GMAT Strategies For The Verbally-Concerned, Part II

by on September 6th, 2009

This week, we have the second half of an article written by guest-author Chris Ryan, Manhattan GMAT’s intrepid Director of Instructor and Product Development. If you’ve used any Manhattan GMAT material in your prep, Chris is the man to thank: he may have written it, proofed it, managed it – somehow, he has touched everything that Manhattan GMAT publishes.

These articles contain Chris’s advice (slightly edited for length) on general strategies for the major verbal question types. Last week we covered the first two strategies, which pertained to Sentence Correction. This week, we cover three additional strategies for Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning. Take it away, Chris!

3. On Reading Comp and Critical Reasoning, practice taking stripped-down notes

More than Sentence Correction, these two verbal types force you to imagine.  In Critical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension, you have to imagine a situation, a controversy, a set of objects and actors and events in the real world.

First paragraph of a sample RC passage:

In the mid-nineteenth century, one of the most expensive metals, pound for pound, was aluminum.  Emperor Napoleon III is said to have served his most eminent guests on plates of aluminum, reserving golden plates for less-favored visitors.  The reason for aluminum’s high cost was not its scarcity; in fact, aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust.  Rather, aluminum was very difficult to extract from any of its ores and in fact was not isolated as a chemical element until 1825.  Not until 1886 did two 23-year-old chemists, Charles Hall and Paul Héroult, independently discover an electrolytic process that required only relatively common materials and electricity (even if in large quantities) to produce aluminum.

If, on the test, you just let your eyes run over that paragraph, you would be sunk.  You actually need to imagine the aluminum and all the rest. How do you force yourself to imagine?  By writing a little bit down.

Don’t copy down the whole paragraph, word for word.  You don’t have time, and you’ll get lost in details.  Remember, you don’t have to answer the questions using only these notes!

Rather, try to capture the gist – and the gist ONLY!  Rephrase to simplify.  And make sure it’s all connected.

19 c.: Alum – super-$.
Ex: Emperor
Why so $?
Not b/c scarce!
But b/c hard to isolate
1886: 2 guys found easier way

After you’ve created notes like these, you understand the basic point of the paragraph – because you’ll have imagined the important parts.    Practice such a note-taking technique, and no crazy topic or convoluted argument can really throw you.

4. On Reading Comp, do extra passages on topics you dislike – and pretend to be interested.

You might not like history.  Or chemistry.  Or the history of chemistry.  In that case, the paragraph above might have made you gag.

Get over it!

Whatever distaste you feel for the subject, whatever self-pity you experience for having drawn the “aluminum” passage – laugh it off.  And then get into the subject.  Pretend that you care.

Wow, I had no idea that aluminum was once super-expensive!  That’s strange!

Wonder why it was so expensive?  Was it scarce?  No.  Oh, I see – it was hard to get out of the ore.

Go ahead and be geeky.  No one is listening to your thoughts.  Everything can be interesting.  If you stop telling yourself that you don’t like a certain subject, you might just taste it for the first time – and discover that you actually don’t mind it so much.  Then it’s so much easier to learn.

Guess what – you have to temporarily learn something about four subjects (on four passages).  And it’s almost impossible to learn something that you hate.  So give this liking thing a try – and practice it on extra passages.  By doing so, at least you won’t be afraid any more of the topics you dislike.

To a lesser degree, the same thing holds true for Critical Reasoning.  If certain argument situations or topics annoy you, bore you, depress you – well, pretend you care.  Get into the situation.  And do extra problems in that area.

5. On both Critical Reasoning and Reading Comp, when reviewing problems, find the proof

On these two question types, four of the answer choices are false.  Only one is the truth.  (The exception is “except” questions, of course.)  This observation may seem obvious, but it points to a review tactic you should always take advantage of: analyze how the truth was there all along.

This does NOT mean you should always try to predict the answer from the question stem.  In some cases, you can “fill in the blank” before looking at the answer choices.  For instance, if you’re asked to Find the Assumption on a Critical Reasoning question, and the argument has a logic gap, you may be able to articulate the missing puzzle piece ahead of time.  Likewise, for a Specific Detail question on Reading Comp, you should go find the truth in the passage and boil it down to fighting weight before looking at the answer choices.

In other cases, you should definitely NOT try to predict the answer.  For instance, on general Reading Comp questions, you should generally dive right in and try to eliminate the lies.  The right answer may be expressed at a level of abstraction that you didn’t anticipate.

However, the right answer must always be right.  It must be true.  So, as you review the question afterwards, study the heck out of how it matches up to the passage or the argument. Analyze the specific language that makes the match.

Likewise, study how the “close-but-not-right” answers are false.  Don’t content yourself with fuzzy understanding. Articulate preciesly why the wrong answers are wrong.


  • Great post! Thanks!

  • good stuff mayne

  • Great Post!

    I would like to comment on finding the proof that a choice is wrong. I have been on this site for the past 2 months daily and I have observed that most people have difficulty explaining a wrong answer, including myself. Trying to find the wrong answer for many questions on this forum is challenging.

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