Yesterday, I had an RC session with one of my students. As is my methodology, the student was supposed to read three passages before the session so that we could directly discuss the passages in the session. When we got to the second passage, the student remarked that the second one was easier and that he felt confident solving the same.
When I asked him to provide the answers for the six questions of the passage, I saw that he had gotten four out of six wrong i.e. 33% accuracy for the passage he felt he had understood well. I could understand that not only he missed interconnecting ideas in the passage but he was also unaware of such deficiencies in his understanding.
Then, we started discussing the passage. My approach in teaching RC is that I ask the student to go through the passage line by line and explain to me what he understands from the line. I just ask the leading questions “is it in any way related to the previous line?” “If not, why could the author immediately jump to an unrelated topic?” “The author has used ‘however’ – do you think it presents a change in direction to the previous statement?” “Why are we talking about these things, given the context of the passage?” “Why do you think the author used ‘unfortunately’?”
The reason I ask the leading questions is that I want the student to make the interconnections in the passage himself. The answers are going to be different for every passage. However, the questions – leading questions you need to ask to understand the passage – are almost the same for every passage! So, if I can get the student to start asking these questions from himself, his RC will be taken care of. Because what differentiates a 90%ile+ from a 70%ile or a 50%ile student is not necessarily the brain power but the approach. A 50%ile is not digging as deeper into the passage as a 90%ile student is. And the way to dig deeper into the passage is by asking questions, by trying to make sense of the passage, and not just read it as you’d read a newspaper.
As we discussed the passage and I asked the leading questions, he could see that he hadn’t made – not even tried to make – interconnections in the passage. He had also misunderstood two critical lines completely, but since he wasn’t making the interconnections, he couldn’t realize that he had misunderstood a few lines. (One of the side-benefits of trying to understand (or making interconnections) is that even if you misunderstand something in the first read, you’ll realize your mistake later. Why? Because with your incorrect understanding, the rest of the things will not make sense, and thus, you’ll realize your mistake). At least a couple of times while reading the passage, he had an almost “Aha!” moment. He could now see things in the passage which he couldn’t see earlier. And I hadn’t told him these things! I just don’t like giving answers! I just kept asking him leading questions. If one question didn’t work, I changed the direction and asked a new question. The process worked, as it has almost always.
When we were done with passage, I asked him to reattempt the passage. Four of his answers changed! He got five out of six correct, and even in the one he got incorrect, his second best choice was the correct one. A jump of 33% to 83% accuracy! Well, it wasn’t very surprising to me. If you understand the passage well enough, your accuracy is going to reflect that. People who get RC questions wrong or get confused in the last two options are the people who haven’t understood the passage precisely.
The most significant cause of the problems people face in RC is the reading style. We’re accustomed to reading newspapers. We just get a broad idea, a superficial understanding of what is written. However, a superficial understanding doesn’t help in GMAT RC. GMAT expects you to read and understand the content precisely, as one would expect from a person in a responsible position. So, as you prepare for GMAT RC, remember that you need to read to understand the passage “precisely”, not “superficially”. And the thing that most helps one to read the passage precisely is questions. Keep asking questions from yourself; the answers will come if you persist. What you lack is not intelligence but the right approach!
My two cents! I hope they are useful!