GMAT reading comprehension questions are meant to
test your understanding of the implications, meanings,
and structures presented in the passages. You can expect to see
2 to 4 passages of 200 to 400 words each, in
the verbal section of the GMAT exam. Each passage will
be followed by 4 questions. Because the GMAT is now
a computer-adaptive test, you will only see 1 question
at a time. The passage, however, will remain on your
computer screen until you have answered all of the
related to it.
The 3 Most Common
Types of Reading Comprehension Passages
The passages you will encounter on the GMAT will most
likely address one of the 3 topics described below. Each
type of passage calls for a slightly different optimum test-taking
strategy. Regardless of what topic you encounter, you
can rest assured that everything you need to know will
be included in the passage. GMAT test writers intentionally
pick obscure topics for comprehension passages. They do
this to minimize the chances of giving someone with
previous exposure to a particular topic an unfair advantage
over others taking the same version of the test.
1.) Science Passages. These
passages deal with topics including biology,
and medicine. You should approach them by doing an
initial speed reading/skimming of the text. Your
goal in this first review is simply to understand how
the passage is structured and to analyze its outline.
Although they are often quite boring (no joke!),
science passages are also very factual and straightforward.
Hence, they will likely provide the easiest reading
comprehension questions you will encounter on the GMAT
exam. You are not likely to see any inference questions
drawing on a science passage. You are much more likely to see
several factual questions that can be answered
directly from the passage. Science passages will
likely be the easiest reading comprehension questions you encounter!
2.) Social science passages. Typically,
these passages deal with topics such as history,
politics, and geography. They will probably be the most enjoyable
reading comprehension passages you will read. This is fortunate, because
you must read these passages slowly in order to answer
the many inference questions they are sure to present.
3.) Business passages. Business passages
involve very difficult structures,
and present questions that require you to infer information and even to determine the authors'
moods and opinions. They need to be read slowly and
Frequently, business passages also include compound words
that few people have ever heard before, and that even fewer
people use in ordinary conversation. Don't feel
bad when you run into such terms. They
are not very difficult to decipher if you break them down and examine each of their
The 4 Most Common
Types of GMAT Reading Comprehension Questions
1.) Factual Questions. You
will likely find these questions the easiest ones to
answer, but also the most time consuming. You need to be
careful because they often contain "curveballs"
such as those described below, in the strategies and tips section.
However, these curveballs are also relatively easy to
recognize and overcome.
2.) Inference Questions.
Inference questions do not test your knowledge of
explicitly-cited facts, but rather your ability to draw conclusions from other
These questions may even ask you to make a judgment about the author's opinions,
or to guess what further conclusions the author might draw.
They are usually the most difficult questions for test
3.) Main Idea Questions. Main idea questions ask
the test taker to identify the passage's overall theme, as opposed to
supporting facts and arguments. Many clients have told
us that they thought these questions were exceptionally
difficult. Our advice is to accept that just because
all of the answer choices have been discussed in the
passage, it does not mean that every one of them can
be called the passage's central theme.
In main idea questions, answer choices that
emphasize factual information can usually be eliminated.
Answer choices that are too narrow or too broad also
tend to be incorrect. Those answer choices that contain key words and concepts from
the main idea
presented by the passage are more likely to be correct.
4.) Tone Questions. You
will often be asked to describe the passage's tone.
The same general rule
about negativity applies here. The tone is much more
likely to be positive or neutral than it is to be negative. For
a science passage, the tone is most likely neutral.
Tips and Strategies
Tip 1: Use your scrap paper.
Since these passages can be rather long and present
difficult sentence and paragraph structures, you may
want to use your scrap paper to take very brief notes
on the main ideas of each paragraph. Because the
GMAT is now computer adaptive, you will not be able
to mark up the passages on your monitor.
Taking brief notes is particularly useful for remembering
where to find factual information in the science passages. When we say very brief notes, what
we have in mind is something
along the lines of "Paragraph 1: The different
types of butterflies, Paragraph 2: How their nervous
systems work, Paragraph 3: Why pesticide A is killing
too many of them," etc. Use abbreviations liberally.
Using scrap paper in this fashion can also help you outline
passages and identify their main arguments for main
Of course, you can also use your scrap paper
as you go along, to keep track of the answer choices you are able to eliminate
Tip 2: Read the first question before the you read the
passage. As we stated earlier, the new
CAT structure of the GMAT prevents you from seeing
all of the questions about a reading passage at the
Nonetheless, you will gain a slight advantage by
reading the first question before you read the passage
for the first time. This will give you a better idea
of what you should be focusing on as you read, in
order to answer that question.
Tip 3: Identify the type of passage
you are reading. Memorize the
3 common passages types that we outlined above and
remember that each one should be
treated differently in order to optimize your score on this
Tip 4: When answering a
fact question, read both the passage providing the data – and several lines before
it – carefully. When a fact
question directs you to look at a particular line of
text for information, you will often find that one of
the answer choices is a deceptive one, taken directly from that line
number. More likely than not, there will be something
in the sentence or two before the referenced line
number that will give you the proper frame for
interpreting the data –
and hence direct you to
the right answer to the fact question.
Tip 5: Don't jump to conclusions with fact questions
using Roman numerals to identify answer choices. You will recognize
this style of question as soon as you see it:
- I only
- II only
- III only
- I and II only
- II and III only
The catch is that, oftentimes, facts I and II will be presented very close
to each other
in the passage, but fact III will be buried much further
in the text. Take the time to
review and consider each fact on its own merits.
Tip 6: Eliminate the "oohs and ahhs" answer
choices. When consultants refer to "oohs
and aahs," they are talking about interesting factoids that spice up presentations
without adding anything of real
value to the analysis. The GMAT also contains these
types of answer choices. An 'ooh and ahh' choice will refer to a fact
in the passage ... but just not to one that answers
the question being asked.
Tip 7: Practice, practice, practice. We
just want to say this one last time. You can't
expect to become a scratch golfer just by reading a few magazine
articles and watching a few golf tournaments on TV.
Likewise, you can't expect to become an expert at taking
the GMAT just by reading some tips and advice. You
also need to work through many practice questions and
learn to put tips and strategies like the ones we have
presented to use.
Click here to see our reading comprehension practice
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