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Master Reading Comprehension Question Types: Part II

September 6, 2012 by

GMAT blog, GMAT verbal section, reading comprehensionIn a blog last last week, I talked about the importance of identifying the common question types in the reading comprehension portions of the GMAT and delved into the specifics for detail and global questions. Today, let’s continue that deeper look at the specifics for the common reading comprehension questions with a look at inference and function (logic) questions.  Specifically let’s look at how to spot them, how to predict using the pattern behind the question, and how to spot the most common wrong answer types. Both of these questions generally constitute the harder or more commonly missed set of questions in the reading comprehension.

One of the most commonly missed reading comprehension questions is the inference question because of how it is treated on tests versus our common everyday use of inference. First of all, to spot them you are looking either for something that references “is true” or uses “infers,” “implies,” or “suggests” in the question stem. The most common phrasing is “most likely agree” in an inference stem. Once you see any of these triggers, immediately switch your mindset to look for what MUST be true. Because the language is soft in the question stem, test-takers usually just consider and look for what COULD be true. That will lead you straight to trap answer choices. You MUST look for what MUST be true. I even started mentally adding “must it be true that…” before reading each answer choice. Trust me; this will revolutionize your approach to inference questions.  In addition to looking for what MUST be true, lean toward choices that have what I would call softer or squishy wording like “some,” “could,” “likely,” etc. It’s much easier to write a MUST be true answer about some things than it is to write a MUST be true about all things.

In addition to identifying the right answer, knowing the choices that you can eliminate can be just as helpful. The most common wrong answer types on inference questions are the out of scope and extreme choices. As stated above, it’s harder to write something that MUST be true about everything. Therefore, lean away from the extreme wording.  Also, many out of scope choices COULD be true, so they are appealing. Asking whether it MUST be true will help you avoid these traps.

The last of the big four reading comprehension question types is the function (logic) question. These questions ask about WHY an author included some detail in the passage. You can spot these because they commonly include a line reference and include phrasing such as “functions to,” “in order to,” or “serves to.” In order to answer these questions efficiently and effectively, look to the opinion or main idea right around that detail; context is key in these questions. Typically that means that you are looking at the author opinion that is directly above or in the topic sentence of that particular paragraph. Occasionally, the point supported can come after the detail. Expanding out beyond the lines mentioned in the question is crucial to taking care of these questions adeptly.  With function questions, the traps or most common wrong answers are those that pertain to the detail but don’t answer the question why – they distort what the question is asking. To avoid these make sure you always align yourself to look at the context.

Outside of these four primary question types (detail, global, inference, and function), there are a few outliers such as application, vocab-in-context, strengthener, and weakener questions. If a question doesn’t clearly fit one of the big four, don’t try to force the pattern. The patterns take time and repeated practice to get used to, but if you want to take your reading comprehension score to the next level on test day, aligning your approach with the specifics of each type is the way to go!


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