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Tips to prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC) for CAT 2020

Updated: May 4, 2020

I scored 71.88 marks (scaled) and got 98.29 percentile in the VARC section of CAT 2017. With continuous practice of some strategies, you'll surely be able to improve your score as well. This post will reveal my preparation and attempt strategies for the VARC section:

CAT VARC Section Attempt Preparation Strategies

Preparation Strategy:

I used Arun Sharma's book on "How to prepare for VARC for CAT" in the initial days of my preparation. Then, I also used the coaching material for this section. Honestly, what I felt in VARC was that reading from these offline materials didn't help much. That is because the exam is online and it is very different to read a passage that you can see in totality offline, but the same passage when it appears online has a lot of scrolling to do.

So, the best sources of preparation for me were the editorials of The Hindu and Mint. These two not only provided articles with good content but also increased my general awareness. Apart from these, I sometimes read the articles of Brain Pickings - these are from diverse areas like history, political science, philosophy, etc. just like CAT's paper, but a little hard to read, so I never read more than 1 article a day from this site.

Now that you have the sources in place, here's how to read these passages or articles:

  • Read the passage paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph has one core message.

  • After reading each paragraph, you should be able to summarize it in just one sentence.

  • After reading all the paragraphs, you will be able to get an idea of what the entire passage is about based on those 7-8 lines (summaries of each paragraph).

  • In the initial days of preparation, you can note down these 7-8 lines on a piece of paper. This will slowly build a habit of understanding the crux of each paragraph and the passage.

  • Never memorize the facts. You just need to know where what is, you can always come back to the passage to refer to the exact word/number if a question is based on it.

  • Remember that vocabulary is not that important for comprehensions. As long as you can make sense of any line, you're good. You will never be asked the meaning of a word.

  • And finally, novel reading didn't help me at all. I honestly read just one-two novels in the beginning. This is because the CAT passages are often non-fictional.

Once you understand how to read the passages, it is important to have a source of attempting some passages online to see how well you're doing in VARC. For that, I used the sectional tests of my coaching. If you don't have these tests available, you can attempt RCs for free online. During my time, there used to be a website called rcprep. I don't think it exists anymore. But, I have collated a list of 500+ RCs online that are free for you to attempt: Online Resources for Reading Comprehension Practice.

When you will practice, you will encounter the most common problem candidates face with RCs - not being able to understand which option is correct and why. This can be achieved by:

  1. Reading the question carefully, especially words like 'not' which are often missed out.

  2. Eliminating options, some options use words like 'always', 'never', 'for sure'. These extreme options are often incorrect. The passage may talk about something happening, but it cannot be made certain that it will always happen, unless the passage states so.

  3. Often when candidates are eliminating options, they are left with two options and both seem correct. That is a clear sign that there is some assumption that they're making about the wrong option because of which they are unable to spot the correct one.

  4. During your several attempts, you should try to find out what assumption are you making. Whether or not you get the question right, you must read the solution to understand what that assumption was.

  5. Analysis of each passage (i.e. referring to the solution after attempting it) is more important than attempting it.

  6. Initially, never tick mark an option unless you are clear on - why you eliminated the wrong options and why you're selecting the correct one.

  7. Slowly, you'll develop the ability to quickly eliminate two options straight away and find that assumption to narrow it down to the correct one.

Attempt Strategy:

  • I always attempted the RCs first. This is because 24 questions out of 34 were RC based. VA was left for the last and even in that, para jumbles used to be my last priority.

  • The first thing you should decide is whether you're more comfortable with longer passages or tougher passages. I've observed this trend that shorter passages (of 3 questions) are often much tougher than the longer ones (of 6 questions).

  • I used to follow a mixed pattern of attempts: In the first half (30 minutes), I used to attempt 2 passages of 6 questions and then one passage of 3 questions. Even though I has set 30 mins for this, it often took up to 35 minutes.

  • Then, I attempted the other two passages (one 6 questioned and one 3 questioned passage) in the next 15-20 mins.

  • In the remaining time i.e. 5-10 mins, I attempted the grammar questions. I left only this much time for grammar because 4 questions used to be para jumbles.

  • I didn't attempt para jumbles because each question had 120 solutions possible and it used to be a TITA question (one had to type in the answer).

  • My average attempt in the mocks used to be around 27-30 questions. I always scored around 45-60 marks, which were equivalent of 98-99 percentile.

If you're stuck at a stage where you don't know how to increase your VARC attempts and accuracy rate beyond a certain point, I'd suggest you to read this post.


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