By Clipper Ledgard
For most GMAT test takers, Reading Comprehension questions are a pain in the… head: passages are long and obscure and can be really boring. There are about 14 – give or take 2 – Reading Comprehension questions, and they must be answered in order to obtain a high score. Here are some tips on how to approach these questions.
First of all, when we read the passage, we must look and identify the main idea. We need to focus not only on WHAT the author says, but also on WHAT his purpose is: WHAT and WHY. If we get the answer to these questions right, we will be able to answer the general questions right away. In addition, identifying the WHAT and the WHY will help us to find the answer of more specific questions, because we will have an idea what is in the author’s mind.
Second, we must look for keywords in the question; they will direct us to the location of the answer. If we know the WHY and the WHAT, it will be easy to find these keywords in the passage. The answer to the question will be in the same sentence, the previous one, or the next one. Transitions will be very helpful at this point – especially contrast words – they explain the relationship among ideas. Transitions such as “because”, “thus”, “similarly”, “however”, etc. may show support or contrast to an idea.
Let’s look at the following example:
A recent study has provided clues to predator-prey dynamics in the late Pleistocene era. Researchers compared the number of tooth fractures in present-day carnivores with tooth fractures in carnivores that lived 36,000 to 10,000 years ago and that were preserved in the Rancho La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. The breakage frequencies in the extinct species were strikingly higher than those in the present-day species.
In considering possible explanations for this finding, the researchers dismissed demographic bias because older individuals were not over represented in the fossil samples. They rejected preservational bias because a total absence of breakage in two extinct species demonstrated that the fractures were not the result of abrasion within the pits. They ruled out local bias because breakage data obtained from other Pleistocene sites were similar to the La Brea data. The explanation they consider most plausible is behavioral differences between extinct and present-day carnivores—in particular, more contact between the teeth of predators and the bones of prey due to more thorough consumption of carcasses by the extinct species. Such thorough carcass consumption implies to the researchers either that prey availability was low, at least seasonally, or that there was intense competition over kills and a high rate of carcass theft due to relatively high predator densities.
According to the passage, compared with Pleistocene carnivores in other areas, Pleistocene carnivores in the La Brea area
- included the same species, in approximately the same proportions
- had a similar frequency of tooth fractures
- populated the La Brea area more densely
- consumed their prey more thoroughly
- found it harder to obtain sufficient prey
By looking at the keywords highlighted in yellow, we can find where the answer is in the passage; there in only one sentence in which different areas are compared. The passage says that breakage data is similar, coinciding with choice 2.
According to the passage, if the researchers had NOT found that two extinct carnivore species were free of tooth breakage, the researchers would have concluded that
- the difference in breakage frequencies could have been the result of damage to the fossil remains in the La Brea pits
- the fossils in other Pleistocene sites could have higher breakage frequencies than do the fossils in the La Brea pits
- Pleistocene carnivore species probably behaved very similarly to one another with respect to consumption of carcasses
- all Pleistocene carnivore species differed behaviorally from present-day carnivore species
- predator densities during the Pleistocene era were extremely high
The keywords highlighted in green direct us to the sentence explaining that the breakage was not due to abrasion; so if researcher had not found these two species, then the breakage could have been due to the abrasion in the pits – choice 1.
Finally, we must get familiar with the typical wrong answer choices.
Out of scope: These questions are not supported by the passage, or the scope is either too broad – the answer might be about dogs in general while the passage is about collies – or too narrow – the answer is about collies while the passage talks about dogs.
Irrelevant: These answers may be supported by the passage but do not answer the question.
Opposite: It could be just the opposite answer; however, ii could also be a reverse relationship, as cause and effect.
Following these tips can make a difference when answering Reading Comprehension questions.