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GRE Reading Comprehension Tip: Keep Track of the Author

  • by John
  • Jun 10, 2011
  • GRE Blog

The authors of GRE Reading Comprehension passages are, generally speaking, inexplicably addicted to describing other peoples’ views on various matters. Whatever the topic– Puerto Rican poets, the mating habits of bats, the Chilean electoral system or the French Revolution– odds are the GRE passage on the subject quotes about eight different scholars, all saying different but not necessarily contradictory things. To answer questions on these passages correctly, you’ll have to figure out who’s saying what and why and try to find some order in the chaos. How is this possible? Well, it gets a lot easier if you keep track of the author.
Keeping track of the author means focusing on what the author of the passage thinks and why he’s telling you what he’s telling you. After all, the author isn’t just quoting or spouting facts at random– he always has a point to make, even if he goes about it oddly. The author’s intention provides the overall structure of the passage; if you can figure it out, you’ll have a much easier time keeping track of all the facts and opinions included in the passage.
But how do you go about keeping track of the author? Here are some tips.
1. Always know who’s speaking. Sometimes the author of the passage will quote or summarize someone’s views only to refute them later. If you get the impression that the views he’s quoting are his own, you’ll think he’s contradicting himself. So always keep track of which opinions are the author’s own and which he attributes to someone else.

2. Look for transition words. If a paragraph starts with “However,” or “Despite Johnson’s claims,” or “On the other hand,” then the point the author is making has changed too! When you’re reading quickly you may be tempted to skip over phrases like this in order to get to the “meat” of the paragraph– the facts, dates and names. But resist the temptation! These words tell you the place of a paragraph in the overall structure of the passage, and that’s much more important than knowing any particular detail.

3. Look for opinion markers. There’s a difference between writing “In his book, Johnson demonstrates that…” and saying “In his book, Johnson asserts that…” Generally speaking, you’ll write the former if you agree with Johnson and the latter if you disagree with him. If he “demonstrated” it, it’s true; if he just “asserted” it, you probably think it’s false. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s important: Clues like this can tell you what the author is thinking even if he’s less than explicit about it.

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Photo credit Sasja Lund under a Creative Commons license.

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