Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension
Improve your level of English
Although there is no clear cut concepts to be learnt like Quant in Verbal Ability, your level of English should improve for you to tackle the challenging questions that CAT will throw on you.
The Mantra to improve your level = Reading ( 80%) + Vocabulary, common phrases and idioms and usages ( 20%)
That is the major way in which we get exposed to standard English, correct constructions and complex sentences. But day-to-day we speak English, isn’t it?
We speak like this
Dude, when are you gonna come man. It is getting late yaar. We are waiting here from like…. 2 hours.
In CAT, we are expected to read and understand statements like this
The period of the royal annulment was accompanied by a number of acts which asserted royal sovereignty over areas that had been traditionally the province of the church. Instead of the original plan simply forbidding appeals to Rome against a local decision on the divorce, Thomas Cromwell went significantly further in the Act in Restraint of Appeals of February 1533. His legislation included the momentous preamble claiming the unfettered or ‘imperial’ authority of the English Crown over matters both temporal and spiritual.
A Very Short Introduction
What to read?
Anything that you are not very comfortable in reading. If you are comfortable reading sports column in a newspaper but not international news, start reading international news. When you get comfortable with International news, expand your horizon.
Stage-wise suggested readings
- Newspaper articles ( The Hindu is good)
- Easy Fiction like Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K Jerome or The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- Articles from a few Indian Magazines like India Today, Outlook etc.
- Newspaper Opinion columns/Editorials
- Non Fiction like The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking or Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
- Magazines like The Economist, Fortune etc.
- Non-fiction like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb etc.
- Oxford Short Introductions
How long should I read in a day?
30-45 minutes, minimum.
If you think your English is bad, make it 45 min – 1 hour every day.
Till when should I read?
Till you go for your exam!
Against popular rhetoric that CAT doesn’t test your Vocabulary, CAT does test your Vocabulary. It doesn’t test your vocabulary directly or to that depth like the GRE, but a bad vocabulary can cost you marks in CAT. There are other exams like NMAT that might give you a lot of marks if you have a good vocabulary.
Look at the following sentence
- The latest round of peace talks offers both sides the carrot as well as the stick.
- Our propensity to look out for regularities, and to impose laws upon nature, leads to the psychological phenomenon of dogmatic thinking or, more generally, dogmatic behavior. (First line of a CAT 2006 RC passage)
One might be able to guess these words and go forward but a correct understanding of these words/phrases enables you to answer questions with confidence and better accuracy.
How many words vocabulary?
A 1000-1500 words ( competitive exam words) vocabulary will stand you in good stead.
How to improve Vocabulary?
There are various ways to start a regimen of building a stronger vocabulary. The following are a few ways
- Word Power Made Easy
- Words from Newpaper Editorials
- Word Lists ( Try 10@ 10 on GP SMART LEARN)
IMPORTANT : Irrespective of your source of words/word lists, you have to REVISE lest you the words will disappear from your memory in no time.
Don’t bother learning idioms and phrases as idioms and phrases, it is most likely you wouldn’t go far that way. Learn the idioms and phrases that come in your readings. That will do.
Level - 1
This stage is about SKILLs in question types
Each type of question tests a particular skill in you. For example, A Reading Comprehension question tests your ability to comprehend complex text and answer questions that follow the text. It tests you with close options that are landmines for a novice. You should learn the skill to avoid such landmines. At this stage you are supposed to develop your skill across the major question types by practising them. Learning and employing the right techniques to the question types hold the key. But it is easier said than done.
The different types of questions from Verbal Ability that have been tested in CAT in the past few years are
- Reading Comprehension ( The big daddy of VA-RC section. 24 out of 34 questions in CAT 2015 VA-RC section were RCs)
- Paragraph Jumbles
- Paragraph Summary
- Paragraph completion
- Sentence Correction
- Sentence Completion
- Word usage
So what’s the bad news?
- Which book has got all these techniques?
- Can I not just learn these techniques from someone and apply them and score a 99+ percentile in VA-RC section?
- Quantum CAT for Quant, like-wise what is the book for VA-RC?
All the above questions have a negative answer. Welcome to the section that stopped thousands from entering the venerable portals of the IIMs inspite having a 99+ in other sections.
One of the worst aspects about many CAT Trainers’ advice is they either over-simplify CAT and don’t give aspirants the real picture of CAT or just over-amplify the difficulty level and scare the hell out the aspirants.
There is one trainer I know of who had his top-of-the-line marketing sentence as ” CAT is way below your level”. Helps to the extent of keeping students motivated for a while but on the d-day they might succumb to the villainy of CAT.
I am going to sound like a trainer who scares now. So, more bad news on Verbal Ability.
- You will hardly see people discussing Verbal questions in any facebook forum or any forum for that matter. It will be 90% quant in most forums.
- If you begin to start hunting for good trainers for verbal ability, they are close to being declared as extinct species. Very few of them exist who can make a difference in your scorecard.
Ok, is there any good news?
There is. If you prepare systematically, this section could be your ticket to your dream B School.
Practice consistently and fine-tune your techniques from each question. Verbal ability improvements are not seen as tangibly or as soon as Quant. But hold on and refine your techniques, you will improve. Never stop reading.
A few pointers for VA prep at level – 1
- Prepare smartly for Verbal. Concentrate on RCs, they hold the key.
- Concentrate on Paragraph Jumbles, they will come handy.
- Paragraph Completion is a tricky customer, you shuold get a hang of this type. Don’t fret over it too much.
- You can almost avoid grammar, in the last couple of years hardly two or three questions come from grammar. And it is quite difficult to master sentence correction for CAT.
- Practise Critical Reasoning. Although CAT might not ask Critical Reasoning questions directly, there are other Management Entrance exams that ask CR questions. CR skills also improve your RC scores.
From where to practice?
Some decent books to practice from are
- Arun Sharma’s How to prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading comprehension for CAT ( Good source to practice Reading comprehension and Paragraph Jumbles. But I would suggest doing an RC over doing them on a book. Countdown Timer is a Devil! One has to get used to it online.)
- Verbal Ability for the CAT by
- You can also practice RCs online at rcprep.com and George Prep’s ARCADs. ( ARCADs are daily RC tests on GP Smart Learn which will be active from February)
Level - 2
This stage is about SPEED and ACCURACY
By now you should have increases your level and got your techniques in place. Now what matters is who solves more and correctly. Many students complain at this stage that when they increase their speed accuracy is taking a big hit. True they both are inversely related. But you should be able to get an optimum speed and accuracy. For example, In a section with 34 questions timed for 60 minutes, you should be able to attempt around 28 questions with 85-90% accuracy on a moderately difficult paper.
Many aspirants go bonkers at this stage as to why they are not able to achieve this. If you hadn’t done your basics and Level-1 religiously, you are highly likely to struggle here.
Let me explain it clearly, how do you expect to read, understand and answer critical questions when your vocabulary is weak and you haven’t read anything complex.
Have a look at the two questions below which appeared after a reasonably easy passage in CAT 2008.
In the passage, the phrase “little parvenus” refers to
(1) naughty midgets.
(2) old hags.
(3) arrogant people.
(4) young upstarts.
(5) foolish kids.
The author pined for two two-cent cones instead of one four-cent pie because
(1) it made dietetic sense.
(2) it suggested intemperance.
(3) it was more fun.
(4) it had a visual appeal.
(5) he was a glutton.
The words in red are not very tough, but some might not be able to even guess it. Some might guess it and get it wrong. Now, speak of accuracy!
Get back to square one and correct it if you are struggling at stage-2.
Suggested practice material for Stage-2
Before we get to specific resources for this stage, when you are at this stage, please AVOID solving questions on books. Please prefer online material as reading online and reading on a paper can make a lot of difference. When you read on paper, you can remember that you read something about 1947 in the bottom of the left coloumn in the passage. You won’t have the advantage of visual memory when you read online as you scroll and see everything in a small rectangular space.
- Mock Tests of Various Institutes
- Free resources by some institutes ( George Prep offers free RC practise everyday and free timed tests on various topics.)
- Watch out for questions on GP Forums (forums.georgeprep.com)
Check George Prep’s VA-RC Percentile Booster. Many aspirants have come back to us and said that their scores improved by upto 20 marks in VA section after taking this course. Check the testimonials as well. Good Luck for your Verbal Prep!