Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension is a slightly tricky section, and the difficulty level here varies from year-to-year. CAT 2017 also had some complex RC sets and some confusing VA questions that took time to crack. This year again, the VA-RC section is expected to be of the same level or just a little more complex than CAT ’17.

In this section, ideally, you need to score between 70 and 80 to go beyond the 99+ percentile mark (depending on the difficulty level of the paper). This means that with 80% accuracy, you will need to solve all 34 questions to score around 76 marks (including no negative marking for TITA) and be on the safe side.

Now here is the problem – getting 80% accuracy is just so difficult, especially in mock tests series like AIMCAT, where most of the questions generally appear in the ‘Very Difficult’ and ‘Difficult’ genre. More often than not, accuracy just doesn’t go beyond 75%, and that can be problematic.

Having scored an average of 99+ in the AIMCATs I have given till now, I decided to jot down some strategies that may be of help to you in – increasing accuracy and the number of attempts, increasing reading speed, comprehending RCs better, solving Verbal Ability questions faster etc.

Here is how I attempt the VA-RC section in my mock tests –

Starting with Verbal Ability – Different test series have different formats. SIMCATs place VA questions anywhere in the section, while in AIMCATs, VA starts from question no. 25 (more often than not). Regardless of the test series I attempt, I identify the VA questions and solve them first. This is because it makes logical sense to do so. The VA section has no negative marking, which means that your accuracy will suffer but your marks won’t. Additionally, if you segment your time properly, the ratio of time taken for VA to the time taken for RC is 1:3, or 1:2 so even if VA doesn’t get you too many marks, you’ll have missed out on only a relatively small chunk of time. I spend 15-20 minutes on VA and usually solve the 10 questions with around 80% accuracy.

I think, through your mock tests, if you know that your RC accuracy is around 75% and you are finding it difficult to push it beyond that, then it is imperative that you maximise your attempts in Verbal Ability and try to score at least 24-27 marks (80-90% accuracy). That way, you reach a score of 72-75 and score 99+ in VA-RC.

Being brutal in question selection – Common knowledge about CAT is that it is not a test of impressing the computer which processes your answers by answering everything, but of wisely selecting questions where y0u know for sure that you can score. The basic idea is to minimise your negative marks. This means that getting attached to a particular question is a strict no-no. For me, this used to happen more often in Verbal Ability where I used to read and re-read the parajumbles and hope to solve it, ending up spending 5 minutes on one question and ultimately getting it wrong.

There is no merit in getting attached to one question. Look at the timer and set a deadline for yourself. For me, anything beyond 1 minute 30 seconds per question is a bad deal (excluding reading time for RCs). You can stretch it to a maximum of 2 minutes for a one-odd question but resist the temptation to spend unwarranted time on any question. It is not worth it, even if it makes you feel that you’ll regret your decision.

Increasing reading speed – Reading speed is basically a combination of two things  –
i) How many words you need to read to understand the context of a sentence. (Try it out right now. Go to the very beginning of this article and assess how many words did you really have to focus on before understanding the meaning of a sentence or a paragraph.)
ii) How well you understand and summarise what is written.

Forget reading novels and newspapers – just focus on understanding what is being said in an RC. For example, this is an RC from CAT 2017:

This year alone, more than 8,600 stores could close, according to industry estimates, many of them the brand-name anchor outlets that real estate developers once stumbled over themselves to court. Already there have been 5,300 retail closings this year… Sears Holdings—which owns Kmart—said in March that there’s “substantial doubt” it can stay in business altogether and will close 300 stores this year. So far this year, nine national retail chains have filed for bankruptcy.

Local jobs are a major casualty of what analysts are calling, with only a hint of hyperbole, the retail apocalypse. Since 2002, department stores have lost 448,000 jobs, a 25% decline, while the number of store closures this year is on pace to surpass the worst depths of the Great Recession. The growth of online retailers, meanwhile, has failed to offset those losses, with the ecommerce sector adding just 178,000 jobs over the past 15 years. Some of those jobs can be found in the massive distribution centres Amazon has opened across the country, often not too far from malls the company helped shutter.

But those are workplaces, not gathering places. The mall is both. And in the 61 years since the first enclosed one opened in suburban Minneapolis, the shopping mall has been where a huge swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. It was the home of first jobs and blind dates, the place for family photos and ear piercings, where goths and grandmothers could somehow walk through the same doors and find something they all liked. Sure, the food was lousy for you and the oceans of parking lots encouraged car-heavy development, something now scorned by contemporary planners. But for better or worse, the mall has been America’s public square for the last 60 years.

A growing number of Americans, however, don’t see the need to go to any malls at all. Our digital lives are frictionless and ruthlessly efficient, with retail and romance available at a click. Malls were designed for leisure, abundance, ambling. You parked and planned to spend some time. Today, much of that time has been given over to busier lives and second jobs and apps that let you swipe right instead of haunt the food court.’ Malls, says Harvard business professor Leonard Schlesinger, “were built for patterns of social interaction that increasingly don’t exist.”

What is this paragraph about? Were you able to understand the crux of what is being said? Is the paragraph about retail, malls or online retailers? What could be the central idea of this passage? And even more importantly, how much time did you take to read this?

If you understand that the entire RC is about why department stores and malls are losing relevance in the context of jobs and leisure destinations, you will be able to answer at least 3 out of 4 questions that are presented in front of you. Therefore, understanding the meaning of what is being said is crucial. Spend more time reading, but retain what you have read for best results.

However, if I were to ask you –
Q. The author is most likely to agree with which of the following statements
a) Malls have been and continue to be the most desirable destination for leisure amongst middle-class Americans.
b) Since 2002, department store jobs have seen a sharp increase as compared to e-commerce jobs.
c) The efficiency of digital applications and the increasing number of hours spent at work are the reason why Americans do not prefer to go to malls.
d) Malls in America are strictly designed for commercial purposes and are frequented by local business owners and corporate honchos for meetings.

would you go through the entire paragraph to answer this? Or would you just skim through clearly intelligible pointers given in the paragraph and mark answer (c) as the correct one? If it is the latter, then you are on your way to getting a 99+ score in CAT 2018.

The point I am trying to make is that every RC and every question will have a different technique for answering. You may have to read the entire paragraph to understand the central idea, or just skim through it to answer very specific questions.

Correct time allocation – As mentioned before, performance in each section of CAT depends immensely on time management. Before you attempt a mock test, think about the time you are going to allocate to a question or a set. I spend 15-20 minutes on VA, and 30-40 minutes on RC depending on the level of the paper. You should make your own time management strategy. For a lot of people, solving RC works better because they are absolutely confident about their skills in VA, or they are just incredibly fast readers.

Just bear one thing in mind – time allocation is messed up by an easy-looking question which turns out to have 2 or more very close options. Therefore, having read the paragraph well, if it takes you more than 40 seconds to come to an answer, the question is difficult; which means it is difficult for everyone; which means you’re probably better off if you move on. In such a situation, spend no more than 60 seconds to be absolutely sure that you have not missed out on anything before moving onto the next question.

Word of advice

I believe that the summary of mock test results for 80% of CAT aspirants is this – 1 section is super strong, 1 is weak, and 1 is DI-LR which makes everyone cry uncontrollably. DI-LR performance depends on the difficulty level of the section on the D-day, backed by your training and exposure to question types through mock tests. It is not 100% in your control.

But two sections are, and you must work towards making these strong as they will pull your score up beyond 97 percentile. For me, even with a 99.3+ VA score in at least 7 out of 10 mocks, QA remains a perpetual pain point.

Therefore, you must understand that you are not the only one with a poor performance in any one of the three sections – everyone has a pain point. So work hard to make your strong section stronger, and to make your weak section strong enough to solve at least half the questions in the section with 100% accuracy.

And finally, read a lot of novels if you want to score well in CAT. 

Additional Resources

Pratik Ranjan of IIM Lucknow has given a highly detailed strategy for VA-RC in this article. This is an absolute must-read if you are genuinely interested in boosting your Verbal scores, and is one of the most helpful articles for VA-RC preparation.

  • CAT Preparation Tips By 99.5 Percentiler – Roshan Raheja, JBIMS Mumbai

Chirag Shukla

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Jay Dave

It’s just 20-22 days to go for CAT, I happen to score a good score in Quant(>55) and for DI(>40), but my performance in Verbal part is like a sin function, at some mock I score 50 percentile and in some, I score 98 percentile. I have absolutely no idea where I stand. I know I will get a good score in DI and Quant in CAT but to reach 98 percentile I have to score above 55 in verbal, what do you recommend?