GMAT Tip: The Key to Transition Words

Transition words like “however”, “also”, “therefore” are often the key to a manageable Reading Comprehension strategy. Photograph by Getty Images

This tip on improving your GMAT score was provided by Brian Galvin at Veritas Prep.

GMAT Reading Comprehension is designed to be difficult and time-consuming. The passages are seldom engaging (never mind that, at the end of a long exam, you’re don’t really have the mindset to learn something new and interesting), and the details and technical language can be frustrating and difficult to get through.

You do have a competitive advantage, however, and it lies at the beginning of this sentence. Transition words such as “however,” “also,” and “therefore” and numerical words (“first,” “second,” etc.) are often the key to a manageable Reading Comprehension strategy. As you read Reading Comprehension passages, it’s important to remember these things:

1) Your job isn’t to master everything in the passage; it’s merely to answer correctly the 3-6 questions that follow.  You can get all those questions right without ever fully understanding the subject matter.

2) If a question asks for a specific detail, you’ll want to return to that portion of the passage to make sure you answer it correctly. There is little (if any) value in mastering details on your first read—the key is merely to be able to find those details quickly when you need them.

So while you shouldn’t merely skim the passage as you read, you shouldn’t spend more than two minutes reading, as you’ll want that extra time for actually answering the questions, and there’s little value in your initial read outside of understanding the general flow of the passage. If your understanding is essentially:

The first paragraph introduces a theory for the formation of gas planets; the second shows some problems with that theory; the third proposes a new theory and suggests that more research is necessary.

Then you’ve done your job. You know the general purpose of the passage (to discuss theories for the formation of gas planets and to call for further research) and you know where to go for specific details as they’re asked. So how do you implement a strategy to get to this point?

First, focus on the words you know to be important and don’t worry so much about those you don’t know at all. Second, know that the most important words in reading comprehension are transition and structural words. Even if you’re reading gibberish, you can get a feel for what’s happening if you catch those signals.

Originally, lorem ipsum dolar, ut labore et exerication ullamco loaboris nisis ut aliquip in voluptate velit esse  cullum dolore eu sunt, in culpa qui official deserunt. However, dereud facilis est er expedit distinct. Irure dolor in ad minim veniam, quis nostrud et labore. For example, eligent optio est congue in labore nostrud ullamco laboir. …

In this example, only three words make actual sense, but they should give you insight into what the author is doing.  Something happened or was originally thought, but that changed (“However”), and the author wants to demonstrate why (“For example”).  Even if you don’t process the details, you understand the flow of information, so you can quickly go back to digest details as needed, and you have a great shot at any general problems with even a quick glance back for keywords.

In conclusion (see? Transition.), your strategy to improve on Reading Comprehension questions should be to read for transitional/structural language primarily and to not sweat the details until you’re directly asked about them. Reading Comprehension is much more about the questions than the passage and about the organization than the content.  Therefore, if you master this skill, you’ll raise your score.

For more Reading Comprehension practice, visit the Veritas Prep GMAT question bank where you can work through realistic GMAT questions and review detailed solutions.

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