Verbal Strat
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How to improve your Verbal Ability for CAT?

As discussed in the previous post, the Verbal Ability sections on the CAT and other tests end up testing aspirants’ general command over the language as much as the test-specific practice they have put in. So how does one improve one’s command over the language? How does one improve one’s reading speed? How does one widen the range of one’s vocabulary?Well, the simple, boring & cliched answer — Reading, reading and more reading. There is no better way to build a solid vocabulary, a competitive reading speed and more importantly the General Awareness required cracking the WAT-GD-PI rounds of the IIMs.

You will be stretched way beyond your resume!

Here is a sampling of the kind of  PI questions posed in the last few years.

  • What is BREXIT?
  • Do you know about Pachauri?
  • What does TERI stand for?
  • What is the difference between MAKE IN INDIA and STARTUP INDIA?
  • What is the difference between FDI and FII?
  • What is your stance on what happened in JNU?

The selection process of the IIMs in the second stage will be first time in your life when you are not judged by your marks. It will be the first time you will be tested for what you have apart from your marks, beyond your job role, over above what was expected of you in life.

The WATs and the PIs are thus geared towards testing your knowledge and view of the world around you.

Imagine yourself about a year from now sitting in front of a 2-3 member panel and facing a barrage of questions after having to go through the process of writing a WAT.

By the way, even when the question seems something that you can handle — What is your view on the JNU issue — you cannot just give a generic answer such as if they have raised the slogans then it is not correct. They will follow it up with questions such as — so did they raise slogans? is there evidence?  and so on and so forth.

Your preparation has to be geared towards maximizing your chances of getting into an IIM and not just clearing the CAT. The IIMs call 4 people for every seat for the WAT-GD-PI. So doing well on the CAT does not by any means guarantee admission into the IIMs.

There have many cases (general and other categories) where call-getters assumed that their great percentiles will make their selection a mere formality only to for them to not end up converting a single call.

What should you be reading?

Apart from helping you to improve your VERBAL Ability, your reading should equip you with

  • information & opinion about national and international news-making events over the course of the year
  • examples across various sectors that you can use in your WATs & GDs
  • knowledge about your preferred area of specialization
  • insight into the Indian psyche, the Indian economy and the Indian ground realities

So your reading should ensure that you cover all of the above areas.

General Knowledge + Current Affairs

  • 2 Indian Newspapers – TOI for International and Business news + The Hindu for Editorials
  • 2 Indian News + Analysis Magazines – Scroll & The Caravan
  • 2 International News + Analysis Magazines – TIME & Newsweek

Specialization & General Business Interest

The major challenge in WATs & GDs is to come up with relevant examples to support an argument. This stems from a lack of width in reading (even among those who read regularly).

Over the last few years, there have been a lot of books on topics of general as well as business interest that are short and easy to read (though not necessarily comprehensive). The ideas put forth in these books have been discussed and debated since there are always more than two sides to a coin :-). And you should not be surprised if in some indirect way they make an appearance in your WAT, GD or PI.

MALCOLM GLADWELL – A writer for the New Yorker magazine, his books have become bestsellers because of their off-beat as well as their simplicity, which some find too simplistic and unscientific. You should read at least one of these three books of his just to pick up some examples since his primary way of proving a point is by anecdotes!

  • Outliers — In an example given in the book, Gladwell noticed that people ascribe Bill Gates’s success to being “really smart” or “really ambitious.” He noted that he knew a lot of people who are really smart and really ambitious, but not worth 60 billion dollars. “It struck me that our understanding of success was really crude — and there was an opportunity to dig down and come up with a better set of explanations.”
  • Blink — This book explains how the human unconscious interprets events or cues and how past experiences can lead people to make informed decisions very rapidly
  • Tipping Point —  While Gladwell was a reporter for The Washington Post, he covered the AIDS epidemic. He began to take note of “how strange epidemics were”, saying epidemiologists have a “strikingly different way of looking at the world.” The term “tipping point” comes from the moment in an epidemic when the virus reaches critical mass and begins to spread at a much higher rate.

Those looking at Marketing or HR should read one of the above books.

NICHOLAS NASSIM TALEB — One of the people who had predicted the 2008 financial crises, Taleb is an essayist, scholar, statistician, former trader, and risk analyst,[1] whose work focuses on problems of randomness, probability, uncertainty and the Black Swan Theory

  • What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.
  • First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

His two most famous books are Fooled By Randomness and The Black Swan; the former deals with Black Swan events in the financial markets whereas the latter looks at such events in history. You should read one of the two, preferably the latter, which was described in a review by the Sunday Times as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II.

It goes without saying that those looking at Finance should read Taleb.

ELIYAHU GOLDRATT — An an Israeli physicist who became a business management guru, he authored several business novels and non-fiction works, mainly on the application of the theory of constraints to various manufacturing, engineering, and other business processes; his most famous work is The Goal.

  • The Goal — Like other books by Goldratt, The Goal is written as a piece of fiction. The main character is Alex Rogo, who manages a production plant owned by UniCo Manufacturing, where everything is always behind schedule and things are looking dire. At the beginning of the book, Bill Peach, a company executive, tells Alex that he has three months to turn operations at his plant around from being unprofitable and unreliable to being successful.

This book is used as part of Operations courses in business schools around the world (it was part of the syllabus during my time at IIM-L as well). So for those of you who are looking at Operations, this is a must-read

Indian Reality

A good part of the topics that are asked in WATs will revolve around India and once you enter a businesses school most of you will be building your careers in India. So it is essential that you understand three things — the psychology of the Indian consumer, India’s economic history and the Indians whose travails go unheard.

  • We Are Like That Only – Rama BijapurkarAn IIM-A Alum and noted management consultant, Rama Bijapurkar makes sense of the complex and inscrutable Indian market the many Consumer India’s, their diverse and schizophrenic consumer behaviour and the way to make your company’s fortune in this billion-plus market. Irreverent and insightful, this book answers the questions to twelve key facets of Consumer India.
  • India Unbound – Gurcharan Das                                                                       A A former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, Gurcharan Das writes mainly about the transformation of India from the birth of the writer in (1942) to (1999). The author majorly speaks about the Indian politics and the economy of India. He categorizes the complete timeline from 1942 to 1999 in three major sections: ‘Spring of Hope (1942–65)’, ‘the Lost Generation (1966–91)’ & ‘Rebirth of Dream (1991–99)’ and tell various stories(memoirs) and the historical facts of that time.
  • Everyone loves a good drought – P.SainathHailed by Amartya Sen as one of the world’s great experts on famine and hunger, P.Sainath covers lives of those on the margins, the Indian farmer. For more than two years, the book remained No.1 amongst non-fiction bestsellers on diverse lists across the country. Eventually, it entered the ranks of Penguin India’s all-time best sellers. The book is now in its thirty-first edition and is still in print.

Prepare for more than the test

One of the biggest challenges on a retake can be planning and pacing your prep well. November will seem too far away and yet a certain worry will keep nagging you at the back of your mind about whether you are doing enough.

I suggest that until the end of June, re-takers should focus on building their general Verbal Ability and awareness of the world around them in totality, of which the business world is an integral part.

In India, we always focus on the test but not on what follows after. Entrance tests become more important than the four-years of engineering, CAT becomes more important and what it means to be an MBA. I hope re-takers reading this post make an effort to go beyond the test and start looking at life after CAT.

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