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Reading Methods


Reading styles are subjective—there is no best method for approaching the passages. There are as many “systems” for reading the passages as there are test-prep books—all “authoritatively” promoting their method, while contradicting some aspect of another. A reading technique that is natural for one person can be awkward and unnatural for another person. However, it’s hard to believe that many of the methods advocated in certain books could help anyone. Be that as it may, I will throw in my two cents’ worth— though not so dogmatically.


Some books recommend speed-reading the passages. This is a mistake. Speed reading is designed for ordinary, nontechnical material. Because this material is filled with “fluff,” you can skim over the nonessential parts and still get the gist—and often more—of the passage. As mentioned before, however, GRE passages are dense. Some are actual quoted articles (when the writers of the GRE find one that is sufficiently compact). Most often, however, they are based on articles that have been condensed to about one-third their original length. During this process no essential information is lost, just the “fluff” is cut. This is why speed reading will not work here—the passages contain too much information. You should, however, read somewhat faster than you normally do, but not to the point that your comprehension suffers. You will have to experiment to find your optimum pace.


One technique that you may find helpful for the longer passages is to preview it by reading the first sentence of each paragraph. Generally, the topic of a paragraph is contained in the first sentence. Reading the first sentence of each paragraph will give an overview of the passage. The topic sentences act in essence as a summary of the passage. Furthermore, since the passages are shorter, previewing the topic sentences will not use up an inordinate amount of time. (I don’t use this method myself, however. I prefer to see the passage as a completed whole, and to let the passage unveil its main idea to me as I become absorbed in it. I find that when I try to pre-analyze the passage it tends to become disjointed, and I lose my concentration. Nonetheless, as mentioned before, reading methods are subjective, so experiment—this may work for you.)


One final recommendation that will be useful to you for this section is to become acutely aware of your concentration level. Have you ever had one of those moments while reading something when you recognize you have been reading, but your mind has been elsewhere, and you haven’t taken in a word? The very moment you notice that you are reading without processing what you are reading, train yourself to stop immediately and back up to make sure you understand. Otherwise, especially considering test day nerves, you may end up spending your time reading an entire passage without truly comprehending it. If you learn to recognize the moment you stop understanding and remedy the situation immediately, you will save yourself valuable reading time. As you work through the many example passages in this section, make a point of developing this habit, so it’s second nature to you on test day.

Points to Remember


  1. Reading styles are subjective—there is no best method for approaching the passages.
  2. Don’t speed read, or skim, the passage. Instead, read at a faster than usual pace, but not to the point that your comprehension suffers.
  3. (Optional) Preview the first sentence of each paragraph before you read the passage.
  4. Train yourself to recognize the first moment of incomprehension.

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