GMAT Reading Comprehension
Reading Comprehension Passages
Passages are based on material from one of three broad subject areas: business / economics, history / humanities, and science. Passages are purposely written in a dry, boring manner and often use difficult vocabulary. All the information needed to answer questions is contained within the passages; no outside knowledge is required. Passages can range from 200 to 350 words in length, although we find around 225 words to be most common. It is important to note that RC passages were longer in the past, up to 480 words. Since the Official Guides use retired GMAT questions, you may find some such lengthy passages in those books, but the length of those passages is not representative of today’s GMAT. Also, unlike those in the Official Guides, the passages on the GMAT do not have line numbering.
Reading Comprehension Question Types
The passage remains on the left-hand side of the computer screen while questions related to the passage appear one-at-a-time on the right-hand side of the screen. A few questions make reference to a specific part of the passage, in which case those words in the passage will be highlighted in yellow. According to the GMAT Genius methodology, there are seven types of questions that may be asked:
- Primary Purpose – find the primary purpose or main idea of the passage, or choose a title appropriate for the passage. You will typically get one primary purpose question per passage.
- Author's Tone – detect the author’s opinion or what the author would agree with, as it relates to the overall passage or any sub-topic mentioned in the passage.
- Organization – identify the structure of the passage, how one paragraph relates to the whole passage, or the topic of the missing subsequent paragraph.
- Function – describe the purpose of a certain word, phrase, sentence, or quote.
- Specific Reference – the most common type of question, in which you must answer a question by cross-referencing facts explicitly stated in the passage.
- Inference – an extension of specific reference; you must choose what can be reasonably implied from the passage, even though not explicitly stated.
- Critical Reasoning – although less common, an RC question may take the form of a CR question type (e.g. weaken an argument, identify similar reasoning, etc.).
How to Approach Reading Comprehension
We suggest that you begin by carefully reading the passage. You do not need to understand or remember everything in the passage. You should, however, understand the scope and purpose of each paragraph. You should also recognize what seems to be important and remember where such references are located so that you can refer back as necessary. We strongly recommend that you take brief notes while reading the passage. Your objective is not to create a detailed outline of the passage, but rather to jot down a few key words (or abbreviations) that will help you recall important points within the passage.
After reading the passage, consider the questions. For primary purpose questions, you must find an answer that relates to the passage as a whole, not just to a subset of the passage. Other than primary purpose, most questions will require you to find one or more specific statements within the passage relevant to the context of the question. The biggest trap is to pick an answer simply because it uses words that you recall from the passage. Unless those words address the specific context that the question asks about, the answer choice will be irrelevant.
As with Critical Reasoning questions, we recommend that you take a first quick pass through all five answers to familiarize yourself with the options and to eliminate answers that are definitely wrong. Do not spend much time evaluating answers in the first pass, because you may identify a subsequent answer as the correct choice. Only after the first pass, take a second pass at the worthwhile answers, referring back to the passage as necessary to choose the correct answer.
Sample GMAT Reading Comprehension Problem
Let’s try a sample problem. Attempt the problem on your own before viewing the answer and explanation. The passage is typical of what you will find on the GMAT, but we have only presented one question here.
Under Danish control since 1388, the Faroe Islands have long been governed by the Danish Amtmand (administrative overseer), with the unicameral Faroese Løgting (parliament) serving as an advisory body. Niels Winther was among those who sought a greater role for the Løgting. In July 1851, the Faroese narrowly rejected the “official” candidate and instead chose Winther to represent them in the Danish Folketing (parliament). Winther introduced a bill for Faroese home rule, but was out-maneuvered by Danish Interior Minister Frederik Tillisch. In 1852, Winther started a newspaper in which he criticized the Danish monopoly over Faroese trade in a way the officials found defamatory. He was fined heavily, and the newspaper ceased publication. Embittered by the difficulty of getting anything done for the Faroese, he retired from the Folketing.
Despite its limited political authority, the Løgting became the political platform for the Faroese secession movement in the next century. The secession movement was not so much a reaction to Danish hegemony as to the threatened demise of Faroese traditions and the rise of a native intelligentsia. A consultative referendum was held in September 1946 on the question of secession. The result of the vote was a narrow majority in favor of secession, but the coalition in the Løgting could not reach agreement on how this outcome should be interpreted and implemented. Because of these irresoluble differences, the coalition fell apart. A compromise was ultimately reached, however, and the Folketing passed a home-rule law that went into effect in March 1948.
Which of the following would the author of the passage most likely agree with?
|(A)||The Faroese felt oppressed by the Danish.|
|(B)||Some Faroese believed that the home-rule law passed by the Folketing did not go far enough.|
|(C)||A unicameral parliament is a preferred form of government.|
|(D)||Based on the results of the 1946 referendum, the Faroese should have been granted the right of secession.|
|(E)||Niels Winther was an unappreciated hero of the Faroese.|
Explanation to Problem
As with many RC passages, this passage is purposely is written in a dry manner and uses difficult vocabulary. The first paragraph introduces the Løgting parliament of the Faroe Islands and the role that Niels Winther played in the mid-1800s in trying to expand its scope. The second paragraph discusses the secession movement that grew out of the Løgting in the 1900s. Before proceeding, it may be helpful to briefly define a few of the more challenging words used within the passage, particularly those that may impact our choice of answer:
- Unicameral – having a single legislative chamber (as opposed to bicameral, which means having two legislative chambers as we have in the U.S.)
- Secession – to break away from a federation or political state
- Hegemony – dominance by one country or social group
- Consultative referendum – a non-binding vote on an issue
- Irresoluble – that which cannot be resolved
The question asked is an Author's Tone question; we must detect which statement the author would agree with. Our correct answer may not be explicitly stated within the passage, but should reasonably follow from what is stated. As with most RC questions, we must resist the temptation to choose an answer simply because we recall those words from the passage. We must instead find one or more specific statements within the passage that demonstrate that the entire answer is consistent with the author’s beliefs. Let’s go through the available choices.
|(A)||This answer is actually the opposite of what is stated in the passage. The second paragraph says, “The secession movement was not so much a reaction to Danish hegemony as to…” So the Faroese were not very concerned with Danish control and therefore would not have felt oppressed by the Danish.|
|(B)||This is our correct answer. The second paragraph states that in the consultative referendum, a majority favored secession, which is a more extreme measure than the home-rule law that was ultimately adopted as a compromise. So we can reasonably state that some Faroese favored a measure that went further than the home-rule law.|
|(C)||The word unicameral is used in the first paragraph to describe the Faroese parliament, called the Løgting. We know that some favored a greater role for the Løgting. But the author does not discuss a unicameral parliament in general or compare a unicameral parliament with other forms of government anywhere within the passage.|
|(D)||This is a descriptive passage, not an argumentative one. In the second paragraph, the author describes in a neutral tone the results of the referendum and the ultimate outcome. But nowhere in the passage does the author offer his/her support for secession.|
|(E)||The first paragraph describes the roles that Winther played to support the Faroese. The author does not discuss, however, whether Winther was appreciated or not. We know that in the end Winther was embittered by the difficulty in making real accomplishments, but one can be appreciated while still feeling frustrated by the lack of accomplishment. Furthermore, in this descriptive passage, it is too strong to infer that the author believes that Winther was a hero.|