Reading Comprehension Strategies: How to improve your focus

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Reading Comprehension Strategies: How to improve your focus

Sometimes, the toughest part of the GMAT has nothing to do with the questions; it’s the mental marathon your mind has to run for three and a half hours.  This is part of the reason why many people find the reading comprehension section so challenging.  After an hour of analytical writing and integrated reasoning and then an hour and 15 minutes of math problems, reading dense, dry chunks of text about cell biology or economic policy is about the last thing you want to do.

Naturally, your focus wears thin, and you become more prone to falling for the traps the GMAT sets.

While a consistent study routine and completing a few practice tests will help build your mental stamina, these methods still don’t address the fact that reading comprehension questions are tough by themselves.  It can be daunting to sort out the relevant information from the text, especially when you care little about the subject material.

However, in order to answer reading comprehension questions accurately and efficiently, it’s necessary to read the passages with a high level of focus and engagement.  Skimming the text can create an inaccurate understanding of what the author is actually saying, and false answers will play to this.  So how do you improve your focus and make reading comprehension questions more engaging?  Turn the passages into a game.

GMAT reading comprehension is like playing chess

One common mistake made by test takers is focusing too much on the content of the reading comprehension passages.  The GMAT is not testing your knowledge of biology or social history or even economics: The GMAT is testing your ability to recognize a structure of logic, specifically the author’s train of thought.

You do not need to hold in your mind the specific facts or data presented in the passage so much as what the author is doing with them.  How does the author string facts together?  What may he or she be suggesting about them or implying?  What is the structure of his or her argument?  These are the relevant questions to keep in mind while reading instead of “What’s a mitochondria?” or “What year did the passage say New York’s Highline was built?”

When you shift your focus away from the specific jargon and details of the text and place it instead on what the author is “doing,” the passages become more interesting.

Imagine playing chess.  If you want to defeat your opponent, not only do you need to pay attention to the moves he or she makes but you must also think about why he or she is making those moves.  Approach the reading comprehension passages the same way.  Each statement the author makes is a move, and by tracking each move and considering how each subsequent move relates to the prior one and adds on to the argument, you’ll be less likely to be tripped up by false answers.

The other benefit to this approach is that it generates interest with what the author is saying regardless of the subject matter. You’ll be more engaged with the passage as a whole, and should you need to go back in the passage to find a specific detail, the task will be much easier than if you had only skimmed the text.

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