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How to improve your Reading Comprehension skills

Last updated on: August 5, 2011 16:32 IST

How to improve your Reading Comprehension skills

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Tanveer Ahmed, an alumnus of St Xavier's College, Kolkata tells you how to improve your reading comprehension skills.

If Verbal Ability is the first half of the English section of management entrance tests, then Reading and Comprehension (RC) makes up the second half.

As the name suggests, RC comprises two parts Reading + Comprehension. A CAT aspirant should be able to read at a fairly good speed and also grasp the material presented in very little time.

In a knowledge-based economy, reading and comprehension skills would be essential. You would need RC skills to analyze data, information and take good decisions. Information + RC = Knowledge!

How do you become confident at RC? I am going to suggest these steps:

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How to improve reading skills

To improve your reading skills, you can try the following:

1.Measure your Reading Speed

You should start by calculating your reading speed and then working on improving it.

Plenty of websites and software help you measure your reading speed.

Begin by measuring your reading speed on screen using a website such as www.readingsoft.com.

It will give you a quick estimate of your reading speed by asking you to read a small passage under a timer.

As you work on improving your reading speed, monitor it using such a tool from time to time.

2. Improving your Reading Speed

An average reading speed is in the range of 200 to 300 wpm (words per minute). Reading speeds vary depending on what you are reading and in what environment.

You can improve your reading speed by:

a) Scanning

Learn to 'scan' the material you read Headings, titles, chapters and any other relevant divisions that might serve to break the reading down into blocks.

b) Adjustment

You should learn to adjust your reading speed as you read the passage. Slow down when you want to be sure about having comprehended a difficult section.

Pump up your speed if you feel the need to skim through familiar sections.

c) Ignore what is not important

You should focus on the key words in the sentences.

A lot of time during reading is wasted on conjunctions, prepositions or articles. Eliminate these from the horizons of your focus.

d) Read in blocks

While reading, try to read blocks of words together. You can boost your reading speed by absorbing several words in a line at one time, instead of reading each word or focusing on each letter of the word.

Instead of reading each word as constituted of individual letters, store a pictorial image of the words in your mind so that whenever you encounter that word, its mere shape and visual structure leads you to identify it instantly, within fractions of a second. Without having actually 'read' that word!

Having said all the above, the CAT in its online avatar has not been featuring very large RC passages so the role played by reading speed has reduced to some extent. But in exchange, the role of comprehension has correspondingly increased!

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Image: Reading speeds vary depending on what you are reading and in what environment

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How to improve comprehension skills

Here is a suggested workflow to tackle and improve your comprehension.

Step 1

Topic

When you start attempting an RC passage, you need to quickly skim through it to understand what the author is talking about.

What are the key words in the passage? Is the piece about theology, geology, economics or something else? Are you comfortable with it?

You have to make a decision here, whether you want to proceed with solving it or not? If you decide to continue, then jump directly to Step 2 else skip to the next RC passage.

In the actual test, you have the right to choose your RC passages.You don't have to even solve them in the same sequence they are in the paper!

Step 2

Essence of the first paragraph

Take a very hard look at the first paragraph of the passage.

Your task? To mentally paraphrase/summarise it in your own words!

If you find yourself able to do it, go ahead with that RC passage. Else, I'd advise skipping it.

Step 3

Analyse questions, data points

Once you decide to solve an RC paragraph, take a look at the accompanying Questions (without looking at the answer options. That will confuse you!).

Identify the data points asked for in the Questions. This will put you on the lookout for those data points when you read the passage.

Step 4

Read the passage

Very simple. Read the piece.

Never graduate to the next paragraph until and unless you can summarise the current paragraph in your head.

I have known candidates to read entire passages and not have a clue about what the author was talking about!

Step 5

Answer the questions

Now you come to the crux of the matter.

Either while reading the passage itself or after completing the reading, you should be able to answer the questions!

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Image: Try to understand what the author is talking about.

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What to be careful about

1. Do not get into ego hassles over questions

This often happens when a person has read the full RC passage and managed to answer 3 or 4 questions out of the total 5 very quickly.

I would suggest that it is time to move on.

Don't be under the impression that just because you have read the whole passage you HAVE to answer every single question!

Some questions are there to just waste your time!

2. Practicing GMAT RCs could help because the GMAT is also a computer-based test and the length of the passages seem to be roughly the same as that in the computer-based CAT. Besides, there are so many online resources for the GMAT!

3. Answering by elimination

Sometimes, you can solve the RC questions by eliminating all the answer options until one answer option remains which seems to fit in and is your answer.

4. Tackling dilemmas

Often, you would think that you have NARROWED the options down to two by elimination but can't seem to be sure thereafter. There is no such thing!

It only means that you have not comprehended the passage well enough. At this juncture, you can either opt to take a calculated guess (especially if you have been a consistent 90+ percentiler) or just leave the question alone (advised if you have been consistently scoring below 70 percentile in English).


The author currently works with a people search firm as a recruiter. He is a visiting faculty with T.I.M.E. and also coaches and mentors CAT hopefuls online on the intricacies of the English language.

Image: You can try answering by using the elimination method

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