Reading Comprehension is Like Speed Dating

Ceilidh Erickson —  May 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

gmat reading comprehension speed dating Imagine two friends, Gina and Tina, who are going to a speed-dating event. Gina really, really wants a boyfriend. Tina is just going because Gina dragged her there, and she’s only willing to date someone who is perfect for her.

At the event, Gina finds herself liking every guy that she meets: Guy #1 is smart and successful, so it makes sense that he’s proud of his accomplishments. Guy #2 is really funny and clever. The waiter just didn’t understand his jokes. Tina, on the other hand, has a very different impression of these guys: Guy 1 has been bragging about himself the whole time, and seems arrogant. Guy 2 thinks he’s funny, but he’s actually being cruel and making fun of people.

At the end of the event, Gina can’t decide which of the guys she likes best, because she’s found reasons to like all of them and she’s overlooked any reasons not to like them. Tina, however, was looking for reasons not to date these guys, so she noticed the dealbreaker flaws. She manages to whittle the list down to one guy whose personality matched hers.

Of course, dating is subjective, and what might be a dealbreaker for one person might be fine for someone else. On the GMAT, though, there are definitive right and wrong answers, and we have to learn how to spot the wrong ones.

Look for Dealbreakers

When it comes to Reading Comprehension on the GMAT, you want to act like Tina, not Gina! You will often be presented with questions whose answer choices all seem to have appealing qualities. If you’re looking for what makes an answer right, you may overlook certain critical flaws, and talk yourself into a wrong answer. If you’re looking for what makes an answer wrong, though, you’re a lot more likely to notice those deal-breaking flaws!

Take a moment to read the following passage from GMATPrep:

The professionalization of the study of history in the second half on the nineteenth century, including history’s transformations from a literary genre to a scientific discipline, had important consequences not only for historians’ perceptions of women but also for women as historians. The disappearance of women as objects of historical studies during this period has elements of irony to it. On the one hand, in writing about women, earlier historians had relied not on firsthand sources but rather on secondary sources; the shift to more rigorous research methods required that secondary sources be disregarded. On the other hand, the development of archival research and the critical editing of collections of documents began to reveal significant new historical evidence concerning women, yet this evidence was perceived as substantially irrelevant: historians saw political history as the general framework for historical writing. Because women were seen as belonging to the private rather than to the public sphere, the discovery of documents about them, or by them, did not, by itself, produce history acknowledging the contributions of women. In addition, genres such as biography and memoir, those forms of particular history that women had traditionally authored, fell into disrepute. The dividing line between particular history and general history was redefined in stronger terms, widening the gulf between amateur and professional practices of historical research.

Now take a look at the following question, and ask yourself what you like about each answer choice:

Which of the following best describes one of the elements of irony referred to in the highlighted text?

A.      Although the more scientific-minded historians of the second half of the nineteenth century considered women appropriate subjects for historical writing, earlier historians did not.

B.      Although archival research uncovered documentary evidence of women’s role in history, historians continued to rely on secondary sources for information about women.

C.      Although historians were primarily concerned with writing about the public sphere, they generally relegated women to the private sphere.

D.      The scientific approach to history revealed more information about women, but that information was ignored.

E.      The professionalization of history, while marginalizing much of women’s writing about history, enhanced the importance of women as historical subjects.

There were definitely things to like about each answer choice, right?

  • In A, the historians of the late 19th century were more scientific-minded, and there was a contrast to earlier historians.
  • In B, it’s true that they uncovered documentary evidence of women’s role in history.
  • C is totally true “ the passage says, women were seen as belonging to the private rather than to the public sphere.
  • D is also true “ the documents revealed new information about women, but it was perceived as irrelevant.
  • In E, I agree that history was being professionalized, and that women’s writing was marginalized.

So, how do we choose which answer we like best? Well we don’t! Instead of looking for what you like, look for what you don’t like “ the dealbreakers.

A.      Although the more scientific-minded historians of the second half of the nineteenth century considered women appropriate subjects for historical writing, earlier historians did not.

It was actually the earlier historians who considered women appropriate subjects. The late-19th-century historians didn’t. A is out.

 B.      Although archival research uncovered documentary evidence of women’s role in history, historians continued to rely on secondary sources for information about women.

These historians used new methods that required that secondary sources be disregarded. B is out.

C.      Although historians were primarily concerned with writing about the public sphere, they generally relegated women to the private sphere.

This one still seems to be true. Historians saw political history as the general framework, etc.

D.      The scientific approach to history revealed more information about women, but that information was ignored.

This one also still seems to be true. We’ll come back to these.

E.      The professionalization of history, while marginalizing much of women’s writing about history, enhanced the importance of women as historical subjects.

Women’s writing was marginalized, but women were not considered important subjects: disappearance of women as objects of historical studies, etc. So, E is out.

So we’re down to C and D, both of which seem to be true. Let’s check back in with Gina and Tina

The difference between true and correct

When Gina spoke with Guy #3, she asked him, Is there anything in your life that you regret, or that you’re not proud of? He answered, Well, when I was back in college wait, did I tell you that I went to Princeton? I majored in econ, and graduated cum laude and then he went on to tell her all about his college experience. She walked away thinking, wow, that’s really impressive!

Tina later asked him the same question, and got the same response. Because she was looking for dealbreakers, though, her reaction was very different from Tina’s. He said some interesting things, but he didn’t answer the question that I asked. He must have something to hide, or he’s not a good listener.

On RC, you’ll often encounter answers that sound good “ they might even be completely true “ but they don’t answer the question. Here, our question was to find an element of irony. We’ve already determined that answer choices C and D are both true, but do they depict irony?

In C, the fact that historians write about the public sphere and relegate women to the private sphere is true, but it’s not ironic. In fact, it’s perfectly expected. C doesn’t answer the right question, so it’s a wrong answer “ even though it’s factually true!

In D, the fact that changing historical methods both uncovered more information about women, but also shifted focus away from women as historical subjects is ironic. D is the correct answer “ not because we like it the best, but because we had strong reasons to get rid of all of the other answers.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, don’t be negative! Look for the positive in every situation. That may be good advice in life, but you actually want to do the opposite on the GMAT! Focusing on the negative “ what’s wrong, questionable, not provable, etc. “ will help you to move more quickly and effectively through the answer choices.

 

* GMATPrep text courtesy of the Graduate Management Admissions Council. Usage of this question does not imply endorsement by GMAC.

Ceilidh Erickson

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At Princeton University, Céilidh majored in comparative literature and specialized in creative writing, winning creative writing awards and writing for various publications. While there, she began teaching SAT prep as a side job, and discovered a knack for teaching test-prep. In her spare time, Céilidh is a writer, avid reader, pub-quiz nerd, and enthusiastically terrible karaoke singer! She’s also an insatiable traveler – she has been to 20+ countries and 40 US states, and lived in Ireland.

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