The Verbal (Reading Comprehension) Enigma – Part III
By Rahul Reddy
Reading Comprehension(RC) is a tricky area for most CAT aspirants. Admit it, you are not an avid reader with a wide and eclectic (fun word look it up) reading list. Well most of us are not. RC doesn’t come naturally to us, but never fear, it is a skill that is learnable and I am going to explain how. Let’s start by looking at skills involved in getting good at RC.
Reading Speed: Most RC books and articles obsess over reading speed. But you don’t need to be lightning fast to be score well at RC. You can easily afford 8-10 minutes for each RC passage (3-4 Qs). So a decent reading speed of 300-400 words per min is cool. Given that CAT recently has 550-600 word passages and that the questions are not so direct, reading too fast could be counter productive.
Subject Familiarity: RC passages in CAT are taken from a wide range of subjects ranging from Economics, Sociology, Philosophy, Music to undersea Geology to mating habits of Vampires, well not quite, but you get the point. Being a little familiar with the subject helps you handle passages better as well as faster. So over the next 2 months target reading 2-3 articles/passages on a wide range of subjects. One can start with the wiki home page for say Anthropology, get your basics and the search for related articles.
Read on the edge: If you are not reading on the edge, you are wasting time. Read a passage that is too easy or too difficult, you aren’t really learning or getting better. A lot of people tell you to start with Newspaper editorials. But soon, they become a little too easy to understand, that is when you have to push harder. Seek out online sources, try harder subjects, keep pushing the level up gradually. On subjects, you may start with politics and science and technology and move upto economics and trade and then philosophy and sociology.
Learn to summarize passages: Summarizing passages into 5-6 key ideas is one of the best exercises to improve your comprehension. A paragraph starts with a idea, explains it and throws in some examples. Now when you are solving an RC passage, most people make the mistake of trying to remember all the details in a passage. That takes up too much time and doesn’t work any way. The smarter way is to read the passage in 2-3 min and remember only the key ideas and their logical sequence. And then for each question go back and find the answer in the passage. Be prepared to take 2-3 min for each question.
Understand the Standard Type of questions: There are different types of questions in RC. Questions about tone and tenor, about style of the passage. Most questions are inferential and require you to understand the author’s objective and their line of reasoning. Look at past papers of CAT and GMAT and try to learn about various types of questions.
Be patient: Like most skills, improvements in RC take time. For the first few weeks, it appears as if you are not making any progress at all. But you have to keep at it and suddenly you start getting much better. Also unlike say Maths where you can measure progress in terms of chapters covered or concepts learned, it is a little difficult to keep track of progress in RC. But Hang in there, it does work.
Enjoy the process: Ok, This one’s true for all kinds of learning and skill development. But especially so for RC. Each passage that you read enhances your knowledge, improves your vocabulary and grammar a tiny little bit. And you learn your best when you are not under pressure. So put your worries aside, pick up a good book or great internet article and happy learning!