GRE Reading Comprehension

In our other articles, we have provided you with GRE Practice tips in Sentence Completion, Critical Reasoning Weaken, Critical Reasoning Bold-faced, Analytical Writing Assessment Issue, and Analytical Writing Assessment Argument. In this article, we will show you some ways to optimize your performance in Reading Comprehension.

In each verbal section of the GRE, you are given 20 questions and 30 minutes to solve them in. Thus, you have only one and a half minutes on average to solve each question of the verbal sections in your GRE practice tests. And RC can be the most time consuming unless you know how to save time while doing RC passages. We are going to show you how to tackle different types of RC questions to save time.

The following are various types of questions you can encounter in RC:

Primary Purpose Questions

This is arguably the most common type of question you will see in your GRE Practice tests. What is the primary purpose of the passage? The primary purpose is the common theme that unites the whole passage. Knowing how to solve primary purpose questions is especially important when the RC passage is a long one with multiple paragraphs. 

Knowing how to find the primary purpose can save you a lot of time. When you try to solve a longer passage, we advise you not to read the whole passage. The first step is to find out the primary purpose of the passage. Typically, you can look for the primary purpose at the beginning of the passage, and at the end. You can also look at the start of the last paragraph. These three areas will usually suffice to help understand the primary purpose.

I will illustrate the concept of primary purpose by using a short passage:

It would be expected that a novel by a figure as prominent as W.E.B Du Bois would attract the attention of literary critics. Additionally, when the novel subtly engages the issue of race, as Du Bois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) does, it would be surprising not to encounter an abundance of scholarly work about that text. But though valuable scholarship has examined Du Bois’ political and historical thought, his novels have received scant attention. Perhaps Du Bois the novelist must wait his turn behind Du Bois the philosopher, historian, and editor. But what if the truth lies elsewhere: what if his novels do not speak to current concerns?

What is the Primary Purpose of the Passage?

A.      The perfunctoriness of much of the critical work devoted to DuBois’ novels

B.      The nature of DuBois’ engagement with the issue of race in The Quest of the Silver Fleece i

C.      Whether DuBois’ novels are of high quality and relevant to current concerns

D.      The relationship between DuBois the novelist and DuBois the philosopher, historian and editor.

E.       The degree of consideration that has been given to Du Bois’ novels, including The Quest of the Silver Fleece

This passage is quite short and will not take you much time to read through. But to find out the primary purpose of the passage, you would need only to read the first sentence of the passage and look for key words. Here the important key word is “but” at the start of the third sentence, as it suggests a twist in the tale. It will not take you long to realize that the author of the passage is concerned about how little critical attention Du Bois’s new novel has attracted. Now, if you read the last sentence, you realize the author is trying to suggest a possible answer to the mystery.

The official answer is: “The degree of consideration that has been given to Du Bois’s novels, including The Quest of the Silver Fleece.” This is in keeping with our guess.

Inference Questions

Inference questions deal with aspects not directly stated in the passage. Consider the question (relating to the above passage):

“What can be inferred from the above passage regarding Du Bois’ The Quest of the Silver Fleece?”

A.      The lack of attention devoted to The Quest of the Silver Fleece can be attributed to the fact that it was DuBois’ first novel.

B.      Among DuBois’ novels, The Quest of the Silver Fleece is unusual in that it has received scant attention from scholars.

C.      The Quest of the Silver Fleece has at least one feature that typically would attract the attention of literary scholars.

D.      The Quest of the Silver Fleece, given its subtle exploration of race, is probably the best novel written by DuBois.

E.       Much of the scholarly work that has focused on The Quest of the Silver Fleece has been surprisingly critical of it.

 

To solve the question, you must first look for a key word/phrase in the question. In this instance, the phrase “The Quest of the Silver Fleece” is the relevant one. There is only one sentence in the passage with this key phrase: Additionally, when the novel subtly engages the issue of race, as Du Bois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece (1911) does, it would be surprising not to encounter an abundance of scholarly work about that text.

In this sentence, “it would be surprising not to encounter an abundance of scholarly work about that text” refers to the primary purpose of the passage which has been stated throughout the passage. The only indirectly stated part, “the novel subtly engages the issue of race” therefore leads to the official answer: “The Quest … has at least one feature that typically would attract the attention of literary scholars.”

We can simultaneously eliminate the other options. For instance, we know that The Quest was not DuBois’ first novel. That helps eliminate option A. Knowing that none of his novels have received critical attention helps eliminate option B. Nowhere does the passage say that The Quest is DuBois’ best novel. Hence option D goes. Knowing about the complete absence of critical attention received by DuBois’ novels helps eliminate option E.

Other Types of RC Questions

Consider the following passage:

The Pan-American land bridge, or isthmus, connecting North and South America was formed volcanically long after dinosaurs became extinct. The isthmus cleaved populations of marine organisms, creating sister species. These twin species, called “germinates,” then evolved independently. Scientists observe, for example, that Pacific pistol shrimp no longer mate with those from the Atlantic Ocean. Yet the two oceans had already begun to form their distinctive personalities long before the isthmus was fully formed. As the seabed rose, Pacific waters grew cooler, their up-swelling currents carrying rich nutrients, while the Atlantic side grew shallower, warmer, and nutrient poor. In fact, it was these new conditions, and not so much the fully formed isthmus, that spawned changes in the shrimp population.

For terrestrial life, the impact of the isthmus was more immediate. Animals traversed the newly formed bridge in both directions, although North American creatures proved better colonizers – more than half of South America’s mammals trace direct lineage to this so-called Great American Biotic Exchange. Only three animals – the armadillo, opossum and hedgehog – survive as transplants in the north today.

Direct Questions

Apart from ‘primary purpose’ and ‘inference’ questions, you will also encounter ‘direct’ questions. These are arguably the least challenging of RC questions in the GRE. You can answer these by directly sourcing the answers in the given RC passage.

There are also other variations employed in the GRE RC section. For instance, while you can expect multiple choice questions with five choices, RC may also include questions with three answer options. An important point to note when you tackle RC questions with three options is that you could have one, two or three correct answers. In other words, at least one of the options must be an answer. All three options could also be true. In such questions, you will not find a “none of the above” type of option.

The following is a three-options question based on the above passage:

Which of the following finds support in the passage?

A.      The divergence in ocean temperature during the formation of the Pan-American isthmus resulted in a divergence in the ocean’s nutrient value

B.      Genetic differences among pistol shrimp have grown to the point that there are now at least two distinct species of shrimp

C.      The part of the ocean which is now the Pacific grew deeper due to the geological forces that created the Pan-American isthmus.

Option A is true when you consider the sentence from the passage that states, “As the seabed rose, Pacific waters grew cooler, their up-swelling currents carrying rich nutrients…” Option B is also validated by the assertion that “These twin species, called “germinates,” then evolved independently.”

As you can see, both options A and B are directly stated in the passage. Additionally, you can use the technique of inference to validate option C. Consider the phrase, “… while the Atlantic side grew shallower…” Given that there is a comparison between the Pacific and the Atlantic, if the Atlantic grew shallower, the Pacific must have grown deeper. Hence option C is also correct.

‘Select the Sentence’ Questions

Another common type of question in the GRE RC section is the “select the sentence” type. Consider the following, based on the above passage:

Select the sentence in the passage, in which the author gives an illustration showing that some species of marine organism inhabiting the Pacific Ocean are now distinct from those in the Atlantic Ocean.

To solve the above question, you would need to identify a sentence from the given RC passage that fits the description in the question. To solve this, you should look for a key word in the question. In this instance, a key word that suggests itself is “illustration.” When we carefully scan through the passage, we notice the word “example” which is a synonym of “illustration.” That helps us arrive at the answer, which is the following sentence: “Scientists observe, for example, that Pacific pistol shrimp no longer mate with those from the Atlantic Ocean.”

Vocabulary Questions

You may also encounter questions based on vocabulary, in the GRE RC. Consider the following:

In the context in which it appears, ‘Traversed’ most nearly means:

A.      disengaged from

B.      wandered across

C.       usurped

D.      deviated from

E.       railed against

When you scan the above passage for the word, you will see that the context is that of the behavior of the terrestrial animals when they reach the land bridge. You will find it easy to choose option B, namely, “wandered across,” as the answer.

Summary

Identify the nature of the Reading Comprehension question.

·       If it’s a ‘primary purpose’ question, look at the beginning and ending of the passage to help arrive at the answer.

·       If it’s an ‘inference’ question, look for a key word in the question and locate the keyword in the passage. Read the sentence containing the keyword and if required the sentences above and below it.

·       For an answer to a ‘direct’ question, including a ‘select the sentence’ type, try to find a word match in the passage.

·       For vocabulary questions, understand the context of usage, and choose the most appropriate option.

 These GRE practice tips are meant to help you crack the Reading Comprehension part of the GRE practice tests. But the best tip we can give you is to ask you to solve as many GRE practice tests as you can. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.