An Objective Approach To Cracking The Subjective CAT VARC – From A CAT VARC 99.81 Percentile Scorer

I scored 99.81percentile in VARC section of CAT 2015. I am sharing my approach to VARC section below, hoping it will resonate with a few of you.

Disclaimer – I have always been an avid reader of books since my childhood, this made my job a little easier. But it’s using the following methods that I was able to jump up my percentile from 90s to the high 99.

I’ve always been of the firm belief that Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension is as scientific as maths. I am an engineer and I love the definiteness that comes with numbers, and it should be of no surprise that I took a similar approach to VARC as well. Without any structured approach, I was able to score 90-95 percentile in the mocks. To step up my game I knew I had to streamline my preparation and this is how I went about it –

Getting the Basics Right –

  • Vocabulary 
  • The current pattern of CAT doesn’t test verbal ability in the sense of synonyms and antonyms, but a good grip on vocabulary is nevertheless very important. Being able to understand the meanings of words or guesstimate meanings of new words is important for cracking RCs, summary questions and para jumbles.
  • I maintained a notebook, where I noted down new words that I came across, their meanings and the context in which they are used. I referred to this book once in a week for revision.
  • Resources – I diligently did Word Power Made Easy and made notes. I found word power made easy to be effective in honing vocabulary in a short span of time. This book needs to be studied sincerely and by making notes, if not the efficacy of this book as an instructional tool becomes quite less.

Building vocabulary in English language to me is akin to understanding concepts in Maths, knowledge of which aids in problem-solving

  • Smart Reading
  • Smart Reading according to me is reading with an objective. In the case of RCs, the objective is to answer the questions; in the case of para jumbles, it is to understand the logical sequence of sentences, and so on. Reading as a recreation and reading with an objective have very different approaches. Eg. Reading to solve for answers in RCs requires one to quickly skim through the passage and focus on parts on which the questions have been asked. Whereas solving for para jumbles requires one to focus on sentence construction and cues to understand the logical place it would take in a passage.
  • Building in the knack to read smartly comes with practice, I read a minimum of 3 RCs to a maximum of 6-8 RCs per day to internalise this habit in me.
  • Resources – Apart from TIME Institute’s material I also extensively read Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension book by Arun Sharma and Meenakshi Upadhyay. I found this book very helpful with RCs and para jumbles, as it provided step by step guide to crack them. For anyone struggling with para jumbles I would definitely suggest this book.

Honing the skill of smart reading is similar to learning formulae in Maths. Once the formulae are learnt, they need to be just used in the appropriate context.

  • Grammar 
  • It might nearly seem funny when I emphasise on learning grammar. Grammar is nothing but syntax or rules to be followed while using the English language. Having a good grip on grammar is essential while solving Verbal Ability questions.
  • There are two ways to learn English grammar: one, by reading extensively and picking up a sense of it or two, by actually reading the rules of grammar. When time is a constraint the second approach might be more suitable. Go back to basics, explore tense tables, direct and indirect speech, active voice and passive voice, English usage. Parts of Speech can be either your armour or your death knell. Time should be spent on grammar in the beginning of preparation so that mistakes can be recorded and weak areas identified.
  • Resources – TIME material and book by Arun Sharma and Meenakshi Upadhyay.

Grammar is equivalent to framing logically sound equations in Maths

According to me mastering, vocabulary, smart reading, and grammar form the building blocks to the preparation of CAT VARC section or any other verbal aptitude exam.

Bringing Objectivity into the Subjective VARC – Step Wise Guide to CAT VARC Sections

Reading Comprehension

  • As mentioned above, the trick to cracking RCs is smart reading.
  • Step 1: Quickly skim through the passage to get a sense of the content. (Should not take more than 10-15 seconds). Read all the RCs in this manner in the beginning of the section and attempt the RC which you are most comfortable with first.
  • Step 2: Read the chosen passage swiftly, * DO NOT * get stuck at any place in the passage. If a part of the passage is difficult to understand, make a note and move on to the next part. Quickly finish reading the passage in this manner, while noting down parts of the passage that appear important to you (should not take more than 3-4 minutes)
  • Step 3: Read the questions. First, solve the questions which are looking for direct answers from the passage. In the next round deal with the questions of which you know where the answer can be found in the passage. Then lastly attempt those questions which require you to read the passage again. (This should also ideally not take more than 3-4 minutes)
  • Important – Key thing to remember in RCs is to never get stuck but to keep moving on. Eg. If the 5th sentence seems hard to understand, grappling with that sentence longer will delay you. Instead of moving onto the 6th sentence might help you understand the meaning of 5th sentence as well.
  • One of the things to note is, I don’t prefer seeing the questions before I read the passage. In the event of the paucity of time, looking at questions and trying to find simple information based questions and answering them might be a good strategy.

    Para Jumbles
    I initially struggled with this section, but practice helped me overcome my fear for it.

  • Step 1: Try to identify the first and last sentence of the passages.
  • Step 2: Eliminate choices for 1st sentence if identifying the first sentence is a challenge. Similarly for the last sentence as well.
  • Step 3: In order to find sentences that form the body of the passage, look for sentence construction cues or standard description styles. Eg. A topic at hand can be introduced first and then examples can be given to further explain the topic. In that case, the introduction of the topic would form 1st half of the para jumbles and examples would form 2nd half of the para jumbles. Look for words like, ‘Thus’, ‘Hence’ which usually are words in sentences that are attempting conclude something. Conjunctions are good clues as well.
  • Step 4: Have in mind 2-3 combinations of para jumbles and see which combination fits best.
  • Important – It is important to test 2-3 combinations of Para jumbles, at times one combination might seem the most convincing, but there could be a better combination you never considered. To avoid this mistake consider at least 2 combinations

    Para Summaries and Odd Sentence in the Paragraph 

  • Smart reading becomes an important aspect here as well. Apart from it, the major strategy for me in this section was to eliminate the options that were least relevant. Go over the paragraphs again and see which option comes closest to answer.

Sasi Priya Byra

Baptised TISSIAN to be christened HR Manager. Avid reader, wannabe prankster and novice writer. Life’s philosophy is to live a calvin and hobbes-isque adventure set in the rustic Malgudi.