GMAT Exam overview and question types: ...
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The most common reading comprehension questions you will find on the verbal section of the GMAT exam are detail and purpose questions. Assume that 1-3 out of the three or four likely questions per passage will be asking about a detail or a purpose. These questions may address both specific and broad subjects, that is a specific detail or purpose of a specific phrase within the passage or, for instance, what is the primary purpose of the passage overall.
This implies that if you have completed a full upfront read of the passage, then you will need to assume about 60 seconds per subsequent question in that section for all questions including those that are not details or purpose questions. If you are spending three, or sometimes as many as five minutes on that upfront read, it means you have to be prepared to go pretty quickly through the questions in the passage.
However, if you choose not to do the full upfront read, probably because your first question was a specific detail or purpose question, then you can spend up to two minutes per question for all the questions in that passage because you will be taking in the information as you go rather than spending much time upfront to read. It is important to remember that the GMAT rewards flexibility in approach, so, as much as you can, let the questions determine your approach, more specifically, let the first question guide you on whether you need to read that passage in full.
Restate the task in the form of a conventional What or Why question. The phrasing of the questions in GMAT can be terrible, so it is important that you rearrange the question in a way that is more accessible. You do this by considering the difference between when the question is asking you “what did it say” or “why did it say it”. A detail question will be asking for the little details, like “what was said ” in a paraphrase, but a purpose question will be asking you “why was this said”. Take note that you are always going to have trap answers that answer the other question.
Like in all reading comprehension questions, note key terms such as “according to” or “in the passage” to indicate a detailed task and rephrase it in the form of a “what” style question.
Use specific term allocation reference provided by the question to target reading or potentially, a highlight in the passage. Sometimes the GMAT highlights relevant terms or phrases so you can just go straight to where they are pointing you to go.
It is very important that you read at least a sentence above and a sentence below the term allocation reference to guarantee enough context. Don’t just read the sentence or phrase that includes the term, read a sentence above and a sentence below and if possible, more than that as required by the context of the passage. The answer is often just above or just below the sentence in question.
Broadly predict what the answer should do by summarizing what the passage said as specifically as you can. This is going to be some kind of a delicate balance because you don’t want to write down every little detail but, in your mind, you want to know what they are saying specifically about the term in question.
Focus on your incorrect actions and descriptions for objective reasons four choices are definitely wrong. When dealing with detail questions, these are often reversals, things that are extreme based on the information provided or go too far beyond the details discussed, or potentially include outside information that isn’t mentioned in the passage.
When you are down to two, remember to default to selecting the option with a less absolute claim, and for your direct answer to the question, go with the blunder option.
As usual, on the left-hand side will be your passage and, in this case, already highlighted is the place where the information is.
Read the question task first.
Public health and economic efficiency approaches to choosing a role for government often reach opposite conclusions. From the public health perspective, the potential for illness or injury is sufficient to justify government action, large numbers of deaths or illnesses are mere compelling reasons for government action. The dollar value of benefits and costs derived from government programs does not necessarily affect the public health decisions calculus. Alternatively, economic efficiency demands that proposed government programs clear two hurdles. First, there must be an efficiency problem for government to solve. Second, a corrective program must be worth the cost.
So far economists have not reached a consensus on whether obesity raises economic efficiency problems. If obesity results from informed individuals’ willingly making diet and lifestyle choices, there is no way to argue for efficiency; we have to conclude that many are willing to accept the extra weight because the cost of diet and exercise is too high. On the other hand, arguments for intervention could be mounted based on imperfect information about the relationship between diet and health. Nevertheless, many in the public health community have proposed interventions, and taxing snack foods has been advocated frequently. But without a clear statement of the efficiency problem caused by overweight and obesity, we cannot say whether such taxes might increase or decrease economic efficiency- i.e., whether benefits exceed costs.
According to the passage, approaches used to choose possible government roles in public health can
A. lobby for a change to public health policy
B. justify government action with economic evidence
C. examine possible causes for public weight issues
D. demand that health concerns supersede economic consensus
E. consider variables impacting government decision making
Reading the question, that phrasing is just not great. We look at the phrase “according to the passage” and rephrase it as a “what” question in our minds. We can do this by ignoring the phrase “according to the passage” and replacing it with “What can”, then replacing the “can” at the end of that question with “do”.
The new question reads “what can approaches used to choose possible government roles in public health do”
What we need is focus and we know that our focus is now on that first paragraph. We may have to read the whole paragraph to get specific details, and we are going to have to be very careful as we go through the answer choices to not assume that something is “out of scope”. We must ensure that it is there unless we can say that it is a wrongful action or description.
We will read that first paragraph to the end because the question is talking about both approaches so we will read until both approaches are done. We can then take a quick glance at the second paragraph to see if it is relevant, and we can see that it is talking about economists not having reached a consensus on whether obesity raises economic efficiency problems. We have changed subjects here so we will only look at the first paragraph that is talking about the two approaches introduced in the first sentence.
We know that there are different approaches, and those approaches can sometimes reach different conclusions. That is what we should keep in mind as we work with our prediction as we go through the answer choices. It’s pretty broad, public health says definitely this is important and doesn’t even care about dollar value. Economics demands to clear two hurdles.
Choice A, “lobby for a change to public health policy”. We don’t see any lobbying occurring here. We know that from a public health perspective, they could be sufficient, but we don’t know if the economic or public health approaches are going to take precedence. So that is going to be extreme because we don’t actually have the action of lobbying.
Choice B, “justify government action with economic evidence”. This is found in the bottom half of the paragraph. Note that this portion of the paragraph could have been easily ignored if we didn’t know that there were two approaches at the beginning and we needed to read through both of those approaches. As we go back, we see that economic efficiency demands that these programs clear two hurdles, but we don’t know that any of these programs would actually clear these hurdles. So, we can eliminate this option because we don’t know that government action would actually be justified based on the evidence from the passage.
Choice C, “examine possible causes for public weight issues”. This is the wrong subject. We are not discussing the second paragraph, so this is irrelevant to the task of this question.
Choice D, “demand that health concerns supersede economic consensus”. Once again, we’ve just got the two approaches, we don’t know which one is going to take preference over the other. Saying that it supersedes economic consensus would be extreme.
Choice E, “consider variables impacting government decision making”. This is good and bland, so we’ll go ahead and select choice E, knowing that that is clearly stated in the opening paragraph, and all the other answer choices are definitely and probably wrong.
The approach is largely the same as the detail question task.
Step 1 – Take note of key terms such as “primary”, “purpose”, or “in order to” to indicate purpose question tasks and rephrase in the form of a “why” standard question so that it is easier to understand what we are supposed to do within the passage to address the task.
Step 2 – Read the prompt and note the relevant context. Use term or location reference to target reading. Remember to read at least a sentence above and below to guarantee enough context.
Step 3 – Specifically predict as well as you can what the answer should do by considering the purpose of the information as it pertains to the context of the passage. This simply means you should think about the information and ask yourself the reason the author included it in the context of everything rather than just regurgitating what it literally said. We know that sometimes there will be “what” answer traps to “why” questions. we should be on the lookout for them.
Step 4 – Start the process of elimination. Focus on incorrect actions and descriptions for objective reasons that four choices are definitively wrong. Look out for reversals, extremes, wrong subject matter, options requiring outside knowledge, etc. Force yourself to come up with something more than “I don’t like it” or “I didn’t read it.” Always remember that with these specific detail or purpose questions it may be just outside of where you read and under the time constraints of the GMAT it is very possible that you just missed something. Allow yourself to go back to the passage to read specifically when you are dealing with specific detail or purpose questions.
When you are down to two, remember to default to selecting the option with less absolute claim and fewer direct terms from the passage. i.e., go bland.
Using the same sample passage (passage 1). Note that there is a highlighted phrase as there might be in the actual GMAT exam.
The purpose of the statement that economists have not reached a consensus is most likely to
A. introduce a problem that economists must solve
B. qualify obesity as an insignificant health concern for the economy
C. provide contrast to a possible public health policy consensus
D. make an argument for imminent public health intervention
E. indicate they are hesitant to allocate public funds in the fight against obesity
We can start by crossing out some of the clumsy phrasings such as “The purpose of the statement”, and rephrase our question with a “why”.
Our question will now read, “Why mention that economists have not reached a consensus?”
The location is already highlighted. We know that we are going to have to go at least one sentence below. If you take a quick glance at the next sentence, you will notice that it starts with “on the other hand”, which is a contrast so we won’t concern ourselves with it.
What we need to do now is consider where to start our reading. As we go up, we see, “Second, a corrective program must be worth the cost.” But we don’t know what came first. So, we move further up to “First there must be an efficiency problem…” but we don’t know why we are talking about “First”. Then if we move to “Alternatively, economic efficiency…”. This raises the question, “What is the other alternative?” We remember from the first question that we were contrasting the public health perspective and the economic one, so we’ll start reading from “The public health perspective…”.
We have to think about why the author specifically mentioned that economists have not reached a consensus. We know that throughout the passage, there has been this discussion of the public health perspective versus the economic perspective. We also know that those in public health basically say that potential illness or injury is enough to justify government action. It doesn’t matter what the costs or benefits of the program are, the objective is just to help people avoid illness and injury. The economists on the other hand have not reached a consensus. They haven’t decided whether these two hurdles will be cleared for the specific issue of obesity.
Choice A, “introduce a problem that economists must solve”. We are introducing a problem, but we are not introducing a problem that economists must solve. While this is relevant to the paragraph, it is not why this specific subject matter has been presented in the passage. This could qualify as a somewhat “what” trap. Yes, there is a problem of obesity, but no, it is not why the author mentioned that economists have not reached a consensus.
Choice B, “qualify obesity as an insignificant health concern for the economy”. This is a reversal because they have not reached a consensus on obesity and whether it raises economic efficiency problems.
Choice C, “provide contrast to a possible public health policy consensus”. We already know that the public health people say that if there is illness or injury, that would be sufficient to justify government action, but the economists have not reached this consensus. There is a contrast here and that is why the economists have not reached a consensus is being mentioned. That matches our prediction.
Choice D, “make an argument for imminent public health intervention”. We don’t know that the argument is imminent for public health intervention because they haven’t reached a consensus, so that would be a reversal.
Choice E, “indicate they are hesitant to allocate public funds in the fight against obesity”. There isn’t any indication they are hesitant to allocate public funds. This can be considered extreme. They may allocate public funds; we just don’t know yet. We can eliminate choices D and E and choose choice C as the reason for the highlighted statement.
Once again, we will read the question task first. “The author uses the phrase complete toolbox for astronomers mostly likely to”.
The phrase, complete toolbox for astronomers may be highlighted in the actual GMAT but you might also have to skim through for the phrase.
Possibly the most critical factor in the Hubble Space Telescope’s success has to do with how it is operated. Hubble is a public facility observatory, open for use by any astronomer from around the world. Each year an announcement goes out to the worldwide community soliciting research proposals for use of Hubble and its instruments. That instrumentation is a complementary set of cameras, spectrographs, and other more specialized devices such as stellar coronagraphs, and interferometers. It is extremely versatile and covers a wide range of performance characteristics such as sensitivity, resolution, and wavelength coverage. Taken together, the Hubble instruments provide essentially a complete toolbox for astronomers to utilize in attacking almost any problem in modern optical astronomy.
Hubble observations have yielded major advances in virtually every area of astronomy and astrophysics. The mechanism by which this is achieved is the open proposal solicitation, peer review, and a selection process that brings in the Hubble research program observers from the entire international astronomical community. The demand for Hubble observing time is enormous, five or six times as much observation time is requested than is available. It is a typical proposal cycle, many extremely worthy research proposals are rejected each cycle, simply because there is not nearly enough time on the telescope to go around. Only the very best scientific ideas put forward by the community find their way into Hubble’s observing schedule.
The author uses the phrase complete toolbox for astronomers mostly likely to
A. promote the availability of the Hubble Space Telescope
B. showcase the manifest abilities of a resource
C. solicit interest in a newly launched solution
D. hype the success of a research method
E. demand credit for an underappreciated scientific field
Step 1– Rephrase this as a what or why question. If we are being asked about the author’s use of something, that is a “why”. So, our question becomes “Why does the author use the phrase complete toolbox for astronomers.”
Step 2 – We will go to the passage and seek the phrase “complete toolbox for astronomers”. We find it at the end of the first paragraph, but we are going to have to read way more. We could go up to “It…”, but we don’t know what “it” is. We may go up to “That instrumentation…” but we don’t know what “That instrumentation” is either. So, we can start reading from “Each year…”.
Then we will also read a sentence or two below the phrase.
Note that our reading window may be fairly broad, but it is better to have a broad window than to miss something.
Step 3 – We can make a broad prediction. Say, “To summarize its uses.”
Step 4 – Elimination.
Choice A, “promote the availability of the Hubble Space Telescope”. This could be a trap. We talk about the availability of the telescope later in the second paragraph, but that is not why the complete toolbox for astronomy was mentioned (wrong subject matter). Rule out choice A.
Choice B, “showcase the manifest abilities of a resource”. If you don’t know the meaning of the word manifest, put a question mark next to B and move on. Manifest means “all” or “a great number”, so choice B matches our prediction quite nicely.
Choice C, “solicit interest in a newly launched solution”. We are not soliciting interest. We also don’t know that the instrument is newly launched, even if it was it is not stated here. This choice qualifies as extreme and can therefore be eliminated.
Choice D, “hype the success of a research method”. We are not talking about the successes. It is not why it is mentioned as a complete toolbox for astronomers. D is not a match. Eliminate.
Choice E, “demand credit for an underappreciated scientific field”. This action is not supported by the passage. This choice qualifies as extreme and can thus be ruled out.
The correct answer is choice B.
In the passage, the community of researchers interested in using the Hubble Space Telescope is described as
A. tremendously successful
B. global in its scope
C. extremely complementary
D. essential to modern astronomy
E. larger than most other scientific communities
Step 1 – Rephrase the question. The phrase “In the passage” already tells us that this is a “what” question. Our question becomes, “what describes the community of researchers interested in using the Hubble Space Telescope?”
Step 2 – We now go to the passage to find the researchers interested in using the Hubble Space Telescope. We find more about the interest in the second paragraph. The good thing about reading the questions and passages piecemeal is that after answering the first question, you don’t have to read to know that the information you are looking for now is in the second paragraph. So, we can continue reading from where we stopped.
Note that sometimes you will not be given the exact term so you may have to look for it, and make approximations. Our phrase here is “Hubble research program”.
Step 3 – we can now make our prediction: international, more interest than availability.
Step 4 – elimination.
Choice A, “tremendously successful”. This seems reasonable. But reaching such a conclusion would require outside knowledge. We know that the observations have yielded major advances in knowledge before, but we don’t know that the community of researchers is necessarily tremendously successful. This choice is extreme and can be ruled out.
Choice B, “global in its scope”. This matches our prediction. But always remember to go through all the choices just to be sure.
Choice C, “extremely complementary”. This is a trap answer. They are hoping you might remember the term complementary used in the first paragraph. This is a case of reused terms and can be ruled out.
Choice D, “essential to modern astronomy”. Modern optical astronomy is mentioned at the end of paragraph one, but it has nothing to do with the community of researchers. That is extreme, so we will eliminate it.
Choice E, “larger than most other scientific communities”. We do know that the Telescope generates more interest than they have time available to fulfill. What we do not know is that the community of researchers interested in using the Hubble Space Telescope is larger than most other scientific communities. This goes outside the scope and we cannot make that assertion based solely on the information in the passage.
This is a summary of how you can go about answering the most common questions in the GMAT reading comprehension, detail, and purpose questions. You can do more practice on your own to improve your skills in addressing these questions.
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