What to read – and what not to read – on RC passages

Stacey Koprince —  January 3, 2012 — 21 Comments

A student recently asked me to show an example of how I read and take notes on a reading comprehension passage. In this older article, I discussed how to read through an RC passage in general, but I didn’t show an example. If you haven’t already read the older article, read that first; then come back here to see an example.

The passage below is from the ManhattanGMAT CAT database (copyright MG Prep). If you are still using our exams and haven’t yet seen this passage, then you may want to wait until after you’ve seen the passage before you read this article.

As a general rule, we want to spend about 2 to 2.5 minutes on shorter passages and about 2.5 to 3 minutes on longer passages. The below passage is a longer one, so give yourself up to 3 minutes to read and take light notes.

Sarah Meyers McGinty, in her new book Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence, argues that while the simple lingual act of declaring power does not help a powerless person gain influence, well-considered linguistic techniques and maneuvers do. McGinty does not dispute the importance of factors such as expertise and ability in determining stature, but argues persuasively that these power determinants amount to little for a person unable to communicate effectively. Surveys have shown that managers consider effective communication skills the most critical characteristic in determining promotability in the workplace.

McGinty divides speech into two categories: “language from the center” and “language from the edge.” In McGinty’s words, “Language from the center makes a speaker sound like a leader. McGinty suggests that such language is not only for those already in powerful positions, but also for those of lower ranks who wish to gain more power and credibility. A speaker using language from the center directs rather than responds, makes statements rather than asks questions, uses experience persuasively, and maintains an air of impersonality in the workplace. McGinty’s assertions that the use of such language can alter or create a new balance of power are supported by studies that show that people accept leadership from those they consider experts.

Language from the edge stands in stark contrast to language from the center. Language from the edge is exploratory, inclusive, deferential, and collaborative. A speaker using language from the edge responds rather than directs, asks questions, strives to make others feel heard, and avoids argument. Language from the center strives to claim authority for a speaker, while language from the edge strives to build consensus and trust. McGinty argues that true power comes from a deep understanding of when to use which style and the ability to use both as necessary.

What distinguishes McGinty’s discussion of effective communication is her focus on communication skills as a way of gaining power; by contrast, most workplace communication theory focuses on communication skills as a way of preventing misunderstandings, avoiding conflict, and fostering interpersonal relationships. McGinty, however, holds that language not only helps maintain relationships but also lends authority.

Many of you are probably thinking: that was nowhere near enough time. How am I supposed to get through something like that in 3 minutes (or faster!)? If you’ve read the other article I linked above, then you know my answer already: because we’re not going to read and try to understand every last detail in there. I’m going to take you through what I would think and what I would write while I’m reading this passage for the first time.

Paragraph 1

The first column contains the actual text, but I’ve underlined the words that I really read carefully and inserted blah blah blah when I started seriously skimming. The wording without underlines indicates things that I did read but to which I didn’t pay that much attention.

What I read

What I think

What I write

Sarah Meyers McGinty, in her new book Power Talk: blah blah blah, argues that while the simple lingual act of declaring power does not help a powerless person gain influence, well-considered linguistic techniques and maneuvers do. SMM has a book and I really don’t know what it’s talking about yet! P1

SMM book

McGinty does not dispute the importance of factors such as expertise and ability in determining stature, but argues persuasively that these power determinants amount to little for a person unable to communicate effectively. SMM: Expertise and ability are important but don’t mean much if you can’t communicate well. Okay, I’m getting an idea of her topic now: communication. P1

SMM book:

comm well = imp

(communicating well = important)

Surveys have shown that managers consider effective communication skills the most critical characteristic in determining promotability in the workplace. Survey: managers like communication skills. This isn’t SMM talking any more. P1

SMM book:

comm well = imp

Study: M: comm skills crit

 

Paragraph 2

The first column contains the actual text, but I’ve underlined the words that I really read carefully and inserted blah blah blah when I started seriously skimming. The wording without underlines indicates things that I did read but to which I didn’t pay that much attention.

What I read

What I think

What I write

McGinty divides speech into two categories: “language from the center” and “language from the edge.” SMM has two types of language (1) center and (2) edge. Okay, now we’re getting into her actual hypothesis. I don’t know what those terms mean yet. P2

(1) Center L

(2) Edge L

In McGinty’s words, “Language from the center makes a speaker sound like a leader Center language has something to do with being a leader. P2

(1) Center L: leaders

(2) Edge L

McGinty suggests that such language is not only for those already in powerful positions, but also for those of lower ranks who wish to gain more power and credibility. Such language means language from the center. SMM says that powerful people use this but also people who want to become powerful. So this language has something to do with power and being a leader. P2

(1) Center L: leaders, power

(2) Edge L

A speaker using language from the center directs rather than responds, makes statements rather than asks questions, uses experience persuasively, and maintains an air of impersonality in the workplace. This is just a list of characteristics when someone’s using language from the center. I stopped reading carefully after the first one. If I get a question later about how to use center language, I’ll come back here. P2

(1) Center L: leaders, power

(2) Edge L

> dtl on (1)

(more detail on category 1)

McGinty’s assertions that the use of such language can alter or create a new balance of power are supported by studies that show that people accept leadership from those they consider experts. Other studies also seem to support what SMM says about center language being used to create power. P2

(1) Center L: leaders, power

(2) Edge L

> dtl on (1)

Studies: SMM’s center theory = good

 

Paragraph 3

The first column contains the actual text, but I’ve underlined the words that I really read carefully and inserted blah blah blah when I started seriously skimming. The wording without underlines indicates things that I did read but to which I didn’t pay that much attention.

What I read

What I think

What I write

Language from the edge stands in stark contrast to language from the center. Edge language is different than center language. I don’t know how yet. P3

edge = diff from center

Language from the edge is exploratory, inclusive, blah blah. This is a description of edge characteristics. I’m not going to write them down “ I’ll just know they’re here if I need to read them again. P3

edge = diff from center

characs

 

A speaker using language from the edge responds rather than directs, asks questions, blah blah. Examples of how to use this edge language “ this is just like that other sentence in the last paragraph about how people use center language. P3

edge = diff from center

characs and ex.

(characteristics and examples)

 

Language from the center strives to claim authority for a speaker, while language from the edge strives to build consensus and trust. This is a big idea sentence. I know this because it’s not giving me examples or details; rather, it’s giving a broad this is true statement about the two types of language. So I read the whole thing. P3

edge = diff from center

characs and ex.

Center: claim auth

Edge: build cons + trust

McGinty argues that true power comes from a deep understanding of when to use which style and the ability to use both as necessary. Another big idea sentence. I want to pay careful attention especially because they’re mentioning McGinty again and because it says that this is what she argues “ this is a big hypothesis. SMM thinks that true power comes from using BOTH types of language at the right time. That’s a bit of a surprise; I had been thinking that center language was for power and edge language wasn’t. P3

edge = diff from center

characs and ex.

Center: claim auth

Edge: build cons + trust

SMM: use BOTH to gain power

 

Paragraph 4

The first column contains the actual text, but I’ve underlined the words that I really read carefully and inserted blah blah blah when I started seriously skimming. The wording without underlines indicates things that I did read but to which I didn’t pay that much attention.

What I read

What I think

What I write

What distinguishes McGinty’s discussion of effective communication is her focus on communication skills as a way of gaining power; SMM is different from others. She focuses on using communication skills to gain power. I guess that means others don’t. P4

SMM diff: comm skills = way to gain power

by contrast, most workplace communication theory focuses on communication skills as a way of preventing misunderstandings, blah blah blah. Yep, ok, most others focus on using comm for other stuff. I don’t care what that other stuff is now; if I need to know for a question, I’ll come back here later. I’m not even going to write that down. P4

SMM diff: comm skills = way to gain power

McGinty, however, holds that language not only helps maintain relationships but also lends authority They all agree on the relationship stuff, but SMM also thinks language lends authority “ back to the power thing. This is just summarizing what I already know, so I’m still not going to write any more down. P4

SMM diff: comm skills = way to gain power

 

So that last thing “ that SMM thinks that we can use communication skills to gain power and lend authority “ seems to be the big idea here. That, and the fact that others don’t think the same thing as SMM; this is her theory. The correct answer to a main idea question should address those concepts.

Also, she talks about two different kinds of language: center and edge. People who want power or want to be leaders have to use both and have to know when to use each kind.

Take-aways for Reading an RC Passage:

(1) On the first read-through, we’re trying to understand the big picture ideas as well as any major contrasts or changes of direction. That’s all. We want to take light notes, delineated by paragraph, while we’re reading.

(2) We don’t have a lot of time to read these passages, so we specifically want to try to avoid getting sucked into the detail on these passages. We should know what kind of detail we have and in which paragraph it’s located “ but we’ll come back to that detail later on, and only if we actually get a question about it.

(3) You will likely feel uncomfortable with this approach at first because you will be skimming or outright skipping some of the detail. You should feel as though you don’t understand every last thing in the passage “ if you do understand every last thing, you are reading too carefully and taking too much time. As long as you understand the big ideas and any major contrasts, you’ll be fine!

Stacey Koprince

Posts

Stacey Koprince is an Instructor and Trainer as well as the Director of Online Community for Manhattan Prep. She's also a management consultant who specializes in corporate strategy. She has been teaching various standardized tests for more than fifteen years and her entire teaching philosophy can be summed up in five words: teaching students how to think.

21 responses to What to read – and what not to read – on RC passages

  1. This article is excellent! It really gave me good example of right note taking techniques and reading through effectively.
    Thanks!

  2. It’s really an excellent article and very useful to me.

  3. Really good learning. I will try to incorporate in the next practice .

  4. this is a very good approach. It will be much better if, we answer to questions of the passage.

  5. this is helpful….luckily while doing my Manhattan Test I scored all correct for this passage

  6. I suppose I need to find specialists that have a.

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  8. Nice article with a good example ! It will be great if you can provide a few questions on above passage and explain the way you approach them.
    Thanks.

  9. Hey have you seen Inception already?It is AMAZING! Check out Inception PDF ebooks download here!

  10. Thanks for another great article. Where else would anybody get this kind of information in such a amazing way of presentation.

  11. I feel like I’m often looking for interesting things to read about a variety of niches, but I manage to include your blog among my reads every day because you have compelling entries that I look forward to. Here’s hoping there’s a lot more amazing material coming!

  12. Hey its just me for a second time merely figured I should probably return back and learn which way the talk was in fact traveling.

  13. why don`t you write your posts in english ?

  14. Thanks for this example Stacey. Gives us an idea if we are taking the right notes with correct timing. I did this exercise after reading your first article. I was happy to complete the passage within 3 and half minutes and take notes very close notes to what you have presented! Thanks again – you are awesome!

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