What To Read – And What Not To Read – On GRE Reading Comprehension Passages

Stacey Koprince —  April 3, 2012 — 4 Comments

what to read on the GRE

Recently,we talked about how to read and take notes on a reading comprehension passage. We didn’t look at an actual example, though, so we’re going to do that today. If you haven’t already read the older article, read that first; then come back here to see the example.

The passage below is from the Manhattan Prep GRE CAT database (copyright MG Prep). If you are still using our exams and haven’t yet seen this passage, then you may want to wait until after you’ve seen the passage before you read this article.

As a general rule, we want to spend about 2 minutes reading shorter passages and about 3 minutes reading longer passages. The below passage is a longer one, so give yourself up to 3 minutes to read and take light notes. (Note: it’s a tough one! Don’t try to understand absolutely everything “ just get the big ideas.)

Sarah Meyers McGinty, in her new book Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence, argues that while the simple lingual act of declaring power does not help a powerless person gain influence, well-considered linguistic techniques and maneuvers do. McGinty does not dispute the importance of factors such as expertise and ability in determining stature, but argues persuasively that these power determinants amount to little in a person unable to communicate effectively. Many surveys have shown that the ability to communicate effectively is the characteristic judged by managers to be most critical in determining promotability in the workplace or an academic environment.

McGinty divides speech into two categories: “language from the center” and “language from the edge”. In McGinty’s words, “Language from the center makes a speaker sound like a leader. McGinty suggests that language from the center is not only for those in high positions of power, but also for those of lower ranks who wish to gain more power and credibility. A speaker using language from the center exhibits the following characteristics: he directs rather than responds; he makes statements rather than asks questions; he contradicts, argues, and disagrees; he uses his experience persuasively; and he maintains an air of impersonality in the workplace. McGinty suggests that the use of language from the center can alter or create a new balance of power. These assertions are supported by studies that show that people accept leadership from those they perceive to be experts.

Language from the edge stands in stark contrast to language from the center. Language from the edge is careful, exploratory, and inquiring. It is inclusive, deferential, and collaborative. A speaker using language from the edge responds rather than directs; asks questions; strives to make others feel heard and protected; and avoids argument. The main purpose of language from the center is to claim authority for a speaker, while language from the edge strives to build consensus and trust. McGinty argues that true power comes from a deep understanding of when to use which style and the ability to use both as necessary.

What distinguishes McGinty’s discussion of effective communication is her focus on communication skills as a way of gaining power; this contrasts with most workplace communication theory, which focuses on communication skills as a way of preventing misunderstandings, avoiding conflict, and fostering interpersonal relationships. McGinty, however, holds that language not only helps maintain relationships but also lends authority. According to Power Talk, effective communication skill is an understanding of how situation shapes speech and how speech shapes situation and an understanding of how speech styles and the forces that affect those styles . . . can build your authority, and enhance your credibility and impact.

Many of you are probably thinking: that was nowhere near enough time. How am I supposed to get through something like that in 3 minutes (or faster!)? If you’ve read the other article I linked above, then you know my answer already: because we’re not going to read and try to understand every last detail in there. I’m going to take you through what I would think and what I would write while I’m reading this passage for the first time.

Paragraph 1

The first column contains the actual text, but I’ve underlined the words that I really read carefully and inserted blah blahblah when I started seriously skimming. The wording without underlines indicates things that I did read but to which I didn’t pay as much attention. Under the What I write column, I sometimes include some explanatory text in parentheses “ this is not something that I wrote down, but just helps to explain the abbreviations I used.

paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

paragraph 2

Paragraph 3

paragraph 3

Paragraph 4

paragraph 4

The two big ideas seem to be the things she talks about in the last two paragraphs: that communication can be a way to gain power, and that it’s necessary to use both types of language to gain power. The correct answer to a main idea question should address one or both of those concepts.

Take-aways for Reading an RC Passage:

(1) On the first read-through, we’re trying to understand the big picture ideas as well as any major contrasts or changes of direction. That’s all. We want to take light notes, delineated by paragraph, while we’re reading.

(2) We don’t have a lot of time to read these passages, so we specifically want to try to avoid getting sucked into the detail on these passages. We should know what kind of detail we have and in which paragraph it’s located “ but we’ll come back to that detail later on, and only if we actually get a question about it. Skimming is not only necessary but actually a good technique to save us effort!

(3) You will likely feel uncomfortable with this approach at first because you will be skimming or outright skipping some of the detail. You should feel as though you don’t understand every last thing in the passage “ if you do understand every last thing, you are reading too carefully and taking too much time. As long as you understand the big ideas and any major contrasts, you’ll be fine!

Stacey Koprince

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Stacey Koprince is a Manhattan GRE Instructor and Instructor Developer (a fancy title for trainer), as well as the Director of Online Community for the sister company ManhattanGMAT; she also teaches the GMAT and the LSAT. Besides spending her spare time taking standardized tests for fun, she is learning French (and, as such, is incredibly impressed with all of her students who do not speak English as a first language - she can't imagine taking the GRE in French!). She is also a Taekwando novice but expects to earn her yellow belt shortly - so you'd better do your homework.

4 responses to What To Read – And What Not To Read – On GRE Reading Comprehension Passages

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