So, in my last post, I discussed finding the core sentence, using punctuation to help us break a sentence into manageable chunks. We looked at two sentences; I’ve re-copied one of them below.
The director’s commercially-motivated attempts to (i)_______ the imperatives of the mass marketplace were (ii)_______, as evidenced by the critical acclaim but low attendance garnered by his film.
We focused on how the comma breaks the sentence in half: one half is the actual core sentence, and the other half describes how the director’s attempts were critically, but not commercially, successful.
This time, let’s dive into what’s happening with that first blank, and now I’ll give you the answer options:
Many, many students in my classes choose ‘secure’, and that really puzzled me. If a class doesn’t know the answer, there’s usually a fairly even division among the choices. What I saw wasn’t students guessing; they thought they had the correct choice in ‘secure’. Somehow, the third option was a trap. How?
I have a theory: ‘secure’ is a trap because students link the first blank to the wrong element, the wrong target. I think many students link that first blank to the word ‘marketplace’, and then think about how someone would want to ‘secure’ a ‘market’ for a product (in this case, a film).
Why do you hate GRE Reading Comprehension so much? You’re reading and comprehending right now, aren’t you? You read thousands of words every day: status updates, tweets, news articles, emails, reports, books, magazines. In fact, much of the time you LOVE to read, losing yourself for hours in a Harry Potter book or a Stephen King novel. So what’s so bad about reading comp?
I know. I know. “Reading Comp is boring,” you say. Dense. Impenetrable. The subject matter is unfamiliar. The questions are tough. The answers are indistinguishable–either all of them match, or none of them match.
Also, the passages are usually poorly edited excerpts from longer pieces, and therefore lack context, titles, summaries, explanations, and transitions. Often the passages are written for a specific audience (archaeologists, literary theorists, science buffs) and therefore use unfamiliar jargon. You’re thrown in the deep end of the pool, expected to process dense material quickly on a stressful day. No wonder your eyes glaze over and you find yourself reading the same sentences over and over again, getting nothing.
Therefore you do it all wrong. You read and reread, trying to memorize very detail in the passage. You waste tons of time trying to understand the densest, most detailed parts of the passage, losing the thread of the argument. You reread again. In a rush now, you read the question too quickly and spend too much time poring over the answers, searching for evidence of each answer in the passage. When you do that, you find evidence for every answer back in the passage, confusing you even more. You waste time reading again. Finally, you pick something that kind-of matches something in the passage and hope you’re right. You get it right sometimes, but for no rational reason that you can explain.
The cure? You have to develop a systematic but flexible approach that allows you to answer the questions accurately. Then, you need to practice that approach until you’re comfortable and confident.
Here’s the secret. If you spend a lot of time practicing Reading Comp, you will improve your score. That’s it. Just practice. Do questions. Check your answers. Pat yourself on the back when you’re right. Find out why you were wrong when you were wrong. Do more passages. Do old passages again. Repeat.
Again. Be systematic, but be flexible.
How to be systematic:
Every time you do a question, follow these 4 steps. Every time. Never skip a step. These steps should be so ingrained they’re second nature.
1) Read the question.
Understand what the question is really asking. Put the question into your own words. Decide if it’s specific or general.
Identify key words from the question to go hunt for back in the passage.
2) Go back to the passage. Read what you need.
For general questions, you’ll have to quickly read the whole thing, focusing on main points, opinions, and structural clues, while ignoring the specific details.
For detail questions, you have to go back and find the specific information that answers the question. Use key words from the question to guide your hunt. Read a few lines above and a few lines below that key word.
Imagine two friends, Gina and Tina, who are going to a speed-dating event. Gina really, really wants a boyfriend. Tina is just going because Gina dragged her there, and she’s only willing to date someone who is perfect for her.
At the event, Gina finds herself liking every guy that she meets: Guy #1 is smart and successful, so it makes sense that he’s proud of his accomplishments. Guy #2 is really funny and clever. The waiter just didn’t understand his jokes. Tina, on the other hand, has a very different impression of these guys: Guy 1 has been bragging about himself the whole time, and seems arrogant. Guy 2 thinks he’s funny, but he’s actually being cruel and making fun of people.
At the end of the event, Gina can’t decide which of the guys she likes best, because she has found reasons to like all of them and she has overlooked any reasons not to like them. Tina, however, was looking for reasons not to date these guys, so she notices these dealbreaker flaws. She has managed to whittle the list down to one person whose personality matched hers.
Of course in real life, dating is subjective, and what might be a dealbreaker for one person might be fine for someone else! On GRE Reading Comprehension, though, there are definitive right and wrong answers, and we have to learn how to spot the wrong ones.
Look for Dealbreakers
When it comes to Reading Comprehension on the GRE, you want to act like Tina, not Gina! You will often be presented with questions whose answer choices all seem to have appealing qualities. If you’re looking for what makes an answer right, you may overlook certain critical flaws, and talk yourself into choosing a wrong answer. If you’re looking for what makes an answer wrong, though, you’re a lot more likely to notice those deal-breaking flaws!
Take a moment to read the following passage*:
How to read? Surely, we all know how to read already! Right?
It turns out that the best way to read a passage on a standardized test is not the best way to read in the real world. So before I say anything else, I want to say this: use what we’re about to discuss for the GRE only. Don’t read this way once you actually get to grad school!