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CAT 2006: Reading Comprehension made easy
ARKS Srinivas
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June 07, 2006

You have five months and two weeks to prepare for the Common Admission Test, which will be conducted on November 19, 2006.

We have already suggested a study strategy keeping this timeframe in mind. Now, let's tackle each section of the paper.

The Verbal section in the Common Admission Test comprises Reading Comprehension and Verbal Ability. This article explains what Reading Comprehension is and how you can prepare for it. 

CAT itself has undergone a huge change over the last few years. There was a time when there were 100 questions, 50 each of VA and RC. The emphasis was on speed; within an hour or less, one had to attempt these 100 questions.

From CAT 1999, the number of questions in these two areas reduced considerably.

CAT 2005 had just 30 questions in the Verbal section, of which only 12 were for Reading Comprehension.

These changes mean you need to rethink your strategy for RC -- in terms of preparation, as well as answering the paper.

Reading Comprehension

You need to concentrate on 'Reading' and 'Comprehension' to ensure a good score.

This means you must read as well as understand a range of topics like economics, philosophy, psychology, medicine, arts, anthropology, genetics, politics, etc.

How important is reading speed?

Some experts say you need to have a minimum reading speed of around 350 words per minute to be able to make some headway in the exam.

There are two problems with this theory.

Is it required?

The faster you read, the better it is for you. However, your reading speed need not be constant. It keeps changing with the topic. If you are an economics graduate, your speed in reading about medicine could be slower than your speed in reading about economics.

In CAT 2005, there were just 12 questions in three passages with a total of around 2,500 words. You would have approximately around 20 to 24 minutes for this area (depending on the time you allocate to the Verbal part of the exam). Clearly, a reading speed

Is it possible?

Let's say your reading speed is 150 wpm. If you read for about half an hour today, with a conscious attempt to improve your speed and comprehension, can you make it 155 wpm in a week? The answer seems an obvious YES.

If you continue doing so every week, can you improve your speed by 5 wpm per week? Again, the answer is YES.

You have close to 23 weeks. If you diligently make an effort to read for at least half an hour every day from various sources, you should be able to improve your reading speed by a cool 125 wpm in the time that remains.

This means, even if you read at 100 wpm at present, you can reach close to 225 or 250 wpm before the exam.

Comprehension -- what is this?

Increasing your reading speed is easy, provided you read for half an hour every day. What about improving your comprehension?

Comprehension ensures you understand the gist of the topic/ passage in the first reading itself.

To improve your comprehension, you must read a variety of topics and keep increasing your repertoire of knowledge.

We suggest a four-step method that should be of use to students preparing for CAT and other entrance exams.

How to improve comprehension

This four-step process should help you grasp the gist of any article or passage as the weeks go by.

Step 1: Read the editorial of any newspaper once (preferably a well known English paper such as The Hindu, The Times Of India or Hindustan Times) every day.

Step 2: Write down a two to three line summary of what you have understood from the first reading.

Step 3: Reread the editorial again. This time, check the key points you may have missed and make a note of them.

Step 4: Underline all words in the article/ editorial that are not familiar and jot down the meanings of these words with the help of a dictionary.

The above simple four-step method looks easy to implement, but requires continuous effort for two to three months before you see an improvement in your comprehension.

The key step in the above process is Step 2: writing down the summary. A mental note of what you have understood will not help.

Reading Comprehension in CAT 2005

If you look at the trend of the CAT paper over the past few years, the number of questions as well as the number of passages have reduced. This means you need to read fewer words.

However, the weightage given to the section remains the same. Even in CAT 2005, 20 of the 50 marks were for Reading Comprehension.

Your preparation strategy, as we said in the beginning, should keep this in mind. Reading fast is an asset; however, if you don't understand what you are reading, it can actually become a liability.

For example, CAT 2005 had three passages; each of them had four questions. Eight of these questions carried two marks each while the other four carried one mark each. Last year, the cut-off for the Verbal and RC section, which included another 30 marks of Verbal, was close to 13 marks.

If one had done two passages (eight questions), and done it correctly, then, even if one took 20 minutes for the same, he/ she would have got the cutoff in half the time allocated to the entire section.

This clearly indicates that, as you prepare for this section, your emphasis should be on comprehension rather than reading speed.

Next week: Verbal Ability

AKRS Srinivas is an alumnus of IIM-Calcutta. He has an engineering degree in electronics and communication from Osmania University. He worked with Maruti Udyog Limited in Gurgoan, Delhi and Kolkata before joining T.I.M.E. , Hyderabad, as director of the CAT course. He has been training students for CAT for the last 8 years. You could send e-mails to



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