CAT 2019 was testament to the fact that regardless of how fluent you may be in the English language and regardless of how many mock tests you may take, there is no saying what level of difficulty the paper will throw at you - the section was significantly tougher than what has been seen in the recent years, which stumped lakhs of test takers. So how does one prepare for such eventualities? If you were to begin your preparation for the VA-RC section of CAT 2020, how would you do it and what would your preparation strategy be to score a 99th percentile score? This article covers the end-to-end preparation strategy to crack the VA-RC section of CAT 2020.
VA-RC For CAT 2020 - What Is A Good Target Score For 99 Percentile?
A good target score for the VA-RC section of CAT depends on the difficulty level of the paper in a particular year. However, over the past 3 years, the average score required for a 99th percentile score was 71. The table below encapsulates the scores that you would require to get 99 percentile in the VA-RC section if you took CAT 2019, CAT 2018 and CAT 2017.
|Scores Required To Get 99 Percentile In VA-RC Section of CAT|
|Exam||Score Required For
|Score Required For
|Attempts To Achieve 99 Percentile Score With 90% Accuracy|
On average, it can be inferred that if you're looking to achieve a 99th percentile score in CAT, it is imperative that you score 70+ marks in the section. With 100% accuracy, this amounts to a total of 24 attempts. On average, achieving a 99th percentile score in the VA-RC section with 90% accuracy (accounting for negative marking and neglecting TITA responses) requires you to attempt a minimum of 28 questions. Depending on the difficulty level of the paper, this figure can go down to as low as 25 attempts, which is what was required to achieve a 99th percentile score in CAT 2019, with 90% accuracy.
VA-RC For CAT 2020 - What Makes This Section Tough?
Prima facie, the Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension section may seem like an innocuous set of 34 questions that should take no longer than 45 minutes to solve. However, once you begin to attempt the section, those 60 minutes seem to pass by in a blur and before you know it, you're rushing through parajumbles without being sure of a single answer. So why does this happen, and what are some other difficulties you can expect in this section?
Time management is a major driver if you want to score well in CAT, and the nemesis of time management is over-commitment to questions. "Mujhey toh yeh aanaa chahiye" is the biggest enemy of a 99th percentile score, particularly in the VA-RC section. Time management becomes tough in this section primarily because test-takers:
- Underestimate reading comprehension passages, and are unable to maintain a consistent and rapid reading speed. Additionally, there is no effort to understand what is being said in the passage; test-takers resort to mechanical reading to answer questions, which results in multiple re-reads which leads to further wastage of time.
- Over commit to questions simply because they've already spent significant time on a particular set. Over commitment is a great risk to take in a time-restricted test as it prevents you from exploring other solvable questions in the section, including sitters.
- Are not adept at question selection, primarily because they don't take enough mock tests or sectional tests. This leads to over-attempting or not attempting enough questions, because judgement of the difficulty level of the section is missing. Additionally, those test-takers who are better at VA-RC than the average CAT aspirant tend to succumb to greed to push their overall percentile, which may not always fruit into favorable results.
VA-RC For CAT 2020 - How To Prepare To Score 99+ Percentile
While preparing for CAT 2019, the Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension section was my strong area; a realization that I had had by taking numerous mock tests and sectional tests. In CAT 2019, I scored a 99.72 percentile score in the VA-RC section and had attempted the section with approximately 92% accuracy and no negative marks. I also scored 99.30 percentile in the VA-RC section of CAT 2018. Here's how I recommend you prepare for this section:
1. Forget what anyone has told you about reading novels and book to prepare for this section - this practice is great as a habit, but not at all helpful in preparing for a complex exam like CAT. Instead, read short and high quality articles produced by reputed platforms. Refer to this compilation of the best resources you can use to prepare for the VA-RC section of CAT 2020. This will also help you improve your vocabulary and diction. I recommend reading at least 2 articles from any of these resources on a daily basis.
2. Mock tests and sectional tests are the only resources that will actually help you crack CAT - everything else is supplementary. Big wigs of the CAT coaching industry have mastered the test simulation game, and the level of questions seen in their tests are equivalent (if not higher) in difficulty to what is seen in CAT. I personally recommend taking AIMCATs and SIMCATs regularly, as these have the highest quality of questions and post-test analyses. Take mock tests regularly from April, analyse these mock tests, and gradually increase the number of mocks you take per week from September till November.
3. Build your vocabulary. Yes, this is not tested separately in the CAT exam, but when you're faced with a convoluted statement that is key to finding an answer to a question in an RC set, you'll thank your stars you knew what 'prognostication' or 'irascible' mean. Building your vocabulary also makes context development much easier, which will help you answer questions faster. To build your vocabulary, I recommend using the Magoosh GRE vocabulary app, Barron's list of 1100 words, and The Economist GRE vocabulary app.
I also strongly recommend that you read the 'Explained' and 'Opinion' sections on the Indian Express app to build your vocabulary and knowledge base. Even if you read 2-3 articles daily only from the IE app, come 22nd/29th November, you'll be very well prepared to tackle any RC passage that may come your way.
VA-RC For CAT 2020 - Test Strategies & Tactics
Building a strategy for the VA-RC section can be tricky. Test-takers always struggle with set selection, question selection, and more often than not, the entire Verbal Ability section (especially questions around conclusions, inferences, and parajumbles). All these obstacles in achieving a 99th percentile score can be ironed out with the following test taking tactics that I recommend:
1. CAT is an exam where even a single wrong answer can be the difference between being shortlisted by an IIM and having to re-take the exam the next year. To save yourself this frustration, prioritize accuracy over attempts at all points in time. There is a simple logic to this - once you get an answer wrong, not only are not receiving marks for that question, you're also being penalized.
There is a clear benefit to improving your accuracy and prioritizing it over attempts, as can be seen in the table below.
|Number of Questions||Total Marks With
|Total Marks With 80% Accuracy||Total Marks With
As is evident from the table above, a drop in accuracy by 20 percentage points and an increase in number of attempts by 10 results in a net increase of just 2 marks. While at the outset this may seem like a fair trade off, what one must also consider is that given the same level of difficulty, there is a difference of an entire minute in the time spent per question, which is likely to reflect in the accuracy percentage as well. In other words, in order to see a puny increase of 2 marks, you need to attempt 10 more questions and also sacrifice 60 seconds spent per question. Does that seem like a fair trade off in an exam like CAT?
Did you know that, if there is significant volatility in your mock test percentiles, reducing the number of attempts and improving accuracy can actually help you gradually become more consistent? Read more about this in these fantastic mock test tips from Rajesh Balasubramanian of 2iim.
2. Don't get attached to questions. The typical thought process while solving a set you're stuck on is "What if I've not spent enough time solving this? I've already spent 2 minutes on this question. Maybe 2 more minutes would be enough to solve this entire set."
Here's what - just because you've spent two minutes on a parajumble or reading an RC passage doesn't mean you now have to follow through and solve the entire set. It is important to maintain discipline and tear yourself away from a question after a particular threshold. For me, this threshold is 1.5 minutes, beyond which I move on to the next question. To find out your threshold, check your average time spent per RC question for a mock test that you performed well in.
3. Attempt the Verbal Ability section first. There are two simple reasons for this:
- The VA section has multiple TITA type questions which have no negative marking. These questions are also relatively less time consuming, and all 10 questions can be easily be solved within 20 minutes. Therefore, by attempting VA questions first, you're optimizing your chances of getting a higher score while minimizing the risks of negative marking.
- It can become very difficult to maintain discipline while solving RC sets. There is no telling how much time you may spend stuck on one RC set, and before you know it, you have only 10 minutes left to solve 10 tough Verbal Ability questions. Assign 40 minutes to solve the RC sets, and 20 minutes to solve VA sets and maintain discipline in sticking to the assigned time.
4. Spend the first 2-3 minutes marking the first question of each RC set. This will help you save time in selecting the RC sets that you want to solve after you're done solving the VA questions. You'll be able to quickly move through sets and select the most solvable RC sets.
5. While reading RC passages, a helpful practice is to genuinely take interest in what is being conveyed in the passage. This has two advantages:
- Once you've understood the passage, for most RC passages, you will not have to re-visit the passage once again to find out answers to specific questions. In fact, your ease of understanding a passage is also an indicator of how solvable that particular set is. If the passage comes across as abstruse, clearly, it is lower on priority.
- Understanding of a passage will help you answer the "What is the central theme of the passage?", "What is the author trying to convey through the passage?" etc. type of questions. These type of questions are a part of at least 1-2 sets in the entire section.
VA-RC For CAT 2020 - Important Reading Material
Here's important reading material that you may want to refer to build upon/further improve your VA-RC preparation efforts:
- 70%ile To 99+%ile In The VA Section In 60 Days - An Engineer's Journey, for some fantastic insights from an IIM Lucknow alumnus on increasing your reading speed, formulating effective test strategies, and improving passage comprehension.
- A Comprehensive VA-RC Preparation Strategy For CAT - Tips From A VA-RC 99.95 Percentiler, FMS Student, for daily preparation schedules, test taking strategies, and other unmissable tips to get an astounding 99.5+ percentile score.
- Tips To Solve Parajumbles Type Questions In VA-RC of CAT 2020, to help you form a template for solving complex parajumbles questions that are almost always seen in CAT.