There is no way around it: to improve your GMAT score you must improve your reading comprehension skills. There are three parts in the verbal section of the test: sentence correction, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension. Whether you are an avid or novice reader, going through the verbal section can be like navigating in dark waters if you come unprepared. It is not only how good your English is that decides the score you will achieve, but also how quickly you can comprehend the material. The average reading speed is about 250 words per minute. However, there are certain exercises and techniques you can do to improve your score dramatically. But, you cannot expect to see results overnight. First, lets identify the most common habits that hinder both your reading speed and comprehension.
The first habit that slows your reading is fixation. People general tend to ‘fixate’ on every word while reading. This obviously breaks your flow. The second habit is regression. Our minds sometimes wander off while our eyes keep reading, only to stop after some time and realize that we really don’t remember what we have been reading. The last and most detrimental reading habit is what some experts refer to as ‘sub-vocalization’. Think of sub-vocalization as the ‘voice’ you hear in your head while reading. You obviously do not have to “hear” every word while reading, but as with most people, you probably do. Tackling each of those three habits to lower their impact is key to becoming a more efficient reader.
One simple and proven technique to improve concentration is to use your hand to lead your eyes while reading. This is a very simple method that will almost immediately improve your concentration.
Using your hand works better when reading from written material than from a computer screen. So, what can you do to address that? Start by eliminating all distractions that we have come to take for granted as part of our daily interaction with our screens: Facebook IMs, email notifications, news flashes, background music, etc. You will be amazed by how more focused you will be when it is only you and the material that you are reading. If you want to go up a notch, try a free online tool called AccelaReader. This web tool developed by a company called Iris allows you to copy and paste chunks of text into a text editor and configure how many words are displayed at a time on the screen, and at what speed.
One last technique that we will talk about here is very direct: take 20 minutes of your time and read any thing you like. After the 20 minutes are over, mark where you have stopped. Now go back and read the material you have just read, but this time, do it in 10 minutes. Do not worry too much about comprehension at this point because this exercise is about improving your reading speed. Remember that practice makes perfect. In time, you will notice that not only are you reading faster, but also understanding and retaining more information.
Speaking of retaining, we will talk more about the difference between comprehension and retention in our next blog. Until then, give those techniques we talked about a try, and see how much you improve your reading speed and comprehension. There are other more advanced tools that we will talk about, but start here first.