A common question regarding the GRE is how to improve on Reading Comp. Whether our problem is speed, comprehending the passages, or — a common complaint — narrowing the choices down to two and then picking the wrong one, RC difficulties are widespread (that is, ubiquitous).
Here’s my advice to a student’s question in the Forums:
The first thing to say is: You really do just have to read and think very fast to get a top score on the verbal GRE. To truly learn to read and process complex information more quickly could take a person years. Obviously, we don’t usually have that kind of time to prepare for the GRE. But for whatever reason, speed-comprehension is a skill being tested on this exam.
So, if speed is a serious problem, you might have to accept that you won’t really get to REALLY answer all the questions — you might want to answer all the vocab questions first, since they’re faster, and then go back and do all the shorter reading passages, leaving the longer passages for last. If you skip something, use the “mark” button, and pick a random answer just in case you don’t get a chance to come back.
(See also: Everything You Need to Know About GRE Time Management Part I and Part II.)
As for taking notes, personally I do not take notes when the passage is on a topic with which I am familiar. But if the passage is complex (usually science passages are, to me), I diagram, and even draw certain processes (for instance, I did a lovely sketch of spiral galaxy formation on one passage, with words and arrows indicating the meaning of that part of the passage). I also always diagram is a contrast is being presented so i can make a T-chart to help me keep track of which historians/scientists/etc. are on which “side.”
I also find that reading many, many GRE passages (you can also practice on books for the old GRE — the Reading Comp is basically the same — or on materials for the LSAT or GMAT) familiarizes you with certain topics and structures. I now know more about astronomy than I ever thought I would, and when I begin reading something about history, I’m always expecting the same evidence to get reinterpreted in a new light (I’d say I’ve become very familiar with the idea that historical and anthropological evidence is often interpreted by historians and anthropologists through the lens of their own time and culture).
An example — I was recently working with a student on a long, hard RC passage about a particular type of fish, and how it had evolved to have both its eyes on the same side of its head (and then there was a long description of the twisting of the optic nerves), and how these fish in some parts of the ocean have their eyes on the left side of their heads, and in other parts, on the right side. The passage investigated what the evolutionary advantage could be to having both of one’s eyes on the left side versus the right side. (A good question! What on earth COULD be the advantage to such an adaptation? Do sharks always attack from the left or something? Ha.)