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 Home >> GRE>>GRE Comprehension


Key Words That Identify Potential Questions

Each passage contains about 400 - 700 words and only a few questions, ensuring that you will NOT be tested on most of the specific details. Your best reading strategy is to identify the places from which questions will most likely be drawn and concentrate your attention there.

Key, pivotal words indicate contrast, warning that the author is about to either make a U-turn or introduce a counter-premise (a concession to a minor point that weakens his case). Common pivotal words include:

But Although In Contrast Even though However Yet Nonetheless Except Despite Nevertheless

These words show where the author changes direction, providing natural places for questions to be drawn. The test writers form questions at these junctures to test whether you followed the author's line of reasoning or got lost. Sentences containing pivotal words nearly ALWAYS contain the answer to a test question.

Handling Incorrect Answer Choices

One of the most difficult tasks in writing test questions is composing tempting, incorrect answer choices. In most cases, only two of the five choices will have any real merit. We've observed several common threads in the wrong answer choices that most test takers should consider. Be on the look-out for the following:

a) For main idea questions, incorrect choices use the wrong verb and focus on supporting details, rather than the main point of the passage. Incorrect choices also tend to either overstate or understate the author's view. Beware of extreme choices, as they are often wrong. Correct answers tend to be rational, measured responses. Other tempting incorrect answer choice are "half-right, half-wrong", incorporating some of the author's view, but not a complete match. Other wrong answers pick a point of view that is inconcistent with the author's.

b) On detail questions, incorrect answer choices distort the author's words or are exact opposites of the correct answer.

c) For inference questions, incorrect choices distort the passage's ideas and go beyond the scope of the passage. For application questions, wrong choices are not parallel or analagous to the situation in the passage.

d) Incorrect tone answers are overly emotional or the opposite of the correct answer. Some incorrect answers are odd combinations of adjectives that make no sense in real world applications, such as "detached ambivalence", "enlightened apathy", and "muffled denial".

e) Sometimes incorrect answers are logically wrong. They misrepresent the author's purpose or focus on the "what" rather than the "why" of the detail.

f) Watch for unusual or uncommon usage of words. Students sometimes overlook points in passages because a familiar word is used in an unfamiliar manner. An example is champion. As a noun, champion means a hero or accomplished person. Yet, a a verb, champion means to support or advocate.

g) Be wary of extreme answers that contain "all or nothing" buzzwords such as must, always, impossible, never, cannot, each, every, totally, all, solely and only. Few passages will be written in such an absolute tone.



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