Aug
24
2012

# GRE Reading Comprehension: Speed vs. Accuracy

Does this quote sound like you? I hear it from a lot of you in the early days of just about every GRE class. It’s a natural way to think: if I read slowly, I’ll have less time to finish the questions. And if I have less time on the questions, I’ll do worse on the GRE. I get asked all the time for advice on speed-reading, since you often think that being a faster reader will make you a better GRE performer.

Let’s analyze this idea a bit more closely.

Imagine that you’re visited in the night by the GRE Reading Comprehension Fairy. She gives you a choice between one of two magical powers: Option A makes you read twice as fast, while Option B makes you comprehend what you read twice as well. Which power do you choose?

I don’t know about you, but not only am I picking Option B, but it’s also the easiest decision of my life. If you read the passage at whatever speed you like, then get the questions wrong on the GRE, reading faster won’t get you anywhere. You’ll make all the same mistakes, you’ll just make them…faster.

The key, then, is not to read faster, but to read smarter. Intelligent reading on the GRE means knowing when to pay attention and when to relax. You shouldn’t skim or skip any parts of the passages as you read, but you should slow down and pay more attention to important bits, and speed up and pay less attention to the unimportant bits. I’ll show you how this works with samples from a very challenging GRE passage about fractals. Here’s how it begins:

Fractal geometry is a mathematical theory devoted to the study of complex shapes called fractals. Although an exact definition of fractals has not been established, fractals commonly exhibit the property of self-similarity: …

Scared yet? Don’t be. You don’t need to know anything about fractals, but you do need to know this: what’s coming after the colon?

If you answered, “A definition of whatever the heck ‘self-similarity’ is,” give yourself credit. In fact, that sentence continues for three lines, and while your competition will sweat it out, trying to understand every facet of the definition, you’ll calmly cruise by, not worrying whether or not you understand it. If a question asks you about “self-similarity,” great, you’ll read those three lines very carefully then. But until the test-makers promise to give you points for minutely technical, detailed information, you don’t care about it.

Take a look here for part two of this blog entry and the rest of the passage on fractals and how you can read it intelligently on the GRE.

## Related Posts

#### About the Author: Boris Dvorkin

After picking up degrees in English and computer science from Case Western, Boris Dvorkin worked for six unfortunate months as a computer programmer before finding a home at Kaplan in May 2008. He is now a full-time GRE faculty member on-site and online, and he's worked on Kaplan's curriculum for the recent GRE revision. Boris was named Kaplan's Teacher of the Year for 2010. When he's not gushing about standardized test trivia, Boris enjoys playing obscure strategy board games, and is the proud owner of no less than three different board games about Portuguese spice merchants.

• rritambhar

well,the explanation is nice and strategy is too,but i am afraid that this trick will only work with most of the technology/science related passages and i am absolutely okay with these type of passages as i belong to engineering background.
but can u please elucidate something about topics dealing with arts or philosophical or historical backgrounds??? these seems too esoteric to me,like this one i encountered in the question of the day section ——-

“Aristotle established the first principles of dramatic criticism in his
classic work Poetics, and his definition of tragedy shapes any literary
analysis of tragic drama as it appears in classical Greek
texts.Aristotle considered Sophocles the perfect writer and his Oedipus
the King the perfect tragedy because the development of the plot
conforms to the Aristotelian rules of tragedy—the most important of
which are the unities of time, place, and action.However, of the three,
only the unity of action can be applied to drama in general; the other
two relate specifically to tragic drama of the classical period as it
was performed on the Greek stage.According to Aristotle, the
construction of dramatic tragedy demands the supremacy of the action
over the characters.As such, in an ideal tragedy, the protagonist’s
moral character is revealed to the audience only through a series of
causative events that unfold as fate takes its course.”

how to read these type of essays quickly though effectively?? these type of RC makes my brain so numb that i just feel to randomly choose an answer among all given and move on..

• Boris Dvorkin

Hi!

So there’s no doubt about it: sometimes, you do just need to understand difficult text. “How do I understand what I read?” is a rather broad question and far more than I can cover in a single blog post. The point of this entry was that you can sometimes use clues to determine, as you read, whether a block of text is worth slowing down and trying to understand *right now* or fine to save for later.

In the example you cited, three of the five sentences begin like this:

“Aristotle established…”
“Aristotle considered…”
“According to Aristotle…”

So whose point of view do you get? Aristotle’s. Once you get a point of view, ask yourself, “What’s the person talking about?” Here, if you have trouble understanding the details, let that question guide you: these are clearly Aristotle’s opinions about *tragedy.*

And then you ask, “Okay, WHAT does Aristotle think about tragedy?” This will help you catch that Aristotle’s definition is made up of three rules, and that the plot is more important than the characters.

If you feel overwhelmed or “numbed” by a passage, skip it: frying your brain in the middle of a section is bad strategy. Get all the easy points first. And when you do come back to the esoteric passage, take things one internal question at a time, as I did above.

Most important, though, is that you don’t argue with the test. Feeling hostile toward the GRE won’t motivate you to master it. Accept that these passages are understandable and fair, that the questions are unambiguous, and that the ball’s in your court to master the skill of untangling them.

• rritambhar

wow,the way you pointed out the beginning of each sentences is amazing- why didn’t i thought this way earlier?????? the passage makes a lot more sense now,besides,interpreting this way also ensures you to choose the correct answer of specific questions(like if a question asks what was the greatest work of Aristotle- then i should undoubtedly refer to the first sentence) a lot easily.
thanks,and do share more about RC techniques and strategies like these…

• Boris Dvorkin

Hey, I’m glad you liked it — and glad I could help! The second half of this blog post is currently being edited and will appear next week. I’ve written about reading comprehension before (you can see my other entries by clicking on my name in the blog post above), and I will certainly write more in the future — I was an English major, so it’s a favorite topic of mine.

• HK

What happens when you get a super long passage to read? I’ve been timing myself on practice questions and it takes me 1min30secs at least just to read the passage but even then I feel like I am speed reading and not absorbing any info.