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CAT 2008: One-month strategy
With only about a month to go before the CAT, you should now be engaged in full-fledged preparation. To do well in the verbal ability section, there are two things you need to concentrate on; first is to brush up your fundamentals, the other is to familiarise yourself with the various question types, eg learn all the fundamentals of grammar, and then study the various types of questions that have been asked in this area.
Vocabulary: Last year's CAT illustrates the fact that the only thing predictable about this test is its unpredictability. You need to work regularly to improve your vocabulary, more so your diction (the appropriate usage of words) by reading books and newspapers. Also work on word lists / flashcards. Keep two time slots for vocab, one for revising words and the other for learning new ones. A good way of remembering the words is to use them in sentences of your own.
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Usage: It is also important that you go through the 'usage' chapters, because many questions are based on the usage of words and structure of sentences, eg "He was stopped, ticketed and had to pay a fine", seems like a grammatically correct sentence but according to the rule of parallel structure, it should be changed to "He was stopped, ticketed and fined". Also, concentrate on the usage of words like 'that/which', 'who/whom', etc. "Better English" by Norman Lewis is a good reference book on usage. Pay special attention to prepositions used with verbs eg, the difference between "take off' and 'take on'?
Grammar: Remember all the rules of grammar that your high school teacher taught you? No? Then you need to work on the exercises of a good grammar book like 'Wren and Martin high school grammar and composition'. Always remember that more than theoretical knowledge; it is the application that is important. It will pay to work on exercises on error identification and sentence completion based on grammar.
Reasoning: This may include questions that involve:
~ Deductive logic: This involves deriving logical conclusions from a given set of statements, eg, if we know that "all men are wise" and that "X is a man", we can conclude, "X is wise".
~Logical reasoning: This involves analysing arguments. In the question you are given an argument and have to answer questions based on it, like 'which of the following options will weaken this argument'.
~ Verbal reasoning: This involves reasoning questions based on knowledge of English usage. For eg, paragraph formation, analogies, odd man out, etc. To prepare for this section, you need to have a thorough understanding of the logic behind each area and practice on all the question types.
Approach to Verbal Ability Area
The number of questions, in the CAT over all, and on verbal ability specifically has decreased over the past few years, but that does not mean that it is no longer important. Clearing verbal cut-offs is not as easy as some students think. Like all other sections, you need to have a structured approach towards this section.
Two areas which are 'regulars' (appearing more often than not) in the CAT are paragraph formation and sentence completion. For paragraph formation, learn techniques like identifying a pair of sentences which will definitely go together (mandatory pair), looking for pronouns and the respective nouns that they refer to (eg, if you have 'they' in a sentence, there definitely has to be a sentence with a noun which 'they' refers to and it has to come before that sentence).
You could also look for usage clues (eg, if you have 'on one hand' in a sentence, the following one will have 'on the other hand'). Good opening sentences (which introduce an idea) and concluding sentences (which summarise the rest of the para) are also clues that you could use, but you cannot depend on them entirely. Sometimes it also helps to work your way up from the options.
It is a good idea to do the vocabulary-based questions first before the others because they take less time, for you either know the word or you don't. If you do not know the meaning of a particular word, but can eliminate three choices with certainty, then you can always try guessing.
It is also very important that you read the instructions/ directions very carefully. There are many examples of students who have lost a year because they marked synonyms where they were supposed to mark antonyms. Even if the question type looks familiar, read the directions carefully.
In this section, passages are given and students have to answer questions based on what is stated in them. This is one area where most students have a problem. The section can be called tough because of two factors; one is the length of the passages which range from 500 to 1000-1500 words and the difficulty level of questions, many of which are indirect.
The different types of questions are, direct questions (which are based on stated information), inference / implication questions (which require you to 'read between the lines'), 'tone' questions (to answer these, sometimes a good vocabulary is needed. For eg, if you don't know the difference between 'critique' and 'critical analysis', how will you know which one is the tone?) The most common problem cited by test takers is that some of the topics of these passages are boring and difficult to understand, eg, philosophy, art reviews, literary passages, etc.
To prepare for RC, read as many diverse topics as possible, ranging from literary reviews to articles on science and technology. A few books on philosophy and psychology will also help you increase your concentration levels. As you read, it is important that you recognise your 'comfort zone' ie, the kind of passages you are comfortable reading. This will help you to choose the order in which you should answer passages in the test.
Reading speed only picks up with practice and if you achieve a speed of around 300 words per minute, you can do a reasonably good job on this section. Even a short lapse in practice will bring down your speed, so practice everyday without exception.
A student is expected to read anywhere between 5,000 to 7,000 words (including questions and answer choices). Many students attempt RC at the end because they feel that it takes too much time. However, you will do well to remember that it also requires a lot of concentration and it is better to answer this when your mind is fresh and uncluttered.
The number of passages and questions vary, but you must try and attempt minimum 60 per cent of the questions asked. Choose passages intelligently on the basis of your comfort zone, the length of the passage and also the number of questions per passage.
You may read the questions first, but DO NOT try and memorise them, instead remember key words and phrases and when you read the passage, highlight the words/phrases so that you can comeback to them later.
If you are reading the passages first, don't spend too much time reading. Instead of knowing what the facts are, remember where they are so that you can come back to the relevant portion as you answer the questions. In answering questions, be careful while answering indirect ones. Eliminate other choices carefully, looking out for words like 'least',' most', 'except', 'not' etc.
Now is the time for you to take mock tests. Constantly compare your scores with those of other test takers. Benchmark yourself against them by comparing not only the total test scores, but also the individual section and area scores which will tell you where you need to improve.
TIME imparts training and career guidance to student aspirants for competitive tests like CAT / MBA / MCA / BBA / GRE / TOEFL etc. TIME is run by a group of IIM alumni and has the largest network of 159 centres in 81 cities in
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