How to Avoid Traps in GRE Reading Comprehension Questions

By Ron Woldoff, Joseph Kraynak

When you answer Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE, keep in mind that the folks who write the test are a tricky lot. They dangle wrong but tempting answers in front of you, hoping you take the bait. By recognizing common traps (and the natural tendency to make assumptions), you have a better chance of avoiding those traps. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Unmentioned facts. Answer choices may contain facts that aren’t mentioned in the passage. The answer strikes you as correct because it’s a true statement, but if that fact isn’t mentioned in the passage, it’s not a correct answer.

  • Half-truths. Answer choices may contain information that’s only partly accurate or not even mentioned in the passage. Before choosing an answer, make sure it’s 100 percent accurate based on the passage.

  • Your own knowledge. If you’re like most people, you add detail based on your own knowledge and expertise from other things that you’ve read. Sometimes, these details tempt you to choose an answer that’s correct based on what you know but incorrect according to the passage. Be careful not to add your own knowledge to what’s in the passage.

  • Subtle distinctions. When a question includes words like mostly, best, primarily, or primary, watch out. Most of the answers are probably correct to some degree, but only one answer is the most correct.

  • Judgment statements. A judgment or value statement declares that something’s right or wrong or better or worse, as in “Cats make better pets than dogs” or “People should stay out of other people’s business.” These statements may be tempting choices because the human mind likes to draw conclusions. However, value statements are almost never correct answers.