Students, who have the luxury of preparing for the test over several months, should definitely take the Reading Comprehension (RC) section bit more seriously. Our recent experience shows that the reading passages are getting complicated (and longer as well) with every passing day. And to do well in the Reading Comprehension section there’s no better way than to substantially improve their reading skills in general, both in terms of comprehension and reading speed. But this is always easier said than done.
Students keep asking us: What topics should they read? What are the general reading references from reliable sources that can help them to improve their reading skills? And, what’s the best way to read such material?
Today, let’s answer these questions in steps.
Q1. What should you Read?
Reading is necessarily a skill. It’s like exercise. Just like you exercise daily to keep yourself fit and in shape, you should read daily to keep your mind fit and in shape for the exam.
- Do you find an article on the effect of Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitorsand tricyclic antidepressants on REM and non-REM sleep phases interesting?
- What about critical remarks on a book called “Systematic Phylogeny” by Ernst Haeckl – an eminent German naturalist of the 19th century?
- Would you be delighted reading about an excerpt from Lorenzo Forni’s dissection of the Calmfors – Driffill Hypothesis on Economic Performance and indexes of bargaining system?
By now, you must have got it! And we understand it as well. Just like most of us, you might actually hate such reading experiences.
But let’s make it simple. To get into your dream grad-school or B-school you need to write an exam like GRE or GMAT that gives you credit for reading, understanding and analyzing such complex and boring passages. Thus, it’s not a question of our choice anymore. Whether we love it or loathe it, we have to focus on reading such passages from now on. In general, the RC passages in GRE or GMAT come in one of the following categories:
- Physical Sciences
- Biological Sciences
- Social Sciences
- Art & Culture
- Business & Economics
So absolutely anything and everything that falls in these categories should be read. While reading please keep in mind:
- The passage should be in high quality English
- US English is more helpful
- Complicated (even, confusing) Writing style always help
- Complex matter/ content is better
- Good to read boring articles
- Anything between 300 to 1000 words passages are fine
Q2. From where should you Read?
While authentic test-prep books and materials give you a good source for actual reading for Reading Comprehension passages, we always suggest to students to improve their reading skills by daily online reading. These non-GRE or non-GMAT sources of reading are truly essential for your practice. But wait, the moment we say “online” please don’t assume that we are suggesting you to read the FB updates of your friends! While the internet is a great place to improve your reading habit, it is actually overloaded with articles. Most of it is either trash or irrelevant. Even if some are relevant, the writing may not be of that high quality or the style may not be apt for your GRE or GMAT test preparation. In such a situation we suggest the following resources to be pretty authentic and reliable for your reading practice.
The University of Chicago Magazine (On Business, Economics, Science, Arts, Laws): http://mag.uchicago.edu/; when you check a specific issue of the magazine, try for the Investigations section: http://magazine.uchicago.edu/1008/investigations/
Harvard Magazine (On Science, Social Science, Humanities): http://harvardmagazine.com/
Smithsonian (On Science, Innovation, Art & Culture): http://www.smithsonianmag.com/
The Economist (On Business & Economics): http://www.economist.com/
Arts & Letters Daily (On Philosophy, Literature, Art, Culture): http://www.aldaily.com/
Scientific American (On Science, Innovation): http://www.scientificamerican.com/
The Atlantic (On Business, Health, Social Science): http://www.theatlantic.com/
The New Yorker (On Science, Culture, Book Review): http://www.newyorker.com/
The New York Times (Articles, Reviews, Critique): http://www.nytimes.com/
Washington Post (Blog, Analysis, Review, Policy): http://www.washingtonpost.com/ ; check out the Opinion section http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ and the Blog as well http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/
The Wall Street Journal (On Business, Economics, Policies): http://online.wsj.com/india
If you are dead serious about some really complicated topics you can also try some academic journals: http://www.academicjournals.org/journals.htm
If you are a bit more adventurous and want to get a hang of confusing yet high quality article you can opt for something like these:
Q3. How should you Read?
Sorry, but we are not underestimating you. We know that you have been reading since your childhood. But here we want to ascertain how should you read from the abovementioned source so that there can be a significant improve in your reading skills.
A) Speed it up: In Reading Comprehension (RC) section you have to read fast. It’s not a pleasure reading. Thus right from the word go, keep your focus on improving your speed substantially. While the RC section doesn’t demand from you to read each and every word of the passage and remember each one of them, but still you have to actively read the passage. For a short 400 – 500 word passage you can devote maximum 2 to 2.5 minutes for the reading part. For a longer 700 – 900 word passage you can maximum go up to 3.5 to 4 minutes. And this includes time spent on taking some notes as well. Thus we always suggest you to improve your online reading speed to a level of 300 to 400 words per minute (wpm). You can check the practice test given in http://www.readingsoft.com/ to assess your current speed level and then adjust accordingly. Another way is to set a benchmark by reading a standard 1000 word passage. Let us suppose, it takes you 10 minutes to read and comprehend this passage satisfactorily. Then in next two months your reading target should be to bring down the reading time by 40% to 50% (i.e. to 6 minutes, maximum) to read a similar passage with almost same level of comprehension.
B) Mark Pointers: While reading a passage, you should start taking notes. Taking notes is an art that helps you to be more engaged with the passage. This needs practice. While doing it, your focus should not divert from the passage. Even your eyes may not divert much. Always keep the notes as short as possible. Just scribble some facts, content language (data, information, processes, categories) and judgment language (opinions, hypotheses, comparisons) along with their placement paragraphs. Or you can even write down the flow of the entire passage (like, description of the hypothesis à examples in support à limitations à counter hypothesis). Your job is to identify relevant information, theme, tone, opinion, difficult words/ phrases and signaling/ directional words (words which help you to understand the direction of the passage e.g. furthermore, finally, most importantly, however, in contrast etc.) from the paragraphs and write these down in simple language or shorthand or even chatting lingo that you are used to. You can also use various forms of illustrations like flow chart, tree diagram, Venn diagram, relationships, front and back arrows if you are comfortable. Always remember that visual learning helps you to comprehend and retain with higher efficiency.
C) Summarize or Recap: Once you have finished reading the passage and taking notes, just give yourself a well deserved break. Close your eyes and relax for a few seconds. Then without going back to the passage, try to articulate the following:
- The main idea of the passage
- The main point of each individual paragraph
Doing this should not take more than a minute; but this practice will help you to go a long way in successfully comprehending complex passages in the RC section.