Reading Comprehension/RC hacks by a 99.85 percentiler!
Updated: Jul 18, 2020
You might remember me from my previous post describing a few CAT QA tips and tricks which helped me take my sectional percentile from the 50s (I barely scored 8 marks here!) to the high 90s. In case you missed it, I highly recommend that you click here.
Fair Warning: When we first published our post on VARC secrets, we realised that it was the longest one yet. And that too by a huge margin. Now VARC preparation was especially painful for me and the last thing I want to do is give half-baked advice which leads nowhere. So for the sake of digestion, this post will deal only with Reading Comprehension. Our post on Verbal Ability is available here.
But before we proceed, let me answer your question - Nikunj. You seem like an okay dude but I read your article and your english isn't really as great as you think it is. What qualifies you to give any advice here?
I agree. Lawyers (i.e. people from my background) are expected to be great at this section, but you know me - I love to defy expectations!
My scores in mocks were never consistent (or even good) and without consistency, the CAT is just a gamble. So 2 months before the exam, I changed my strategy completely and adopted a few tricks (like the one’s I’m sharing below) that made my scores shoot up.
In the actual exam, I scored a 99.85 percentile (around 76 marks). To understand the scores needed for a particular percentile of VARC, check this out here.
I hope that gives me the 6 minutes worth of credibility that going through this article is going to take.
In case you didn't already know, CAT VARC or English section has 34 questions. Of these 24 are Reading Comprehension based and the rest are Verbal Ability based.
The problem with RCs is that they are nothing like the ones we did in school. Some are plain boring while others might as well have been written in Sanskrit. In case you’re good at Sanskrit, शुभाशिस्!
In any case, the good thing about RCs, however, is that the problems faced by most people are quite common and common problems are easy to solve.
So see if you can relate to any of the issues mentioned below:
1. The RCs are too damn lengthy! How can I get through them all and still have enough time to solve the VA section?
I’ll put it simply. You really don’t have a choice here so brace yourself for the most cliché answer ever. And no, I’m not going to recommend some speed reading nonsense (I don’t think it’s needed or even works).
The answer is - Read more and read faster. Take care of the ‘more’ part and the ‘faster’ bit is automatic.
But what do I read? Anything, Everything. The more diverse the reading list, the better your results will be. In fact, I’ve put together a small list which you can check out here.
See the point of this section is not just to go through the 5 sets of paragraphs, but to retain what you just read. And that brings us to our next question.
2. What did I just read! I forget the first para by the time I get to the next one.
This is bound to happen, especially when the ‘literature’ is so dry and boring that you notice your eyes closing by the time you’re done. And what do you get to break the monotony?
A damn paragraph on ‘transformation of folk music’ (Check out the CAT 2019 slot 1 paper if you didn’t get that reference - I just re-read it while writing this post and still have no clue what it means).
While diverse reading should help you get through paragraphs like this, there are three more steps you can apply to tackle this issue:
Lie to yourself. I mean it. Straight up tell yourself that it’s a subject you care about and fool your brain into paying attention. You can use this to boost confidence during interviews too!
Make notes on each para as you read ahead. Try to include keywords and really get a feel for what the paragraph is trying to convey. It’s going to take a bit of extra time but you’ll get better with practice. In short, know which paragraph is trying to say what. It helps navigate to the right spot while attempting the questions and saves crucial seconds.
Try to understand the psyche of the author. Treat him like a friend. It helps answer questions like “What else is the author likely to agree with?’” or “What is the central theme of the passage”? If you understand the man (or woman) & the essence of words he (or she) uses - you will be able to, at the very least, eliminate the contradictory options with confidence.
Now there will be outliers. Paragraphs you just don’t understand despite repeated readings. You hate them and they hate you back. You could describe them as your nemesis, You could try to answer all the questions but those negative marks (which you definitely, definitely, definitely, will get) are going to destroy your score.
So play it smart. Go through all the questions and check if any of them are fact based or their answers strike you with some certainty. Go ahead and solve those, skip the rest.
The folk paragraph was my nemesis”. Here, I solved 1 question and skipped 4. (Gentle reminder - 99.85 percentile in VARC is possible without attempting all the questions)
3. I get confused between two options. I take a guess and mark the wrong one.
This used to happen to me ALL the time. Ideally you should be able to single out one option which you mark. How do you do that? Elimination, my dear Watson!
First of all, make sure you’ve read the question properly. It’s important. Now go through the options one by one and ask yourself these two questions –
Does this option even answer the question asked? Certain options are included just to confuse you. They might be right but are they the right ones for you? Eliminate the option if it doesn’t answer the question asked.
Is this factually or thematically consistent? If it’s not, you know what to do. Remember to refer to your notes. They will help you a lot.
If you’re still stuck with two options, look for faults. There’s bound to be a word or a phrase in one of them which changes the meaning slightly. Makes it a bit off. Eliminate that one.
Now there is a special case where you’ve eliminated all 4 options. Simply mark this one for review and come back to it with a clearer mind.
Finally, I would like to add that not all CAT aspirants approach the same questions the same way or have identical strengths or weaknesses. Your SWOT is going to be unique, and so your approach must be tailor made as well. So once you get your score, you NEED to analyse it.
How do we do that?
Take your RC sectional score. Divide the answers into:
The ones you marked confidently and got right - Yay!
The ones you took a “gut feeling” shot at (You know which ones these are) & got right - Yay for risk pay-off!
The ones you skipped because you were too unsure - Think of your best guess & see if that was actually the answer. If yes (And consistently yes - you are building that instinct, my friend!), then you know you are improving.
The ones you got wrong - Now when you know you are wrong with the one option that felt most “right”, try to see if your second best guess is right or not (Before peeking at the answer). This could be a classic case of “Stuck between two options and chose the wrong one” or a case of “Answer key dekhkar bhi I would not have selected that option”. Know what mistake you are making.
Once you are done with this review, break down the questions in categories like so:
This will help you target pain points and understand where you need to focus your practice efforts.
Luckily for you, most mocks will let you have a convenient breakdown of this info - so be sure to use it. This will help you understand what kind of questions are your strengths and where you need to clearly focus on and work it!
In case you want to up your Verbal Ability game too, check out our advanced VA tips/tricks here.
And as always, best of luck!
Have a doubt or just want to chat about cinema? Feel free to contact me on LinkedIn
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