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CAT 2007: Unlock Reading Comprehension
Deepak Kumar
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July 17, 2007

In 2006, MBA aspirants were shocked to find that reading comprehension dominated the verbal component of the Common Admission Test (CAT).

In 2007 and in the years to come, this section will play an even larger role.

The message for students is clear -- reading comprehension, or RC, is the most important factor in the CAT's verbal section.

For many, this change is seen as a problem. They believe that reading comprehension is tedious and difficult to study.

There is no doubt that RC is time-consuming. However, if a student is well aware of proper strategy and technique, it will become a strong point. Research shows that students with good reading habits can use RC to boost their exam scores.

For those of you who don't have the best reading habits, let us focus on how to prepare and overcome the fear factor.

The most important point is to read consistently and for long periods of time. Unfortunately, most students nowadays do not even take this step, which makes acing RC almost impossible.

Those who do read are often limited to magazines and newspapers. Even then, they only read about Bollywood or the latest fashion tips. Given the elementary vocabulary used in these articles, it can hardly be qualified as reading. In fact, it's just a time pass.

If you intend to take the CAT, it is necessary to read extensively and from varied genres. You should read novels, non-fiction, short stories, magazines, journals and newspapers. There ought to be a purpose -- to develop your reading comprehension and to bolster your vocabulary.

After finishing a piece, try to review what you read. Make sure that you have perfect comprehension, and if you are uncertain, check with friends, parents and teachers.

Also, skipping words that you do not understand can be disastrous. Instead, underline such words and refer to their dictionary meanings intermittently. This practice will surely give you amazing results. If you understand each word, your overall comprehension is enhanced and you will realise the true meaning of the piece.

If you are not usually a reader, start slowly. Begin with newspapers, then magazines and gradually move towards novels and non-fiction. One piece of advice is, 'Read something you are not interested in'.

For example, if you hate reading philosophy, read a philosophical piece -- it will give you a clear picture of your speed, accuracy, patience and focus. The passages in CAT will likely not match your tastes. They will be from the life sciences, humanities, physical sciences, social sciences, philosophy and so on.

For a student who really wants to master RC, it is necessary to have a great vocabulary. Read authors such as Ayn Rand, Stephen Hawkins, RM Lala, Alvin Toffler, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Richard Bach and J Krishnamurthy. Also, read the Bhagvadgita and 'The Autobiography of a Yogi'. These books feature extensive vocabularies and complex sentences. Also, there's a chance that a passage from one of these books may end up on the exam!

Now, you must develop speed and accuracy as a reader. The first technique to learn is skimming. It requires a lot of practice, but mastering it will dramatically increase your speed.

Skimming consists of quickly going through a passage and picking out the main ideas. You find key phrases and underline nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. In other words, aim at the ideas that are important and leave out phrases and sentences that are not.

I suggest that while skimming, simultaneously go through the questions. At times, you will come across a question that is linked to something you just read in the previous paragraph.

The underlining process relieves you from storing or memorising everything you read. After reading the questions you can go back to the passage, refer to the underlined areas and mark the correct answer.

You can also take the help of transitional key words, such as Moreover, Besides, Furthermore, that support the passage or the author's view.

Words such as However, Although, But, on the other hand, are against the flow.

Finally, words like Hence, Thus, and Therefore are conclusions, and can be easily spotted in the final paragraphs or at the end of the passage. To prevent confusion, it is better to encircle these words so as to locate them easily when referring to the passage.

The test-makers also use language traps that can hurt your score. For example, a period of two years mentioned in the passage is referred to as 24 months in the question; or, the passage mentions a distance in miles while the question uses kilometres. So stay alert and keep a hawk's eye for these traps.

Apart from this, the best way for average students to complete the RC section is by using one of two strategies -- Some Questions from All Passages (SQAP) and All Questions from Some Passages (AQSP).

With SQAP, you should not attempt questions with options such as None of these, All of these, Except, Least Agree, Least Disagree, True and Not True. These are the most difficult RC questions and should be avoided. Instead, answer the direct questions that, most of the time, are given in inverted commas. After answering all the direct questions in a passage, move on to the next one.

In case you find passages that give only direct and specific information questions, you can immediately change your strategy and go for 'All Questions from Some Passages' (AQSP). With this strategy, you answer all the questions from the passages with direct questions, while avoiding the passages that have the most indirect questions.

While taking the CAT, do not try to attempt every RC question, particularly if you are not sure of the answer, since this will attract negative marking and hurt your score.

Following these tips will help you earn the top possible marks and avoid a lot of unneeded stress.

Part II: CAT 2007 exam day tips

The author is a Senior Verbal Trainer at Top Careers and You (TCY). He can be reached at:

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