GMAT Reading Comprehension, GMAT Verbal, Test-Taking Strategy
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How to improve your accuracy on GMAT RC – 1

As discussed on the previous post, RC is the bugbear of most India test-takers. Surprisingly, most test-takers complain of having low accuracy levels on RC questions while maintaining high accuracy levels on CR questions.

What is the reason for this anomaly? Why is it that those who are good at CR are still unable to do well on RC?

Test-takers have no frame of reference while approaching RC questions.

What do I mean by frame of reference?

If CR is about logic, SC is about Grammar, then what is RC about?

The unconscious frame of reference for RC questions is — I think I have read this somewhere in the passage (this approach is as useful as the line — lagta hain maine aapko kahin dekha hai ; it never works :-))

Firstly, treat RC passages like a set of linked CR paragraphs; every RC passage explores an argument, it is not literature or an amorphous mass of sentences!

Secondly, treat RC questions exactly the way you treat CR questions — they are testing your logic or rather your understanding of the logic expressed in the passage.

The Reading Comprehension Question Types

On the GMAT , you will encounter 4 Reading Comprehension Passages, usually 2 Long Passages and 2 Short Passages or 3 Long and 1 Short. The passages will be from different areas, usually one each from Business, Science, History & Sociology.

The following are as most of you would know, the question-types that follow RC passages:

These questions test your understanding of the passage as a whole and the logical relationship between the paragraphs.

  • Main or Primary Purpose 
    • Which of the following is the primary/main purpose of the passage
    • The author is primarily concerned with
  • Main or Central Idea
    • Which of the following is the main/central idea of the passage?
    • Which of the following is the central claim of the passage?
  • Style & Tone
    • Which of the following best describes the author’s attitude towards

The Style & Tone question type is an extreme rarity on the GMAT.

These questions based on specific parts of the the passage and thus test your ability to retrieve necessary information from the passage.

  • Detail Questions
    • According to the passage which of the following is not a difference between the X and Y?
    • According to author the main reason for X is…
  • Inference Questions
    • Which of the following inferences about X is best supported by the passage?
    • Which of the following developments is the author of the passage most likely to support?
  • Logical Structure
    • The author cites the example in order to
    • Which of the following best expresses the relationship of the third paragraph to the previous paragraphs?

A typical GMAT RC passage is most likely to be followed by 3-4 questions.

    • 1 Main Purpose or Central Idea
    • 0-1 Style & Tone
    • 1-2 Detail
    • 1-2 Inference

Of the four RC passages you will encounter on the GMAT, at least three will have either a Main Purpose or a Central Idea question. Usually all the long passages will have Main Purpose or Central Idea questions while one of the short ones might not have either of them.

In the previous post we took up how to read an RC Passage and how to tackle the Main Idea question. Your ability to correctly identify the main idea of a GMAT RC passage will depend on how well you read a GMAT RC Passage.

So incase you have not read the previous RC post, please read that before you continue reading this post.

The difference between Main Purpose & Central Idea

One of the conundrums that test-takers face on RC is with respect to the difference between Main Purpose and Central Idea questions. How do these two question types differ?

To keep it as simple as possible let us move away from the context of an RC to the context of the police investigating a case.

So if you ask them what is the purpose of your investigation, they might answer:

  • to find out who is responsible for the hit and run case?
  • to determine if it was a suicide or a murder?

If you ask them the result of their investigation they might answer:

  • X driving a type of vehicle was responsible for the hit and run case
  • it was not a suicide but a murder because of X, Y & Z are behind it and the reason are A, B and C.

So Primary Purpose questions always concerned with the objective of writing the passage (what is being investigated) and not the specific content of the passage (the outcome of the investigation).

Hence, answer options to Primary Purpose questions will always be framed in the following ways:

  • to outline the reasons for the rise of …
  • to compare the merits and demerits of two….
  • to describe the effects of…
  • to argue that the method of determining is..
  • to evaluate two theories about..
  • to explain the implications of a new..

Central or Main Idea questions always deal with the outcome of the investigation or to be more precise the main argument that the author is putting forth.

It goes without saying that very rarely will you see both Primary Purpose and Main Idea questions on the same passage.

All passages usually start off with Primary Purpose or Central Idea questions thus making the question type crucial in terms of being on the right side of the adaptive algorithm.


While it is actually tough to come up with specific strategies to tackle the Specific Questions, there is a set of Dos and Don’ts that will ensure that you do not fall for the trap options.

GMAT RC TIP: Be aware of the difference between “according to the author” versus “according to the passage”

Everything that is part of a passage is not the opinion of the author — a big reason why some questions start with the phrase according to the author and some with according to the passage.

In this passage for example,

PARA 1: Not a single idea expressed is according to the author

  • The modern MNC is described as (not by him but in general)
  • increases in volumes of transactions in such firms are commonly believed
  • 19th century inventions such as X, Y and Z are described as
  • 16th & 17th century firms, despite X, Y and Z are usually considered irrelevant, the volume is assumed to have been ..

As you can see the author is taking a topic and a presenting the commonly held views about the topic; the later paragraphs will reveal what he thinks about it.

PARA 2: All arguments are entirely according to the author with supporting data.

PARA 3: All arguments are entirely according to the author with supporting data.

This distinction is important on an inference question that is worded as follows:

  • Which of the following is the author of the passage most likely to agree with?

Trap options will have statements or arguments that are attributable to the passage but not to the author.

So as you can see the higher the strategic quality of your first reading the better your strike rate on RC will be.

GMAT RC TIP: Don’t match phrases, follow the logic of the option

We had discussed earlier that test-takers do not approach RC question types with the right frame of reference. More often than not they rely on memory rather than logic.

Test-makers deliberately create trap options that have the same phrases that are used in the passage but either they either twist the logic, making it incorrect or attribute it to the wrong person/organization.

Test-takers looking for familiar phrases will immediately jump at such an option and ignore the rest of the options.

Also, one of the common mistakes is that test-takers’ concentration tails off as they reach the end of the option. They take the last part of the option for granted and are eager to move on to the next option, ignoring the logic of the option.

Read each RC option for the logic it presents to you, do not read it as a collection of phrases of information that is devoid of logic. Be aware that they are testing Verbal Reasoning!

GMAT RC TIP: On meta questions, question the classification in each option

Some of the questions that you will encounter will be meta questions; questions that require you to comment on the passage.

Which of the following best describes the relationship of the final paragraph to the passage as a whole?

  1. The central idea is reinforced by the citation of evidence drawn from twentieth-century history
  2. The central idea is restated in such a way as to form a transition to a new topic for discussion.
  3. The central idea is restated and juxtaposed with evidence that might appear to contradict it.
  4. A partial exception to the generalizations of the central idea is dismissed as unimportant.
  5. Recent history is cited to suggest that the central idea’s validity is gradually diminishing.

When faced with such question types always question the classification and logic in each option. For example,

  • (2) is the author introducing a new idea/argument in the final paragraph that is different from what has been discussed so far?
  • (3) is the author presenting evidence that contradicts the central idea presented in the rest of the passage and thus does the paragraph counter the rest of the passage?
  • (4) is the author citing an exception and calling it irrelevant?
  • (5) is the author providing evidence that the main idea is no longer valid?

Only if you question each option will you be able to eliminate the incorrect ones and select the right option.

Usually on such questions, test-takers tend to fall for options with nice heavy-sounding words such as juxtaposed or paradox.

GMAT RC TIP: Be aware of names/classifications that are used interchangeably

In this passage one of the protagonists (main character) so to say are the “16th & 17th century chartered trading companies”.

But they are referred to as 16th & 17th century chartered trading companies only in the first paragraph. In the rest of the paragraphs they are referred to as “early trading companies”.

On some passages this difference in nomenclature is easy to spit and thus not affecting your understanding of the passage. But on others, especially those related to the American Civil War, such differences create a comprehension problem.

For example, Native Americans, Indians & tribals can all be names used that are used interchangeably in a single passage (and that too a short one!).

I would suggest it is not a bad idea to read up on the following, specifically American topics, just so that you have some sort of an idea about the historical background while reading such passages:

  • American Civil War
  • Colonisation of America
  • Slavery in America
  • Native Americans
  • American Indians

GMAT RC TIP: On a specific question, always check with the passage, never mark based on memory

While answering a specific question, never mark an answer option based on memory. Go back to the relevant part, retrieve the necessary information  and only then before you mark.

If you mark based on memory you will, but naturally, have low accuracy!

GMAT RC TIP: Treat an RC Inference Question, the way you would treat a CR Inference Question

When it comes to answering Inference questions on the RC, test-takers tend to drop their guard and choose options that are not supported by the passage.

Treat Inference questions on RC the way yo would treat Inference questions on CR. The correct option will always be a logical deduction that is fully supported by the passage and not one of the many possibilities.

GMAT RC TIP: Read question non-standard question stems closely.

Whenever you find a question stem that is longer than usual, you should pause take time to understand the specifics of the questions before you jump into the options.

Such questions are similar to Quant questions with tricky wording; the answer lies in the question stem and not the options!

In the next RC post we will take up the questions in the other passage used in the first post and see how each of the tips outlined above should be applied while solving RC questions.


  1. Pingback: How to improve your accuracy on GMAT RC – 2 | The GMAT Blogger

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