GMAT Reading Comprehension, GMAT Verbal, Test-Taking Strategy
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How to improve your accuracy on GMAT RC – 2

In the previous post, we discussed the various approaches, strategies and DOs and DON’Ts to improve your accuracy on GMAT RC questions. In this passage we shall take up a long passage and see how the strategies need to be applied.


PASSAGE

Historians of women’s labor in the United States at first largely disregarded the story of female service workers — women earning wages in occupations such as salesclerk, line domestic servant, and office secretary. These historians focused instead on factory work, primarily because it seemed so different from traditional, unpaid “women’s work” in the home, and because the underlying economic forces of industrialism were presumed to be gender-blind and hence emancipatory in effect. Unfortunately, emancipation has been less profound than expected, for not even industrial wage labor has escaped continued sex segregation in the workplace.

To explain this unfinished revolution in the status of women, historians have recently begun to emphasize the way a prevailing definition of femininity often determines the kinds of work allocated to women, even when such allocation is inappropriate to new conditions. For instance, early textile-mill entrepreneurs in justifying women’s employment in wage labor, made much of the assumption that women were by nature skillful at detailed tasks and patient in carrying out repetitive chores; the mill owners thus imported into the new industrial order hoary stereotypes associated with the homemaking activities they presumed to have been the purview of women. Because women accepted the more unattractive new industrial tasks more readily than did men, such jobs came to be regarded as female jobs. And employers, who assumed that women’s “real” aspirations were for marriage and family life, declined to pay women wages commensurate with those of men. Thus many lower-skilled, lower-paid, less secure jobs came to be perceived as “female.”

More remarkable than the origin has been the persistence of such sex segregation in twentieth-century industry. Once an occupation came to be perceived as “female,” employers showed surprisingly little interest in changing that perception, even when higher profits beckoned. And despite the urgent need of the United States during the Second World War to mobilize its human resources fully, job segregation by sex characterized even the most important war industries. Moreover, once the war ended, employers quickly returned to men most of the “male” jobs that women had been permitted to master.


The Passage Map

In the first post on RC, we had discussed that the first step towards developing mastery on RC questions is learning How To Read a GMAT RC.

So at the end of the first paragraph you need to identify two things:

  • The topic of the passage and
  • The main idea being explored

In this case the passage starts off with a piece of information — historians chose to study factory work since they thought it would be gender-blind but it did not turn out to be so for not even industrial wage labor has escaped continued sex segregation

  • So the topic is gender-based discrimination or sex segregation in industrial or factory work
  • The main idea being explored is why did gender-based discrimination or sex segregation continue in industrial work when it was not expected to.

From here on you are supposed to trace the main idea as it is being debated across subsequent paragraphs. Some sentences become more important than others since they engage directly with the main idea, the others provide supporting evidence.

Main Sentences and Supporting Sentences

Historians of women’s labor in the United States at first largely disregarded the story of female service workers — women earning wages in occupations such as salesclerk, line domestic servant, and office secretary. These historians focused instead on factory work, primarily because it seemed so different from traditional, unpaid “women’s work” in the home, and because the underlying economic forces of industrialism were presumed to be gender-blind and hence emancipatory in effect. Unfortunately, emancipation has been less profound than expected, for not even industrial wage labor has escaped continued sex segregation in the workplace.

To explain this unfinished revolution in the status of women, historians have recently begun to emphasize the way a prevailing definition of femininity often determines the kinds of work allocated to women, even when such allocation is inappropriate to new conditions. For instance, early textile-mill entrepreneurs in justifying women’s employment in wage labor, made much of the assumption that women were by nature skillful at detailed tasks and patient in carrying out repetitive chores; the mill owners thus imported into the new industrial order hoary stereotypes associated with the homemaking activities they presumed to have been the purview of women. Because women accepted the more unattractive new industrial tasks more readily than did men, such jobs came to be regarded as female jobs. And employers, who assumed that women’s “real” aspirations were for marriage and family life, declined to pay women wages commensurate with those of men. Thus many lower-skilled, lower-paid, less secure jobs came to be perceived as “female.”

More remarkable than the origin has been the persistence of such sex segregation in twentieth-century industry. Once an occupation came to be perceived as “female,” employers showed surprisingly little interest in changing that perception, even when higher profits beckoned. And despite the urgent need of the United States during the Second World War to mobilize its human resources fully, job segregation by sex characterized even the most important war industries. Moreover, once the war ended, employers quickly returned to men most of the “male” jobs that women had been permitted to master.

All sentences other than those in BOLDFACE play supporting roles.

Please DO NOT ASSUME THAT it is always the only the FIRST and LAST sentences of paragraphs that are important — sentences in the middle of paragraphs can also be exploring the main idea instead of providing supporting evidence.

Many experts suggest that test-takers focus on CONTRAST words such as HOWEVER, BUT, DESPITE etc. to track changes in the main idea. I believe that one should follow the logic, irrespective of words used.

When one focusses too narrowly on specific words such as the ones mentioned or specific sentences such as the first and the last ones, one ends up not reading the passage properly at all. One ends up holding on to a few bits here and there and not the essence of the passage.


The Question Types

Question 1: DETAIL
According to the passage, job segregation by sex in the United States was

(A) greatly diminished by labor mobilisation during the Second World War
(B) perpetuated by those textile-mill owners who argued in favour of women’s employment in wage labor
(C) one means by which women achieved greater job security
(D) reluctantly challenged by employers except when the economic advantages were obvious
(E) a constant source of labor unrest in the young textile industry

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

  • (A) greatly diminished by labor mobilisation during the Second World War.
    • You might remember that women got some male jobs during the Second World War but was job segregation by sex greatly diminished? NO.
  • You have to check with the passage and eliminate the option immediately, do not keep it on hold and move on.
  • (C) and (E) can be eliminated easily
  • D is where the trap lies.

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

  • (D) says sex segregation was reluctantly challenged by employers except when the economic advantages were obvious
    • PASSAGE….employers showed surprisingly little interest in changing that perception, even when higher profits beckoned.
    • The option exactly reverses the logic mentioned in the passage by changing even when to except when
  • Like it is the case on CR and SC, elimination works best on RC as well. If you eliminate 4 options correctly, you need to even check the option you are left with; in this case option B.

 

Question 2: DETAIL
According to the passage, historians of women’s labor focused on factory work as a more promising area of research than service-sector work because factory work

(A) involved the payment of higher wages
(B) required skill in detailed tasks
(C) was assumed to be less characterized by sex segregation
(D) was more readily accepted by women than by men
(E) fitted the economic dynamic of industrialism better

This is an easy question the answer lies in the first paragraph historians focussed on factory work for two reasons:

  • it seemed so different from traditional, unpaid “women’s work” in the home, and
  • because the underlying economic forces of industrialism were presumed to be gender-blind and hence emancipatory in effect
  • One of these two reasons has be mentioned.
  • Option (C) mentions the first one.

 

Question 3: INFERENCE
It can be inferred from the passage that early historians of women’s labor in the United States paid little attention to women’s employment in the service sector of the economy because

(A) the extreme variety of these occupations made it very difficult to assemble meaningful statistics about them
(B) fewer women found employment in the service sector than in factory work
(C) the wages paid to workers in the service sector were much lower than those paid in the industrial sector
(D) women’s employment in the service sector tended to be much more short-term than in factory work
(E) employment in the service sector seemed to have much in common with the unpaid work associated with homemaking

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

  • This question is again based on the reasons for the historians’ choice.
    • They chose A (factory work) instead of B (service sector work) since it was very different from C (unpaid home work)
    • From this we can infer that B and C are similar

 

Question 4: DETAIL
The passage supports which of the following statements about the early mill owners mentioned in the second paragraph?

(A) They hoped that by creating relatively unattractive “female” jobs they would discourage women from losing interest in marriage and family life.
(B) They sought to increase the size of the available labor force as a means to keep men’s wages low.
(C) They argued that women were inherently suited to do well in particular kinds of factory work.
(D) They thought that factory work bettered the condition of women by emancipating them from dependence on income earned by men.
(E) They felt guilty about disturbing the traditional division of labor in the family.

 

Question 5: INFERENCE
It can be inferred from the passage that the “unfinished revolution” the author mentions in line 13 refers to the

(A) entry of women into the industrial labor market
(B) recognition that work done by women as homemakers should be compensated at rates comparable to those prevailing in the service sector of the economy
(C) development of a new definition of femininity unrelated to the economic forces of industrialism
(D) introduction of equal pay for equal work in all professions
(E) emancipation of women wage earners from gender-determined job allocation

Questions 4 & 5 are easy questions that need no explanation, the answers to the same are (C) & (E).


 

Question 6: DETAIL
The passage supports which of the following statements about hiring policies in the United States?

(A) After a crisis many formerly “male” jobs are reclassified as “‘female” jobs.
(B) Industrial employers generally prefer to hire women with previous experience as homemakers.
(C) Post-Second World War hiring policies caused women to lose many of their wartime gains in employment opportunity.
(D) Even war industries during the Second World War were reluctant to hire women for factory work.
(E) The service sector of the economy has proved more nearly gender-blind in its hiring policies than has the manufacturing sector.

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

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

  • Most test-takers are left with options C & D after having eliminated the rest.
  • Whenever you are caught between two options do not tilt your head and try to pluck the answer out of your mind, use the passage instead, it’s after all more reliable!
  • If you go back to the third paragraph what does the passage say
    • during the Second World War to mobilize its human resources fully, job segregation by sex characterized even the most important war industries.
      • they were not, as option (C) says reluctant to hire women for factory work, they hired them but only for specific kinds of jobs segregated by sex
    • Moreover, once the war ended, employers quickly returned to men most of the “male” jobs that women had been permitted to master
      • exactly what option D says!

 

Question 7: DETAIL
Which of the following words best expresses the opinion of the author of the passage concerning the notion that women are more skillful than men in carrying out detailed tasks?

(A) “patient” (line 21)
(B) “repetitive” (line 21)
(C) “hoary” (line 22)
(D) “homemaking” (line 23)
(E) “purview” (line 24)

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

Whenever the question stem is non-standard or longer than usual, take time to understand the logic of the question. This is a question that trips upalmost all test-takers. But if read carefully it is the easiest of the lot.

  • Which of the following words best expresses the opinion of the author of the passage concerning the notion.
  • The word “notion” means an “idea or belief”. So what sort of a word will describe the author’s opinion about an idea or belief? What sort of a word will you use if someone asks you — tell me in word what you think about this idea?
  • It will always be an adjective, something that delivers judgement or classifies the idea.
  • Just by correctly interpreting what the question is asking, you can eliminate all options except C, without even going to the passage! (Most test-takers end up choosing either A or B.)

 

Question 7: LOGICAL STRUCTURE
Which of the following best describes the relationship of the final paragraph to the passage as a whole?

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

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

  • If you have mapped the passage properly, the first sentence of the third paragraph clearly indicates the function of the rest of the sentences —
    • to show the persistence of such sex segregation in twentieth-century industry.
  • As discussed in the previous post you need to always question the classification and logic in each option.
  • (2) is the author introducing a new idea/argument in the final paragraph that is different from what has been discussed so far?
    • NO, the main idea is just being supported with more evidence
  • (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?
    • NO contradictory evidence is being brought in.
  • (4) is the author citing an exception and calling it irrelevant?
    • all sentences serve the function of supporting the main idea.
  • (5) is the author providing evidence that the main idea is no longer valid?
    • NO, exactly the opposite, he/she is shopwing how it continued into the twentieth century

 

Reading & Comprehending is a SKILL

Competence on Reading Comprehension questions, more than it is on any other question type, is SKILL-based and not KNOWLEDGE-based .

This means that developing competence on RC like developing competence on skills such as swimming or driving a car is about

  • doing all the small things right and
  • putting in enough hours of practice initially

To cross 700, you cannot afford to make more than 12 mistakes on the VERBAL Section. You cannot plan to make fewer mistakes on CR and SC to make up for poor RC accuracy since you will get an RC passage within the first 10 questions, making them crucial in terms of being on the right side of the adaptive algorithm. So at best you can make 1 mistake per RC!

This means that you ahve to develop a high-level of skill on RC!

I hope these last few posts on RC were useful. Do post any queries you might have in the comments section and let me know incase you want me to do any more posts on RC.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: GMAT RC: Guided Practice Set 2 | The GMAT Blogger

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