How to Solve Reading Comprehension Questions

The GMAT verbal section has 41 questions, and you are allotted 75 minutes to answer them. That comes out to less than two minutes per question. If you spend too much time answering reading-comprehension questions, you have less time to consider the sentence-correction and critical-reasoning questions that also comprise the verbal section.

So having a system for tackling reading-comprehension questions is just as important as knowing how to read through the passages. Your approach should include:

  • Recognizing the type of question
  • Quickly eliminating incorrect answer choices
  • Managing questions that ask for the answer that isn’t supported by the passage

1. Identifying the question type

The first step in answering a reading-comprehension question correctly is identifying the type of question. Most reading-comprehension questions fall into one of these four categories:

  1. Summarizing the main theme
  2. Finding specific information
  3. Making inferences
  4. Assessing the author’s tone

Each of the four question types requires a slightly different approach. Main theme and tone questions ask you to make determinations about the passage as a whole, and specific-information and inference questions usually ask you to home in on particular parts of the passage. For example, when you know that a question is about specific details in the passage, you can focus your attention on the portion of the passage that’s relevant to the information in the question.

Main-theme questions

Main-theme questions ask you to identify the primary purpose of the whole passage. Almost every passage has at least one question that asks you to identify the thesis of the passage, and often it’s the first question you answer for a particular reading passage.

The best answer to a main-theme question is general rather than specific. If an answer choice concerns information that’s discussed in only one part of the passage, it probably isn’t the correct answer to a main-theme question.

Specific-information questions

Some GMAT reading-comprehension questions ask you about specific statements in the passage. These questions are potentially the easiest type of reading-comprehension question because the information you need to answer them is stated in the passage. You just need to find it.

This information may be quantitative, such as years, figures, or numbers, or it may be qualitative, like ideas, emotions, or thoughts.

Inference questions

Inference questions ask you about information that’s implied by the passage rather than directly stated. These questions test your ability to draw conclusions, using evidence that appears in the passage.

When you’re answering an inference question, look for the choice that slightly extends the meaning of the passage. Choices that go beyond the scope of the passage are usually incorrect. Don’t choose an answer that requires you to come up with information that isn’t somehow addressed by the passage.

Questions about the author’s tone and style

Tone and style questions commonly ask you to figure out the author’s attitude or complete the logical flow of the author’s ideas. The author may be neutral, negative, or positive and may have different attitudes about different types of information within the same passage.

2. Eliminating answer choices

One of the most effective ways of moving through reading-comprehension questions is to eliminate incorrect answer choices. That’s because you are looking for the best answer choice, not necessarily the perfect answer choice.

Much of the time, you can eliminate wrong choices without having to refer back to the passage. As long as you carefully read the passage and have a good idea of the main theme, the author’s purpose in writing the selection, and the author’s style or tone, you should be able to recognize some wrong answers immediately.

3. Dealing with exception questions

Most questions ask you to choose the one correct answer, but some questions are cleverly disguised to ask for the one false answer. These are called exception questions. The question is asking for the one answer out of five that’s false or not part of the information stated or implied in the passage.