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GMAT Verbal reading vs everyday reading: Reading Comprehension tips

GMAT verbal questions involve English. And you’ve been reading books, magazines and newspapers in English since you were a child. But is that sufficient to assume that all that reading has made you an expert at GMAT English? The GoGMAT verbal experts, in their GMAT preparation series for MBA Crystal Ball, explain why the two are different and how you can approach it to get into the GMAT club of 700+ scorers.

GMAT verbal reading vs everyday reading

GMAT Reading Comprehension questions on the Verbal section of the exam pose a challenge for a number of reasons. The kind of reading required by the GMAT is fundamentally different from everyday reading both in its purpose and in its content. This article will discuss GMAT Reading Comprehension difficulties and how to deal with them successfully.

How are GMAT RC Passages in GMAT Verbal Different?

The first obvious difference of GMAT reading is the rigid time limit imposed by exam conditions. No matter what you read in your everyday life—news, fiction, textbooks, email, documents required for school or work—your time is not as limited as it will be on the GMAT, when you can allow yourself only a couple of minutes to read a complex passage of as many as 400 words.

Second, the level of understanding you expect in your everyday reading is rather high. You usually read to familiarize yourself with a topic and obtain substantive information, but on GMAT verbal, you are reading just for sufficient understanding to answer questions about it correctly. To accomplish this, you do not need a profound understanding. Your goal is simply to grasp the four basic elements of a passage: its main point, its purpose, its structure, and the author’s attitude toward the subject.

Third, you usually bring to your reading all your background knowledge and life experience. On the GMAT verbal reading comprehension section, however, you are required to answer questions using only the information contained in the passage.

What makes GMAT RC Passages Difficult?

Unfamiliar subject matter:

GMAT passages stem from a variety of subject areas—life sciences, social sciences, and business among the most common—so you will most likely encounter at least one unfamiliar topic, regardless of your background. Since GMAT verbal does not require any specialized knowledge to be able to answer the questions correctly, however, if you remember that you must use only the information given in the passage, you’ll do fine.

Complex language or structure:

Some passages, in science and the humanities alike, employ challenging vocabulary or present complex ideas in a way that is far from straightforward. It is important not to become discouraged by initial obscurity; just keep going. Skipping the passage entirely or ignoring its difficult parts is not a good idea; neither is wasting time trying to understand every single word. Instead, do your best to identify the main idea, relying on key words that signal the turns in the author’s flow of thought and making educated guesses about the meaning of unfamiliar terms.


You may find long passages intimidating, fearing that you will not be able to read the text and answer the questions within the time allowed. Although some questions naturally take longer to read than their one-paragraph counterparts, they are usually characterized by relatively transparent organization with several paragraphs that provide topic sentences to guide you.

Challenging questions:

Reading Comprehension questions are commonly about the main idea of the passage, the factual details, inferences, or “application” of content. The first two kinds are usually easier than the last two, the answers to which are not included in the passage. The last two are hard because they want you to infer something based on information in the text or to apply information to a new situation. Since scanning a few sentences might not be sufficient for responding to such questions, be prepared to review and see connections between several points in the passage.

Effective Approach

To maximize your effectiveness as a reader on the GMAT verbal questions, find an approach that helps you make the best use of your personal reading abilities.

(1) You might skim the passage, trying to pick out the most important pieces of information in the first or last sentence of every paragraph. Such an approach can result in isolating wrong bits of information, however, and missing the key ideas of the passage.

(2) In an effort to save time, you might skip the passage and use key words in the questions to search for the relevant information, a method that does not work well for inference and general purpose or main idea questions.

(3) You might rely on a single thorough reading, which can be very time-consuming, since going back to the passage is almost always necessary because it is impossible to memorize everything, and you never know which details can come up in the questions.

(4) Your most effective approach, though, is probably to read the whole text quickly, paying minimum attention to details and focusing on the main idea or purpose of the passage.

No matter which approach you choose, you should not underestimate the importance of taking short notes about every paragraph of the passage. Regarded as a waste of time by some, note taking done right can be a very useful tool that aids your understanding of a passage by keeping you focused on what you are reading. When taking notes, pay particular attention to key words that indicate the relationship between the ideas throughout the passage, making notes that are neither too detailed nor too succinct.

Keep in mind that the main function of notes on GMAT is to assist you in remembering where to search for specific information that you need for answering questions. And of course, if you are not native English speaker and your English is not quite fluent yet—read, read and read again as much as you can, looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary.

Good Luck!

Continue learning on our GMAT discussion forum. If you have any GMAT related questions about this post or any other GMAT topic, head over to the GMAT preparation helpdesk and shoot your queries.

GMAT Preparation Tips by GoGMAT
GoGMAT, founded in 2009, is an adaptive GMAT preparation platform developed by the best instructors in the industry (with 740+ GMAT scores and strong teaching experience). Find out more here: GMAT preparation courses

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube