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GRE Article of the Month – November 2012

By Charles C. Mann for Orion Magazine

I’ve extolled the virtues of reading many times on this site. My enthusiasm stems from the fact that reading helps wire the brain to more efficiently process the stream of words on the GRE verbal section. Think of reading as pushups for your verbal brain.

There’s also the wonder of vocabulary. Seeing words in context gives you a deeper understanding of how those words are used. And when you encounter words that you have already learned, there is a shock of recognition. With new words, you can simply look them, store them somewhere convenient, and voilà — you’ve expanded your lexicon.

The key has always been finding articles that are interesting, challenging, and have that ineffable GRE quality (meaning that the GRE could turn an excerpt into one of their wonderful RC passages). In other posts, I’ve recommended specific sections of The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, and The New Yorker. Many times students tell me that they’ve floundered looking for something apt.

Today, I am not going to direct you to a specific source; rather, I am posting an article, the first in a series entitled Article of the Month (it’s sort of like Oprah’s book club — just without the book, the club, or Oprah). I’ve selected the article based on the criteria above. The article is science-centered, which for many makes it a challenging read. The writing is, for the most part, more conversational than technical, but there are some especially difficult patches. The article is also long, so that your reading brain will get a good workout.

2 things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t just slog your way through the article. That is, don’t simply read each word until you get to the end of the article and then pat yourself on the back. (This is the default reading habit for many people and can be difficult to change.) Instead, really think about what you’re reading. Take a break every few paragraphs to reflect and summarize. This is a skill you should develop until it’s natural.
  2. Reading these long articles does not mean you will automatically answer 100% of the Reading Comprehension questions correctly. Expecting that is like expecting that doing a lot of pushups will make you a great 3-point shooter in basketball. Pushups will make you more fit, but you still have to learn the sport-specific skills. GRE Reading Comprehension skills can be honed only by doing practice questions and learning from your mistakes.

That said, whip your reading brain into shape with the following article, taken from the website . Each week, LongReads gleans articles from the periodicals, newspapers, and magazines. The one I’ve selected today is entitled “State of the Species,” which originally appeared in Orion magazine. It is thought-provoking and eloquently written. Different viewpoints, including the author’s, are introduced throughout the piece.

I’ve also provided a smattering of vocabulary words that show up in the article, words that could easily turn up in one of those pesky three-blank Text Completions. When you make your own lists, make sure to look up these words, take an example sentence (or two), and turn it into a flashcard, physical or virtual. I’ve gone ahead and done so with the first word. You may even want to look up the words before reading the article and then see whether you can understand how they function in context.

Good luck, and enjoy the article! (When you’ve finished, if you’re up for it, write a summary of the article using some of the vocabulary words you encountered.)

Vocabulary From the Article

Example flashcard:

Frivolous – “Unworthy of serious attention; trivial”

Ex. Sent. 1) “The subject was anything but frivolous: donning a garment is a complicated act.”

Ex. Sent. 2) “But when it comes to larger historical events, such speculations tend to seem frivolous and beside the point.”

Vocabulary list:

  • Apologist
  • Symbiotic
  • Donning
  • Fervently
  • Latent
  • Bottleneck
  • Pullulating
  • Incursion
  • Calamity
  • Teeming
  • Haphazardly
  • Taut
  • Scoff
  • Plasticity
  • Heartening
  • Banishment
  • Implausibility


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