How to Read Faster on the GMAT

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Manhattan Prep GMAT Blog - How to Read Faster on the GMAT by Chelsey Cooley

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Are you struggling to finish the GMAT Verbal section within the time limit? Are you spending six minutes on every Reading Comprehension passage and using up time that you really need somewhere else? Here are some ideas on how to read faster on the GMAT that might turn your Verbal performance around.

You can probably train yourself to read faster on the GMAT. The secret is that you have to read a lot: not just GMAT materials, but also high-density nonfiction writing of the same type you’ll find on the test. (This article has great sources for this type of reading.) You also have to read regularly: spend half an hour reading, every single day. This will take time and patience, but practice is the best way to make yourself a faster overall reader.

However, you’re not necessarily trying to get faster at reading in general! If you’re still reading this article, you probably want to be a faster GMAT reader. Sure, being a faster reader in general will make you faster on the GMAT. But there are also some big differences between reading on the GMAT and reading in real life.

  • In real life, you want to remember what you read. On the GMAT, you can forget the whole passage as soon as you answer the last question.
  • In real life, you can’t always refer back to what you’ve read. On the GMAT, you can always look back at the passage.
  • In real life, you might have a lot of different reasons to read a piece of writing. On the GMAT, you only care about answering specific types of questions correctly.

Because of these differences, you can get away with speed-reading habits on the GMAT that wouldn’t be very useful in real life. For example, as soon as you realize what a certain part of the passage is saying, you can stop reading it closely and skim until you see the next contrast or big idea. GMAT passages are often repetitive: the author will make a claim, then elaborate on that claim, then back up the claim with an example, then explain how the example supports the claim, and so on and so forth. You don’t need to read five sentences just to understand one claim! As soon as you get what the author is saying, speed up and tune out. Don’t tune back in until the author tells you something new.

When it comes to details, you can get away with a lot. You don’t know ahead of time which details the GMAT will test you on. You can also look back at the passage whenever you need to. So, you don’t need to know what any particular detail says or means. Here’s all you really need to know about the details in a passage:

  • What’s it talking about? Is this a detail about oxygen saturation in ocean water or about the hazards of volcanic ash? Don’t get too specific. This is just so you’ll know where to look for the answer if you happen to get a question about this detail.
  • What’s the purpose? The author put this detail there to support a bigger point. If you know what that bigger point was, you’ll have a better grasp on the passage as a whole. You’ll also be prepared for ‘purpose’ questions.

If you find yourself rereading a detail, trying to make sense of what it’s saying, you’re wasting time! You’re also probably wasting time if you write anything about the details in your notes. It’s much more important to get a broad overview of the passage on your first read. Save the details for later.

Finally, if your test date is coming up and you’re still having a tough time reading quickly, think about how reading speed fits into the bigger picture. Every single person who takes the GMAT has some weaknesses; people who get great scores are the ones who acknowledge and work with their weaknesses, rather than trying to pretend they aren’t there.

If you’re a slow reader, you may need a guessing strategy for Reading Comp questions. Luckily, RC is a great question type for educated guessing. This article and this article should give you some ideas. You may also need to practice your Sentence Correction speed, to buy more time for the more reading-oriented problems. Make sure you’re guessing proactively; the worst possible scenario for a slow reader is one where you run out of time at the end and have to make a ton of guesses in a row. If you guess on every eighth or tenth question from the very beginning, you’ll get a higher score than someone who makes the same number of guesses all at once.

Slow reading doesn’t mean you’ll get a bad score on the GMAT Verbal section! You can learn to read more quickly and more efficiently, and you can even learn to avoid reading and make a smart guess. With a little practice and thoughtful test-taking strategy, you can keep this weakness from keeping you down. 📝


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Chelsey CooleyChelsey Cooley Manhattan Prep GRE Instructor is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GRE prep offerings here.

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