GRE Reading Comprehension: Speed vs. Accuracy
“I’m worried about GRE reading comprehension. I’m a slow reader.”
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.