GMAT Reading Comprehension: Isolating Key Information

If all of us had an unlimited amount of time to answer reading comprehension questions on the GMAT, then we’d probably all do quite well; after all, the information needed to answer the questions correctly lies in the passage. The time limit on the test means we have to sift through a large amount of information rather quickly. We simply do not have enough time to leisurely read the passage. Rather, an active approach is best.
Before answering the questions, we should be able to isolate the key information in the passage; not only will a big picture understanding of the passage help us with questions concerning the main idea, but they will increase our accuracy on detail questions as well. Below is a sample GMAT passage with the key elements in bold. It should serve as an example of how to isolate the main ideas from a passage:

Western analytical philosophy has contributed two major elements
to the theory of the political good. It is unfortunate that the
value of the first element, personalismhas been diluted by its close
association with the second elementvaluational solipsism.
Personalism was developed in response to the belief that nations,
states, religions, or any other corporate entity have interests that transcend
the interests of the individuals that comprise them. The central
tenet of personalism, therefore, is that institutions are good or bad
insofar as they are good or bad for the individuals that are affected
by them. Institutions are not good, for example, because they preserve
the nation’s culture or because they protect the natural world,
unless preserving the nation’s culture or protecting the natural world
is good for the individual. As a philosophical assumption, personalism
is most useful in countering arguments for practices that harm
individuals in the name of “the greater good,” or the “society at large.”
The personalist credo basically states that when it comes to interests,
there are no interests but human interests.
However, an excessive devotion to the theory of personalism may
lead one to fall into the trap of valuational solipsism. The word
solipsism derives from the Latin for “lone self” and the theory of valuational
solipsism takes the isolated individual as the sole judge of
value. The problem with this viewpoint is obvious. By using the individual
as the measure of the good, valuational solipsism neglects to
consider the whole range of social values that are part of the political
experienceThese values include citizenship, status, and community,
none of which can exist without reference to other individuals.
Instead, political theories are based entirely on non-social values such
as happiness, material welfare, and utility, which are not dependent
on interactions with others. Such a view obscures a fundamental
quality of the political good.

Now that we’ve bolded the key elements in the passage, let’s try to paraphrase those elements in a numbered outline:

  1. The Western theory of the political good has two elements: personalism and valuational solipsism.
  2. Thesis: The value of personalism is in danger of becoming weakened by its close association with valuational solipsism.
  3. Personalism measures the good of a nation based on the good it brings to the people.
  4. An excessive devotion to personalism may result in the trap of valuational solipsism, the idea that the individual is the sole judge of value.
  5. Valuational solipsism is bad because it neglects the social values, like community, that contribute to the political experience, thus obscuring the fundamental qualities of the political good.

Notice that most of the key information comes in the first and third paragraphs. It would be a mistake to characterize this passage as a simple description of two elements of political theory. While the second paragraph is devoted to describing the first element, the rest of the passage tries to explain the reason for—and the unsettling consequences of—the close association between the two elements of political theory. Explaining the relationship between the two is really the purpose of the passage, and we get most of that information in the third paragraph, which is more densely marked up than the second paragraph.