These two words bring either a dreaded feeling in the guts or confidence crawling across one’s spine followed by a sense of calmness.
You may be fond of reading. You might love reading books of all genres or some specific ones. I too just love to read, be it novels, articles, magazines, newspapers or even the public signboards per say (you get the gist right, literally anything!) So, now you might think- “okay, this guy reads a lot, we get it, what is he trying to say? Is he a PUNDIT in Reading Comprehension?
No, my fellow aspirants, I am writing on Reading Comprehension here but, not as an expert. Being an aspirant myself, my aim is to have a discussion with you all on this subject which is a major part of all the b-school entrance examinations. As I wrote earlier, a majority of us love to read kinds of stuff, as long as they are interesting and grab our attention. But, I couldn’t find anyone who could say they enjoyed the RC section in an exam as much as they would have enjoyed reading a piece without hurdles like- time restriction or having a pre-existing god-level vocabulary (P.S. people who knew the meaning of the word “jingoism” well before XAT 2017, I consider their vocabulary as god-level, period! Please don’t judge me )
I believe 99% of us would solve the RC questions correctly if given unlimited time and a dictionary by our side. But that’s not how it works, isn’t it? The intricacies of the RC questions seem daunting, especially in an exam environment. Sometimes the content itself seems demanding as the passages might focus on specific and unfamiliar topics such as philosophy, political science, physics, biology, literature, history and business. However, it is also true that one doesn’t need knowledge beyond high school to attempt these topics. You might be neither knowledgeable nor enthusiastic about these fields. But, since there is a tough competition, even business topics - which are probably inherently interesting to you since you are planning to go to business school, are made tough by complex writing.
Coming to the main purpose of writing here, let’s think about the ways to tackle these challenges of Reading Comprehension.
I believe there are two kinds of readers with different strategies to implement when it comes to dealing with RC. Let’s classify them, shall we? I like to call them "PREDATORS" & "MASTERMINDS" (Nope, not the Hollywood movie ones, come on guys we are dealing with more serious sh*t here).
Predators being the tough ones, respond to RC by avoiding the first read. They believe that most questions require some kind of detailed look-up anyway and so why not just skip the initial reading and go right to the questions? It might seem that this strategy saves some time for them but actually, they have to spend more time per question. In fact, without a good general understanding of the passage, the predators fall prey to the trap questions (ironic?) and mark wrong answers.
On the other hand, masterminds, (as the name suggests) like to do a thorough and a careful read at first. Leaving no stones unturned seem to be the war-cry here. They worry that they could be asked anything from the passage and hence, just skimming through it wouldn’t suffice. The salient feature here seems to be a problem, i.e. it takes far too much time. Going through the passage too slow or paying too much attention to details will make them lose the gist/point/structure of the passage.
I have found myself vacillating between a predator (in case of long passages) and a mastermind (in case of short ones) during the mocks. This isn’t full proof as I lost valuable points following either of them. One approach never works for all kinds of questions. So, I have tried taking the middle ground between the Predators and the Masterminds. Let’s call it the "BIG PICTURE READER", after all, the big picture is what we need to take away from the first read. Instead of skimming through the paragraph or paying utmost importance to each and every detail, we can start by a thorough read of the first and the last paragraphs, as mostly the author of the passage conveys the main point there. We can use the skimming process for middle paragraphs with the exception that the first two lines be read thoroughly since they convey what lies ahead. If we read with an intention of fathoming the overall essence of every paragraph, it won’t feel troublesome even if the topic is detestable.
The goal of the Big Picture Reading is to avoid finishing a passage and feeling that we just wasted our time—either because we got lost in the words, or because we skimmed over the passage too swiftly and failed to catch the main clause which was critical to our understanding.
Whether this approach is fruitful or not will be proven in the coming months but, I feel more confident when approaching RC questions in my mocks now and my accuracy has improved as well after applying the Big Picture Reading. You may have your own methods and tricks but I am sure you could relate to at least one of the three types of readers here. I don’t say you need to explicitly follow any one of them, rather find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Who knows maybe you could come up with a new approach altogether. Please share them with everyone in the comments below.
Before we get back to our preps, I feel that we can improve our RC skills if we could increase our reading speed. If you agree with me on this, check this for some tips and tricks in the InsideIIM community section.
Till then, let's stay focused and keep practising.