GMAT Official Guide 12th Ed: Reading Comprehension
The 11th edition has 158 Reading Comprehension questions in 27 passages. In the changeover to the 12th edition, 45 problems and 7 passages were removed, leaving 113 repeated problems and 20 passages (including all Diagnostic problems and passages). 43 problems and 7 passages were then added, bringing the total to 156 questions and 27 passages—almost exactly the same as in the 11th edition.
Among the problem formats, Reading Comprehension has the second lowest proportion of new problems (28%). New passages constitute a similar portion of the whole (26%).
Distribution of Questions and Passages
General vs. Specific Questions
The General/Specific split has not changed very much. Within the Specific category, there is a slight shift away from Detail questions (lookups) toward Inference questions, which require not only a lookup but also some degree of interpretation or further thinking.
Two long passages (>300 words) were replaced by two short passages (<250 words). However, the overall proportion is essentially unchanged, with a rough balance between long and short.
The distribution of passage topics hardly changed. There are 2 fewer biology passages, but we should expect some normal variation from edition to edition.
This graph displays the difficulty level of problems that were removed, repeated, and added. Excluding problems in the Diagnostic exam, higher-numbered problems are more difficult, according to the GMAT. On the left, red problems were removed from the 11th edition. On the right, dark-green problems were added to the 12th edition. Light colors are repeats, as shown by a few correspondences in the middle.
Seven passages at all levels of difficulty were removed, together with all their problems. Moreover, two problems were removed from passages that were retained. These problems contained statements or phrases labeled with Roman numerals (I, II, III). Since no other problems contain Roman numerals, the GMAT seems to be indicating that it is moving away from such problems.
No new problems were added to old passages. The only source of new problems is new passages, which are distributed at all levels of difficulty.
Since questions must be listed together with their passages, note that “easier” passages could have hard questions associated with them, and vice versa.
If we accept that the passages are listed in order of difficulty, then difficulty is somewhat correlated with length and with topic in the 12th edition, just as it was in the 11th edition. High-numbered passages are more likely to be long; low-numbered passages are more likely to be short. However, the correlation is far from perfect.
Moreover, business passages tend to be lower-numbered. Biology and social science passages are relatively evenly distributed, and physical science passages tend to be higher-numbered. Again, though, this is a statistical pattern. Topic is not a perfect predictor of difficulty or position.
These graphs look essentially the same for the 11th edition.
Are higher-numbered passages truly more difficult? You should regard this issue with some degree of skepticism for the following reasons:
- Passages have similar measures on other objective measures of difficulty besides length and topic (e.g., words per sentence). Moreover, there is no significant correlation between those objective measures and position in either the 11th or the 12th edition.
- The effective difficulty of a passage depends a great deal on you – that is, on your personal comfort level with the topic. You are not expected to bring specific scientific knowledge to bear on the GMAT. But if you are interested – or become interested – in the content of a passage, you will find that passage much easier to digest, whether the passage is considered difficult or easy by the GMAT.
- Reading Comprehension has not really changed. The content and style of the new passages and questions is very similar to the content and style of removed passages and questions.
- As was mentioned earlier, Roman-numeral questions have been deleted. Since the associated passages were retained, together with all the other problems, this deletion is a fairly strong signal that the GMAT may be moving away from this sort of question. However, there were only 2 such questions in the 11th edition; this type of problem was never very important.