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The Secret behind IIM students' Comprehension Abilities

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

In the first year at IIM Ahmedabad, students have to study about 40 courses in total. Each course has a book or a case material or both. In order to read so much content, the students definitely deploy some reading techniques that they have learned from their days of RC preparation for CAT.


Here are 7 strategies that I found to be common:

  • They skim through: Skimming doesn't mean reading fast. You might be someone who can read a higher number of words per minute, but it doesn't translate to understanding better unless you skim right. Skimming means to read by only focusing on what's important. When you read a line/para, there are some words that are unnecessary. For example, read this paragraph: "Nirmala Sitharaman’s second Budget is not a spend-and-stimulate exercise despite the fact that it has overrun the 3.3% target on fiscal deficit by as much as 0.5 percentage point. Nor is it a feel-good budget even accounting for the new tax regime for personal income tax with lower rates." I picked this short paragraph from today's The Hindu editorial. Now, you read the paragraph again by just reading the underlined words. You'll notice that you can get the same sense by reading just 21/49 words of this paragraph. That's a 57% saving of the words you need to read to understand something.

  • They don't memorize facts/figures: If you notice the paragraph above, none of the figures has been underlined. The reason they're not important is that as a manager, student or a CAT aspirant sitting in the examination hall, you can always look back at the numbers if you're asked to. The only thing you're required to know is where the numbers can be found.

  • They are careful about transition words: There were some words in the paragraph like 'despite', even', 'nor', etc. that are transition words, which make it easier to understand how an idea is connected with the previous one. For example in the statement - "Nor is it a feel-good budget even accounting for...", you can clearly predict because of the use of 'even' that whatever will follow will be an initiative that was expected to make people feel good. They are also careful about words like 'not' or 'doesn't' because they are often overlooked and the meaning changes completely.

  • They know the comma effect: Knowing this technique can save you a lot of time. Sometimes, commas are used for parenthetical expressions (a group of words that are unnecessary). Read this line: My grandmother, who is old and sick, cannot go out of the house. In this sentence, the underlined words are an example of words that, even if ignored, will cause no harm to the reader. Because the main idea is that the grandmother cannot go out of the house. Parenthetical elements are just an add-on to explain more about something without adding much value. You can actually replace the commas with brackets and read the sentence without them.

  • They don't care about vocabulary: Do you think all the IIM students love novels? I bet not even 10% of them are regular readers, forget novels. This is because your comprehension ability does not depend on how many unique or tough words you know. It depends on how well can you understand the meaning of a word by looking at the sentence as a whole. Refer to the words around that one word and you'd figure out what it means.

  • They understand the idea of each paragraph: I've also discussed this technique in the VARC Tips shared earlier. In a long passage of 6-7 paragraphs, each para circles around one theme. After reading a paragraph of say 4-5 lines, you can actually write just one line, which conveys the essence of the para. Most of the IIM students used this technique while practising for RCs, slowly it becomes an automatic function. Even today, when we read long cases or research papers, we use 2-3 words as a proxy for what the paragraph is trying to say. This helps in understanding the meaning of the entire passage quickly.

  • They read first, then answer: Nobody reads the passage in parts to answer questions in between. First, they complete the reading of the passage. Using the techniques shared above, they get comfortable with the idea of the passage as well as where each point/figure is. Then, they jump onto the questions or the case problems to answer them. Sometimes, the questions require elements of different paragraphs to be considered. That's why this technique helps.

Hope this helps you get an idea of how to prepare for reading comprehension part of CAT preparation. If you also wish to go through the tips for the other sections, must read these:

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