Logic Over Content – How Not To Be Misled By Difficult Wording in RC Questions

by on November 18th, 2012

It would probably not come as a great shock for you to find that, just like other GMAT question types, Reading Comprehension questions have their own way of sidetracking us. One such strategy is making the test-takers focus on the content of the passage rather than concentrate on its LOGIC and STRUCTURE. If we approach GMAT reading passages the same way we tackle other texts – that is, reading all of them and trying to understand them – we both lose time and lower our chances of answering questions correctly. Since GMAT reading passages are taken from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, the chances of understanding the content of each of these excerpts in depth are slim.

Actually, Reading Comprehension questions try to establish whether we can quickly (1) analyze  the structure of a passage, (2) get the gist of it, and (3) extract specific information from it. So by reading the entire passage and struggling with unfamiliar, often technical terms, we actually can be easily misled and end up choosing an incorrect answer. However, there are a few methods that test-takers can use in order to avoid being distracted by content of the text. Let me present them.

Firstly, we should focus on the structure and function of each sentence rather than on the information it presents.

To make this clearer, let’s look at the following example:

Originally, scientists speculated that Mars may have liquid water on its surface. The basis for this theory was changes in light and dark areas in the polar regions seen even by the most primitive telescopes, which were attributed to seas and continents.

Now let’s try to extract the structural information presented by this paragraph. What do you think is the main theme of this short text? Well…Does it speak about Mars and the existence of water on its surface? If that was your answer, you were misled by the wording and fell for the trap. Let’s try to select the words that point to the structure of the paragraph: “ORIGINALLY,… The basis for this theory …” Having extracted the structure words we can see that the paragraph in fact speaks about what scientists thought at first = ORIGINALLY. In this case, the word “originally” is a major hint. In other cases, it could be expressions such as “however,”" for example,”" therefore,” etc. These words provide structural information about the relation of the sentence/paragraph in which they appear to the previous sentence or paragraph.

Unfortunately the problem is not only related to structure words. We can also get misled by the meaning of words used in an RC passage. The same idea can be presented in many different ways using various expressions. Let’s consider a simple example:

“John is a vegetarian.” Is there any other way that we could convey the same meaning in other words? How about: “John does not eat meat.” ? The wording used in RC passages is often much more difficult in comparison with the example above and can be a serious obstacle on our path to the correct answer. Therefore, to make sure that we don’t get confused we should rephrase the difficult parts of the paragraph in simpler terms.

Yet another trap can be waiting for test-takers among answer choices that will use the  wording different than the one used in the passage to express the same meaning and vice versa – use similar wording to express a different meaning.

It’s essential that we avoid automatically choosing answer choices just because they use the same words that appeared in the passage. Instead, we should adhere to the idea that’s expressed in the text, bearing in mind that the correct answer could express that same idea using other words.

Key take-aways:

  1. Focus on logic, structure and function rather than on content (the information that’s in it).
  2. Focus on meaning of expressions rather than on their wording.

Sigining off, I am leaving you with an interesting question to solve. I will provide the answer in the coming days:

The overarching implications of discursive constructivism are realized in every aspect of reality in which language is involved, since language manifests our conceptual framework. Because something is the way it is because we bestow our perceptions onto it via language, examining the philosophy of language proves itself especially important in feminist discourse. Some feminists have advanced the notion of formulating a new reality more congenial to women by which women will liberate themselves from oppressive patriarchal discourses and thrive with their new found expressive capabilities.

The inherent maleness of language, in light of discursive constructivism, traps women in a hierarchy of patriarchal social relations in which they are delegated to the lower rungs. Language often represents maleness as the norm, obscures the existence and importance of women, and imbeds a male-centric worldview, creating a picture of the world more suited to men than women. The English language, among many others, engages in what Frye calls the absurd practice of sex-marking, in which language assigns a critical importance to gender in situations in which it is, in reality, irrelevant, thereby perpetuating the narrative that men and women are somehow irrevocably and fundamentally dissimilar.

The patriarchal nature of language cannot be denied as a general force, yet feminists are not entirely correct to say that the entirety of a language enforces a discriminatory narrative. Although a plethora of specific terms and usages which stifle women’s equality exist, certain neutral words are undeniably present which have escaped the male bias which afflicts so much of our semantic reality. It is important to note that the patriarchal structure of society does not grant men complete control over language, despite their immense influence in the creation of dictionaries, grammatical rules and usage guides.

Which of the following best summarizes the contents of the passage?

A. Since many linguistic constructs display no gender bias, the feminist argument that language creates the male-centric structure of our society that traps women in the lower rungs of a patriarchal hierarchy has no merit.

B. Feminists consider language, which, they argue, has a male bias and therefore devalues women, to be of great importance because of language’s effect on how we perceive reality, even though this critique, although correct in principle, is unfounded in some cases.

C. The feminist argument that language reflects the patriarchal order of society and therefore relegates women to a lower status has many merits but it is not entirely correct.

D. Discursive constructivism, the concept that language is an active agent in the creation of what we perceive as reality, is of great concern to feminists, but their concerns, while founded, are exaggerated.

E. Language imposes a patriarchal discourse biased against women and constitutes a grave concern to feminists, who, although aware of language as a force which shapes reality, believe it is only male-centric in certain aspects.


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