Stay Focused in GMAT Reading Comprehension

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A common challenge in the GMAT Verbal section is keeping your focus when reading long passages. Other question types come in small, bite-sized packages. Win or lose, you move on after two minutes or so.

On Reading Comprehension, though, a long passage can require three or more minutes of concentrated effort--and that's before you get to the questions. Given the stress of the test and the fact that Verbal comes at the end of the exam, it's tough to stay attentive.

Here are a number of techniques you can use to keep yourself focused on the matter at hand:

  1. Make an outline. After reading each paragraph, jot down the main point. This means that you are only staring at the computer monitor for one paragraph at a time.
  2. Skim for important points. Before reading the passage all the way through, skim by focusing only on the most important sentences.
  3. Anticipate the questions. By the time you take the GMAT, you'll be familiar with most of the common RC question types. If you find your attention flagging, re-read the last couple of sentences and think briefly about how that information could be tested.
  4. Skip technical details. The most common reason that test-takers stall on an RC passage is complicated detail. Think of it this way: A tricky piece of jargon or scientific detail might be tested on one question, but no more. If you see that question, you can come back to the problematic sentences. If you don't see that question, no need to waste your time.
  5. Keep moving. If you just can't comprehend a few sentences, don't keep re-reading them--that will make matters worse. Move on, looking for something that can keep your attention. When you're done, skim through the passage again and see if you can make sense of the tricky parts.
  6. Put it in your own words. The best way to understand something is to make it your own. Especially with important sentences such as thesis statements and topic sentences, take a moment to think about what they really mean, and how you might informally rewrite them.

You might notice that many of these ideas seem to require more time. Since the goal is to stay focused and get through the passage faster, that may seem contradictory.

Keep in mind that passages aren't that long--if you read at a comfortable pace, you should have no problem getting through in a few minutes. The problem isn't pace, isn't stalling altogether. If spending a little more time with one or more of these techniques keeps you moving, it's worth it.

As they say, "slow and steady wins the race." Whatever it takes to move steadily through a RC passage, do it!



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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