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GMAT RC – Are you also confusing the symptom with the problem?

by Chiranjeev Singh

A couple of days ago, I had an RC (Reading Comprehension) session with one of my students. Since it was not our first session on RC, I asked him before the beginning of session about how his RC practice was going on.

He said, “I’m able to comprehend the passage but get confused in the option statements”.

If you are able to understand the passage, you should not be facing difficulties with the questions because the purpose of the questions is to test your understanding/comprehension of the passage, I reasoned out. I could see that even though he considered the reasoning logical, he wasn’t entirely convinced. He still believed that the problem lay not in comprehension but in doing something with the option statements.

During the session, we discussed one RC passage, supposedly one of the toughest official RC passages, which he was asked to solve before the session so that we could discuss the same during the session. He admitted that he wasn’t much able to understand the passage and almost all the questions seemed too confusing to attempt.

Then, as is my approach, we tried to read the RC passage together. My approach to teaching RC is not to teach any shortcuts or tricks but to teach my approach/way of thinking to the student. Once the student gets the right approach or way of thinking, he improves very fast, and all the different problems the student may be facing in different question types/passages fall way naturally. I have seen it time and again. And it makes perfect sense too since GMAT, as the official website says, is a test of higher order reasoning skills. Thus, once your reasoning skills or thinking skills are in place, you’ll be able to do well on the exam. Once the approach is right, all the concepts start making sense. However, if the approach is incorrect, every new concept is a new burden to deal with.

Coming back to the session with the student. As we discussed the passage together, I explained him how I inter-relate different statement, how I question different things, how I try to make bridges in the logical jumps that I observe, how I keep taking pauses so as not to lose the bigger picture, and other related reading strategies. Once we got over with the passage, I asked him to attempt the questions for the passage on his own. He got 6 out of 8 right! (even in the remaining two that he got incorrect, he was pretty close to the correct answer)

Such a remarkable change in accuracy! It was the same passage of which he could solve a single question with confidence. Now, he solved 75% of them correctly.

What was the difference?

Did I teach him any strategies for specific question types? No.

The difference only lay in the level of his comprehension of the passage. Before, he wasn’t able to make a lot of sense of the passage, even though he had read it. However, after our discussion, he “understood” the passage. This understanding ultimately reflected, as it should, in his accuracy.

I could see that he then appreciated what I said at the beginning of the session.

If you get your approach right, the questions or the timing will cease to be problems sooner or later. Low accuracy and being-always-short-on-time are the symptoms, not the problems. If you keep on treating the symptoms without taking care of the actual problems, it will be a very difficult task for you. The symptoms may just keep on changing – you may start facing problems with other question types/concepts. However, if you treat the problem, you’ll discover that the symptoms go away naturally, as they should.