Strategies for the verbal ability and reading comprehension section

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For a lot of people, this section is the one insurmountable area in the CAT exam. It is estimated that close to 30-40% of the test takers are unable to crack the CAT exam because of their inability to crack this section. Needless to say, this is one of the critical elements of the CAT exam (and indeed for most other management entrance and aptitude examinations).

Two pronged preparation:

Preparing to do well in VA & RC would mean essentially two major thrusts.

Improving your ability to read and understand language.
Improving your ability to solve specific question types.
The first objective above, obviously is a longer term objective- and hence would require you to put more effort. The minimum time frame in which you would start to see any significant change for improving your ability to comprehend language would be between 6 months to 12 months of extensive work.

Once you have your language understanding and comprehension in place, the work on improvement of your ability to solve specific question types should not take you too much time. The focus in this part of preparation has to be on developing your ability to choose the correct answer- hence you would need to develop the correct process for each question type. One would also need to work on getting rid of ‘cobwebs’ in the mind which leads down the incorrect thinking path and results in judgmental errors while solving questions.

Once you have these objectives in your radar- you should essentially divide your work on 4 levels of the language in order to improve both your ability to comprehend as well as your ability to solve:

Word level ability
Development of language at the word level: Comprises vocabulary development, improving your knowledge of phrasal verbs and improving your knowledge of idioms and phrases.

Development of question solving ability at the word level comprises questions like: Antonyms, Synonyms, Correct/incorrect Word usage, questions testing your knowledge of phrasal verbs etc.

Sentence level ability: This is not just the skill to read and comprehend sentences- but it also includes the ability to go beyond the sentence and be able to predict where the author is going to move on next.
You would be able to move from understanding short 8-10-12 word sentences on familiar topics to long 20-30 word sentences on unfamiliar topics. This is imperative because inside most standard quality aptitude exams (like CAT exam/ XAT exam etc) you are likely to encounter language where the average sentence length is between 20-30 words.

Sample this sentence from the CAT 2008 paper:

Language is complex, specialized skill, which develops in the child spontaneously, without conscious effort or formal instruction, is deployed without awareness of its underlying logic, is qualitatively the same in every individual, and is distinct from more general abilities to process information or behave intelligently.”
This sentence comprises 45 words and is the kind of sentence you are likely to encounter in the examination (& not the “cat is sitting on the mat” kind of sentence). Obviously being able to form the visual imagery in order to comprehend such sentences becomes a critical skill while preparing for this section.

Typical question categories at the sentence level include – Facts Inferences and Judgments, Sentence Completion, Sentence Corrections.

NOTE: The next two categories of paragraph level comprehension and sentence level comprehension are both a function of your ability to understand sentences – since a paragraph is effectively a collection of sentences while a passage is nothing but a collection of paragraphs.

Thus, once you can develop your ability to read and comprehend sentences- it could act as a game changer in helping you understand the English language better.

Reading and understanding paragraphs and passages can be seen as a logical extension of being able to read long sentences on complex issues.

The key question types in:

Paragraph level: Paragraph Jumbles, Critical Reasoning

Passage Level: Reading comprehension.

For CAT 2016 aspirants, the preparation focus should obviously be on improving your question solving ability on each question type, as that is the only thing that would be paying you dividends in the short run. For aspirants looking at longer term preparation, the emphasis should be on developing your comprehension ability first as described above- before moving onto a question solving skills in English.


By Meenakshi Upadhyay

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