The CAT exam's Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension section stumps a lot of test-takers each year. For some, it's the sheer patience that is required to sit through the long-form essays, while for others, a lack of fluency in the English language or the lack of practice is a major obstacle on the D-day. This article will cover some crucial CAT VA-RC tips for test-takers, and how simple test-taking strategies can boost your score on the day of the exam.
Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension has been my strong-suit ever since I started preparing for CAT 2018, and I realised this from the mock tests that I took to prepare. Ultimately, the VA-RC section was the single section that boosted my overall CAT percentile (a saving grace). But this section is a weak area for a large chunk of CAT aspirants, and it has little to do with how good or bad they are in the English language but has more to do with a lack of practice, which consequently reflects in ineffective test-taking strategies during the actual exam. So, how do you approach this section and score a 99+%ile score?
CAT VA-RC Tips | Test-Day Strategy - 4 Things To Keep In Mind
The following are the four most important things to keep in mind while attempting mock tests and also when you take the actual CAT exam.
Accuracy Over Attempts - Always
In the early phase of my CAT 2018 preparation (April-May), I used to attempt all 34 questions in the mock tests that I took and, somehow, I constantly put myself under pressure to solve each and every question in the section. As a result, my accuracy suffered and did not increase beyond 70% in any of the first four mock tests that I took. I did not score more than 60-62 in the VA-RC section in any of the four mock tests.
From then on, I decided to give accuracy much more importance and actually started solving just 22-23 questions for the next two consecutive mock tests. As a result, I had much more time to deliberate over each question and my accuracy increased to 80-90%.
Now, the important thing is to maintain this accuracy and then increase your number of attempts gradually. By the 10th mock test that I took, I had 85-90% accuracy and I was solving approximately 27-28 questions and reached the 70+ score mark. On the day of the exam, I attempted questions with nearly 90% accuracy and achieved a 99.3%ile score.
Prioritise accuracy over the number of attempts, but don't sacrifice one for the other. In mock tests, gradually increase the number of attempts by maintaining a minimum of 80% accuracy.
Start With Verbal Ability, Then Move On To Reading Comprehension
There is a simple logic to this - when compared with VA questions such as paragraph completions and parajumbles, RC questions are much more time consuming and rarely have TITA questions, which means that solving RCs first puts you at a greater risk of time wastage as well as negative marking.
The VA questions generally begin from Q. 25 in mock tests as well as the real-test (though you must skim through the entire paper to check for any hidden VA questions). The moment your test begins, keep 20 minutes to solve the VA section, and 35 minutes to solve the RC section. The extra 5 minutes can be utilised to solve questions marked for review.
Take Genuine Interest In RC Essays
I have lost count of the number of times I have read an RC in a mock test, taken a mental note of it, and gone ahead and read more on the topic to gain more knowledge. This happened because, while reading the RC, I took a genuine interest in what was being conveyed by the author. This helps in two ways -
- You do not have to read the essay more than once, which saves a significant amount of time.
- It is difficult to lose track of the essence of the paragraph, so answering questions becomes easier.
Taking interest in every single RC that you come across may not be possible. Some RCs are complex and verbose, and these are not designed to be engrossing in nature. This is where you switch to the next tactic - search for specific answers to specific questions.
Search For Specific Answers To Specific Questions
When you are faced with an unusually long-form essay, it becomes very difficult to go through the entire passage and then remember key highlights to answer questions. This is when leafing through passages and recognizing keywords will come in handy. For instance, if a question is stated as, 'What does the author imply by "like the gossamer wings of a butterfly"?', the first step is to hunt for the keyword 'gossamer' and try to find a specific answer to the specific question within the paragraph.
This type of skimming is most appropriate for passages with more than four paragraphs, and/or passages with complex terminologies and verbosity.
CAT VA-RC Tips | Preparation Strategy
The following are some tips to prepare for the VA-RC section of CAT, including strategies to identify how to answer non-RC questions such as parajumbles, paragraph completion, and odd-one-out questions.
Reading Is Important, But Mock Tests Are Much More Important
There is this piece of hackneyed advice that floats around various Facebook groups and forums that reading novels and editorials is the only way to prepare for the RCs that appear in CAT. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Those who have taken the CAT know that the RCs that appear are far from what can be found in editorials and novels. No editorial will prepare you for questions around, say, the historical significance of the Balkan War or the consumer psychology of Brasilians. However, mock tests and sectional tests will.
Mock tests and sectional tests provide RC practice that is distinct from simply reading a newspaper. For instance, RCs start off from a random paragraph without context and questions based on it, and this type of practice cannot be replicated by reading editorials.
Mock tests also simulate the real CAT environment in which test-takers can make subconscious mistakes, such as losing focus mid-paragraph and having to read it all over again, or misreading a line and arriving at an erroneous conclusion. Such mistakes never surface when you casually read a wordy editorial by a subject-matter expert. Therefore, it is important to practice for the RC section through mock tests.
If you're interested in reading articles close to what appears in CAT and want to improve your reading speed, take a look at this compilation of the best resources to prepare for the VA-RC section of CAT.
Treat Non-RC Questions As Logical Reasoning Questions
I have been preparing for CAT for 1.5 years (first for CAT 2018 and then for CAT 2019), and throughout these 18 months, my greatest learning in the VA-RC section has been that the non-RC questions test your logical reasoning and nothing else. This is evident through the type of questions asked.
Important note - Like an LR question, do not assume any details. Stick to the information provided, and do not assume facts outside of what is provided, especially in questions around Paragraph Completion.
1. Parajumbles - Parajumbles test your ability to arrange sentences in order to form a coherent paragraph. This is how you can logically tackle Parajumbles:
- Identify the introductory statement. An introductory statement will not be random and will serve to set a context for the paragraph that needs to be constructed. Usually, it will include one or two keywords that set the tone for the rest of the paragraph.
- After the introduction, you need to identify the body of the passage. Out of four sentences overall, two sentences will form the body of the passage. These will be connected to the introduction, and to each other. These may not necessarily be explicitly connected with the conclusion. Each sentence forming the body of the passage may be identified as statements with examples, supplementary information, transition words such as 'therefore', 'as a result', 'meanwhile', etc.
- Identify the statement of conclusion. Statements of conclusion have one key rule - they are never abrupt. A statement of conclusion will be logically connected to the rest of the paragraph and will present a proper and smooth conclusion.
2. Paragraph Completion - Paragraph completion questions require you to conclude a paragraph with one of the five appropriate options provided. Usually, at least two of the five options are very close. To attempt this question logically, you need to read the paragraph very carefully and gather the context of what is being said, with a strong focus on the last two statements of the paragraph. These will serve as the biggest clues to how the paragraph should ideally end.
The next step is to leaf through the options and eliminate at least three incompatible answer options. Once this is done, select the option that continues the thought that the paragraph is trying to convey and concluded it explicitly, leaving no room for doubt. Use the last two sentences of the paragraph to arrive at a conclusion.
3. Odd-One-Out - The odd-one-out format of questions require you to select one statement that does not belong with four other statements of a paragraph. The best way to solve such question types is to choose the sentence that does not have the keywords that have been repeated in the other four statements. In case keywords are repeated across all five statements, look for the statement that cannot be placed sequentially in front of any of the other four statements, i.e., there is a logical inconsistency in including the odd-one-out.
CAT VA-RC Tips | Other Important Things To Keep In Mind
1. Improve your vocabulary - This is not tested by the CAT exam, but it always helps to know complex words to derive meanings of statements, especially in RCs. Use Magoosh's GRE Flashcards and learn the 'Common' and 'Basic' words.
2. Download the Indian Express app - This serves two purposes - the application is superb for knowledge gathering and staying updated with current affairs (will help in non-CAT exams), and the language used in the 'Express Explained' and the Editorials section is complex (even annoying sometimes), which is great for practice.
3. Don't spend an inordinate amount of time on questions - Except the first question for each RC, no question deserves more than 2 minutes of your time. If you cannot solve a question in two minutes, move on to the next one. If you have time left, come back to solve it later.
4. Mark the beginning of each RC set by using the 'Mark for review' feature - Spend the first 1 minute just going through the entire section. Mark the beginning of each RC set using the 'mark for review' feature, which will turn the question tab purple. This will help you save time if you are in a situation where you decide to attempt an entire set in the last few minutes of the test and do not want to hunt for the beginning of the RC set.
5. Create your own strategy - This strategy works for me, and it makes the VA-RC section easy for me. A lot of 99%ilers have different strategies, such as attempting RCs first or using a different logic to solve non-RC questions. Use 4-5 mocks to test different strategies and come up with one that suits you!
If this helped you, you will also love to read: