GMAT Tip of the Week: Become a Reading Comprehension Has Been (that’s a good thing)

GMAT Tip of the WeekOne of the things that makes Reading Comprehension difficult is the inclusion of so many words that you either don’t know or don’t spend much time thinking about. Triglyceride, germination, privatization, immunological.

But by the same token, certain words – those that you should think about regularly if you don’t already – can make your job exponentially easier. Consider, for example, these sentence fragments from the beginnings of official GMAT passages:


The antigen-antibody immunological reaction used to be regarded as typical…

Anthropologists studying the Hopi people of the southwestern United States often characterize…

The modern multinational corporation is described as having originated…

Many scholars have theorized that economic development, particularly…

In all of these cases, the first sentence of a passage describes something that “has been” considered to be the case or that “used to be regarded as typical.” And in all of these cases, the author’s main point in the passage (you can find most of these in the GMATPrep software available for download at to see for yourself) is to reject the “conventional wisdom” and either offer his own theory or show how things have changed since then. So what does that mean for you strategically?

When the first sentence of a passage talks about “the conventional wisdom,” there is a massive likelihood that the author’s main point is to buck convention.

Which means that if you start reading something about what “has been” or “is usually,” be ready for things to change. Look for the author’s transition to come – be it the word “however” or “but” or another paragraph that begins with “Alternatively…”, you’re very likely to find a transition coming up soon, after which will be the author’s purpose for writing the passage. And most comforting of all – it almost doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. Once you’ve determined that the other shoe is going to drop, you don’t have to worry much about the conventional wisdom unless they ask you for it. The author’s real mission is what comes after the transition so you can focus your attention there.

Now, this might fall under the category of “somewhat helpful” when you’re reading one practice passage, but consider how these will appear on test day – you’ll have been racing through Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning prompts after having grinded out the quant section. Every advantage is a big help, and if you have insider information as to what the author is probably trying to do, you can read much more efficiently and confidently. Instead of reading and waiting for the author to prove the point, you can “attack”, looking proactively for what you’ll likely find.

So become a Reading Comprehension “Has Been” – if you see that the passage starts by talking about what has been or used to be the case, get ready for a change in direction to what the author thinks is now true. Thinking like a “has been” can be your ticket to achieving a score that “never was” possible before.

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By Brian Galvin