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The GMAT reading comprehension passages are about 200 to 400 words long. The subject matter of a passage can be almost anything, but the most common themes are politics, history, culture, science, and business.

Most people find the passages difficult because the subject matter is dry and unfamiliar. Obscure subject matter is chosen so that your reading comprehension will be tested, not your knowledge of a particular subject. Also the more esoteric the subject the more likely everyone taking the test will be on an even playing field. However, because the material must still be accessible to laymen, you won’t find any tracts on subtle issues of philosophy or abstract mathematics. In fact, if you read books on current affairs and the Op/Ed page of the newspaper, then the style of writing used in the GMAT passages will be familiar and you probably won’t find the reading comprehension section particularly difficult.

The passages use a formal, compact style. They are typically taken from articles in academic journals, but they are rarely reprinted verbatim. Usually the chosen article is heavily edited until it is honed down to about 200 to 400 words. The formal style of the piece is retained but much of the “fluff” is removed. The editing process condenses the article to about one-third its original length. Thus, a GMAT passage contains about three times as much information for its length as does the original article. This is why the passages are similar to the writing on the Op/Ed page of a newspaper. After all, a person writing a piece for the Op/Ed page must express all his ideas in about 500 words, and he must use a formal (grammatical) style to convince people that he is well educated.

In addition to being dry and unfamiliar, GMAT passages often start in the middle of an explanation, so there is no point of reference. Furthermore, the passages are untitled, so you have to hit the ground running.

The passages presented depend on how well you are performing on the test. However, unlike other parts of the test, the questions presented do not depend on your performance.

The longer passages will require you to scroll through the passage.

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