know the types of RC questions you’ll see on Test Day: main idea, detail, logical structure, inference, etc. So why not look for those things the first time you go through the passage? Don’t take notes summarizing. Instead, find the topic, scope, function of each paragraph, author’s point of view, tone, and purpose on your own. Make the inferences ahead of time and read for the implications behind the words. Don’t focus on the details and the subject matter itself.

Step 2. Put the question stem in your own words. Especially for long-winded inference questions, restate the question stem in simpler terms, as if you were asking the question of a small child. For “NOT” and “EXCEPT” questions this is especially important since 4/5 answer choices will actually be correct, and you’ll be required to find the 1 incorrect choice (the opposite of what is usually expected).

Step 3. Write down a prediction. Even for open-ended inference questions, there’s a limited number of logical inferences that can be drawn based on the implications in the passage. Use your notes on the passage to help you eliminate. Process of elimination is a much more effective means of getting the correct answer. You can’t “unread” the answer choices once you’ve looked at them, so if you don’t write down your prediction you will likely adjust it in your head to “fit” answer choices that may be incorrect.

Step 4. Eliminate out of scope choices. Just what does “out of scope” mean? “Scope” is the focus of the passage, how it narrows down the topic. What does the author spend the majority of his time discussing? Think of it like a circular fence. Everything that relates to the passage fits inside the fence. There may be answer choices that relate to the topic, but would not really go “inside the fence.” This would be considered out of scope.

Step 5. Be wary of extreme language. Answer choices that use words like “no”, “none”, “never”, “always” are typically incorrect. It’s possible a choice containing extreme language is the correct answer, but you should only select it once you’ve confidently eliminated the other choices, and confirmed that the tone of the passage does in fact warrant the use of such a strong statement.

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GMAT / GRE Reading Comp: Primary Purpose

“Primary purpose” questions on the GRE and GMAT ask you to understand the author’s overall intention. Try this practice passage on your own, then read further down for a couple questions, their answers and a full explanation!

Behavior science courses should be gaining prominence in business
school curricula. Recent theoretical work convincingly shows why behav-
ioral factors such as organizational culture and employee relations are
among the few remaining sources of sustainable competitive advantage in
modern organizations. Furthermore, (10) empirical evidence demonstrates
clear linkages between human resource (HR) practices based in
the behavioral sciences and various aspects of a firm’s financial success.

Additionally, some of the world’s most successful organizations have made
unique HR practices a core element of their overall business strategies.

Yet the behavior sciences are struggling for credibility in many
business schools. Surveys show that business students often regard
behavioral studies as peripheral to the mainstream business curriculum.
This perception can be explained by the fact that business students, hoping
to increase their attractiveness to prospective employers, are highly
sensitive to business norms and practices, and current business
practices have generally been moving away from an emphasis on
understanding human behavior and toward more mechanistic organiza-
tional models. Furthermore, the status of HR professionals within
organizations tends to be lower than that of other executives.
Students’ perceptions would matter less if business schools
were not increasingly dependent on external funding-form legislatures,
businesses, and private foundations- for survival. Concerned with their
institutions’ ability to attract funding, administrators are increasingly tar-
getting low-enrollment courses and degree programs for elimination.

Question #1: The primary purpose of the passage is to

A. propose a particular change to business school curricula
B. characterize students’ perceptions of business school curricula
C. predict the consequences of a particular change in business school curricula
D. challenge one explanation for the failure to adopt a particular change in business school curricula
E. identify factors that have affected the prestige of a particular field in business school curricular

Question #2: The author of the passage mentions “empirical evidence” primarily in order to

A. question the value of certain commonly used HR practices
B. illustrate a point about the methodology behind recent theoretical work in the behavioral sciences
C. support a claim about the importance that business schools should place on courses in the behavioral sciences
D. draw a distinction between two different factors that affect the financial success of a business
E. explain how the behavioral sciences have shaped HR practices in some business organizations

Here’s how I broke down the passage (your style of note-taking might be different, and that’s perfectly okay):

Topic: Behavior science
Scope: challenges facing B.s.
Author’s pov: It should be gaining prominence. +

Paragraph 1: to state that B.s. should be gaining prominence and give 2 reasons:
(1. organization culture + employee relations are important)
(2. HR based in B.s = $$$)

Paragraph 2: to add a 3rd reason
(3. successful orgs use that HR)

Paragraph 3 : to give 2 reasons why B.s. is struggling
(1. students seem B.s as peripheral b/c they focus on the norms)
(2. HR professionals are low status).

Paragraph 4: to add a 3rd reason why B.s. is struggling
(3. $$ comes from external sources; courses get cut if not popular)

OVERALL PURPOSE: to explain why B.s. should be prominent & explain challenges it faces

Since this is a “primary purpose” question, we must especially make sure to eliminate answer choices that ARE in the passage, but are not “primary” as well as choices that are outside the scope of the author’s focus.

A. Out of Scope. The curricula itself is not the focus.
B. Misused Detail. While this is mentioned in the passage, it isn’t the overall purpose.
C. Incorrect. The “consequences” are not specifically mentioned, nor are particular changes described.
D. Incorrect. The author does not challenge one explanation – he offers a variety of reasons why B.s is not getting its due, but does not “challenge” any of them, or suggest one carries more weight than the others and even if you interpreted it to refer to the 2nd paragraph, this would not be the focus of the ENTIRE passage.
E. CORRECT! The passage focuses on why B.s. is being challenged.

For the second question, this is a Function question. When a question asks WHY the author uses one aspect of the paragraph, go back and review the function of the ENTIRE paragraph. After all, don’t details all serve to support the main goal of their containing paragraphs?

We could re-word the question as, “WHY does the author use “empirical evidence?” To make a prediction, all we need to do is return to our notes. We said that he used it as an example of why B.s SHOULD be gaining prominence. Now that we have our prediction, the answer is clearly (C).

Learnist: Free Passages to Practice GMAT Reading

If you’ve used up the Reading passages in the GMAT Official Guide and don’t have the money for more books or a prep course, here’s where to find reliable GMAT RC practice material online!

In this video, BeatTheGMAT.com expert Dana walks through an example of how you can break down one of the toughest question types on the GMAT–the Science RC passage. Since Science RC passages are relatively uncommon, it’s great to see one here! Use this video as a warm-up before diving into the remaining resources.

If you haven’t downloaded this free GMATPrep™® software from GMAC, it’s a MUST. It’s free, contains 90 questions and 2 full-length adaptive practice tests, and its RC passages are the closest you’ll find to the actual questions on the official GMAT.

Once you’ve taken the two GMATPrep CATs and thoroughly reviewed them, be sure to download this comprehensive collection of ALL the Reading Comp passages and questions from GMATPrep. You may have seen many of them on your practice CATs, but there’s definitely going to be some new ones!

This is a great way to exhaust more official material with forking over the cash for the GMAT Packs sold on MBA.com.

Here’s the answer key to the 126 GMAT Prep Reading Comp questions found in the previous document. Though explanations aren’t provided, most of these questions have been discussed on various forums and explanations are easily found by typing the question-step into Google. Enjoy!

Check out more free GMAT practice reading passages on Learnist!

Where to Find Challenging Text for Non-Native Speakers

If you’re studying for the GRE or GMAT and English is your second (or third) language, you’ll definitely want to get some extra reading in by looking for challenging, high-quality GMAT-like publications.

Here’s a few suggestions free online suggestions!:

– NY Times book review (I really like this article’s description of how to use these articles for practice: http://smartestprep.wordpress.com/2010/08/27/the-new-york-times-exercise-reading-comprehension/)

– Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/

– The Economist: http://www.economist.com/

– The Spectator: http://www.spectator.co.uk/

– Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/

Keep in mind that the GMAT and GRE RC is not “hard” because of it’s incredibly advanced language. Most of it is readily comprehensible, although it may occasionally use unfamiliar scientific or business terminology. The challenge of RC lies in breaking down the rhetoric of the passage, and grasping not only what the author’s argument is, but HOW he/she makes it. Absolutely seek out tougher study materials, but make sure to apply your RC method to new passages as well!