Reading Comprehension - How to Crack the Verbal Section - Cracking the GRE Premium (2015) 

Cracking the GRE Premium (2015)

Part II How to Crack the Verbal Section

Chapter 6 Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE can be quite deceptive. On one hand, the answer to each question is somewhere in the passage. On the other hand, ETS is really good at crafting answers that seem right but are, in fact, wrong. This chapter will teach you the best way to approach the reading passages on the test and how to attack the questions. Furthermore, you’ll learn how to use Process of Elimination to get rid of wrong answers and maximize your score.

WHAT YOU WILL SEE

On the GRE, you’ll be presented with about eight reading passages, varying in length from a mere 12 lines to more than 50 lines. After each passage, you’ll be asked to answer a number of questions. Your task is to choose the best answer to each question based on what is stated or implied in the passage. Translation: The correct answer to every question is somewhere in the passage. In fact, think of Reading Comprehension questions as an open-book test. Your goal is simply to locate the answer within the passage.

Reading Comprehension
is like an open-book test:
The correct answer to
every question is somewhere
in the passage.

Reading Comprehension and the Computer

Reading Comprehension questions are presented on a split screen. The passage is on the left side and stays there while you work on the questions; you may have to use the scroll bar to read the whole passage. The questions appear one at a time on the right side. It’s very important to practice reading comprehension on the computer with The Princeton Review’s online practice tests or ETS’s free POWERPREP II software (see Chapter 1), because you’ll have to get used to not being able to circle or underline words, bracket text, write notes in the margin, and so on. But you can start practicing good habits right now. As you work through this chapter, and any time you practice reading comprehension on paper, don’t allow yourself to write on the passage. Anything you write must be written on scratch paper. In your preparation for the GRE, never give yourself a crutch you won’t actually have when you take the real test.

Online Practice Tests

Where are those online
practice tests, you ask?
They’re in your Student
Tools found at
www.PrincetonReview.com. You
must have registered your
book by now, so log-in will
be a breeze!

Let’s get started.

READING AND THE GRE

Although it might seem that Reading Comprehension questions shouldn’t be very hard, ETS makes these types of questions difficult by exploiting some common assumptions.

The reading skills you’ll need to use for Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE are quite different from the ones you use in your everyday life. The biggest challenge will probably be the limited time you have to answer the questions.

For one thing, ETS (intentionally) chooses reading passages that are complicated and are concerned with unfamiliar and, in some cases, intimidating topics, hoping that you’ll have a tough time absorbing the entirety of the passage in the short amount of time they give you. In many cases, that is exactly what happens: Test takers spend too much time trying to understand what they’ve read and not enough time working on the questions.

ETS also hopes that you will overanalyze the text. This level of critical thinking is wholly appropriate for most types of academic reading, but on the GRE it only leads to trouble. The way to crack the reading portion of the GRE is to read less into the passages, not more.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, in some ways the passage itself is the least important part of Reading Comprehension questions. This is for a simple reason—you don’t get any points for reading the passage, and the only way to do well on the GRE is to amass as many points as possible.

The Directions

These are the directions as they will appear on your GRE:

Directions: Each passage in this group is followed by questions based on its content. After reading a passage, choose the best answer to each question. Answer all questions following a passage on the basis of what is stated or implied in that passage.

Here are our directions:

Directions: This is not really a test of reading, nor is it a test of comprehension. It’s a treasure hunt! You can find all of the answers in the passage.

Okay, you’re ready to take a look at our approach to Reading Comprehension questions.

READING COMPREHENSION: THE BASIC APPROACH

1.    Attack the Passage. This step will vary slightly based on the length of the passage you’re dealing with, but in each case, the goal is to read less, not more.

2.    Size Up the Questions. Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE can ask you to do a variety of things. Make sure you know what the question’s asking you to do.

3.    Find and Paraphrase the Answer. This is the key. Always return to the passage to find your answer; never answer questions from memory!

4.    Use Process of Elimination. You can use a number of helpful POE guidelines on Reading Comprehension questions. We’ll go over these in detail in a moment.

Let’s look at each step in some more detail.

ATTACK THE PASSAGE

Imagine you drop out of an airplane and land on a random college campus. You walk into a random building, pop into the first lecture hall you see, and stand in the back for 10 minutes. When you come out, someone asks you a bunch of questions about what you’ve just heard. That is what reading comprehension is like on the GRE. You don’t pick the topic; you don’t start from the beginning; there is no title, no outline, and no table of contents. You are not in control.


Remember

You don’t have to read
every single word of
the passage in order to
answer the questions.

The creators of the GRE are going to give you short and long passages filled with tons of information that you will never be tested on. They will try to suck you into these dense, badly written science or humanities passages in order to get you to waste time and to confuse you with useless information. Your job is to read as little of the passage as you need to get started on the questions and then to let the questions tell you which facts to care about. To get started on the questions, you need to know only the main idea of the passage, the structure, and the tone.

Fortunately, you know most of this already. The truth is that all GRE passages are really about one of two things: a problem or a change. You may think a passage is about art history or geology or different kinds of rocks on Jupiter, but really, it’s either about a problem or a change.

Furthermore, once you know whether it is about a problem or a change, you even know what the passage is likely to cover.

Problem passages cover these questions:

1.    What is the problem?

2.    What caused the problem?

3.    What are the effects of the problem?

4.    Are there any solutions?

Change passages cover these questions:

1.    What was the old way?

2.    What is the new way?

3.    What caused the change?

4.    What are the effects of the change?

Knowing how passages are organized will change the way you read. This information puts you back in control by allowing you to categorize the information you’re given and to anticipate what is coming next. Remember: On the first reading, you just need the basics. Don’t get sucked into details you don’t need to know.

Once you know whether a passage is about a problem or a change, you just need enough information to answer the four standard problem or change questions. Feel free to skim the rest. If you are asked a question about something you skimmed over, you can always go back to find it.

There is one golden rule of reading comprehension: Always go back to the passage to find proof. If you cannot put your finger on a line that proves your answer choice, you should not pick it.

When you see reading comprehension passages, practice categorizing them as problem or change, and then practice anticipating what each paragraph is going to be about. Once you get good at this, you will find that you are in control, not them.

Try reading the following passage:

Prior to 1735, there was no legal precedent for freedom of the press. The constitutional concept of freedom of the press traces its origins to 1735 and the libel trial of John Peter Zenger. Zenger, born in Germany, emigrated to America in 1710 and established The New York Weekly Journal in 1733. The Journal starkly opposed the policies of New York governor William Cosby and while Zenger did not write the majority of the critical pieces, he was arrested on libel charges in 1734. In the ensuing trial, widely followed by the populace, Zenger was defended by Andrew Hamilton, a Pennsylvania lawyer who was brought in after Cosby disbarred all the New York lawyers who offered to defend Zenger. Hamilton’s brilliant defense of Zenger was predicated on the argument that since Zenger’s criticisms involved verifiable facts, they could not possibly be considered libel. The judge agreed and acquitted the publisher, establishing the basic concept of freedom of the press that was to be enshrined in the United States Constitution some 57 years later.

Problem or change? ___________________________

What was the old way? ___________________________

What is the new way? ___________________________

What caused the change? ___________________________

What are the effects of the change? ___________________________

Yes, the preceding passage is about freedom of the press, but it’s really about a change. According to the old way, there was no freedom of the press, and reporters could be arrested. After the adoption of the new way, reporters writing verifiable facts could not be charged with libel. The cause of the change was the trial of John Peter Zenger, and the effect of the trial was the precedent of freedom that eventually became enshrined in the U.S. Constitution some 57 years later.

If you said that a lack of freedom of the press was a problem, don’t worry. It was. The important thing is that you were the one in charge when you were reading, and you were the one asking the questions. Instead of passively letting information wash over you, hoping the important parts of the passage would stick, you became an active reader.

Now try again on a longer passage. Remember not to get bogged down by the details in the passage. Read for evidence of what the author thinks. Important statements in the passage contain the author’s opinions, recommendations, and conclusions.

Stay focused on finding
the main idea as you read.

What was it about Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, that caused it to create such an uproar when it was published in 1891? While critics attacked the quality of Wilde’s work, lambasting its plot as “incurably silly” and chiding the writer for using prose that was “clumsy” and “boring,” these overt denunciations of the formal elements of Wilde’s work merely masked the true concerns of many nineteenth-century critics. What these critics were actually railing against was the thematic content of Wilde’s work, specifically his illustration of a lifestyle devoted to useless beauty. For many a nineteenth-century moralist, The Picture of Dorian Gray was nothing more than a primer for spiritual depravity. Wilde’s ultimate sin was not his clunky plot or his sometimes cloying prose; it wasn’t even his disregard for the time-honored tradition of English propriety. It was instead his leniency toward his protagonist. Wilde propagated the disdain of critics not simply because Dorian Gray was an unabashed hedonist, but because Wilde failed to punish his subject appropriately for his hedonism. To the critics, allowing an evil character to escape his just deserts was an unforgivable sin, and it was this transgression that resulted in such opprobrium for Wilde’s work. In their mind, Wilde’s work was corrupting the genteel reading public by failing to show the proper consequences of immoral behavior.

Problem or change? ___________________________

What is the problem? ___________________________

What caused it? ___________________________

What are the effects? ___________________________

Are there any solutions? ___________________________

Here we have a longer passage about the critical response to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. You know that it is a problem in the very first sentence when you are told that the novel created “an uproar” and in the second sentence when you are told that critics “attacked” it. The cause of the problem doesn’t come until the last third of the passage. The protagonist was a hedonist, but Wilde did not punish his character for his sins. The effect of this problem was the outrage from critics. No solution is offered. Everything else is just details. Trigger words such as “Wilde’s ultimate sin” and “it was instead …” are good indicators that something important is being said.

Purpose

You will often see questions that ask about an author’s purpose—that is, why the author bothered to write the passage, paragraph, or sentence at all. Purpose can be summed up with the acronym PRICE. The purpose of a paragraph, passage, or even an individual sentence is to Predict, Recommend, Inform, Correct, or Evaluate.

Most passages or paragraphs simply inform. Whenever an author begins to offer an opinion, however, he or she may be evaluating an argument, correcting a misperception, predicting an outcome, or even recommending a behavior.

With longer passages, it is helpful to go paragraph by paragraph and note the subject (the old way, the new way, the nature of the problem, and so on) and the purpose of each paragraph. Jot this information down on your scratch paper. Doing so will force you to actively assess each paragraph and will give you a map that you can use to find the answers for specific questions.

Make sure that you scroll
down as far as you can, to
guarantee that you see
the entire passage.

This passage contains
a lot of details. Don’t get
bogged down in them!

Here is a longer passage to try.

Scientists researching the aging process are increasingly investigating the role of telomeres, portions of DNA on the ends of chromosomes found in every cell. The exact relationship between telomeres and aging is unknown. Unlike the rest of the chromosome, telomeres do not contain genes, the strands of DNA that code for particular enzymes and proteins. Telomeres primarily serve a protective role in cells, playing two key roles in maintaining healthy cells. First, telomeres prevent important genetic material from being lost during cell replication, functioning as a “cap” of sorts on the end of each chromosome. Second, telomeres serve as a biological marker that the chromosome is “complete”; without a telomere on the end of a chromosome, the body considers the chromosome defective and takes steps against it.

While the protective role of telomeres is fairly well understood, scientists are interested in another facet of telomeres. Telomeres contain between one to two thousand copies of a particular DNA sequence. Each time a cell divides, a minuscule bit of this DNA sequence is lopped off. When telomeres become too short, the cell becomes impaired, unable to divide, and prone to malfunction. Cells with critically short telomeres eventually die, leading many researchers to compare telomeres to biological clocks or fuses, counting down to the death of a cell.

Although the role of telomeres in cellular aging and malfunction is well documented, new research is focused on searching for a link between cellular aging and aging and disease in humans. One study has found that subjects with shorter telomeres are more likely to develop cancers of the lungs and kidneys than those with longer telomeres. Furthermore, the study noted that the participants with the shortest telomeres were at a higher risk of developing heart disease and also appeared more prone to infectious diseases. Another study posited a link between telomere length and life span. In that study, patients with shorter telomeres died about 4 or 5 years earlier than those with telomeres of greater length.

Of course, many researchers are hesitant to conclude that shorter telomeres are a causative factor from this data, particularly because telomeres are susceptible to corruption from a number of factors besides cell division. For example, scientists have noted that telomeres are especially vulnerable to the byproducts of the body’s oxidation process, by which oxygen is converted to energy. The byproducts of this process, called free radicals, can not only harm cells and DNA, but also artificially shorten telomeres.

Further research is necessary to better establish what link, if any, exists between telomeres and aging. One promising avenue to consider is whether lengthening damaged telomeres has the opposite effect on subjects, making them healthier and conferring greater longevity. And while some scientists optimistically believe that a full understanding of telomeres will eventually bestow dominion over the very aging process itself, such a scenario is both unlikely and not technologically feasible at this juncture.

Problem or change? ___________________________

What was the problem? ___________________________

What caused it? ___________________________

What were the effects? ___________________________

Is there any solution? ___________________________

The preceding passage is a long science passage with lots of technical information. In essence, however, it is about a problem. Scientists think that there is a link between telomeres and aging, but they don’t know. The cause of the problem is that there is a link between the length of a telomere and the health of cells. The effect of this problem is lots of studies showing links between telomeres and different health problems. The solution, of course, is more research. The exact relationship is still unknown.


Need More Verbal
Help?

Check out The Princeton
Review’s Verbal Workout
for the GRE for more Text
Completion, Sentence
Equivalence, and Reading
Comprehension practice.

When you map the passage, paragraph by paragraph, you should come up with something like this:

Paragraph 1: What’s a telomere? (Inform)

Paragraph 2: Shorter telomere = dead cell (Inform)

Paragraph 3: Effects of shorter telomeres (Inform)

Paragraph 4: Caution against conclusion (Inform)

Paragraph 5: Possible effects of finding link (Predict). Beating aging unlikely (Evaluate)

That is as much information as you need to answer Main Idea and Purpose questions, and as much as you need to get started on specific questions. If a question asks about the connection between telomeres and cell health, you know where to go. Until then, feel free to skim over the details.

SIZE UP THE QUESTIONS

Reading Comprehension questions vary in both format and what they require you to do. Let’s take a look at the different types of questions you’ll see on test day, and then go through strategies for tackling each type.

Question Formats

The Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE will appear in several different formats:

1.    Multiple Choice. These are the standard, five-answer multiple-choice questions that ask you to choose a single answer.

2.    Select All That Apply. These questions ask you to select more than one answer, similar to the way you answered Sentence Equivalence questions.

3.    Select in Passage. These questions either refer you to a highlighted portion of the text or ask you to click on the portion of the text that contains a certain phrase or performs a certain function.

Question Tasks

While it might seem like there are tons of different reading comprehension tasks, there are really only two major types on the GRE:

1.    “Fetch” Questions. Some questions simply require you to go to the passage and “fetch” some information. The information you are asked to fetch might be a fact from the reading, the meaning of a word, the author’s tone, or the main idea of the passage.

2.    Reasoning Questions. Other questions require a little more work than just returning to the passage and figuring out what the author says. Reasoning questions can ask you why an author used a particular word or sentence, what inferences you can draw from the passage, or who the author’s intended audience may be. Reasoning questions may also ask critical reasoning-style “argument” questions about conclusions, premises, and assumptions.

The answer to a
Reading Comprehension
question has to be
supported by the passage.

Each of these question tasks may show up in any of the question formats above. Let’s look at some of these questions in more detail.

Fetch Questions

Fetch questions ask, in one form or another, “What does the passage say?” They are the most straightforward of reading questions, and simply require you to return to the passage and retrieve information. To answer a retrieval question, follow these steps:

1.    Read the Question. What kind of question are you dealing with?

2.    Make the Question Back into a Question. Often the questions aren’t questions at all; they’re really incomplete sentences. To find an answer, you must first have a question. By putting the question into your own words, you interact qualitatively and actively with the question text. There is no possibility of your eyes glazing over or your brain going on autopilot (a real likelihood with a four-hour exam). To make the question into a question, simply start with a question word. Nine out of ten times What or Why will work, since most questions ask either what was said in the passage or why it was said.

3.    Find Proof. This is the golden rule of reading comprehension. You will always be able to prove the correct answer with something in the passage. If you cannot put your finger on a specific word, phrase, or sentence that proves your answer choice, you can’t pick it. To help find answers in the passage, use one or both of the following techniques:

a.     Five Up/Five Down. You can’t trust ETS to put the correct answer exactly where they say it will be. If they highlight a portion of the passage, start reading five lines above and read until five lines below the highlighted passage. This way, you are always looking at things in context.

b.    Lead Word. A lead word is any word in the question that will be easy to skim for in the passage. Names, numbers, dates, large technical terms all make good lead words. Of course, once you find your lead word, read five lines up and five lines down (for a vocab-in-context question, you need to read only three lines up and three lines down).

4.    Link the Info in the Passage to the Question Task. Once you find the relevant information in the passage take a moment to make sure that it addresses the question task. Is this all the author said? Are there other details that you need to consider?

5.    Use Process of Elimination.

a.     Avoid Extreme Statements. No matter what the passage says, ETS can phrase a correct answer any way they like. They want correct answers that are difficult to argue with. That means wishy-washy language (often, many, usually). Extreme language (is, all, every, always) is too easy to prove wrong, so it almost always is incorrect.

b.    Recycled Language. ETS knows that most test-takers spend too long reading the passage. Then, they try to answer the questions by memory. So, ETS creates a lot of wrong answers by simply recycling memorable words and phrases back into the answer choices. These answers are very appealing because you’ll remember reading something like that. But, the correct answer is usually a paraphrase of the information in the passage. Just remember that the more that an answer sounds like it is word for word from the passage, the less likely it is to be right. So be suspicious of answers that make you say “Wait! I remember reading that!”

c.     Half Right = All Wrong. ETS likes to write answer choices that are half right; which also means they’re half—and thus all—wrong. The first part of the answer choice will usually look good, but the second part will be incorrect. Make sure to read the entire choice carefully.

d.    Bad Comparisons. Be suspicious of answers that contain comparison words such as more … than, less … than, greater, faster, compared to, etc. In most cases, the items in the answer choice are mentioned in the passage but they aren’t compared in the passage. So, always be wary of answers that make comparisons. If you can’t find the comparison in the passage, cross the answer off.

Correct answers are paraphrases of information stated in the passage.

Let’s try a fetch question with the short passage you saw before.

Prior to 1735, there was no legal precedent for freedom of the press. The constitutional concept of freedom of the press traces its origins to 1735 and the libel trial of John Peter Zenger. Zenger, born in Germany, emigrated to America in 1710 and established The New York Weekly Journal in 1733. The Journal starkly opposed the policies of New York governor William Cosby and while Zenger did not write the majority of the critical pieces, he was arrested on libel charges in 1734. In the ensuing trial, widely followed by the populace, Zenger was defended by Andrew Hamilton, a Pennsylvania lawyer who was brought in after Cosby disbarred all the New York lawyers who offered to defend Zenger. Hamilton’s brilliant defense of Zenger was predicated on the argument that since Zenger’s criticisms involved verifiable facts, they could not possibly be considered libel. The judge agreed and acquitted the publisher, establishing the basic concept of freedom of the press that was to be enshrined in the United States Constitution some 57 years later.

And here’s the question:

The passage states that Zenger did all of the following EXCEPT

    started his own newspaper

    opposed the governor’s administration

    left his homeland to come to the United States

    sought out Andrew Hamilton to defend him

    based his criticisms on factual issues

Always go back to the
passage to verify your
answer. Don’t answer
from memory.

Here’s How to Crack It

Step 1:

Read the Question. Essentially, “What did Zenger do?” This is a fetch question.

Step 2:

Make the Question Back into a Question. What did Zenger do?

Step 3:

Find Proof. “Zenger” will make a nice lead word. Find the first instance of it in the passage and read from five lines above to five lines below.

Step 4:

Link the Info in the Passage to the Question Task. In the passage, we are told that Zenger “emigrated to America,” “established The New York Weekly Journal,” and “opposed the policies of New York governor William Cosby.”

Step 5:

Use Process of Elimination. Use your scratch paper. Cross off answer choices (A), (B), and (C). Now we need more information, so go back to the passage and find more instances of the lead word Zenger. We are told that he “was defended by Andrew Hamilton” and that his “criticisms involved verifiable facts.” Choice (D) says that Zenger “sought out Andrew Hamilton to defend him.” One might assume that since Hamilton defended him, Zenger must have sought Hamilton out to do so. Be careful, and be literal. This is how they catch smart people. If you cannot prove your answer with something stated in the passage, you can’t pick it. If the passage doesn’t say Zenger sought out Hamilton, we can’t assume it. Assumptions always get you into trouble on reading comp. If you’re not convinced, don’t get hung up; just give (D) the maybe, and move on. Choice (E) says that he “based his criticisms on factual issues.” We have proof for this one, so cross it off. Choice (D) is the only one left. That must be our answer.

Don’t get hung up on an
answer choice in the first
pass, and be incredibly
literal. If the passage
doesn’t say it, you can’t
pick it.

Let’s try another fetch question. Try the next question, again based on the passage we’ve already studied:

Which of the following would most effectively replace the phrase predicated on as it is used in the passage?

    derived from

    extirpated on

    conjectured on

    covenanted on

    relegated to

Here’s How to Crack It

Treat this type of question just like a Text Completion problem. Go back to the passage and read the sentence that contains the highlighted phrase, imagining that the highlighted portion is missing: “Hamilton’s brilliant defense of Zenger was ____________ the argument that since Zenger’s criticisms involved verifiable facts, they could not possibly be considered libel.” Try to come up with your own word or phrase for the blank.

The clue is that the defense had something to do with the “argument that was.…” A good phrase might be based on or constructed on. Now go to the answer choices and use POE. Does derived from mean based on? It’s fairly close, so leave this choice. How about extirpated? Remember that if you’re not sure of the meaning of this word, you can’t eliminate it. Leave it for now. Answer choice (C) is not a match; conjectured means to guess or infer. A covenant is an agreement, so choice (D) doesn’t make sense either. And relegate means to assign, so that’s out too. If you’re down to choices (A) and (B), go with the one you know works. Choice (A) definitely works, so that’s our answer.

Remember to keep track
of new vocabulary
words as you work
through this book!

By the way, to extirpate means to tear up by the roots or destroy completely.

Select-in-Passage Questions

Think of these as regular fetch questions, but the answer choices are in the passage rather than part of the question. Most of the time you will find these questions on short passages, but should they occur on a long passage, ETS will limit the scope of the question to a single paragraph. Follow the same steps as you would on a fetch question. Put the question into your own words. Anticipate the answer; then select it from the five or six sentences in the paragraph or passage.

Here’s a practice select-in-passage question:

Prior to 1735, there was no legal precedent for freedom of the press. The constitutional concept of freedom of the press traces its origins to 1735 and the libel trial of John Peter Zenger. Zenger, born in Germany, emigrated to America in 1710 and established The New York Weekly Journal in 1733. The Journal starkly opposed the policies of New York governor William Cosby and while Zenger did not write the majority of the critical pieces, he was arrested on libel charges in 1734. In the ensuing trial, widely followed by the populace, Zenger was defended by Andrew Hamilton, a Pennsylvania lawyer who was brought in after Cosby disbarred all the New York lawyers who offered to defend Zenger. Hamilton’s brilliant defense of Zenger was predicated on the argument that since Zenger’s criticisms involved verifiable facts, they could not possibly be considered libel. The judge agreed and acquitted the publisher, establishing the basic concept of freedom of the press that was to be enshrined in the United States Constitution some 57 years later.

Select the sentence in which the author offers an opinion.

Here’s How to Crack It

Select the sentence in which the author offers an opinion.

First, read the question and summarize it in your own words. The question is looking for an opinion, as opposed to a fact, and specifically, the author’s opinion. Note that there are actually only seven sentences in this passage, so you have seven answer choices. One of them must contain an opinion. The other six, therefore, must be factual. This is a great case for POE. Write A, B, C, D, E, F, and G on your scratch paper so you have something to eliminate.

Sentences 1 and 2—All dates and facts. Cross off (A) and (B).

Sentence 3—More facts. Cross off (C).

Sentence 4—More facts. Cross off (D).

Sentence 5—More facts. Cross off (E).

Sentence 6—The author describes Hamilton’s defense as “brilliant.” This is an opinion, not a fact. This is a possible answer. Give it a check.

Sentence 7—More facts. Cross off (G). The correct answer is sentence 6.

Now that we’ve cracked the fetch questions, let’s move onto the next major type: reasoning questions.

Reasoning Questions

Reasoning questions ask us to ask us to do a little more work to find the proof in the passage. The best answer is still based on the passage, but we need to do a little more work to get it. Our steps for reasoning questions are pretty similar to those for fetch questions:

1.    Figure Out What the Question Wants. Reasoning questions never ask for a simple fact from the passage. Instead, you’ll need to figure out what type of information the question requires before you go back to the passage. For example, some reasoning questions may ask why an author brings up an example. Why do authors ever bring up examples? Well, to support a point that they either just made or are about to make. So, you need to find the point that the author uses the example to support.

2.    Return to the Passage. You’ll still need to return to the passage to find the answer. In general, reasoning questions will require you to read more of the passage than simple fetch questions because often you’ll need to know the context for a particular piece of information.

3.    Answer in Your Own Words If Possible. You’ll be able to complete this step for some reasoning questions, but not for others. If you can’t answer in your words, go right to the answers and use POE.

POE Guidelines for Reasoning Questions

On many reasoning questions you’ll have to make aggressive use of POE. Much of the guidelines you used for fetch questions still apply. However, on reasoning questions, look out for answer choices that do the following:

1.    Go Beyond the Information Given. Often, wrong answers on these questions will go beyond the scope of the passage. In most cases, the wrong answer simply makes a claim that is stronger than the claim in the passage. In other words, be on the look out for extreme language! Choose the answer that is closest to the information in the passage.

2.    Have the Wrong Tone. Some reasoning questions, such as strengthen and weaken questions, can use extreme language while others, such as inference questions, generally should not. Make sure the tone of the answer choice is appropriate to the question task.

3.    Are Only Half Right. Again, answers that are only half right are all wrong and you should eliminate them.

Here’s a practice reasoning question and another familiar passage to work with:

What was it about Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, that caused it to create such an uproar when it was published in 1891? While critics attacked the quality of Wilde’s work, lambasting its plot as “incurably silly” and chiding the writer for using prose that was “clumsy” and “boring,” these overt denunciations of the formal elements of Wilde’s work merely masked the true concerns of many nineteenth-century critics. What these critics were actually railing against was the thematic content of Wilde’s work, specifically his illustration of a lifestyle devoted to useless beauty. For many a nineteenth-century moralist, The Picture of Dorian Gray was nothing more than a primer for spiritual depravity. Wilde’s ultimate sin was not his clunky plot or his sometimes cloying prose; it wasn’t even his disregard for the time-honored tradition of English propriety. It was instead his leniency toward his protagonist. Wilde propagated the disdain of critics not simply because Dorian Gray was an unabashed hedonist, but because Wilde failed to punish his subject appropriately for his hedonism. To the critics, allowing an evil character to escape his just desserts was an unforgivable sin, and it was this transgression that resulted in such opprobrium for Wilde’s work. In their mind, Wilde’s work was corrupting the genteel reading public by failing to show the proper consequences of immoral behavior.

The author of the passage would probably consider which one of the following situations most analogous to the response of the critics in the highlighted sentence?

    A college professor lowers a student’s grade from an A to a B because the student is chronically late to class.

    An accountant refuses to help his clients cheat on their income tax returns.

    A politician attacks the character of his opponent even though it is his opponent’s positions that the politician disagrees with.

    A district attorney indicts a person on a misdemeanor charge because he lacks the evidence to convict the person on a felony charge.

    A reporter files a story despite not having been able to verify all her sources.

What sort of information
do we need from the
passage in order to
answer this question?

Here’s How to Crack It

This question wants us to figure out what the response of the critics is and then find a situation that is similar to it. First, return to the passage and read the highlighted sentence. Based on the sentence, it appears that the situation is that “the people attacked this thing for one reason, but there was really another reason they didn’t like it.”

Now you’re ready to return to the answer choices and look for the best match. The situation in the first answer choice is not the same as what we’ve written; here the professor is penalizing a student for the student’s poor performance in class. Eliminate it. Choice (B) doesn’t match—the accountant is refusing to do something illegal. The third choice seems like a good match; the politician attacks his opponent for one reason (his character), but there was another reason (his policies) for his dislike of the candidate.

Let’s check the remaining choices to make sure our answer is the best answer. In choice (D), the district attorney indicts on a lesser charge because of a lack of evidence for a more serious charge. This is somewhat similar, in that there is an overt element (the misdemeanor charge) and also a second factor which is not overt (the felony charge). However, the part of the answer choice that mentions the lack of evidence makes this choice worse than (C). It goes beyond the information presented in the passage because the original situation in the passage doesn’t mention a lack of evidence on behalf of the critics. Finally, choice (E) is not a match at all. This situation involves a reporter who puts forth something that has not been verified, which isn’t the same as criticizing something for one reason when there is another, deeper reason. Thus, choice (C) is our answer.

Ready for another reasoning question? It’s based on the passage we just used.

Consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.

The author of the passage would probably agree with which of the following statements?

   Most critics of Oscar Wilde’s novel objected primarily to the lifestyle of its author.

   If The Picture of Dorian Gray were written in the twenty-first century, the critical reaction would be less severe.

   Some critics of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray believed that an author of a book had a moral responsibility to the book’s audience.

Here’s How to Crack It

To answer this question, we have to figure out which answer choice the author might agree with. How the heck are we supposed to know what the author might think? Well, all we know about what the author thinks is what’s found in the passage. In many ways, “author-agree” questions are very similar to inference questions. In both types of questions, the best answer may not be explicitly stated in the passage, but there will be sufficient evidence in the passage to support the correct answer. The key here is to take each answer choice one by one and return to the passage to look for proof for it.

On Select All That Apply
questions, don’t feel
compelled to choose more
than one answer—sometimes
only one choice will
be correct!

The first choice states that most critics objected to Wilde’s lifestyle. Can you find any evidence of this in the passage? No. Nowhere does the passage mention his lifestyle. It says that the critics disagreed with the “thematic content,” but we can’t assume that Wilde based his work on his own lifestyle (and of course, you can’t use any outside knowledge you may have of Wilde’s licentious life). Remember: You have to stay inside the scope of the passage—don’t go beyond the information given. Thus, choice (A) is no good.

Now look at the second choice. Is there any evidence about how the author would feel if the book were released today? Nope. Of course, you may assume that the author would agree with this choice, but again, on the GRE that isn’t good enough. We need direct evidence from the passage and there is none for this choice. So, goodbye to choice (B). Let’s go to the third and final answer. Return to the passage and look for the part about the book’s audience. The last two lines make it clear that some critics saw Wilde’s book as corrupting the public and for this they attacked it. This would support choice (C), so that’s our best answer. Notice that in these multiple-choice, multiple-answer questions, there need not be two answers—sometimes there will just be one!

FIND THE PARAPHRASE OF THE TEXT

Because the right answer to every Reading Comprehension question is literally right in front of you, ETS goes to great lengths to disguise the correct answer and to make the wrong answers more appealing. ETS does this by making the best answer a clever paraphrase of the words in the text, one that basically states the same idea but usually avoids repeating words verbatim from the text. By paraphrasing, ETS is able to create right answers that “fly under the radar”; they don’t stand out and they’re easy to dismiss in favor of the trap answers.

Paraphrasing the information in the text is ETS’s job. Your job is simpler. You just need to find the information in the passage that addresses the task of the question. Once you’ve found that information, you can compare each answer choice to your proof from the passage. If the answer choice is a good paraphrase of your proof from the passage, then that will very likely turn out to be the credited response.

As always, balance looking for the right answer with being suspicious of every answer. For most reading questions, there are more wrong answers than right answers. So, read each answer choice as though it is likely to be wrong.

USE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION

As you’ve surely noticed by now, the answer to a Reading Comprehension question is the one that is supported by evidence from the passage. Regardless of the question type or format, that rule is immutable. Here is a recap of other guidelines to use when you’re using POE:

1.    Avoid Extreme Statements. ETS prefers wishy-washy statements to extreme ones. When in doubt, pick the answer that has a weaker tone.

2.    Half Right = All Wrong. ETS likes to write answer choices that are half right; which also means that they’re half—and thus all—wrong. The first part of the answer choice will usually look good, but the second part will be incorrect. Make sure to read the entire choice carefully.

3.    Recycled Language. Some wrong answer choices just take parts of the passage and garble them. These answers usually contain information that’s taken directly from the passage rather than paraphrasing it. Eliminate them!

4.    Beyond the Information Given. These answers go too far beyond what is written in the passage. If you can’t point to a part of the passage that matches information in the answer choice, that choice is probably wrong.

ETS constructs correct
answer choices that
cannot be disputed. The
more extreme a choice is,
the less likely it is to be
the answer.

Let’s explore these guidelines in a little more detail.

Avoid Extreme Statements

Extreme statements are answer choices that make absolute claims. There are very few absolutes in the world, so you shouldn’t expect ETS reading passages (which are all excerpted or based on actual academic papers) to contain extreme statements.

Certain words make choices extreme and, therefore, easy to dispute. Here are a few of these words.

·        must

·        the first

·        each

·        every

·        all

·        the best

·        only

·        totally

·        always

·        no

Extreme answers
are bad!

You shouldn’t automatically eliminate a choice that contains one of these words, but you should turn your attention to it immediately and attack it vigorously. If you can find even one exception, you can eliminate that choice.

Other words make choices moderate, more mushy, and therefore hard to dispute. Here are a few of these words.

·        may

·        can

·        some

·        many

·        sometimes

·        often

Moderate answers
are good!

For example, consider the following two answer choices:

    There is assuredly life on other planets or moons in the solar system.

    Scientists believe that there may be life on other planets or moons in the solar system.

Without even looking at a passage, you should pick the second answer choice because it’s more wishy-washy; the first choice is too strong for ETS’s liking.

Half Right = All Wrong

Careful reading of the answer choices is essential on Reading Comprehension questions. Remember that your job is to find flaws in answer choices and eliminate them. Many people focus on what they like about an answer, rather than what’s wrong with it. ETS loves to write answer choices that start out fine, but then say something wrong. Don’t be taken in by the part of the answer you like. Use a critical eye when applying POE; don’t look for reasons to keep disputed answer choices, look for reasons to eliminate them. One word can make an answer choice wrong if that word isn’t supported by the passage.

If an answer choice is
half wrong, it’s all wrong.
Focus on flaws and on
Process of Elimination.

Look at the following example for the next three example questions:

Within the atmosphere are small amounts of a number of important gases, popularly called “greenhouse gases,” because they alter the flow of life- and heat-energy through the atmosphere, much as does the glass shell of a greenhouse. Their effect on incoming solar energy is minimal, but collectively they act as an insulating blanket around the planet. By absorbing and returning to the earth’s surface much of its outgoing heat, these gases trap it within the lower atmosphere. A greenhouse effect is natural and essential to a livable climate on Earth.

The passage states which of the following about the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment?

    Although their effect on incoming solar energy is minimal, the presence of artificial greenhouse gases is a danger to the planet.

    The composite effect of the gases is necessary for maintaining a climate favorable to life on Earth.

In this case, the first answer starts out great—the passage does indeed state that the gases have a minimal effect on solar energy. But look at the rest of the passage. Does the passage ever talk about “artificial” greenhouse gases? Nope, so the first answer is half right, but all wrong. The second choice, however, is entirely supported by the passage. The second sentence states that “collectively they act…,” while the final sentence says the greenhouse effect is “essential to a livable climate on Earth.”

Recycled Language

One of ETS’s favorite tricks is to write answer choices that contain information from different parts of the passage than the one to which the question refers. If you aren’t being careful, you’ll think, “I remember something like that from the passage” and pick the wrong answer choice. This is one reason it’s so important to use lead words and line references to guide you to the right part of the passage. Never answer a question from memory.

ETS also likes to conflate different parts of a passage to create an answer that uses a lot of words from the passage, but doesn’t say a whole lot. For example, use the passage from the previous section to answer the following question:

The passage suggests which of the following about “greenhouse gases”?

    They are a natural source of heat energy within the atmosphere.

    They contribute to creating a habitable environment on Earth.

The first answer choice uses a lot of words from the passage, but says a whole lot of nothing. It garbles the information in the passage, which states that greenhouse gases “alter” heat energy. They are not a source of it. The second choice, which is the correct choice, is a nice paraphrase of the last sentence. It may not sound as “correct” as the other choice, but close examination shows it to be the better answer.

Beyond the Information Given

ETS takes its reading passages from textbooks, collections of essays, works of scholarship, and other sources of serious reading matter. However, be careful not to answer questions based on the fact that you did your undergraduate thesis on the topic, or that you once read a newspaper article about the topic at hand. The answers are in the passage; don’t use outside knowledge.

Remember: All of the
answers you need
are on the screen.

Often, these answers will make common sense, but unfortunately you can’t use that as a criterion on the GRE. Which of the following answer choices is beyond the information in the passage from before?

The author of the passage would probably agree with which of the following statements?

    Without the presence of greenhouse gases, it is unlikely that the earth would be able to support life.

    Air pollution may contribute to an increase in greenhouse gases, which will in turn lead to eventual warming of the earth.

Clearly, here the second choice is beyond the information given in the passage. It may be true and it makes common sense, but the passage never addresses it. Thus, it cannot be the correct answer on a GRE Reading Comprehension question.

UNDERSTANDING STRUCTURE IN READING AND WRITING

While the reading passages on the GRE may not represent some of the most engaging writing you’ve encountered, it is important to keep in mind the author’s basic goal. Nonfiction writers want their writing to be understood; if you can’t follow their arguments or their progression of ideas, they’ve failed in their jobs as writers. When you’re reading or skimming a passage on the GRE, a good grasp of the structural elements in writing will aid your understanding.

First, pay attention to the structure of each paragraph. The most important information is probably going to be found at the beginning and end of the paragraph. While reading a passage, if your eyes start to glaze over, rest assured you’re not the only one. Good authors know this and make sure to put key points where they are likely to stand out. So, focus on the beginning and end of each paragraph.

Second, look for trigger words. Writers use these words as signposts to direct your reading. When you see same direction words such as for examplein additionand, or furthermore, you know the author is going to be supporting an earlier statement. If you already understand the point of the paragraph, feel free to skim through these lines. However, opposite direction words like althoughbutyet, and however, signify an important shift. Writers use words like this to direct the reader’s attention to an important change or revelation in the progression of ideas.

Finally, the conclusion of the piece offers the author one last chance to get his or her point across. Always read the last paragraph. Does the piece wrap things up nicely or is there some doubt? Does the author suggest further avenues of inquiry? The way the passage ends can help you to understand the author’s main point or primary purpose in writing the passage.

Paying attention to structural clues like the ones mentioned here can help you be a more effective reader. Following these principles in your own writing wouldn’t hurt either.

Reading Comprehension Drill

Answers can be found in Part V.

Questions 1 through 4 are based on the following reading passage.

Called by some the “island that time forgot,” Madagascar is home to a vast array of unique, exotic creatures. One such animal is the aye-aye. First described by western science in 1782, it was initially categorized as a member of the order Rodentia. Further research then revealed that it was more closely related to the lemur, a member of the primate order. Since the aye-aye is so different from its fellow primates, however, it was given its own family: Daubentoniidae. The aye-aye has been listed as an endangered species and, as a result, the government of Madagascar has designated an island off the northeastern coast of Madagascar as a protected reserve for aye-ayes and other wildlife.

Long before Western science became enthralled with this nocturnal denizen of Madagascar’s jungles, the aye-aye had its own reputation with the local people. The aye-aye is perhaps best known for its large, round eyes and long, extremely thin middle finger. These adaptations are quite sensible, allowing the aye-aye to see well at night and retrieve grubs, which are one of its primary food sources, from deep within hollow branches. However, the aye-aye’s striking appearance may end up causing its extinction. The people of Madagascar believe that the aye-aye is a type of spirit animal, and that its appearance is an omen of death. Whenever one is sighted, it is immediately killed. When combined with the loss of large swaths of jungle habitat, this practice may result in the loss of a superb example of life’s variety.

1 of 10

Based on the information given in the passage, the intended audience would most likely be

    visitors to a natural science museum

    professors of evolutionary science

    a third-grade science class

    students of comparative religions

    attendees at a world culture symposium

2 of 10

The author’s attitude toward the aye-aye, as represented in the highlighted text, could best be described as

    admiring

    mystified

    reverent

    appalled

    lachrymose

3 of 10

Select the sentence in the first paragraph that suggests the author’s claim that “this practice may result in the loss of a superb example of life’s variety” is unlikely to happen.

4 of 10

Consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.

Which of the following statements can be logically inferred from the passage?

   Taxonomic classifications are not always absolute.

   The traditional religion of Madagascar involves augury.

   There are no longer enough resources on the main island to support the aye-aye population.

Questions 5 through 6 are based on the following reading passage.

A novel that is a bestseller is often, because of its popularity, not taken seriously as literature. Critics seem to presuppose that great literature must be somehow burdensome to the reader; it must be difficult for the uninitiated to understand. It is precisely this inverted snobbery that has hindered Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits from gaining the critical attention it deserves.

Published in 1982, the novel draws deeply on the author’s own family history. Allende is the first cousin once removed of former Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was murdered during a right-wing military coup in 1973. Yet rather than the to-be-expected socialist harangue, Allende subtly works her political message within the fabric of the compelling narrative she weaves. While Allende borrows a bit too freely from Gabriel García Márquez’s work, she nevertheless has a powerful and original voice within the construct of magical realism.

5 of 10

The author of the passage would probably consider which of the following situations to be most analogous to the critics’ viewpoint as it is described in the highlighted sentence?

    Avant-garde movies with complicated storylines are deemed cinematically superior works to Hollywood blockbusters with straightforward narratives.

    Scientific journals are thought of as providing coverage of natural events that is inferior to that provided by nature documentaries.

    Poetry is considered superior literature to prose because it is shorter, and therefore the message it conveys is more easily understood.

    Political diatribes are viewed as falling outside the accepted literary canon because they are too controversial.

    A movie version of a popular novel is considered artistically superior to the original.

6 of 10

It can be inferred from the passage that

    Allende’s novel is a retelling of her family’s political struggles

    Allende’s novel would have received more favorable reviews if critics had believed it to be great literature

    Allende learned about magical realism from Gabriel García Márquez

    Allende’s novel could have been more compelling if she had included a stronger political message

    readers might have expected Allende’s work to be more political than it actually was

Questions 7 through 8 are based on the following reading passage.

Bronson Alcott is perhaps best known not for who he was, but for whom he knew. Indeed, Alcott’s connections were impressive by any standards: He was a close confidante of such luminaries as Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Yet, to remember the man solely by his associations is to miss his importance to nineteenth-century American philosophy as a whole and to the Transcendental Movement in particular. Admittedly, Alcott’s gift was not as a writer. His philosophical treatises have rightly been criticized by many as being ponderous, esoteric, and lacking focus.

However, Alcott was an erudite orator, and it is in the text of his orations that one begins to appreciate him as a visionary. Most notably, Alcott advocated what were at the time polemical ideas on education. He believed that good teaching should be Socratic in nature and that a student’s intellectual growth was concomitant with his or her spiritual growth.

7 of 10

It can be inferred from the passage that the author would agree with all of the following statements EXCEPT

    Alcott should be remembered for his contributions to Transcendentalism

    Alcott’s ideas were ahead of those of many of his contemporaries

    Alcott believed that learning should not neglect a student’s spiritual education

    Alcott’s ideas about education were not always accepted by his compatriots

    Alcott should not be regarded as a particularly gifted orator

8 of 10

It can be inferred that the author would agree with which of the following statements?

    Transcendentalism was an esoteric field of inquiry promulgated by a select group of visionaries.

    Alcott’s prose style is not always easily understood.

    A Socratic pedagogical style is difficult to align with spiritual teaching.

    Alcott should be chiefly appreciated for the strengths of his association.

    The text of Alcott’s orations were widely accepted by his peers.

Questions 9 through 10 are based on the following reading passage.

Echinosorex gymnura, known colloquially as the moonrat or gymnure, is one of the many fascinating creatures that inhabit the jungles of Southeast Asia. A close relative of the hedgehog, the moon rat likewise belongs to the order Insectivora and the family Erinaceidae. However, the family then splits into the sub-family Hylomyinae, which contains three separate genera and eight distinct species. The appearance and habitat of the moonrat are actually far more similar to those of various members of the order Rodentia, though its eating habits are more in line with its fellow insectivores. Ultimately, the taxonomic classification of this animal is useful only when considered along with other information regarding the animal’s ecological niche.

9 of 10

Consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply.

Which of the following scenarios demonstrates the idea put forth by the author of this passage regarding animal classification?

   While studying a population of bears, scientists rely solely on the traditional taxonomic designations to identify likely hunting grounds.

   A team of medical researchers closely monitors the actions of the animals involved in a study and compares its findings with prevailing beliefs about those animals.

   A zookeeper designs a habitat for a new acquisition, disregards taxonomic classifications and instead focuses on observational data.

10 of 10

The author’s tone could best be described as

    exasperated

    didactic

    ambivalent

    morose

    laudatory

Summary

·        Before answering the questions, attack the passage. Read the passages looking for the main idea, structure, and tone. Remember that looking for problems or changes is the key to finding the main idea.

·        For short passages, read the entire passage. For medium passages, focus on the beginning and end. For longer passages, read the first few lines of each paragraph and the final lines of the entire passage.

·        Take a moment to understand the question task. Fetch questions ask you to retrieve information from the passage. Reasoning questions ask you to do something more than simply figure out what the author is saying.

·        Return to the passage to find the answer to the question. Don’t answer from memory! Go back to the text and find the answer.

·        Try to come up with an answer in your own words before looking at the answer choices ETS provides. Remember to look for paraphrases of the text, not direct quotes.

·        Eliminate answers that contain extreme language, go beyond the information provided, garble the meaning of the text, or otherwise have information that you can’t support from the text.