Book Reviews for GMAT Reading Comprehension

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Most test-prep resources tell you that, in order to get better at handling GMAT Reading Comprehension passages, you should do lots of reading. Preferably, you should read things that are similar to GMAT passages.

That's easier said than done. However, if you've practiced much Reading Comp, you know that many passages fit into the same patterns:

  • A theory is described and criticized;
  • Competing ideas are offered and compared;
  • A discovery or scientific phenomenon is explained.

(Note: These patterns are described at much greater length in a chapter of my book, Total GMAT Verbal.)

You'll consistently find reading material that follows those patterns (without requiring too much of your time!) in the book review section of a newspaper or serious magazine such as The New Yorker or The New York Review of Books.

What to Read For

As with an actual GMAT passage, you're reading for structure. What's the argument? How is it developed? What's the author's perspective? All of those things will be present in book reviews. Pay close attention to how the reviewer is evaluating the book in question, as well as how the review develops his or her own ideas.

Also similar to how you'll look at an actual GMAT passage, don't get hung up on the details. The GMAT doesn't expect that you're conversant in microbiology or physics; it only expects you'll be able to follow the thrust of an argument and track a few key ideas. The details are there so that you can look them up later.

Book reviews are great practice for this, because the reviewer will often differ from the author of the book under consideration in a general way. The argument may hinge on details, but you'll want to read for the more general differences in arguments. No matter how many details and technical definitions you see, the focus should always be on the overall structure of the piece.

Of course, no number of book reviews will replace the value of actual GMAT practice. But there's only so many actual GMAT Reading Comprehension passages available to you, and sometimes you might want to read something that's legitimately interesting. A single issue of The New York Times Book Review could keep you busy during your commute or lunch break all week long.



About the author: Jeff Sackmann has written many GMAT preparation books, including the popular Total GMAT Math, Total GMAT Verbal, and GMAT 111. He has also created explanations for problems in The Official Guide, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.

Total GMAT Verbal

The comprehensive guide to the GMAT Verbal section. Recognize, dissect, and master every question type you'll face on the test. Everything you need, all in one place, including 100+ realistic practice questions.
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