The Formula To Tackle Reading Comprehension
For most CAT aspirants, Reading Comprehension is a nightmare. “It takes too much time” “The answer choices are too close” and so on. So how does one attempt and more importantly crack Reading Comprehension?
Firstly, RC has to be attempted, as it accounts for 16Q, almost a 3rd of Section 2. Since you can’t do well in section 2 without RC, the bottom line is, no RC No Tier 1 Bschool.
Can Reading comprehension be developed? Yes, but it takes time. It is a skill, which develops through practice. In this article, I will give you a simple plan that will improve your RC skills for CAT.
But first, Lets start with Attempting RC in CAT. CAT 2014 had 4 passages each with 4 Questions. If you are aiming for a 90+ percentile, you would need to attempt at least 2 Passages within 20-25 min. If you are (or become) good at RC, you can even attempt 3 passages in 30 min. The time limit is critical as any overshooting of time can lead to shortage in VA/LA. So we need to attempt an RC (4Qs) in 10-12 min and get at least 65-70% of the questions right.
The key here is to remember that one does not need to study, understand or remember every sentence in the passage. That is what many students do, reading too slowly, rereading, underlining etc. But not every sentence is linked to a Question. So we need to speed-read the passage, picking up key ideas, while spending time on the parts, which are linked to Questions.
Below are two common methods which students can use for RCs. Some students find method 1 suitable while others find method 2 suitable. So it is up to you to decide which one suits you.
- Passage First: Read the passage first at a normal speed. Don’t reread, highlight or even worry about not retaining all the information. You will only need to get the key ideas – an overview. As CAT passages tend to be 600-700 words long, this should take you about 3 min. Now for each Question, go back to the passage and find the relevant sentence(s). Read them carefully and answer the questions. This process should take about 2 min per Q. So a total of 10-12 min for the whole exercise.
- Questions first: Start from the Questions. Read all 4 Qs (not the answer choices) and then proceed to the passage. Start reading the passage at your normal reading speed. As an when you reach a part which is linked to a Q, slow down, read carefully and go back and answer that Question. And then come back to the passage and continue reading.
You must have noticed that both methods are based on the same key idea explained in the preceding paragraph, spend time only on the parts of the passage linked to a Question.
Firstly, we have many sources of reading material that we can access. Newspapers, Magazines, websites, eBooks and so on. When we select reading material, we look at Subject and Language complexity. As we prepare for RC, we try to cover a wide range of subjects to increase our familiarity (which also increases speed). At the same time we have to gradually raise the complexity of difficulty level of the passages that we practice on. If a passage is too easy, then no benefit comes from solving it. For difficult subjects like Philosophy, Psychology, Art and Architecture, first get a basic idea from sites like Wikipedia. Understand basic terms and definitions/concepts before you take up passages form one of these subjects.
Understanding Passage structure: All good passages have a well defined structure. The passage has a central theme that is explained through a few key ideas. Each unique key idea deals with one aspect of the central theme and is normally given in a distinct paragraph. Each key idea is then explained/elaborated through descriptive sentences (additional information) or illustrated through examples. Similarly, ideas may be compared and contrasted, with the author favoring one over the other or by building an argument towards a conclusion.
Take any small passage and identify the central theme. Underline all key ideas and see how they are related to the central theme. And for each key idea, try to understand how the author develops it further. Take each sentence in a paragraph and try to identify its function, Describe/Illustrate/Contrast etc.
Passage summary. Take a passage from any Source. Read it once at your natural speed, do not re-read or attempt to memorize anything. Then put it aside and try to write a point wise summary of the passage. You should only include key ideas. And importantly, you should rephrase the ideas and not repeat the exact sentences. You should try to get the key ideas in the same sequence/order in which they appear in the passage. A passage of 600-700 words normally has 4-6 key ideas.
Once you are done, compare the passage and the key ideas. Did you get all the key ideas? Was the order right? What is the links between each key idea? This will help you in understanding the structure as well remembering key ideas.
Inference based questions
A lot of RC questions in CAT are not based directly on the facts stated in the passage but require you to make some inferences. While you do learn through practice, it makes sense for you to go and study Critical Reasoning basics before attempting inference-based questions. This should help you get a sound understanding for the nature of arguments: Facts, Assumptions and how Conclusions and Inferences can be drawn.
Practice and Tests
An Ideal plan would involve working on the basics: Understanding passage structure, summary exercises and critical reasoning for 4-6 weeks. After that start RC specific tests, followed by Mock Tests.
CAT and XAT papers from earlier years would make excellent practice tests as they contain high quality RC questions.
VistaMind Education is based out of Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata and is run by alumni of IIM and who have trained over a lakh students over 15 years.
To subscribe to the various ONLINE LIVE CAT classes or SMARTCAT Tests Series visit cat.vistamind.com