GRE Reading Comprehension - Mental Note-taking

Mental note-taking is a very effective tool which you can utilize to help you read more actively. On the GRE, taking mental notes when reading the reading comprehension passages is crucial because it'll help you orient yourself in regards to the structure and content of the passage. However, mental note-taking does not mean that you try to memorize every single detail in a reading passage. Instead, it requires you to ask questions and to reinforce key ideas in a passage. Mental note-taking involves:

  • At the conclusion of each paragraph, reiterate in your mind the main idea of the paragraph.
  • When you come across what seems an important fact, tell yourself mentally, "this is important because ... ".
  • When you read something that seems to refer to another previous sentence, you should mentally take a note, such as, "This sentence refers to the first paragraph and supports the main claims that were made at the beginning of the reading passage"
  • When something seems out of place, also take a mental note, such as, "This is odd; I wonder why the author chose to include this; is he trying to change the tone or the mood?"

Here is a short sample GRE reading passage, followed by sample mental-notes.

In England, the period between the Gothic and Renaissance styles is known as the Elizabethan age. It reached its peak in the late 1500s, toward the end of the long reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and is often considered the last phase of the long-lasting Tudor style. Although the Elizabethan age produced a certain amount of characteristic sculptures and paintings, the Elizabethan style can best be seen in the period's literature. Many great writers and poets were alive at this time, including Edmund Spenser, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Shakespeare. The Gothic period preceding the Elizabethan age was based on religion, but the authors of the Elizabethan age wrote extensively about personal conflicts and personal relationships, and so a new style of writing emerged during this period. Some scholars argue that this new style of writing was the impetus for the rebirth of scholarly interests, which ultimately led to the Renaissance, which had its roots in the classics of art, religion, science and inventions, philosophy, and humanism.

  • The term "Elizabeth" is mentioned many times -- it seems to be the main focus of the passage.
  • Time period is 1500s.
  • "Tudor style" -- what does that mean? Why is it included? An example or clarification?
  • Three authors are mentioned as proof of authorship.
  • Elizabethan period saw a shift in focus from religion to personal conflicts.
  • Main idea = Elizabethan period saw advances in literature, and the author claims was the cause of the Renaissance.