RC Fundamentals
RC Fundamentals
Before we get to our step method for this section of the test, we’d like to introduce two essential skills that will be key to your success when tackling RC:
  • Skimming
  • Outlining
Let’s see how they work.
The only reason you are “reading” a GRE passage is to gain points. That is why skimming is an essential skill you’ll need to maximize your score. Normal, everyday reading means reading every single word of a passage at least once. Skimming means reading only some of the words in a passage and letting your eyes dart across the rest. This will allow you to save significant time and search for the passage’s most salient features.
Read only the first and last sentences in paragraphs. Use a pencil or pen to help you break the habit of reading every word. Practice dragging your pencil or pen along passages in a book or magazine quickly enough to make it impossible for you to read every word. This will train your eye to skip over some words and phrases, which means you are actually skimming.
As you skim, note the passage’s major features:
  • Topic, argument, main idea
  • Evidence (facts, statistics, examples, quotations, etc.)
  • Author’s tone and attitude
Trying to understand every detail your first time through a passage is a waste of time. Given the relatively small number of questions, there’s no guarantee you’ll even be asked about a particular detail. In the event that you’re asked about something you didn’t quite get, the split-screen format lets you easily refer back to the passage.
We don’t recommend that you skip any part of the passage—only that you read it as quickly as you can to get the gist.
Staying focused on RC is difficult. You’ll be reading long, difficult passages on a computer screen, which makes the Verbal section somewhat challenging. You can maintain your focus by taking brief outline-style notes as you skim the passage.
Jot down the passage’s most salient features, and make a brief note about each one. As noted above, you want to concentrate on identifying the topic or main idea, the evidence used, and the author’s tone or attitude. Use abbreviations and symbols to help you jot down your notes faster, and don’t worry about poor grammar or spelling errors. Remember: You won’t be handing your notes in at the end of the test, and you’re the only one who will be using them. When it comes time to answer the questions, your notes will provide a road map to the passage.
Don’t try to provide a complete reference guide to the passage. Your outline is meant to keep you focused as you read and avoid getting distracted.
Let’s skim the sample RC passage below, taking brief notes as we go, to show you how it’s done.

On two tragic occasions, at a century’s distance, the fate of the United States has trembled in the balance: Would it be a free nation? Would the states continue to be one nation? A leader was wanted on both occasions, a very different one in each case. Twice America got the leader that the country needed: The American people had a Washington when a Washington was needed and a Lincoln when a Lincoln could save them. Neither would have adequately performed the other’s task. A century of gradually increasing prosperity had elapsed when came the hour of the nation’s second trial. Though it may seem to us small, compared with what we have seen in our days, the development had been considerable, the scattered colonies of yore had become one of the great Powers of the world, with domains reaching from one ocean to the other; the immense continent had been explored; new cities were dotting the wilderness of former days. In 1803 France had, of her own will, ceded the Louisiana territories, which have been divided since into fourteen states. Many in the Senate had shown themselves averse to the ratification of the treaty, thinking that it might prove rather a curse than a boon. “As to Louisiana, this new, immense, unbounded world,” Senator White, of Delaware, had said, “if it should ever be incorporated into this Union . . . I believe it will be the greatest curse that could at present befall us; it may be productive of innumerable evils, and especially of one that I fear even to look upon.”

Again, here are the things to look for as we skim:
  • Topic, argument, main idea
  • Evidence (facts, statistics, examples, quotations, etc.)
  • Author’s tone and attitude
Although there is no single right or wrong way to take notes, your notes should be comparable to ours in terms of length, style, and scope:
Pass. about: U.S. free? One nation? Two times of change
Washington & Lincoln = good
Evidence: Quotation from senator, lots of description
French gave L. territories—could be bad
Author: Informed, neutral
These notes will not only keep your mind on task but also will allow you to answer the questions a whole lot faster. Now let’s get to our step method and see how it all ties together.
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