For those who consider VARC their weakness, here are a couple of tips that may come in handy. I've been asked a lot of these questions over the past couple of weeks and I'm glad to pen them down at one place.
Q. I'm only able to get through 20-22 questions in 1 hour. How do I increase the number of attempts in VARC section?
A. The strategy to scoring a great percentile in VARC is to focus on accuracy rather than speed. That does not mean, however, that you attempt <20 questions. A safe bet is to try to attempt 25-28 questions with 85-90% accuracy. Increasing speed in this section is partly dependent on the type of topics - a familiar topic would be easier to comprehend; on the other hand, an unfamiliar domain e.g., philosophy (for me at least) makes the comprehension more time-consuming.
So, what did I do? I tried to expand the scope of topics I was "familiar" with. I read articles on different topics on a daily basis. The more familiarity I gained with sentence structures in various texts, the better I became at understanding each of them. As a daily practice, I followed the editorials of leading newspapers and magazines. Active reading is key to increasing speed without compromising the comprehension. If, however, your attempts are on the low side, strongly work on increasing accuracy to 95% or more.
Q. How much time should I spend reading 1 RC? How much time should I spend on solving RC questions? Are there any benchmarks?
A. I spent around ~7-9 minutes on each RC irrespective of the length of the passage. This includes reading + making quick notes + answering questions. In my experience, shorter passages present with trickier questions and vice versa, so I tried to focus more on accuracy than speed. Really understanding what is being said by the author is very important to answer questions correctly. Sometimes, one reading of the passage is not sufficient. I had to go back glancing at passages in order to really make sure I'm choosing the right option.
Q. When I am reading the RC passage for the first time what should I focus on more - understanding or skimming/scanning till the end?
A. Understand as you read. Never skim/scan your first reading of the passage. It's okay if you do not understand 1-2 sentences here and there. It could be because of the domain that passage is taken from or the vocabulary associated with it. A single reading of the passage does not mean you won't turn to the passage after you are done reading. As you answer questions, there would be numerous times when you re-glance the paragraphs looking for keywords to eliminate few options - and that's perfectly normal. That's how RC questions are supposed to be solved.
Skimming/scanning puts you at a disadvantage - it doesn't increase your comprehension. More often than not, it hampers your understanding by only equipping you with a partial view of the author. In addition, you waste precious time because you'd anyway be reading the entire paragraphs again when you start answering questions.
Q. Should I look at the questions first before reading the passage? Or should I read the passage first and then answer questions?
A. Whenever you read a passage for the first time, read without any bias. What I mean is that you should not let any outstanding thoughts affect your reading and, in turn, understanding of the passage. For this reason, I never read the questions beforehand.
I should caveat that this may not work for everyone - so you should try it out for yourself before sticking to a particular routine.
Q. How should I go about selecting which RC passages to attempt?
A. My RC strategy was to never leave any RC question unattempted. That being said, I did prioritize the order I approached the RCs. It's easier to begin with a passage that has lucid language or is related to a field that you read a lot about. But this does not guarantee that the questions would be a piece of cake. As I have experienced myself, an easy passage often equals difficult questions. And sometimes a difficult looking passage equals straightforward questions. I tried to look through the paper to see the variety of topics in RCs and map out an order in my mind.
I've listed the books I used for VARC here. I am certain these books would be sufficient for your preparations. In another blog, I have shared my basic strategy for VARC. You may find it here.
About the Author
Akshita Agarwal is an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad class of 2017-2019. She scored 99.87%ile in CAT 2016 and bagged final admission offers from IIM Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, and Lucknow.