GMAT Gurus Speak Out: 7 Types of Reading Comprehension Questions

Even if you’re amazing at Reading Comprehension, it’s sometimes difficult to tell a subtle Inference question from a Detail question. How can you keep straight which question type is which? Here’s  an overview of common Reading Comprehension question types and some example GMAT question-stems to help you identify what you’re looking at on Test Day!



1. Universal – This question-type asks about the big picture, the passage as a whole.  

  • “Which of the following best summarizes the passage?”
  • “What is the author attempting to illustrate through this passage?”
  • “What is the thematic highlight of this passage?”
  • “Which of the following best describes one of the main ideas ____?”

2. Specific  – This type asks about details from the passage. The correct answer is often a paraphrase of something directly stated in the passage.

  • “Which _____ has not been cited as ______?”
  • “According to the author, what is ______?”
  • “By a _______, the author means…”
  • “According to the passage, _______?”
  • “Which factor has not been cited _______?”

3. Vocab-in-Context – This is a type of Specific question which asks about the use of a particular word or phrase.

  • “In the passage, the phrase _____ refers to”
  • “In the sentence, _______, what is the meaning of ‘___’?”

4. Function – This type of question asks about the logical structure of a passage.

  • “The author cites ______, in order to”
  • “The _____ in the passage has been used by the author to”
  • “Which of the following best describes the reason the author ____?”

5. Inference – Inference questions require you to understand what is implied by but not necessarily stated in the passage. The correct answer may rely on subtle phrases from the passage and be hard to find/less obvious than Specific questions.

  • “The passage uses _____ to imply that ___”
  • “Which of the following cannot be inferred from the passage?”
  • “What does the author mean by _____?”
  • “What can be inferred when the author states____?”
  • The sentence, ‘______’, implies that”

6. Application – This is a slightly more specific type of inference question, where you’re asking to choose an answer which mimics a process or exemplifies a situation described in the passage.

  • Which of the following could be used to replace_______?
  • “A _____, as conceptualized in the passage, can best be described as____”
  • “Which of the following best illustrates the situation ____”

7. Tone – This question type is also a specific type of inference, requiring you to infer the author’s point of view and position on certain statements.

  • “The author of the passage is most likely to agree with ____?”
  • “Which of the following views does the author most likely support__?”

To improve your identification skills, write the question-type next to each RC problem as you practice! It will help to attune your mind to the subtleties present in the various question-stems, and get you one step closer to thinking like the test-maker!

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing tips and tricks to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.