Triage in GMAT Reading Comprehension

February 8, 2011

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For many students, it is difficult to get through the entire GMAT Verbal section in the allotted time. It's a lot of reading and analysis, and it's not a lot of fun.

I've written before about how to handle Reading Comprehension faster. Still, 41 questions--including four RC passages--may be too much for you.


Of the three Verbal question types, Reading Comprehension requires the biggest time investment. More specifically, the first question that accompanies each passage.

I recommend that you spend 3-4 minutes per passage, then between 30-60 seconds per question. The second, third, and fourth questions, then, should only take that additional minute or less. But committing to that first question can take up to five minutes. If you read more slowly than average, it can be even more.

In a perfect world of optimal time-management, five minutes on that first question is fine. If you're struggling to beat the clock, it can destroy your Verbal score.

With that in mind, here is an "emergency" approach to make up time on GMAT Reading Comprehension:

  1. Scan the passage, focusing on structure, topic sentences, and the author's opinion. Don't bother with details. To prepare for this, read my article about how to learn to recognize the important parts. This should take no more than two minutes. You may be able to accomplish it in 60-90 seconds.
  2. Treat each type of question differently:
    • Scope-based questions ("global" or "main topic"): Answer it. A skilful skim of the passage should have given you enough information.
    • Detail-based questions: Try to answer it. Your skim should be enough to go back to the passage and look for the detail.
    • Inference-based questions: Unless you have a reasonably good idea about how to answer this question, guess and move on. Even on Verbal questions, guessing is ok.
    • Structure-based questions: Same as scope-based. If you did a good job skimming, you should have a good chance of getting this right.

With this approach, you can save at least two or three minutes on a passage. The cost may be no more than one wrong answer. Better one wrong answer than three questions missed at the end of the section because you ran out of time!

Of course, if you do struggle with time management on the Verbal section, keep working on it. You may not need to take an "emergency" approach by the time you sit for the exam.

If you continue to have a hard time with the pace of GMAT Verbal, this is a great way to get through the section at minimal cost.



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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