“Trust, but Verify” is an important piece of advice for diplomatic relations. It seems a contradiction at first: if you trust, why do you need to verify? The answer is that some things are important enough to take the extra time and effort to check. Even the small chance that your trust is misplaced is reason to investigate the situation in enough detail to confirm that what you believe to be true is actually true.
Reading comprehension on the GMAT does not rise to the level of international trade pacts, or arms reduction agreements, but the same principle applies. In most instances, when you think you know the answer to a reading comprehension question, take the time and effort to go back to the passage and verify.
After all, the correct answer to most reading comprehension questions on the GMAT is based closely on something actually written in the passage. While an extra minute spent on a sentence correction question may not make the sentence any clearer, an extra minute spent going back to the passage to verify a reading comprehension answer can drastically improve your chances of answering correctly.
Two Types of Reading Comprehension Questions
Reading Comprehension questions can be broken down into two broad categories:
1) Questions with a specific enough question stem to guide you back to a particular portion of the passage, which you can then re-read to find the answer.
For the first type of question, you should almost always use the question stem to guide you back to a single paragraph and then to a particular portion of that paragraph. Even if you feel that you remember that portion of the reading well enough to simply answer the question, it is still in your best interest to take a few moments to return to the passage and make sure that you have the answer to the actual question that is asked.
- Many reading comprehension questions that appear easy actually have a very high level of difficulty. For these questions, the answer choice that at first appears obvious based on your memory of the passage is usually an answer that requires you to make an assumption that, in reality, is not supported by the passage.
- Take a few seconds and put forth a little effort to check that “obvious answer” against what is actually said in the passage. If the answer really is that easy you will quickly find the portion of the paragraph that supports it. If it is not so simple, you will have saved yourself from choosing the incorrect answer.
- Trust that you remember the passage accurately, but verify your answer.
2) Questions that have a more general question stem and are based on the entire passage as a whole.
The second type of question has a more general question stem and it is not as clear where in the passage to return to confirm your answer. An example of the more general question stem is, “the author of the passage would most likely agree with which of the following?” You can see that there is nothing in the question stem to guide you back to a particular portion of the passage.
- For these questions you should begin with process of elimination. Eliminate any answer choices that you are sure are wrong based on important characteristics of the passage such as the scope of the passage or the tone that the author uses.
- Even on these questions you can still return to the passage to verify! The difference is that since the question stem does not guide you back to a particular portion of the paragraph, you need to use the answer choices themselves to help you return to the passage. You can go back to the passage to check the answer choices that remain after you have eliminated. The correct answer should be well-supported by the passage, while the incorrect answers are not.
With the proper techniques and effort, reading comprehension is an area of the GMAT that you can improve on quickly. If you want to become great at reading comprehension remember to “trust, but verify.”
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.