You are here: Rediff Home » India » Get Ahead » Study Abroad
Search: The Web
  Discuss this Article   |      Email this Article   |      Print this Article

Know the GRE: Reading Comprehension
K B Sharma
Get news updates:What's this?
October 31, 2007
GRE test takers often complain that Reading Comprehension-based questions need a lot of time. They are possibly right, but only to an extent. In GRE we normally see two types of RC passages: relatively short passages (with, say, two questions) and relatively long passages (with, say, four questions).

Though the experts at TCY have already developed and demonstrated the speed reading techniques. Let us have a look at both the types and see how we attempt them within the time constraint and how we derive the answers.

Direction: Questions 1 through 4 are based on the following reading
Through his "The Myth of Sisyphus", Camus expounded his "theory of the absurd" and "the total absence of hope". Camus found the absurdity of humans a reality; man hoping against hope and nature a silent spectator. Camus identified Sisyphus as "the archetypal absurd hero", both for his behavior on earth and for his punishment in the afterworld. Sisyphus displays scorn for the gods, a hatred of death, and a passion for life. His fate is to endure an eternity of hopeless struggle. When Sisyphus accepts his fate, the sorrow and melancholy of it vanishes. Camus suggests that acknowledging "crushing truths" like the futility and sufferings of life render them less crushing. Happiness and the absurd are closely linked. Onemust imagine "Sisyphus happy". He sees life as an endless struggle, without hope. The tragic dilemma of the absurd man is that he is aware of his absurdity; he knows that he will struggle for ever and he knows that his struggle will get him nowhere. Camus finds the nonexistence of God granted and finds meaning in the struggle itself. Facing the absurd allows us to live life to its fullest. Camus identified three characteristics of the absurd life, revolt, freedom and passion. Camus claims that there is an inherent conflict between what we want out of the universe and what we find in the universe. The absurd is a contradiction that cannot be reconciled and any attempt to reconcile this contradiction is an attempt to escape from it.

The myth of Sisyphus thus resulted in the evolution of Existentialism, Albert Camus and Sartre find no meaning in existence and find meaning only in meaninglessness. Our desire to make rational decision despite existing in an irrational universe, is absurd in itself. We are what we can become. Our becoming is a realistic process and no external force helps a man in the possibility of becoming. Nothingness appears in existentialism, as the placeholder of the possibility. We always have a choice. We choose freely and in choosing, we define ourselves. In Sartre's world there is no God, so there was no place for the essence of humanity to be before human existence. Indeed, the essence is whatever we decide it is going to be; "existence precedes essence", hence existentialism. Without essence, there is no purpose, no value, and no meaning in the world.

Existentialism liberates human beings from the customs of the past founded on myth. Man exists as human; he defines himself and the world around him; he does not find absolute foundations as "existence precedes and commands essence".

1. In Camus's writings, Sisyphus is regarded as
(A) an absurd hero condemned to eternal punishment for the sins he never committed
(B) a pioneer who realizes the absurdity of life but chooses to continue with his struggle nevertheless
(C) a disbeliever and inveterate god-basher who is aware of the 'eternity of hopeless struggle'
(D) an archetypal hero who realizes the futility of struggle in the face of insurmountable odds
(E) an indefatigable mythical character who evinces ardor in forbearance and existence

2. According to the existentialists, man is
(A) a manacled existence struggling in vain
(B) an existence condemned to suffer external perdition
(C) free to make rational decisions as per his free will, though this may be idiotic in itself
(D) an existence finding a purpose in a godless universe
(E) an existence in quest of the purpose of life full of suffering and meaningless struggle

3. Which of the following ideologies shares its raison d'�tre with existentialism?
(A) Realism
(B) Nihilism
(C) Meliorism
(D) Metaphysics
(E) Structuralism

4.The main issue touched upon in the passage is
(A) agnostic
(B) philosophic
(C) iconoclastic
(D) ecclesiastical
(E) esoteric

Strategies for RC
RC questions are not based on the WHOLE contents of the passage; they are rather based on the main idea(s). So the strategy is not to read for words, but for ideas. The solution lies in reading with varying speeds: rushing through the chaff, but slowing down at the grain (main and/or supplementary idea).

Strategies for answering
Bear the central idea in mind while answering the questions, because the right answers will revolve round the main idea and will concatenate. Also look for extreme answers and half-truths as they are more likely to be distracters.

1. (E) -- Statement (A) is rendered incorrect by the use of the extraneous phrase "for the sins he never committed". (B) is incorrect as Sisyphus does have passion for life. (C) is incorrect as one cannot be a god-basher and a disbeliever at the same time. (D) is extraneous to the passage. The very name of Camus's book is  "The Myth of Sisyphus". Sisiphus happily accepts his fate of 'an eternity of hopeless struggle' and has passion for life. This validates (E).

2. (C) -- (D) and (E) cannot be inferred from the passage. (A) and (B) are rendered incorrect by 'manacled' and 'external perdition'. (C) can be directly inferred from lines 3-7 of para 2.

3. (B) -- The philosophy of existentialism, as explicated in the passage is all about there being "no purpose, no value, and no meaning in the world". This is closest to B.

4. (C) -- (D) directly contradicts the main idea. It's not about a doubt in existence of God (agnostic), it's rather about negating His existence. (B) and (E) are too general definitions of the content of the passage. The passage is iconoclastic about the very existence of God. Hence, (C).

Part II: Tomorrow

The writer is a senior trainer with
Top Careers & You. He can be contacted at For more tests on Reading Comprehension of GRE visit and

 Email this Article      Print this Article
© 2007 India Limited. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer | Feedback