GMAT Tip of the Week: Want to be a RC MVP? Get Down with OPP.

gmat-tip-of-the-week1Welcome back to Hip Hop Month in the GMAT Tip of the Week space, where we’re pneumonic by nature.  We’ve talked about being a Sentence Correction MVP, about using the STOP method for Reading Comprehension, about the SWIM categories for Critical Reasoning.  We’ve warned you that results can be rocky when you’re trying to finish quant problems ASAP and we spent just about all of our time talking about the GMAT.  But we’d have you shaking your head and saying WTF if we didn’t cover the most noteworthy and, yes, naughty acronym of all time: OPP.

Yep, we’re down with Naughty by Nature’s OPP, particularly as it applies to Reading Comprehension.  What do we mean by that?


OPP, how should we explain it. Let’s take it frame by frame it…the way you should be reading GMAT RC passages.

O is for Organization

P is for Primary

the last P?  Well it’s quite simple. It’s Purpose.

That’s what you should be looking for when you read each paragraph – frame by frame, so to speak – of an RC passage.  Organization refers to words that signal the author’s intent.  Details are rarely important on Reading Comp questions, and when they are you can always go back to them.  What you’re looking for are signals to tell you why the author is presenting those details.  Organization words come in a few varieties;

Transition words like “however,” “but,” “conversely,” etc. let you know that the author is changing directions.

Continuation words like “also,” “furthermore,” etc. tell you that the author is continuing along the same point.

Concluding words (“therefore,” “thus,” etc.) help you identify clear conclusions.

And overall, looking for signals of the author’s purpose is the way to approach your first read.  You likely won’t remember the details – the quant section is long and grueling as it is – and you don’t have to.  But you’ll always get a “What is the primary purpose?” style question and on those you can’t go back to a particular detail – you have to have understood the general intent of the author.  So as you read, remember that “Why” – the author’s purpose or intent in writing about the topic – is more important than “What” the author was writing about, largely because you can always go back to find the “What.”  Furthermore (there’s one of those words…), if you’ve followed the author’s intent you’ll have a better sense of where to look for particular details.

Let’s consider an example using, why not, the lyrics to OPP themselves.  If you follow Treach’s first few lines of each verse (which serve musically as paragraphs), you should see what’s going on:

Verse 1 begins:

OPP, how can I explain it.  I’ll take it frame by frame it. To have y’all jumping, shouting, singing it.  O is for Other, P is for People scratching a temple. The last P, well, that’s not that simple.  It’s sort of like…

Verse two begins:

For the ladies, OPP means something different. The first two letters are the same but the last means something different…

And if you don’t read much past those two sections – each of which contains familiar symptoms of organization – you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.  What’s the author Treach’s main point?  If you see an answer choice that suggests something like:

“To explain the meaning of OPP and how it differs for men and women”


“To demonstrate the challenge of the last P in OPP because of how it differs for men and women.”

You’re in great shape – just from paying attention you know that paragraph one introduces the concept of OPP and begins to explain the ever-challenging last initial, P, and that paragraph two deals with the difference in OPP for men and women.  From the organization and a focus on Treach’s intent with each paragraph, you should have a reasonable time with the Obligatory Primary Purpose question.

But what about the details, you might ask?

Detail-oriented questions are most easily answered by noting clues as to where to look for a particular detail.  Detail questions on this topic might include:

“Why does the author feel that explaining the last P can be so challenging?”

For that, you’d want to look in the first paragraph where he first notes that “the last P, well, that’s not that simple.”

“What does the author suggest is the primary difference in OPP between men and women?”

There you’re likely looking at the second paragraph, because you know it deals specifically with the difference.

The important concept – looking at OPP, Organization and Primary Purpose – not only helps you read at the right level to answer the general questions, but also helps you efficiently get a mental roadmap of the passage so that you know where to look for the specifics. And you should ALWAYS go back to the passage for specifics.

So if you want to get your GMAT verbal score to the 99th percentile by nature, get down with OPP: Organization and Primary Purpose. The details will be there when you need them but your primary purpose is to get through the passage efficiently and to understand the broader picture.  Why did Treach, himself, gloss over some of the more particular details, namely the last P?  According to it was to get more radio airplay and, yes, to allow the song to be played for the youth at school dances.  And so heed the same advice: in order to get into more schools, don’t worry so much about the specific details (at least not at first).  But make sure you’re down with OPP.

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By Brian Galvin