GMAT Verbal: Reading Comprehension |

GMAT Verbal: Reading Comprehension

By Jonathan Taves

Updated August 21, 2015 Updated August 21, 2015

Everyone has read a boring non-fiction book before. They’re mired in unnecessary information about a subject that barely deserves an entry on Urban Dictionary, let alone, 300+ pages of excruciating detail. After a few paragraphs your mind starts to drift and the possibility of poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick becomes an attractive alternative.

If that situation doesn't sound enjoyable enough, how about we ask you to read and react to a random two paragraph passage from that book towards the end of a four hour exam? Sound like fun? Welcome to reading comprehension (RC) on the GMAT. For many, it’s one of the most frightening question types.

In reality, however, RC is your GMAT reward after battling sentence correction (SC) and critical reasoning (CR). RC is the easiest of the verbal question types because its core strategy is simple: don’t read the passage. Sort of like a chicken looking at the ground and pecking for food, scan the passage to ‘peck’ out the detail necessary to select the correct answer.

Think about it, RC can only test you on two parts of the passage: its details or the big picture. Since the passage doesn’t self-destruct like a case file in Mission Impossible, you can always refer back to its details. Therefore, the key to excelling at RC is to focus only on obtaining an understanding of the passage’s main points - not its details - and knowing the four question types: inference, detail, logic, and global. .

Basic strategy

With that in mind, when an RC question appears on the exam and in your studies with GMAT practice problems, follow these four steps:

1. Read the entire first paragraph and paraphrase

2. Read the first sentence of each subsequent paragraph and paraphrase

3. Skim the rest of the each subsequent paragraph and note keywords

4. Refer to your notes and the passage to select the correct answer

To reinforce this routine we’ll first discuss the most commonly tested question types and then put that strategy to work and complete a GMAT practice problem together.

Question types


Inference questions make up about 40% of the tested questions in CR. They ask you to ‘read between the lines’ and extrapolate something from what’s written down. Some example inference questions: 

  • Which of the following is suggested about x?
  • Which of the following can be most reasonable inferred from the passage?
  • The author would most likely agree that…


Detail questions ask you to pick a specific piece of information out of the passage and amount for about 30% of test questions. While 30% seems like a lot, remember that the remaining 70% of questions aren’t about details – they’re about the big picture. For example: 

  • According to the passage, which of the following is true of x?
  • The author states that…
  • The author mentions which of the following in support of x?


Global questions are strictly big picture questions. They make up about 20% of test question and are the opposite of ‘detail’. They seek to identify the meaning of the passage. For example: 

  • Which of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?
  • The author’s primary purpose is to…
  • Which of the following would be an appropriate title for this passage?


Logic questions task you with manipulating what the author wrote – similar to weakening and strengthening questions on CR. They’re tested about 10% of the time. For example: 

  • Which of the following describes the second paragraph’s relationship to the passage?
  • The author mentions [topic 1] most probably in order to…
  • What is the primary purpose of the third paragraph?

Putting it all together

Let’s illustrate the routine and strategies discussed above with a GMAT practice problem:

In 1955 Maurice Duverger published The Political Role of Women, the first behaviorist, multinational comparison of women’s electoral participation ever to use election data and survey data together. His study analyzed women’s patterns of voting, political candidacy, and political activism in four European countries during the first half of the twentieth century. Duverger’s research findings were that women voted somewhat less frequently than men (the difference narrowing the longer women had the vote) and were slightly more conservative.

Duverger’s work set an early standard for the sensitive analysis of women’s electoral activities. Moreover, to Duverger’s credit, he placed his findings in the context of many of the historical processes that had shaped these activities. However, since these contexts have changed over time, Duverger’s approach has proved more durable than his actual findings. In addition, Duverger’s discussion of his findings was hampered by his failure to consider certain specific factors important to women’s electoral participation at the time he collected his data: the influence of political regimes, the effects of economic factors, and the ramifications of political and social relations between women and men. Given this failure, Duverger’s study foreshadowed the enduring limitations of the behaviorist approach to the multinational study of women’s political participation.

Passage Notes:

P1: Duverger’s book analyzed women’s voting patterns (1955, less frequent, more conservative)

His work set standard for analysis of women’s voting

P2: No longer are his conclusions accepted, but his method of analysis still is

Methods focused on: political regimes, social relations, men vs. women

Summary: this passage is informative; Duverger wrote a book on women’s voting that’s remembered today more for its scientific method than its conclusions

Taking quality notes is the key to success on RC. Quality notes include keywords and a summary of main points. If you’re having trouble doing so, try roleplaying. For example, imagine that the author as someone you disagree with and want to prove wrong. Your brain will likely be fatigued by the time you face the first RC question - do whatever you must to finish strong.

After taking quality notes, let’s dissect the four questions that accompany the passage.

Question 1: Inference

Which of the following characteristics of a country is most clearly an example of a factor that Duverger, as described in the passage, failed to consider in his study?

a)  A large population

b) A predominantly Protestant population

c) A predominantly urban population

d) A one-party government

e) Location in the heart of Europe

Looking at our notes and using inference,, we see that ‘political regimes’ is listed in paragraph two. Skimming through it, we see that Duverger’s findings were ‘hampered’ by the lack of credence paid to political regimes. The other four answers aren’t covered in that list. The answer is D.

Question 2: Detail

According to the passage, Duverger’s study was unique in 1955 in that it…

a) Included both election data and survey data

b) Gathered data from sources never before used in political studies

c) Included an analysis of historical processes

d) Examined the influence on voting behavior on women and men

e) Analyzed voting, candidacy, and other political activities

Looking at our notes, we see that ‘1955’ is listed in paragraph one. Skimming through that paragraph, we see that Duverger was the first to use election and survey data together. No mention of the other four answer choices. The answer must be A.

Question 3: Global

The primary purpose of the passage is to…

a) Evaluate a research study

b) Summarize the history of a research area

c) Report new research findings

d) Reinterpret old research findings

e) Reconcile conflicting research findings

Looking at our notes, we summarized this passage as informative and one that reports on the existing influence of Duverger’s study. Of all potential answer choices, only one falls into that category. The answer must be A.

Question 4: Logic

The author implies that Duverger’s actual findings are…

a) Limited because they focus on only four countries

b) Inaccurate because their description of the four countries in the early 1950s

c) Out-of-date in that they are inapplicable in the four countries today

d) Flawed because they are based on unsound data

e) Biased by Duverger’s political beliefs

Looking at our notes, we see that paragraph two applied his research to current times. Line 18 states that because of the limited scope of Duverger’s research, it doesn’t apply today. That leaves only one answer C must be correct. 


By now we’ve established that if the GMAT had a cellphone, its ringtone would be ‘Tricky’ by Run-DMC. RC doesn’t have to be difficult, however. Whether you are working through GMAT practice problems or the actual exam, Ffocus on the main points of the passage and leave the details for later; stick to your routine and the RC timing guidelines. Do that, and after the exam you’ll be able to change the GMAT’s ringtone to ‘Wonderful’ by Everclear. 

This article was originally published in June 2015 . It was last updated in August 2015

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Written by

Jon Taves is a CPA from Minneapolis, MN. He writes weekly about business-related topics, including his MBA journey, at

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