Detail questions are for both short and long passages. These questions are the ones that ask you about a specific part of the passage, not about the piece as a whole. The benefit to these types are questions that you don’t need to focus on the entirety of the piece as a whole, but can focus on the specific areas that the test administrators want you to concentrate on. As with all reading comprehension questions, read the question thoroughly and make sure that you understand what the test administrators are asking you. If you can tell that they are only interested in a specific portion of the passage, you are on your way to identifying a detail question. Also, don’t get intimidated by the nature of the question. It’s easy to get thrown off because you have so little time to read and answer the question and this question is about a particular detail. The great thing about the detail questions are that their answers are usually located somewhere in the text, so these types of questions are usually more straightforward than the main ideas questions.
Since the detail questions in the GMAT reading comprehension section are relatively straightforward, the process of finding the right answer is simplified a bit. As a result, the GMAC does not make these questions easy, throwing in tricks and traps at every turn. We’ll equip you with the strategies to power through them.
Let’s start with the basics:
Test takers are pretty divided when it comes to this eternal chicken or the egg-like question: Read the passage first or the question first? This depends on the reader (you) and how you process information. If you are an extrovert and internalize information as you go, then reading the passage may be best for you. If you are an introvert, like me, then you may want to read the question first to get an idea of what to look for when reading the passage. Whatever way works for you and is the most compatible with the way you think is the best strategy for you.
Read the question carefully and make sure you understand what the question is asking you. Rephrase the question, to have more clarity on what the question is looking for and means.
Now, ask yourself if you understand the question and its tone. Do you know what the question is looking for? Once you can comprehend what the question is asking, rephrase the question. This may seem time consuming or straightforward, but one of the most common wrong answers in detail questions in the GMAT reading comprehension is due to test takers reading the question WRONG! They don’t understand what the question is asking and end up looking at the wrong thing and ultimately answering the question incorrectly. More time upfront can save you points in the long run. And with more practice, you should be able to rush right by these steps.
Look for the pertinent areas in the passage
The biggest clues to start with are the actual words used in the question itself. Start with looking for references for those specific words in the passages. However, don’t limit yourself to those words. Broaden the scope to synonyms and antonyms of those words.
For the same example question above, use the following questions to set you up for searching the passage:
By reading closely, but efficiently by searching for any mention of the two specific topics, you are simultaneously (1) finding the right answer in the passage and (2) completing an exhaustive search to ensure you don’t skip over anything important. This is related to one of the most common root causes of wrong answers–bypassing the issue. By not searching for the references (either direct or indirect) of the topics at hand, you are at risk of skipping over the answer. Just because the question is asking you about the ‘penalization due to the study fabrication’ does not mean that the answer has to be right next to the word “penalization” or the phrase, “study fabrication.” In fact, the GMAC likes to trap test takers by using references to the topic words to directly correlate with the answer.
In the following passage, highlight the pertinent areas where they are discussing the topic of “penalization” and/or “study fabrication.” The best area to start with are the actual words used in the question itself.
For example, the pertinent part of the passage could read: Professor Howden was penalized heavily for the study fabrication because he was the lead on the project. He had directed the other scientists to follow suit and gave bad guidance to his teams. However when Professor Howden’s allegations that Professor Morris had directed him to lie about his theory due to the astrology department’s lack of funding came to light, Professor Morris was hit with the largest punishment of the sting and was sued by the university as well. Professor Marks was fired by the institution along with Professor Ryan and Professor Smith. Professor Smith had to recant all her publications and studies and was immediately defunded by NASA. However, in light of all this, few professors were promoted to chair positions due to the scandal. Professor Howell became chair of the Astrology department and Professor Fines now sits as the chair of the observatory. The astrology department is going through a very difficult time but not all hope is lost. Last year the chemistry department went through a very public scandal. Professor King was penalized severely to set a precedent of zero tolerance in the faculty community.
Now let’s go back to the question: According to the passage, which astrologer was most penalized for the fabrication of the study?
There are several clues for you in the question itself.
1. You know you are looking for a person, more specifically an astrologer.
2. The person was harmed by the scandal
3. The person was involved in the fabrication of the study
Now using those clues, pick your answer. Make sure your response fits all your clues you gleaned from the question.
Be very mindful of the clues you are using to pick and support your answer.
To quickly double check those tricky questions, you should consider doing a run-through off all the answer options available and conducting a speedy process of elimination. You don’t want to be double checking each detail question you get, but for the ones that stump you, or for the ones that you can’t find the answer in the passage explicitly, try process of elimination.
Now you’re ready to tackle those detail questions in the GMAT reading comprehension section in an effective and efficient manner. These questions aren’t difficult once you’re equipped with the right mindset, strategy, and approach to handling these types of questions. Now that you know how to work with them avoid those tricky traps that the GMAC sets to catch unsuspecting folks. Here’s a recap of the common pitfalls of detail questions from the piece above:
One of the most common mistakes is to misunderstand the question and provide the right answer to your version of the question and not the correct version of the question.
There are clues in the language of the question, so use them to get clues to where the answer in the passage should be. Be cognizant of your surroundings.
Too many students just look for the “key words” from the question in the passage and answer based on just that. Remember the GMAT is not that straightforward. Most likely you will have to a dig a little for your question.
Is the question looking for a person? If yes, the answer should be a person. Don’t get your dream score slip away because you didn’t pay attention to the question correctly.
The GMAT detail questions can be tricky and time-consuming, but once you have your strategies straight and your approaches in check, you’re ready to tackle these types of questions. Remember that the GMAT preparation process is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you are training appropriately and taking the right steps towards hitting that target score.
This is the unique trap that GMAC uses for Detail Questions. The other common wrong answers appear in all the other question types.
Since this question type requires us to actually find an answer in the passage, there will be one answer choice that appears like it could be in the passage, but is not actually directly stated anywhere in the passage. The correct answer will always be explicitly mentioned in the passage, so toss out any answer which is not directly written in ink (or light since it’s a computer).
6. Distorting the Passage
Distorting the passage in Detail Questions usually involves stating something from the passage, but tweaking it in some way. GMAC likes to take an idea from the passage and reverse it, making it imply the opposite of what the passage actually is saying.
Also, this can take the form of distorting the tone and purpose of the passage. If the author was describing a phenomenon or informing the reader about a concept or theory, the answer choice will make it seem like the author was arguing a point or supporting one side over another.
7. Extreme Language
“Always,” “any,” “all,” “never,” “none,”—these should be warning signs for a wrong answer. The passages in the GMAT are balanced and thoughtful. Even when the passage is arguing for some idea, the author will include concession points and balanced analysis of their position. So any answer choice that makes a bold claim, a broad generalization, or a simplified statement about a detail in the passage will most likely be wrong.
8. Unsupported or New
Always be on the look out for new information in an answer choice. Whether it is something related but unsupported by the passage or related but not in the passage at all, these trap answers can be quite tempting. Sometimes GMAC includes an idea that might fit in with the general discussion, but is ultimately outside the scope of the passage. Sometimes they like to talk about actual numbers and values when the passage only mentions percentages. Don’t fall for this trap. Make sure that everything in the answer is actually in the passage.
Detail Questions are readily identifiable if you know what to look for. “According to the passage,” is the greatest tell that you are dealing with a Detail Question. Other phrasing includes:
The core concept behind these question stems, and this question type, is that you are looking for something written in the passage.