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FAQ: How do I improve on the Reading Comprehension?

Typically when I have a student who is struggling with the reading comprehension I have them do a little exercise. I give them two minutes to read an entire passage (yes, you should always read the passage first before attempting the questions.)

After this time, I have them immediately close the book and have them tell me what the passage is about.
Some students will give me a vague answer. Say the passage was about three competing theories on dinosaur extinction. The author endorsed a meteorite impact theory because it could account for the uneven dispersal of iridium.

Know the Passage
If a student is struggling with the passage they will say it was about dinosaurs. They may throw in the word meteorite, maybe even mention something about iridium. What they will not provide me is a unified synopsis such as the one I provided above. Essentially their understanding is fragmented.
Understanding the passage in your own words is essential to getting the questions right. If you approach the questions without an integrated understanding of the passage you will fall for the traps the GRE has deftly arranged in the four wrong answer choices.

Slow Down
So what should you do? Learn to read passages, slowly even, to make sure you can accurately paraphrase what the passage is talking about. In fact, you shouldn’t even worry about the questions until you are able to do so.

Don’t Trust the Gut

Many students balk, saying that slowing down to read the whole passage eats up time. The truth is most time is wasted on questions that students don’t know the answers to because they have an incomplete understanding of the passage. They will vacillate between two answer choices and pick one based not on logic but on gut-feeling.

So the key is to slow down and really understand the passage. One way to make sure you are doing so is to write down the three main points after you’re done reading the passage. Once you get in the habit of doing this it will come more naturally and you won’t have to spend time writing down bullet points.

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