What to Avoid and What to Focus on in GMAT Reading Comprehension

In this series we return to classic movies to learn fundamental strategies for GMAT Success.

“A man and a woman meet aboard a luxury ocean liner. She already has a fiancé, but still the two fall in love. The ship sinks and the woman lives, but the man dies.”

So, one of the longest and yet most successful movies in history can be summed up in just three short sentences. Thirty-four words to tell the tale of the 1997 Oscar winner for “Best Picture.” At 3 hours and 14 minutes it was not the longest “best picture” in history; 1939’s “Gone with Wind” was nearly 4 hours.

Notice that in my summary above, I do not mention any names, any dates, or any numbers. Basically, I do not mention any of the specifics that people often focus on when reading a passage on the GMAT. This is because the details are easy to look up as you answer questions on reading comprehension. It is the executive summary that you need to be looking for as you read the passage.

What to NOT Focus On…

Put the movie aside for a moment and imagine that the script for Titanic was a reading comprehension passage. What would be the easy things to notice and to quickly locate if you needed to? Firstly, anything capitalized. Proper names simply jump out at you. You would quickly find the name of the ship, the girl’s name “Rose,” and the boy’s name “Jack.” The fiancé’s name is the very fanciful “Caledon Hockley,” or “Cal” for short, I wonder if you remember that one?

The second thing that is easy to look up is any sort of number or date. The ship sailed on April 10, 1912 and struck an iceberg on April 15. The crew and passengers numbered 2224, of which more than 1500 died. The survivors were only in the water for 2 hours before the RMA Carpathia arrived to pick up 705 survivors. Unfortunately, the water temperature was only 28 degrees and maximum survival time was only 30 minutes. In fact only 13 people were pulled into the lifeboats despite the fact that the lifeboats could have held 500 more people. Do you see how easy it is to look back for these numbers? Don’t try to memorize them!

The third thing to not get caught up in is scientific terms and unfamiliar vocabulary. Now, the Titanic story does not involve lots of scientific terms, but even if it did you would not focus on those. They are not important to the executive summary and they are easy to spot. It is easy to spot capitalization, numbers, and “big words.” These are things that are best left for you to go back to find if a specific question asks about them.

What You Should Focus On…

So what should you focus on when reading? What should make up your executive summary? If it is a scientific passage you have to make sure that you understand the theory. You need to be able to state the theory in simple terms. If there are two different ideas or authors make sure that you understand the differences and the similarities. In every case make sure that you can state the “plot” of the passage in a few words – as I did for the Titanic above.

Part of the Veritas Prep STOP technique is stopping at the end of each paragraph to make sure that you know what the main idea of that paragraph is. At the end of the entire passage you can run through the full STOP: S (scope) T (tone) O (organization) and P (purpose)

The Movie…

And here is what you have been waiting for. Admit it, you know this scene and you love it!

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David Newland has been teaching for Veritas Prep since 2006, and he won the Veritas Prep Instructor of the Year award in 2008. Students’ friends often call in asking when he will be teaching next because he really is a Veritas Prep and a GMAT rock star! Read more of his articles here