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Changes to the GRE Reading Comprehension Section

In the last few weeks, the has released twice as much practice material as was previously available. Not only do we get more questions, but we also get greater insight into how the test has changed over the course of the last year. In a previous post, I discussed these nuances regarding Text Completions and Sentence Equivalence questions. Today my focus will be the Reading Comprehension section.

For the most part it is business as usual. What did surprise me was the range of passages types on the test: a short passage on the history of chocolate; a passage on the computer modeling of weather patterns; and one on the source and popularity of a pose common to 18th Century portraiture.

Sure, the range of passages has always been broad. Yet the tone and feel of these passages suggested they could have been taken from any source; not just the academic papers, as was the case with the old GRE (or a passage on a career move for obscure 16th Century author and playwright Alpha Behn).

So if you’ve taken me up on my recommendation to read from the Best of Essays Series and the Best of Science Writing, good for you. It is exactly this level of writing that is found in many of these passages (you of course will always want to critically reflect on what you are reading vs. slogging through a morass of words).

Of course these are all superficial considerations, compared to the actual questions themselves. There are still main idea questions, defining vocabulary-in-context questions, and inference questions. What I noticed more of is questions asking what the function of a line or quote was. In some instances, to answer the question you can’t just rely on a sentence above or below the quoted line; you have to look back a few sentences. Even then, you have to understand the flow of the author’s logic.

Therefore, not just understanding what is being said, but why it is being said is pivotal for Reading Comprehension success on the GRE.

Finally—and this hardly any different from the last Powerprep tests—always be careful not to plunge headlong into the answer choices. The difference between the correct answer and an incorrect answer choice can sometimes be very subtle. So always do your best to anticipate the answer to the question by going back to the passage, finding the relevant part, and then formulating the answer to the question using your own words.


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