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Reading comprehension is often a test-taker’s least favorite part of the GMAT. The passages are dense and boring, and reading on a computer screen can be uncomfortable. These factors make it tempting to gloss over passages. And this may be just fine, because different people have different reading styles. But regardless of whether you are someone who prefers to read the passage thoroughly or to just jump straight to the questions, you need to understand the questions properly in order to avoid trap answers. Let look at question 102 on page 405.

The question uses the words “in order to.” What does that really mean? Phrases such as in order to, the role of, serves to, and the purpose of are all asking why a particular detail has been included in the paragraph. Why does an author include any detail in his writing? To support the point he is trying to make. So any question that is asking why on the GMAT is really about the main idea of the paragraph. And where can the main idea of a paragraph typically be found? In the first or last sentence. Since the detail sentence the question refers to is the last sentence, we should look at the first sentence. This sentence indicates that researchers should obtain a more representative sample of the total population with the disease. Every other sentence in the paragraph is there in order to explain why this is a good idea. Let’s look at the answers.

A)     Even if you haven’t read the passage, remember that extreme answers are almost never correct on the GMAT. It is difficult to state that a variable is the most critical if only certain variables are discussed in this brief passage.

B)      This answer is the opposite of what the paragraph attempts to accomplish. The paragraph supports Frazier and Mosteller; it doesn’t cast doubt on them. Opposite answers can be attractive because they have all the right words about the topic.

C)      This answer refers to the sentence right before the sentence the question is asking about. That sentence (lines 30 – 33) begins with for example, so it is also a supporting detail, not the main idea.

D)     Yes, a wide range of patients is a good paraphrase of the main idea which was about a more representative sample.

E)      This answer also goes against the main idea of the paragraph, rather than supporting it.

It is not necessary to read the whole passage to be able to answer a why question. Just find the main idea of the paragraph that contains the sentence referred to in the question, and then select the answer that refers to the main idea.


Want more information? Check out the Reading Comprehension section of my 30 Day GMAT Success book!


Image Courtesy of  Jan Tik with Creative Commons License