One of the most important things to realize about GRE reading comp – nay, the most important thing – is that the details don’t matter. As you read each paragraph of a passage, you need concern yourself with one thing, and one thing only: What the author’s purpose was in writing each paragraph, and his purpose in writing the passage.
You need to take notes while reading passages, but not the type of notes that you’re accustomed to taking – your goal is to make a bare-bones outline that sums up each paragraph in two phrases or fewer.
Here’s a sample passage, one paragraph at a time, and our map of it:
After you read the first sentence, make a quick note about the broad subject matter of the passage:
Topic: Egalia’s Daughters
And once you get to the last sentence or two of the first paragraph, make a note about the passage’s scope –this is just a narrower version of the topic, that tells you what about it specifically interests the author:
Scope: Book’s ending not supported by research
And to sum up the key points from paragraph 1:
¶1 – Book reverses gender roles; ending not based upon research
Now, as you read paragraph two, stop after just the first sentence and predict what the overall paragraph is going to be about:
¶2 – SJT: Even people who are oppressed by a society generally support it
As you scan the rest of the paragraph, did any keywords jump out at you to tell you that the author was doing anything other than explaining this theory? Nope – our note is sufficient, and we can move on to the final paragraph.
Apply the same exercise to the third paragraph: Make a note about what the paragraph’s overall topic seems to be after you’ve read only the first sentence:
¶3 – What if normally-advantaged group made disadvantaged? Impossible to know.
Does the rest of the paragraph serve any function other than to prove its leading sentence? You only need to do a quick scan for any new keywords to realize that no, it does not.
Once you’ve read the entire passage, make a note of the author’s primary objective in writing the passage – chances are that you’ll get a question about it. In this case, if we look at our three paragraphs in order, we can see that the author was trying to prove the point that he made about Egalia’s Daughters in the first paragraph:
Purpose: To explain why book’s ending not supported by research.
Now (and not any earlier than now!) we’re ready to go the questions - having read strategically, we’ve noted information that will allow us to answer virtually every question efficiently. Happy “mapping”, and stay tuned for more reading comp best practices in next week’s entry!