Verbal Ability section is nothing short of a Gordian knot, more so if you’re an engineer. The kinematics, mathematics, and dynamics that you study in your undergrad leave you with very less knack for reading genres like psychology, economics, sociology, politics or even fiction. Well, take a sigh of relief! You need not be a Milton or a Shakespeare or even a voracious reader to ace the Verbal Ability section. Yes, you read it right, and that’s because VA is not equal to vocabulary or literature. It’s about your ability to comprehend while you read. It’s about filtering important information from a plethora of noise.
It is, therefore, more scientific than literary. You can formulate rules and apply them like formulae quite similar to what you do in mathematics. All it takes is a well-charted strategy to develop these formulae.
The next 60 days that you have at your disposal should be spent working on developing this strategy. Before we take a plunge into the strategy per se, let us look at the building blocks of the winning strategy:
(a) Reading Speed: The biggest pain-point in the VA section is reading speed. Speed and comprehending ability seem to be at a trade-off. If you up your reading speed, down goes your accuracy and your comprehension at large. Is that the case with you? Well, that’s “curable”, because yes, you can read fast and still understand the passage. Here are some quick ways to accelerate your reading speed multifold:
- Lipreading: Ever since childhood we have been taught to read things out loud, with gestures, postures and of course voice modulation. For a poetry recital, that’s the best thing to do, but not so much for a competitive exam like CAT. Next time when you take a mock or read in general, make sure you don’t lipread. It imposes the added work of coordinating your voice and your brain. Eliminate this extra, vestigial step. DON’T LIPREAD!
- Subvocalization: Given the reading style we are hard-wired with, there’s always a voice in your head that reads things along with you. It so appears that this voice is reading things out to your ears. This silent voice in your head is called Subvocalization. You need to kill Subvocalization to increase your reading speed to at least twice.The bigger question to ask is, How to get rid of this involuntary, innate habit of subvocalization?It’s simple, hold your breath while reading, read on till you can comfortably, breath in when required, hold your breath again and repeat the process. It takes 3 weeks, typically, to get rid of Subvocalization.KILL SUBVOCALIZATION!
- Eyespan: Most of us like reading things word by word. We look at a word, read it, move to the next word, read it and continue doing so. Our eyespan therefore is limited to just one word at a time. An efficient reader has an eye span of 6-7 words, which would mean an entire sentence. So just as you look at the sentence, your brain comprehends it and you move to the next sentence. To increase your eyespan, go in steps. Increase your eyespan from one to two, two to three and so on till you can comfortably read the entire line in one go. It took me around two weeks to get this in order.INCREASE YOUR EYESPAN!
(b) Comprehension of a Passage: To naturally comprehend a passage there are two ways:
- Know the genre perfectly, which a very few of us will.
- The Hack: However, you can develop decent familiarity with genres by following this hack:
Till CAT don’t read novels/books/articles entirely. Read snippets of them. What it means is that you need to open at a random page of a novel and start reading it without knowing the context. Read about two pages and try summarising it in your head. Next, move to an editorial, skip a few paragraphs and read from a random paragraph, again without having any clue of the context. This is what CAT does, gives you a part of a story and expects you to decode it.
While doing so, remember to diversify your reading. If you are reading one article from politics, choose the other from economics and so on.
Also, be wary of the writing style of the passage and take special note of the trigger words. The author will always state the most important idea after a trigger word/symbol.
Trigger words: Although, But, However, Although among others
(c) Elimination Strategy: The real challenge of accuracy in an RC is tested while eliminating between the last two options that you finally zero down to. It is here where the real litmus test lies. Remember I had talked of a mathematical formula for RCs? Here is where you can apply them.
What are these formulae and how do we develop them?
Whenever you solve any RC (while taking a mock or for practice), analyze the RC you’ve attempted. Every question. Irrespective of whether you got it right or wrong. Figure out why you got it wrong. Right the reason down as a rule (caveat: don’t generalize while doing so). You’ll observe that after you repeat this exercise for about 30 RCs, the rule starts getting repeated. What does this tell you? It tells you that a wrong answer option has typical characteristics. If you identify them well, write them down, remember them; you will leapfrog your accuracy manifold.
(d) Attempting Strategy: Having discussed the prep strategy, let’s zoom in to the attempting strategy.
How can we maximize my score with my current level of prep?
Listed below are simple pointers that will help you score more and with better accuracy:
- Don’t go linear: Don’t go linear while attempting the VA section. That is, don’t attempt questions in the order in which they appear. How should we attempt the paper the? Read on to know.
- Scan the paper: Even before you start attempting, scan the entire paper. Start with skimming every passage and reading the questions. Attempt that passage first which has more direct (less inference based) questions. This will ensure that the time you’re spending with a passage, get’s you the maximum ROTI (Return On Time Invested).
- Non-RC Questions: While Scanning the RCs also scan the Non-RC questions. If you feel that the questions are fairly manageable, do them outrightly or in between two passages.
- Don’t get stuck with any question. Learn to “move on” (pun most definitely intended).
- Remember: All questions carry equal marks. So, solve the ones that fetch you the maximum marks in the minimum time.
Well, this is the single most formula that you need. Don’t forget to test them on previous CAT papers. It will be a significant confidence booster. Do let me know how it works for you. You can buzz me with any query in the comments section.