Observe people who routinely score over a 42 in GMAT verbal and you will notice one trend – they all take notes while tackling reading comprehension passages.

So… should you be taking notes too? The answer – YES.

I’m going to list out the top three reasons why GMAT verbal buffs take notes and why you should be doing this too:

  1. Mental Focus. After completing 60 minutes of AWA and 75 minutes of quantitative analysis, fatigue begins to settle in during the verbal portion of the test. Long passages on boring subject matter can especially cause people to lose focus. The problem compounds because as people lose focus, they begin to regress, which is when people continuously re-read certain words or sentences over and over again. (Regression is the leading cause of slow reading speed). Losing focus also impacts comprehension because while your eyes are physically staring at the words on the screen, your mind is off thinking of other things, instead of internalizing the information. GMAT buffs know that taking notes is an excellent technique to keep your mind sharp and focused on the task at hand. By forcing your brain to identify keywords and writing them down, you are actively reading the passage. Active reading means reading to understand, and doing this can make any unintelligible passage comprehensible, and significantly boost your verbal score in the process.

  2. Keyword Reference. The most popular questions in reading comprehension ask for specific details in a passage. The average test taker has about 2 minutes to answer each question. Allowing 4-5 minutes to initially read the passage, you are left with less than 1 minute to answer each question. During the exam, there simply isn’t enough time to go searching through passages that may be 500-700 words long, looking for a specific detail to answer a given question. Writing down keywords as you take notes is a technique to overcome this dilemma. By writing down keywords, you essentially create a table of contents for your personal reference. If a question asks for a specific detail, refer to your table of contents to immediately find the detail in question. Most specific detail questions are fairly straightforward and can be easily answered once the information is found.

  3. Passage Structure. The most difficult questions to answer in reading comprehension are questions about the author’s attitude, tone, or primary purpose. Since the answer to many of these questions lies in the topic sentence, the only effective method of finding these answers in a passage is to understand the underlying structure of the passage itself. This means identifying the topic sentence, supporting evidence, and author commentary. Taking notes as you read allows you to break down complex ideas and language into their primary components. Once a passage is reduced to its most basic form, it is a much simpler matter to search through a few sentences to locate the purpose than to re-read an entire passage.

Click here for access to the best GMAT Study Guide & GMAT Practice Exams