As you read the following passage, focus on "what the author is really saying" or "what point the author is trying to make." Also, pay attention to "how the passage is put together" — in other words, the structure.

Note: On the "old" paper-and-pencil GRE exam, you could read actively by marking (circling, underlining, and so on) important items in the passage. But because you cannot mark on the computerized GRE exam, you must learn to focus on the main point(s) and the structure. Knowing the structure will help you go back into the passage and find things quickly.


Woodrow Wilson won his first office in 1910 when he was elected governor of New Jersey. Two years later he was elected president in one of the most rapid political rises in our history. For a while Wilson had practiced law but found it both boring and unprofitable; then he became a political scientist and finally president of Princeton University. He did an outstanding job at Princeton, but when he was asked by the Democratic boss of New Jersey, Jim Smith, to run for governor, Wilson readily accepted because his position at Princeton was becoming untenable.
Until 1910, Wilson seemed to be a conservative Democrat in the Grover Cleveland tradition. He had denounced Bryan in 1896 and had voted for the National Democratic candidate who supported gold. In fact, when the Democratic machine first pushed Wilson's nomination in 1912, the young New Jersey progressives wanted no part of him. Wilson later assured them that he would champion the progressive cause, and so they decided to work for his election. It is easy to accuse Wilson of political expediency, but it is entirely possible that by 1912 he had changed his views as had countless other Americans. While governor of New Jersey, he carried out his election pledges by enacting an impressive list of reforms.
Wilson secured the Democratic nomination on the forty-sixth ballot. In the general campaign, Wilson emerged as the middle-of-the-road candidate - between the conservative William H. Taft and the more radical Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson called his program the New Freedom, which he said was the restoration of free competition as it had existed before the growth of the trusts. In contrast, Theodore Roosevelt was advocating a New Nationalism, which seemed to call for massive federal intervention in the economic life of the nation. Wilson felt that the trusts should be destroyed, but he made a distinction between a trust and legitimately successful big business. Theodore Roosevelt, on the other hand, accepted the trusts as inevitable but said that the government should regulate them by establishing a new regulatory agency.

Sample 1

Always look for the main point of the passage. There are many ways to ask about the main point of a passage. What is the main idea? What is the best title? What is the author's purpose?

1. The author's main purpose in writing this passage is to

  1. argue that Wilson is one of the great U.S. presidents.

  2. survey the difference between Wilson, Taft, and Roosevelt.

  3. explain Wilson's concept of the New Freedom.

  4. discuss some major events of Wilson's career.

  5. suggest reasons that Wilson's presidency may have started World War I.

The best answer is D. Choices A and E are irrelevant to the information in the passage, and choices B and C mention secondary purposes rather than the primary one.

Sample 2

Some information is not directly stated in the passage but can be gleaned by reading between the lines. This implied information can be valuable in answering some questions.

2. The author implies which of the following about the New Jersey progressives?

  1. They did not support Wilson after he was governor.

  2. They were not conservative Democrats.

  3. They were more interested in political expediency than in political causes or reforms.

  4. Along with Wilson, they were supporters of Bryan in 1896.

  5. They particularly admired Wilson's experience as president of Princeton University.

The best choice is B. In the second paragraph, Wilson's decision to champion the progressive cause after 1912 is contrasted with his earlier career, when he seemed to be a conservative Democrat. Thus, you may conclude that the progressives, whom Wilson finally joined, were not conservative Democrats, as was Wilson earlier in his career. Choices A and D contradict information in the paragraph, and choices C and E are not suggested by any information given in the passage.

Sample 3

Watch for important conclusions or information that might support a conclusion.

3. The passage supports which of the following conclusions about the progress of Wilson's political career?

  1. Few politicians have progressed so rapidly toward the attainment of higher office.

  2. Failures late in his career caused him to be regarded as a president who regressed instead of progressed.

  3. Wilson encountered little opposition after he determined to seek the presidency.

  4. The League of Nations marked the end of Wilson's reputation as a strong leader.

  5. Wilson's political allies were Bryan and Taft.

The best choice is A. This choice is explicitly supported by the second sentence in paragraph 1, in which you are told that Wilson was elected president in one of the most rapid political rises in our history.

Sample 4

Understand the meaning and possible reason for using certain words or phrases in the passage. And take advantage of the line numbers given.

4. In the statement "Wilson readily accepted because his position at Princeton was becoming untenable" (line 7), the meaning of "untenable" is probably which of the following?

  1. Unlikely to last for years

  2. Filled with considerably less tension

  3. Difficult to maintain or continue

  4. Filled with achievement that would appeal to voters

  5. Something he did not have a tenacious desire to continue

The best choice is C. On any reading comprehension test, it is best to be alert to the positive and negative connotations of words and phrases in each passage, as well as in the questions themselves. In the case of untenable, the prefix un- suggests that the word has a negative connotation. The context in which the word occurs does so as well. Wilson left his position at Princeton; therefore, you may conclude that the position was somehow unappealing. Only two of the answer choices, C and E, provide a negative definition. Although choice E may attract your attention because tenacious looks similar to tenable, the correct choice is C, which is the conventional definition of untenable.

Sample 5

Your answer choice must be supported by information either stated or implied in the passage. Eliminate those choices that are not supported by the passage.

5. According to the passage, which of the following was probably true about the presidential campaign of 1912?

  1. Woodrow Wilson won the election by an overwhelming majority.

  2. The inexperience of Theodore Roosevelt accounted for his radical position.

  3. Wilson was unable to attract two-thirds of the votes but won anyway.

  4. There were three nominated candidates for the presidency.

  5. Wilson's New Freedom did not represent Democratic interests.

The best choice is D. Choices A, B, and C contain information that is not addressed in the passage. You may eliminate them as irrelevant. Choice E contradicts the fact that Wilson was a Democratic candidate. The discussion of Taft and Roosevelt as the candidates who finally ran against Wilson for the presidency supports choice D.

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