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GMAT reading comprehension questions are often the most overlooked when future test takers are preparing for the exam. There seems to be a certain level of comfort with these questions that instills a false sense of security. This overconfidence is probably because similar questions appear on the SAT, ACT, and most standard state exams. If a person takes a practice GMAT exam, it is likely that, from a percentage correct standpoint, the reading comprehension questions are where they fare best.

Why then would anyone be reluctant to prepare for these questions and build on their strong suit? The answer is most likely boredom. Let’s be honest. Many GMAT reading comprehension questions are flat-out boring. You start by reading a long tedious passage about a topic for which you care very little. Then, you are asked to recall certain things from the passage. The problem is that you can’t recall much of anything, but your instinct tells you to try and answer the questions anyway. This is how incorrect answers are born.

Here are some quick tips for handling any GMAT reading comprehension passage:

It’s an Open-Book Test

Use the computer screen to refer back to the passage to locate the exact spot in the GMAT reading comprehension passage where the answer can be found. If an answer choice cannot be directly supported by the passage, it is incorrect and should be eliminated from consideration. If you are certain the answer choice must be correct, and yet still cannot find support for it at a specific place in the passage, then it is a really good wrong answer. The test writer should be congratulated.

Read the Context

When heading back to the passage to find the answer to each question, spend some time reading several of the lines above and below the portion where you expect to find the answer. A clever test-writing technique is to include words in a question that can be misinterpreted by only re-reading the one line of the passage containing those words. Read for context, and not just for key words.

You Have the Answer

After reading a GMAT reading comprehension question and returning to the passage, express an answer to yourself in your own words. This is a powerful tool. With practice, you will find that this will allow you to eliminate all but the correct answer simply by comparing each one to what you came up with yourself.

Let’s first note the two reasons why we read in everyday life:

1)    We read because we are required (for real-life purposes) to be knowledgeable about the content we are reading: studying for a history exam, delivering on a business proposal, etc.

2)    We read because we have a natural interest in the topic at hand, as in leisurely reading: a novel, an analysis of a favorite sports team, etc.

You may have already known that the GMAT does not use particularly “interesting” topics.  Most content of a passage deals with topics such as a biological process, a historical event, or a technological innovation.  It would be silly to simply hope that your passages on the GMAT will be about specific topics that interest you.

However, you should also not view the passages as a set of details and factoids to be memorized.  Any reading passage may have up to 350 words.  That would be a lot to memorize, especially for a timed test.  From this passage, you may be tested on as little as two different details.  This doesn’t seem very efficient.  Moreover, once you are done with a passage and its accompanying questions, you will never have to care about that passage and questions again.  So why put so much effort to memorize something that you’ll forget about eight minutes later?

Instead, you should keep a couple of different approaches in mind.  The first is to look for structural patterns.  For example, if you see any biographical passage, you’re likely to see a few sentences about the subject’s childhood and what led to that person becoming interested in what she is famous for now, and a few sentences dedicated to how she worked toward that interest.  A passage about contrasting theories almost always has one paragraph dedicated on one theory, and another dedicated to the other theory, and then some sort of conclusion — sometimes advocating one over the other.  Looking for structure will help streamline your reading.

In conjunction, when you start encountering specific details, think in the context of why the author mentions these things, as opposed to what those things actually are.  Again, there’s no need to memorize — the passage will remain on the screen as you’re answering the relevant questions.  “Why is this detail important?” or “What’s the purpose behind this paragraph?” are the questions you want to ask yourself as you’re reading; by keeping these questions in your mind, you also won’t think “this is boring”, because there’s purpose behind your reading.

Reading Comprehension, more than any other question type, tests your critical thinking and time management abilities, which are the real-life skills that business schools are looking for.  Mastering these will not only lead to success on the GMAT, but also through b-school.  Good luck!

Most large corporations in the United States were once run by individual capitalists who owned enough stock to dominate the board of directors and dictate company policy. Because putting such large amounts of stock on the market would only depress its value, they could not sell out for a quick profit and instead had to concentrate on improving the long-term productivity of their companies. Today, with few exceptions, the stock of large United States corporations is held by large institutions—pension funds, for example—and because these institutions are prohibited by antitrust laws from owning a majority of a company’s stock and from actively influencing a company’s decision-making, they can enhance their wealth only by buying and selling stock in anticipation of fluctuations in its value. A minority shareholder is necessarily a short term trader. As a result, United States productivity is unlikely to improve unless shareholders and the managers of the companies in which they invest are encouraged to enhance long-term productivity (and hence long-term profitability), rather than simply to maximize short-term profits.

Since the return of the old-style capitalist is unlikely, today’s short-term traders must be remade into tomorrow’s long-term capitalistic investors. The legal limits that now prevent financial institutions from acquiring a dominant shareholding position in a corporation should be removed, and such institutions encouraged to take a more active role in the operations of the companies in which they invest. In addition, any institution that holds twenty percent or more of a company’s stock should be forced to give the public one day’s notice of the intent to sell those shares. Unless the announced sale could be explained to the public on grounds other than anticipated future losses, the value of the stock would plummet and, like the old-time capitalists, major investors could cut their losses only by helping to restore their companies’ productivity. Such measures would force financial institutions to become capitalists whose success depends not on trading shares at the propitious moment, but on increasing the productivity of the companies in which they invest.

1. In the passage, the author is primarily concerned with doing which of the following?

(A) Comparing two different approaches to a problem
(B) Describing a problem and proposing a solution
(C) Defending an established method
(D) Presenting data and drawing conclusions from the data
(E) Comparing two different analyses of a current situation

2. It can be inferred from the passage that which of the following is true of majority shareholders in a corporation?

(A) They make the corporation’s operational management decisions.
(B) They are not allowed to own more than fifty percent of the corporation’s stock.
(C) They cannot make quick profits by selling their stock in the corporation.
(D) They are more interested in profits than in productivity.
(E) They cannot sell any of their stock in the corporation without giving the public advance notice.

3. According to the passage, the purpose of the requirement suggested in lines 30-33 would be which of the following?

(A) To encourage institutional stockholders to sell stock that they believe will decrease in value
(B) To discourage institutional stockholders from intervening in the operation of a company whose stock they own
(C) To discourage short-term profit-taking by institutional stockholders
(D) To encourage a company’s employees to take an active role in the ownership of stock in the company
(E) To encourage investors to diversify their stock holdings

4. Which of the following best explains the author’s statement that “A minority shareholder is necessarily a short-term trader” ?

(A) The only way a minority shareholder can make money from stocks is to buy and sell stocks as prices fluctuate over short periods of time.
(B) Only a shareholder who owns a majority of a company’s stock can influence the trading price of the stock over a long period of time.
(C) A minority shareholder is prohibited by law from buying stock and holding it for long-term profits.
(D) Large institutions like pension funds cannot legally own a majority of any corporation’s stock.
(E) A minority shareholder rarely takes an interest in the decisions of a corporation’s board of directors.

5. The author suggests that which of the following is a true statement about people who typify the “old style capitalist” ?

(A) They now rely on outdated management techniques.
(B) They seldom engaged in short-term trading of the stock they owned.
(C) They did not influence the investment policies of the corporations in which they invested.
(D) They now play a much smaller role in the stock market as a result of antitrust legislation.
(E) They were primarily concerned with maximizing the short-term profitability of the corporations in which they owned stock.

Highlight to see answers: 1. B 2. D 3. C 4. A 5. B

Please post your explanations in the comments below!

In most earthquakes the Earth’s crust cracks like porcelain. Stress builds up until a fracture forms at a depth of a few kilometers and the crust slips to relieve the stress. Some earthquakes, however, take place hundreds of kilometers down in the Earth’s mantle, where high pressure makes rock so ductile that it flows instead of cracking, even under stress severe enough to deform it like putty. How can there be earthquakes at such depths?

That such deep events do occur has been accepted only since 1927, when the seismologist Kiyoo Wadati convincingly demonstrated their existence. Instead of comparing the arrival times of seismic waves at different locations, as earlier researchers had done. Wadati relied on a time difference between the arrival of primary (P) waves and the slower secondary (S) waves. Because P and S waves travel at different but fairly constant speeds, the interval between their arrivals increases in proportion to the distance from the earthquake focus, or rupture point.

For most earthquakes, Wadati discovered, the interval was quite short near the epicenter, the point on the surface where shaking is strongest. For a few events, however, the delay was long even at the epicenter. Wadati saw a similar pattern when he analyzed data on the intensity of shaking. Most earthquakes had a small area of intense shaking, which weakened rapidly with increasing distance from the epicenter, but others were characterized by a lower peak intensity, felt over a broader area. Both the P-S intervals and the intensity patterns suggested two kinds of earthquakes: the more common shallow events, in which the focus lay just under the epicenter, and deep events, with a focus several hundred kilometers down.

The question remained: how can such quakes occur, given that mantle rock at a depth of more than 50 kilometers is too ductile to store enough stress to fracture? Wadati’s work suggested that deep events occur in areas (now called Wadati-Benioff zones) where one crustal plate is forced under another and descends into the mantle. The descending rock is substantially cooler than the surrounding mantle and hence is less ductile and much more liable to fracture.

1. The passage is primarily concerned with

(A) demonstrating why the methods of early seismologists were flawed
(B) arguing that deep events are poorly understood and deserve further study
(C) defending a revolutionary theory about the causes of earthquakes and methods of predicting them
(D) discussing evidence for the existence of deep events and the conditions that allow them to occur
(E) comparing the effects of shallow events with those of deep events

2. The author uses the comparisons to porcelain and putty in order to

(A) explain why the Earth’s mantle is under great pressure
(B) distinguish the earthquake’s epicenter from its focus
(C) demonstrate the conditions under which a Wadati-Benioff zone forms
(D) explain why S waves are slower than P waves
(E) illustrate why the crust will fracture but the mantle will not

3. It can be inferred from the passage that if the S waves from an earthquake arrive at a given location long after the P waves, which of the following must be true?

(A) The earthquake was a deep event.
(B) The earthquake was a shallow event.
(C) The earthquake focus was distant.
(D) The earthquake focus was nearby.
(E) The earthquake had a low peak intensity.

4. The method used by Wadati to determine the depths of earthquakes is most like which of the following?
(A) Determining the depth of a well by dropping stones into the well and timing how long they take to reach the bottom
(B) Determining the height of a mountain by measuring the shadow it casts at different times of the day
(C) Determining the distance from a thunderstorm by timing the interval between the flash of a lightning bolt and the thunder it produces
(D) Determining the distance between two points by counting the number of paces it takes to cover the distance and measuring a single pace
(E) Determining the speed at which a car is traveling by timing how long it takes to travel a known distance

5. The passage supports which of the following statements about the relationship between the epicenter and the focus of an earthquake?

(A) P waves originate at the focus and S waves originate at the epicenter.
(B) In deep events the epicenter and the focus are reversed.
(C) In shallow events the epicenter and the focus coincide.
(D) In both deep and shallow events the focus lies beneath the epicenter.
(E) The epicenter is in the crust, whereas the focus is in the mantle.

6. The passage suggests that which of the following must take place in order for any earthquake to occur?

I. Stress must build up.
II. Cool rock must descend into the mantle.
III. A fracture must occur.

(A) I only
(B) II only
(C) III only
(D) I and III only
(E) I, II, and III

7. Information presented in the passage suggests that, compared with seismic activity at the epicenter of a shallow event, seismic activity at the epicenter of a deep event is characterized by

(A) shorter P-S intervals and higher peak intensity
(B) shorter P-S intervals and lower peak intensity
(C) longer P-S intervals and similar peak intensity
(D) longer P-S intervals and higher peak intensity
(E) longer P-S intervals and lower peak intensity

8. The passage suggests which of the following about the views held by researchers before 1927?

(A) Some researchers did not believe that deep events could actually occur.
(B) Many researchers rejected the use of P-S intervals for determining the depths of earthquakes.
(C) Some researchers doubted that the mantle was too ductile to store the stress needed for an earthquake.
(D) Most researchers expected P waves to be slower than S waves.
(E) Few researchers accepted the current model of how shallow events occur.

9. The author’s explanation of how deep events occur would be most weakened if which of the following were discovered to be true?

(A) Deep events are far less common than shallow events.
(B) Deep events occur in places other than where crustal plates meet.
(C) Mantle rock is more ductile at a depth of several hundred kilometers than it is at 50 kilometers.
(D) The speeds of both P and S waves are slightly greater than previously thought.
(E) Below 650 kilometers earthquakes cease to occur.

Highlight to see answers: 1. D 2. E 3. A 4. C 5. D 6. D 7. E 8. A 9. B

Please post your explanations in the comments below!

In Roman times, defeated enemies were generally put to death as criminals for having offended the emperor of Rome. In the Middle Ages, however, the practice of ransoming, or returning prisoners in exchange for money, became common. Though some saw this custom as a step towards a more humane society, the primary reasons behind it were economic rather than humanitarian.

In those times, rulers had only a limited ability to raise taxes. They could neither force their subjects to fight nor pay them to do so. The promise of material compensation in the form of goods and ransom was therefore the only way of inducing combatants to participate in a war. In the Middle Ages, the predominant incentive for the individual soldier to participate in a war was the expectation of spoils. Although collecting ransom clearly brought financial gain, keeping a prisoner and arranging for his exchange had its costs. Consequently, several procedures were devised to reduce transaction costs.

One such device was a rule asserting that the prisoner had to assess his own value. This compelled the prisoner to establish a value without much distortion; indicating too low a value would increase the captive’s chances of being killed, while indicating too high a value would either ruin him financially or create a prohibitively expensive ransom that would also result in death.

A second means of reducing costs was the practice of releasing a prisoner on his word of honor. This procedure was advantageous to both parties since the captor was relieved of the expense of keeping the prisoner while the captive had freedom of movement. The captor also benefited financially by having his captive raise the ransom himself. This “parole” was a viable practice since the released prisoner risked recapture or retaliation against his family. Moreover, in medieval society, breaking one’s word had serious consequences. When, for example, King Francois I broke his word to the Emperor Charles V in 1525, his reputation suffered immensely.

A third method of reducing costs was the use of specialized institutions to establish contact between the two parties. Two types of institutions emerged: professional dealers who acted as brokers, and members of religious orders who acted as neutral intermediaries. Dealers advanced money for the ransom and charged interest on the loan. Two of the religious orders that became intermediaries were the Mercedarians and the Trinitarians, who between them arranged the ransom of nearly one million prisoners.

1. The primary purpose of the passage is to

(A) discuss the economic basis of the medieval practice of exchanging prisoners for ransom
(B) examine the history of the treatment of prisoners of war
(C) emphasize the importance of a warrior’s “word of honor” during the Middle Ages
(D) explore three ways of reducing the costs of ransom
(E) demonstrate why warriors of the Middle Ages looked forward to battles

2. It can be inferred from the passage that a medieval soldier

(A) was less likely to kill captured members of opposing armies than was a soldier of the Roman Empire
(B) was similar to a 20th-century terrorist in that he operated on a basically independent level and was motivated solely by economic incentives
(C) had few economic options and chose to fight because it was the only way to earn an adequate living
(D) was motivated to spare prisoners’ lives by humanitarian rather than economic ideals
(E) had no respect for his captured enemies since captives were typically regarded as weak

3. Which of the following best describes the change in policy from executing prisoners in Roman times to ransoming prisoners in the Middle Ages?

(A) The emperors of Rome demanded more respect than did medieval rulers and thus Roman subjects went to greater lengths to defend their nation.
(B) It was a reflection of the lesser degree of direct control medieval rulers had over their subjects.
(C) It became a show of strength and honor for warriors of the Middle Ages to be able to capture and return their enemies.
(D) Medieval soldiers were not as humanitarian as their ransoming practices might have indicated.
(E) Medieval soldiers demonstrated more concern about economic policy than did their Roman counterparts.

4. The author uses the phrase “without much distortion” in order

(A) to indicate that prisoners would fairly assess their worth
(B) to emphasize the important role medieval prisoners played in determining whether they should be ransomed
(C) to explain how prisoners often paid more than an appropriate ransom in order to increase their chances for survival
(D) suggest that captors and captives often had understanding relationships
(E) to show that when in prison a soldier’s view could become distorted

5. All of the following are mentioned in the passage as actions that were taken to ensure that ransoming prisoners was a profitable operation EXCEPT

(A) each prisoner was made to designate the amount of ransom to be paid for his return
(B) prisoners were released on the condition that they guaranteed that their ransoms would be paid
(C) professional intermediaries were employed to facilitate the smooth exchange of prisoner and ransom at a price to the prisoner
(D) religious orders acted as impartial mediators by arranging the trade-off of ransom and prisoner
(E) medieval rulers promised to aid soldiers in their efforts to collect ransom

6. In the author’s opinion, a soldier’s decision to spare an adversary’s life be linked historically to

(A) the economic relationship of the warring states
(B) the case with which a soldier could capture and subsequently imprison his enemy
(C) the economic gain from taking an enemy prisoner rather than killing him in combat
(D) technological advances in weaponry
(E) the desire for soldiers to uphold their word of honor

7. It can be inferred from the passage that the process of arranging ransoms during medieval times was

(A) more lucrative for medieval soldiers and kings than the winning of spoils
(B) a procedure so costly that it was not economically worthwhile for the captors
(C) futile for the captive since he risked recapture even after his ransom was paid
(D) a potential source of income for others aside from the captors of the prisoners
(E) handled only through Mercedarian or Trinitarian intermediaries

8. Which of the following best describes the organization of the passage?
(A) An assertion is made, briefly explained, and then several examples that refute the assertion are given.
(B) A hypothesis is offered, carefully qualified, and then supporting data is analyzed.
(C) A generally accepted historical viewpoint is presented in order to introduce discussion of its strengths and limitations.
(D) A historical analysis is made of a phenomenon and supporting details are offered.
(E) A historical dispute is introduced, and the case for one side is examined in detail.

Highlight to see answers: 1. A 2. A 3. B 4. A 5. E 6. C 7. D 8. D

Please post your explanations in the comments below!

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