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Order of Attempting RCs in Common Admission Test (CAT)

In one of the recent blog posts, a CAT 2020 aspirant asked, "What should be the order of attempting reading comprehensions in the VARC section of CAT?" In this post, I will try to share my CAT 2017 attempt experience and draw some insights to answer that question in detail.

Reading Comprehension Order Attempts

Should you attempt all RCs?

Before even getting to the most suitable order of attempt, let me first address how many attempts of Reading Comprehensions is considered to be a good enough number.

Ideally, having an average attempt rate of 28 questions in the VARC section will easily fetch you a 99 percentile (in this section). Having said that, where do these 28 questions come from is totally your choice.

Since RCs account for 24/34 questions and some of the VA questions are TITA, aspirants often prefer to attempt all the RCs instead of focusing on VA. I followed the same route.

During my attempt (2017), VARC section used to have RCs with 6 questions or 3 questions, which left two choices with the takers - whether to attempt all RCs or 4/5 because one could easily skip an RC with 3 questions (which were often trickier) and instead attempt some VA questions.

But, in CAT 2019, there were 5 passages in total - 4 RCs with 5 questions each and 1 RC with 4 questions, keeping the total equal to 24, however leaving less scope for strategizing the attempt.

Now, if you were to leave an RC with 4 questions, that would make things slightly difficult, given that VA section often contains Parajumbles (which come in the TITA format making things worse). They are often difficult to get right, whereas, attempting one more RC requires the same strategy as the other RCs already attempted.

So, personally, I'm in favour of attempting all the RCs.

Order of Attempt

Now, assuming that the pattern remains the same as last year, you'll have 5 RCs to attempt with almost similar number of questions. So, what order should you follow to attempt them in the exam?

Some aspirants try the strategy to read the first few lines or get a glimpse of each RC to get a sense of its topic and then decide its order. To be honest, this strategy never worked for me.

The reason was - I wasn't able to decipher the topic or the essence of the passage in just one glance and it often resulted in wastage of time during the mock.

Instead, I restricted my choice to:

  • length of the passage

I used tick marks to represent length of the passage - single tick meant shorter passage, double tick meant longer passage.

Whenever I set to begin the VARC section, I made sure to keep a rough sheet handy. When the test began, the first thing I did was to note down the question numbers which denote RC questions. For example, if Q1 to Q5 is of the first RC, write on the sheet: 1-5 RC.

I adopted this technique because RCs started appearing in a random fashion, mixed with VA questions in between. Since I always attempted RCs first, it saved me time to jump directly to the RC questions.

During that time (while I would be noting the question numbers), I would also mark a single or double tick in front of the question numbers depending on whether the RC is long or short. That helped me pick the RCs in the desired order.

Please note that during my time, we used to have 3 RCs with 6 questions and 2 RCs with 3 questions. That made it crucial to also decide on the order of attempt within these two RC types. I stuck to 6-6-3-6-3.

But, if we follow the pattern of the last CAT exam, then you'll have 5-5-5-5-4 which means more or less the same number of questions in each RC. So, in that case, length of the passage will be the only determining factor.

Resort to attempting longer RCs first. I always tried to do that. The reason was simple - I had to anyway attempt all the RCs, so I decided to utilize the first half of the VARC section (when attention is at its peak) to solve the longer RCs first.

You can also begin with a longer RC, followed by a shorter one to keep your motivation level high. There's no one size fits all, so you can try these different strategies during the mocks to see which one fits you the best. But, one thing that'll remain common is that length of the passage will become the determining factor.


Hope this clears the doubt that was raised by a CAT aspirant recently. If you're preparing for CAT 2020 and have any doubt related to your preparation, you can share it either on the social media handles of Non-Engineers or comment below.

In the next couple of days, I'll try to address as many doubts as possible via creating shorter posts.

Meanwhile, you can read these:

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