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Verbal Ability/VA shortcuts and secrets by a 99.85 percentiler!

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

Hi Guys,

Nikunj here (again).

If you’re all caught upon our advanced Reading Comprehension tips and tricks, read on. In case you skipped that one, do check it out using this link right here. I recommend it!

Coming back to the VA, I’m not going to lie, I hated this section.

Even through late stage preparation, my scores here were in the single digits. But this changed as the actual exam neared. I got 8 of the 9 questions I attempted right. The one I got wrong was a TITA question.

Now one important tip I learned was to read the question. Given how time-sensitive this exam is, it’s natural to try and identify the question type on the basis of visual cues - Thinking that “if there are 4 sentences in random order, it must be a parajumble; if there are 5, it must be an odd-one-out type question; etc.” is UNFORGIVABLE. Never ever ever make this mistake.

So let’s just get to them one at a time:

1. Parajumbles

The approach for Parajumbles is quite straightforward and common across all advisory platforms:

  1. You find the starting sentence through the process of elimination

  2. You make pairs of sentences which go together

  3. Find out how these pairs fit and you have your answer

Despite this system, I was never good at these. In fact, now I was spending more time solving these than I did before.

So I did what I normally do and went on a ranting spree in front of a friend (I call him Bansal) at a local hangout in Connaught Place. I told him that these questions were nonsense and just couldn't be done. Now this friend of mine had absolutely no interest in an MBA but (as I was about to find out) his skills at stuff like this were top notch. I handed him the Arun Sharma text book and watched him get every question right. I stared at him in awe. The waiter at Saravana Bhavan stared at us impatiently. This was rush hour after all.

So I did what anyone would do - I asked him to think out loud (Bansal, not the waiter). And that’s the secret trick - ask someone good at this to think out loud and explain to you why your approach was wrong. Argue if you need to.

Now I know you cannot find your very own Bansal everywhere, but thank god for the internet! Watch videos of experts solving the VA questions and actually listen to why they think something is a good fit and something else is not.

Another thing Simran recommends is playing around with the options after being dead sure of certain pairs. For example, you KNOW it starts with “5” and that “41” is a pair. So you have:

  1. 54132

  2. 54123

  3. 52341

  4. 53241

  5. 52413

  6. 53412

I know 6 options sound tedious, but at least 2 would be plain absurd. Eliminate it. Write these 6 down and cut through those you are not sold on. You will most likely be left with 2 equally close options. Read the entire paragraph in both flows and go for the one you think would make most sense to a reader who is only going to read this paragraph once.

2. Odd-one-out

Instead of a normal parajumble, odd-one-out type questions give you an extra sentence in the mix which needs to be identified. The remaining sentences should form a sensible paragraph on their own.

The first thing to do here is to go through the options one by one and check whether any single point deals with a different subject matter, contradicts the other points, or even differs on chronology (all of them could be talking about the future and this one deals with the past), etc. The easier questions under this type require this approach and should be your go-to as it saves time in the long run.

Unfortunately, CAT is not going to make it easy for you with 4 sentences talking about rain and the 5th about unicorns. They will all be inter-related.

Skeptically look at all options and see if the other four can form a happy family without this sentence. If you find it, that is your black sheep - Kick it to the curb!

If that doesn’t work, use the same principles as parajumbles. Look especially hard for something that doesn’t fit into a pair.

Another helpful tip here is to not get emotionally attached to any sentence and try to fit it in some way or the other because “You just know this is relevant”. Your instincts could be wrong here.

3. Summary / Central Idea

The tenth question (the one I left) was of this type. These give you a paragraph (sometimes even 2) and demand that you identify the option which provides the best summary/represents the meaning the most accurately.

The strategy I applied was to read the paragraph once and write a summary in my own words. Do this before going through the options. This step automatically helps you understand which idea the author wants you to grasp and hold onto.

Now coming to the options:

  1. Some will contradict the paragraph. These are obviously the wrong answers so eliminate them.

  2. Some will get hung up on unrelated details. You can eliminate these as well. Summaries need to convey relevance.

  3. Some will pick up exactly from the paragraph and hence will obviously be correct, but they would make the actual scope of the paragraph too narrow than what the author was trying to convey.

  4. This is where your note comes into play. Select the option closest to what you’ve written. This obviously requires practice and you’ll find yourself getting better over time. Trust me, it’s a fantastic way to approach the question!

Remember, these are MCQ based and guesses here will almost always lead to negative marks. So the most important point here is to know when you’re outmatched and refrain playing the guessing game. But this shouldn’t always be the case and you will find doable problems here as well.

4. The Wildcards

What are these types? It's hard to say. The CAT exam is known for its unpredictability and expecting anything less is going to lead to a lot of stress during the exam itself.

The VA section might include questions testing:

  • Knowledge of synonyms/antonyms

  • Understanding of grammar rules

  • Recognising parts of speech (similies, refrains, hyperboles, oxymorons, etc.)

  • And who knows what else

So expect the unexpected and practice variety. Lucky for you, mock makers know this too and include such wildcards in your paper. So again, don’t underestimate the usefulness of mocks!

Oh and by the way, do make sure to check out the resources we’ve mentioned in another post right here! You’ll find links to awesome reading material and more than enough questions for practice. You're welcome!

And before I forget, here’s a link to our RC guide in case you forgot to check it out!

Best of luck! Also do let me know if you have any doubts by posting in the comments section available down south.

Nikunj Rakyan

Have a doubt or want to rant about the rising price of video games? Feel free to hit me up on LinkedIn


In case you found these posts useful, you might also want to check out:

How a 99.76 percentiler's brain works at the QA section

At CAT Prep Day 0 & confused about resources to use? The complete resources guide!

The FAQ section!

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