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Reading comprehension and critical reasoning

Reading Comprehension
GRE reading comprehension questions test your ability to understand what you read ---both content and technique. Each verbal section on the GRE includes two to five relatively short passages, each passage followed by one to four questions. A passage may deal with the sciences (including medicine, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy); the humanities (including art, literature, music, philosophy, folklore); or the social sciences (including history, economics, sociology, government). Some passages are strictly objective, explaining or describing a phenomenon or process neutrally. Others reflect a particular bias or point of view: the author is trying to convince the reader to share his or her opinion about the subject being discussed.

The GRE tends to take its reading passages from The New York Review of Books, from prestigious university presses (Harvard, Princeton, oxford), from government publications, and from scholarly journals. Often the test-makers hit academically hot topics ---- biodiesel fuels, plate tectonics, damage to the ozone layer, Arthurian romance, the status of Womens literature ----- that have aroused controversy over the past several decades. Frequently they edit these passages to make them more demanding both in vocabulary level and in grammatical complexity. Some of the reading comprehension questions on the GRE are factual, asking you about specific details in the passages. Others ask you to interpret the passages, to make judgments about them. Still others ask you to recognize various techniques used by the authors or possible applications of their ideas to other circumstances. Some questions include lengthy and complex statements, as lengthy and complex as any sentences in the passage. Read the questions closely, as closely as you read the text. Be sure, in answering reading comprehension questions, that you read all the answer choices before deciding which is correct. The reading comprehension portions of the new GRE contain some surprises for test-takers. A few reading comprehension questions have brand new formats ---- some require you to click on a sentence within the passage that fits a particular description; others require you to select one or more answer choices to get a question right. In addition, new types of logical reasoning questions now appear in the reading comprehension portion of the test. This new logical reasoning questions resemble questions found on the Analytical Ability sections of the old GRE, the Logical Reasoning sections of the LSAT, the verbal sections of the GMAT, and so on. These questions ask you to determine the logical conclusion of an argument, to analyze the function and relationship of individual statements within an argument, to isolate the assumptions underlying an argument, and to distinguish what strengthens an argument from what weakens it. The reading comprehension questions following each passage are not arranged in order of difficulty. They are arranged to reflect the way the passages content is organized. A question based on information found at the beginning of the passage generally will come before a question based on information at the passages end.


It helps to familiarize yourself with major types of reading questions on the test. Here are seven categories of reading questions you are likely to face : 1. Main Idea Questions that test your ability to find the central thought of a passage or to judge its significance often one of the following forms: The main point of the passage is to .. The passage is primarily concerned with .. The authors primary purpose in this passage is to .. 2. Finding Specific Details Questions that test your ability to understand what the author states explicitly are often worded: According to the author The author states all the following EXCEPT .. According to the passage, which of the following is true of the Which of the following statements is (are) best supported by the passage? 3. Drawing Inferences Questions that test your ability to go beyond the authors explicit statements and see what these statements may be worded: It can be inferred from the passage that . The author implies that .. The passage suggests that Which of the following statements about . Can be inferred from the passage? 4. Tone/Attitude Questions that test your ability to sense an authors emotional state often take the form: The authors attitude toward the problem can best be described as The authors tone in the passage is that of a person attempting to . Which of the following best describes the authors tone in the passage/ 5. Technique Questions that test your ability to recognize a passages method of organization or technique often are worded: Which of the following best describes the development of the passage? The relationship between the second paragraph and the first paragraph cab best be described as.. The organization of the passage can best be described as

6. Determining the meaning of words from their context: Questions that test your ability to work out the meaning of unfamiliar words from their context often are worded: As it is used in the passage, the term .. can best be described as .. The phrase . Is used in the passage to mean that ..

As used by the author, the term refers to .. The author uses the phrase . to describe .

7. Application to Other Situations (These are logical reasoning questions.) Questions that test your ability to recognize how the authors ideas might apply to other situations These questions are often take the form of : With which of the following statements would the author of the passage be most likely to agree? With which of the aphorisms would the author be in strongest agreement? The authors argument would be most weakened by the discovery of which of the following? The authors contention would be most clearly strengthened if which of the following were found to be true?

READING QUESTION FORMATS (A) Reading Comprehension Multiple-Choice Questions: Select one Answer Choice Description
These are the traditional multiple-choice questions with five answer choices of which you must select one :

Tips for Answering

Read all the answer choices before making your selection, even if you think you know what the answer is in advance. Dont be mislead by answer choices that are only partially true or only partially answer the question. The correct answer is the one that most accurately and most completely answers the question posed. Be careful also not to pick an answer choice simply because it is a true statement. Pay attention to context. When the question asks about the meaning of a word in the passage, be sure that the answer choice you select correctly represents the way the word is being used in the passage. Many words have quite different meanings in different contexts.

(B) Reading Comprehension Multiple-Choice Questions : Select One or More Answer Choices Description

These provide three answers choices and ask you to select all that are correct; one, two, or all three of the answer choices may be correct. To gain credit for thse questions , you must select all the correct answers, and only those; there is no credit for partial correct answers. These questions are marked with square boxes beside the answer choices, not circles or ovals.

Tips for Answering

Evaluate each answer choice separately on its own merits. When evaluating one answer choice, do not take the others into account. Make sure the answer choice you pick accurately and completely answers the question posed. Be careful not to be mislead by answer choices that are only partially true or only partially answer the question. Be careful also not to pick an answer choice simply because it is a true statement. Dont be disturbed if you think all three answer choices are correct. Questions of this type can have three correct answer choices.

(C) Reading Comprehension Questions : Select-in-Passage Description

The question asks you to click on the sentence in the passage that meets a certain description. To answer the question, choose one of the sentences and click on it; clicking anywhere on a sentence will highlight it. In longer passages, the question will usually apply to only one or two specified paragraphs, marked by an arrow (); clicking on a sentence elsewhere in the passage will not highlight it.

Tips for Answering

Be careful to evaluate each of the relevant sentences in the passage separately before selecting your answer. Do not evaluate any sentences that are outside the paragraphs under consideration. Do not select a sentence if the description given in the question only partially applies. A correct answer choice must accurately match the description in the question. Note, however, that the description need not be complete, that is, there may be aspects of the sentence that are not fully described in the question.

Few Sample Reading Comprehension Questions

Question 17 through 18 are based on the following reading passage

Scholars of early Buddhist art agree that Buddha images in human form emerged around the first century A.D. in the regions of Mathura, located in central India, and Gandhara, now part of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Uncertainty exists, however, about whether Mathura or Gandhara has the stronger claim to primacy. Those who believed that anthropomorphic sculptures of Buddah first appeared in Gandhara point out that earlier Buddhist art was largely aniconic and that bas relief was far more common than sculpture. They argue that Greek influence in Gandhara promoted the development of the new style and form of representation of the divine. Other scholars make the case for indigenous development of such representations in Mathura, citing a centuries-long record of iconic art in pre-Buddhist traditions. They dont reject all foreign influence, but they argue that local traditions provided a strong foundation for the development of Buddhist sculpture. Art historians bolster their arguments by highlighting distinctive features of the sculptures from each region. For example, the artists of Gandhara sculpted their Buddhas in heavy, pleated drapery, similar to that of Greek influence. Mathura Buddhas, on the other hand, are portrayed wearing lighter robes draped in a monastic style, often with part of the shoulder and chest left bare. Elongated earlobes and strong facial features characterize Mathura images of the Buddha, whereas Gandhara images possess more angular features. Sorting out dates and directions of influence has proven difficult, but the totality of evidence suggests that the Buddha image evolved simultaneously in both regions and was shaped by the predominant cultural influences in each region. 17 of 20 Which of the following ,if true, would those who believe that anthropomorphic images of Buddha originated in Gandhara be likely to cite as evidence for their viewpoint? (A) Pre-Buddhist subcultures in the Gandhara region created representations of their deities in human form. (B) Mathuran Buddhas lightweight robes appear to have been modeled on the real robes of people who lived in a warm climate. (C) Gandhara artists were isolated from the larger society and not exposed to influences from outside the reign (D) Rulers from the Mathura region had political ties to Greek rulers and frequently exchanged gifts with them. (E) The hairstyles worn by Gandhara Buddhas are similar to those depicted in Greek pottery from the same period. 18 of 20 According to the passage, Buddhist art (A) first appeared in regions that are now part of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (B) experienced a period during which human representations of the Buddha were not common. (C) characteristically portrayed figures with elongated earlobes and strong facial features (D) began to appear in the medium of bas relief as a result of Greek influence (E) was more influenced by foreign artworks than by indigenous artistic traditions Question 19 through 20 are based on the following reading passage :

In 1887, Eugene Dubois began his search in Sumatra for the missing link --- the being that would fill the evolutionary gap between ape and man. He discovered a fossilized human-like thigh-bone and a section of skull. He confirmed that these fossils were of significant age, based on other fossils in the same area. The thighbones shape indicated that it belonged to a creature that walked upright. Dubois estimated the size of the creatures skull from the skull fragment and concluded that this creatures brain volume was between that of the higher primates and that of current humans. Although the concept of missing link has changed dramatically and a recent dating showed Duboiss fossils to be far too recent for humans to have evolved from this missing link, the value of his discovery and the debate it generated is unquestionable. 19 of 20 Consider each of the choices separately and select all that apply The passage supplies information to answer which of the following questions? What was the approximate age of the fossils found by Dubois? Does Duboiss find meet current definitions of the missing link? Do the flaws in Duboiss conclusions invalidate his work? 20 of 20 Select a sentence the author reaches a conclusion.

Critical reasoning questions are composed of short reading passages, typically just one paragraph long, followed by a series of questions about the authors argument. You should expect to see anywhere from 3 to 5 critical-reasoning questions within your two GRE verbal sections. These questions are designed to test one's logic and reasoning skills, particularly in evaluating arguments. The questions themselves could deal with almost any subject matter, and no familiarity with that subject matter is assumed or required. A Critical Reasoning Problem is comprised of three main parts: the text, the question, and the answer choices. We will deal with the different types of questions later. Here's an example of a Critical Reasoning text: A CEO of a major company noted a serious decline in worker productivity during the previous five years. According to a report done by an outside consultant, productivity dropped by 35% by the end of that period. The CEO has therefore initiated a plan to boost productivity by giving employees shares of the company as part of their pay package. We can use the text above to show the four different parts of a Critical Reasoning text.

Conclusion/Main Idea - Most problems have a central idea or thesis. This is almost always located in the sentence at the beginning of the text, or in the sentence at the very end. In this case, it is at the end of the passage: The CEO has therefore initiated a plan to boost productivity by giving employees shares of the company as part of their pay package. Notice the word therefore in that sentence. Words like therefore, thus, hence, and so usually tell us that this is the conclusion or the main idea. Let these words lead you to the main idea. Premise - Premises are the facts or evidence that support or lead to the conclusion. Unlike assumptions, they are explicit. Here is an example from the text: A CEO of a major company noted a serious decline in worker productivity during the previous five years. This premise helps the author lead to the conclusion or main idea of the text. Assumption - Assumptions are the facts that support the conclusion, like the premise does, but unlike the conclusion and premises they are not stated in the text: they are implicit. Here is what would be an example of an assumption for this particular Critical Reasoning problem: Owning something or part of something obliges you work harder to make it succeed. Note that this line is not in the text: it cannot be in the text if it is an assumption of the author. But it does give the argument as a whole some sense, and also supports the conclusion.


There are four types of questions that account for the majority of the questions in Critical Reasoning. You MUST know how to deal with these types of questions. 1. Weaken the Argument 2. Strengthen the Argument 3. Supply the Conclusion 4. Supply the Assumption There are other types of questions but they are rare by comparison with these four. We will begin with Weaken the Argument.


This is probably the easiest and certainly the most common of Critical Reasoning question types, the Weaken the Argument question. Here's how this type of question might look:

Some rental car agencies in the U.S. are now looking into installing satellite-guided navigation systems in their automobiles. The driver inputs the address on a keyboard, and the on-board computer calls out directions in American English, such as "You are now approaching Main Street". Rental car agencies hope to target foreign tourists and travelers unfamiliar with the United States. Which of the following, if true, provides the greatest reason to suggest that the plan will not work? A These new computer navigation systems are expensive to install in many automobiles. B Some foreigners visiting the United States may not understand English. C Some people argue that the computer's voice sounds extremely cold and impersonal. D Many American citizens will also want to take advantage of the satellite-guided navigation systems. E In the average U.S. city, paper maps and city guides are available in almost every hotel and gas station. Try to answer this Weaken the Argument question yourself before going on to see the explanation. And here's how to answer the question: 1. Identify the argument. Remember, that's usually in the first or last line. 2. Anticipate what will be the answer, if possible. Imagine what would satisfy the questionwhat would weaken the argument. Then look for it in the answer choices. 3. Eliminate answer choices that do not weaken the argument. 4. If there are two or three answer choices left after the process of elimination, then choose!


The good news is that Strengthen the Argument questions are exactly the same as Weaken, except this time we want to support the main idea or argument. Example The city council of Nowheresville has proposed establishing tollbooths on all of the major routes into the city. The council's reasoning is that this fee will force many commuters to switch from private automobiles to the public transportation system. Which of the following statements, if true, provides the best evidence that the city council's plan will be successful? A Most of the citizens of Nowheresville support the new plan. B Several other cities have attempted to implement the scheme in the past, with mixed results.

C Currently the average private commuter car spends one hour and forty-five minute in the commute into the city. D A new study suggests that many commuters with cars would switch to public transportation if driving in the city became any more expensive. E The price of gasoline is projected to plummet in the next few months. Try to answer this Strengthen the Argument question before checking the explanation. Here's what to do: 1. Identify the argument. Remember, it's usually in the first or last line. 2. Anticipate what will be the answer, if possible. Imagine what would satisfy the questionwhat would strengthen the argument. Then look for it in the answer choices. 3. Eliminate answer choices that do not strengthen the argument. 4. If there are two or three answer choices left after the process of elimination, then: choose!


For most people, these questions are the real difficult ones! Very tough, and unfortunately, the Assumption problem is the type of question most open to interpretation. But we do what we can,let us approach the question. Example New medical studies indicate that if the average employee improves his physical health, then his productivity also increases markedly. Company XYZ should therefore introduce mandatory exercise programs every morning in order to augment productivity. The author assumes which of the following to be true? A The mandatory exercise programs will be successful in improving the physical health of the employees at XYZ. B Employees who take exercise programs at work are no more productive than are employees who take exercise programs outside of work.. C Employees who exercise sleep better than employees who do not do so do. D Employees who exercise at work often complain of tiredness throughout the day. E Employees often resist mandatory exercise programs, viewing them as intrusions on their privacy and on their labor rights. See if you can find the author's assumption before continuing. 1. Identify the premises of the argument. 2. Identify the conclusion. Remember, that's usually in the first or last sentence of the text. 3. Identify the gap in the logic of the argument. What's missing or needed to make this argument convincing? 4. What's the new element or factor in the conclusion? The assumption will probably

introduce it. 5. Go through each answer choice. Does it strengthen the conclusion? If not, then eliminate it. 6. Eliminate silly or nonsensical answer choices. 7. Choose! Don't waste time!


An inference is a conclusion thats based on a set of given premises/facts. You can identify Inference questions because theyll look a lot like the following. Based on the information above, which of the following can logically be concluded. Which of the following statements can be properly inferred from the information above? If the statements above are true, which of the following must also be true? Heres an example Some studies indicate that alcohol advertisements on television cause people to increase their alcohol consumption. In Arcadia, however, where there has been a ban on alcohol advertising for the last ten years, alcohol consumption per capita is at least as high as in countries that do not have such a ban in place. Which of the following statements draws the most reliable conclusion from the information above? A People tend to consume more alcohol if they are exposed to alcohol advertisements than if they are not exposed to those advertisements. B Advertising has no effect on whether people consume more or less alcohol. C Advertising cannot be the only factor that determines an individual's consumption of alcohol. D Most people continued to consume alcohol after the ban was implemented. E If advertising for alcohol were allowed in Arcadia, it would be extremely effective. Try to do the question before you go to the explanation. 1. Identify the premises of the argument. 2. Assume all the premises are true. Try to combine or link those premises. Is there an obvious conclusion that could be made from these premises? 3. Eliminate answer choices that don't deal with or are supported by ALL of the premises, or that don't make sense from the information given. 4. If there are two or three answer choices left after the process of elimination, then: choose!


17 of 20 ( Strengthen Question ) When the maker of Megapower, a vitamin supplement, modified its formula two years ago, Tasmania, an island off the coast of New Zealand, suffered a decrease in its export earnings. Tasmanias only export, kiwi fruit, constitutes a substantial portion of the world supply of that fruit. Researchers concluded that the old Megapower formula contained natural kiwi extract, but the new formula does not. Which of the following , if true, gives the strongest support for the researchers claim? (A) Some South American countries have begun to grow kiwi fruit successfully (B) United States chemists have started development of a synthetic kiwi extract (C) The manufacturers of Megapower chose not to renew their contract with the Tasmanian kiwi growers. (D) Imports of kiwi fruit have fallen in the country where Megapower is manufactured. (E) There was a marked drop in sales of a number of formerly profitable items that used kiwi as an ingredient.

3 of 20 ( Weaken Question ) Psychologists have just completed an extensive study of recently divorced parents in order to determine which factors contributed most to the dissolution of the marriage. The researchers found that in a great majority of the cases of failed marriages, the couples ate, on average, fewer than ten meals per week with each other. From this data, the psychologists have determined that a failure to spend time together during meal times is a major factor leading to divorce. Which of the following, if true, would cast the most doubt on the researchers hypothesis? (A) Many couples who have long and successful marriages eat together fewer then ten times per week. (B) Most of the couples in the study who were unable to share meals with each other worked outside of the home. (C) People who lack a regular dining schedule tend to have more disorders and illnesses of the digestive system (D) Couples in the study who reported that they ate together more than ten times per week also indicated that they tended to perceive their relationships with their spouses as healthy. (E) In many cases, people in unhappy marriages tend to express their displeasure by avoiding contact with their partners when possible. (pg 126)

11 of 20 ( Inference / conclusion question )

The Mayville Fire Department always file its employment vacancies in-house ----- when a firefighter retires or leaves the force, his or her position is filled by interviewing all qualified members of the Mayville Department who are interested in the position. Only if this process fails to produce a qualified candidate does the department begin interviewing potential employees from outside the department. This year, the Mayville Fire Department has hired three new firefighters from outside the department. If the statements above are true, which of the following must also be true? (A) For the coming year, the Mayville Fire Department will be understaffed unless it hires three additional firefighters. (B) Firefighters hired from outside the Mayville Fire Department take longer to properly train for the job. (C) At the time of vacancies in the Mayville Fire Department, either there were no qualified
in-house candidates or no qualified in-house candidates were interested in the open positions.

(D) The three firefighters who left the department had jobs for which no other members of the Mayville Fire Department were qualified to fill. (E) The three new firefighters are the first new employees hired by the Mayville Fire Department. (129)

1 of 6 (Assumption Questions) A large manufacturer of electronic equipment expects to refurbish 1,800 units next year. Yet it is unlikely that a sufficient number of replacement parts will be available because the number of factory returns has been consistently decreasing over the past five years. The argument above assumes that (A) factory returns provide a significant portion of the replacement parts used by the manufacturer to refurbish electronic equipments. (B) during the next two years, factory returns will increase in number (C) in the coming year, no more than 1,800 people will try to purchase refurbished units from the manufacturer (D) in previous years, the manufacturers predictions as to the number of refurbished units needed have been very inaccurate (E) every factory return produces a needed replacement part for the manufacturer.

RESOLVE / EXPLAIN Some critical reasoning questions will present you with a paradox ; a set of facts that seem to contradict each other. On these questions, your task is to find the answer choice that best explains the contradiction. You can recognize these questions because they often contain the following phrases : Which of the following choices would best explain the situation presented above ?

Which of the following, if true, would best resolve the discrepancy above? Which of the following , if true, best reconciles the seeming paradox above?

16 of 30 (Paradox question)

Over the past ten years, the emergence of digital file sharing technology has threatened the traditional market for compact discs. Internet users are now able to share songs from their favourite artists with little or no loss of quality in the music, acquiring the songs they desire without having to purchase the entire compact disc. Music industry leaders contend that this practice violates their copyright and causes untold financial losses. However, consumer groups report that there has been an increase in the sales of compact discs. Which of the following, if true, would best explain the situation above?

(A) Some consumers who have downloaded songs from the internet have been sued by major record companies. (B) Research indicates that persons who engage in file sharing or song downloading are usually only casual music fans. (C) The music industry is developing new technology to help prevent users from downloading songs. (D) Music artists tend to release more material, on average, today than they did ten years ago.
(E) Compact discs released now often include bonus features that are appealing to fans, such as interviews with the band and music videos, that are not available for download.

Before answering the questions, attack the passage. Read the passages looking for the main idea, structure, and tone. For short passages, read the entire passage. For medium passages, focus on the beginning and end. For longer passages, read the first few lines of each paragraph and the final lines of the entire passage. Take a moment to understand the question task. Fetch questions ask you to retrieve information from the passage. Reasoning questions ask you to do something more than simply figure out what the author is saying. Return to the passage to find the answer to the question. Dont answer from memory! Go back to the text and find the answer. Try to come up with an answer in your own words before looking at the answer choices ETS provides. Remember to look for paraphrases of the text, not direct quotes.

Eliminate answers that contain extreme language, go beyond the information provided, garble the meaning of the text, or otherwise have information that you cant support from the text. Most critical-reasoning questions require you break down an argument. The premise is the fact cited in support of the conclusion. The assumption is used to link the premise and the conclusion with each other. Without an assumption, an argument breaks down. The GRE uses many standard arguments patterns. These include casual, analogy, and sampling arguments. To crack a critical-reasoning question, read the question first so you understand the task. Some questions require you to identify the conclusion and the premise of an argument. Others ask you to find the assumption or to strengthen or weaken the argument. After reading the question, break down the argument into its premise and conclusion and, if necessary, the assumption. Try to predict in your own lords what the correct answer needs to do in order to answer the question. Use Process of Elimination to get rid of bad answers. Inference and resolve/explain questions do not require you to find the premise and the conclusion.