Should I / How do I take notes on GMAT reading passages?

In this blog post, Mike explains that the best approach is to make a mental map of the passage as you read it. This is something that you can do in your head, by taking "mental notes" on a passage. Your "mental map" should consist of the passage's main idea, and each paragraph's main idea. 

Mike also explains that taking physical notes on a passage is a good way to practicing making a "mental map" of the passage. So practice reading passages, and write down brief notes. As you do this, you will get better and better at picking out the important pieces of information from the passage. Then you'll be ready to start making "mental maps" of passages without taking actual notes that you write down. 

When you're taking notes as a way to practice, here is what you should do: 


1. Take notes at the end of each paragraph

Pause at the end of each paragraph to quickly write down the main point from that paragraph.  The idea is to have brief notes that you can reference from the passage.

2. Keep it brief

Try to limit your note to just a few words. The longer your notes, the more time you're using and the less you're training yourself to remember in your mind, rather than having to write it down. In terms of moving toward being able to read actively — and, eventually, to stop taking notes entirely — keeping your notes brief is very important.

3. Review your notes to see the main idea of the passage

After you have read the entire passage, look at your notes and ask yourself, "why did the author write this?" This is the main idea. 


If you'd like to see an example of the notes you might take on a GMAT passage, I'd suggest taking a look at this video. In the video, Kevin explains how he took notes on this practice GMAT passage

Notice that after reading the passage, Kevin can use his notes to answer any kind of question he gets. If the question is asking about a specific detail, these notes will help him find the detail in the passage. If the question is asking about the tone or main idea, he can use these notes to help him answer the question in his own words before looking at the answer choices. 

But remember: ideally, you should work toward being able to remember these main paragraph ideas without writing anything down. That's called making a "mental map" of the passage (or active reading). 

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