The Verbal Ability section of the CAT has always been one of those things that never fails gets my goat. To me it has never made any sense at all! Why do they want MBA aspirants to
- read passages by philosophers (and sometimes poets) and then answer questions set by non-philosophers or people who fancy themselves to be philosophers
- know at least three idioms in which the word “DONKEY” is used correctly and one in which it is incorrectly used — the one I marked as incorrect was — The Professor could talk the hind legs off a donkey — of course only a professor capable of that could make that question!
- keep unjumbling paragraphs when there can always be more than one way of arranging sentences to form a coherent paragraph.
This is one of the big reasons why I like and respect the precisely designed Verbal Section of the GMAT and also teach a lot for the same!
But be that as it may, we have a job at hand — to clear the Verbal Cut-off consistently.
In this post, I shall outline a strategy to improve your selection, accuracy and most importantly consistency in the Verbal Section.
RC is the centre around which the Verbal Section revolves
With 24 out of 34 questions belonging to RC, there is no way you can be average on RC and clear the cut-off on the Verbal section. You need to have above average ability on RC and this need not be entirely dependent on natural talent.
More than natural talent and reading speed you need to have a process to choose the right passages, read them well, answer questions correctly and most importantly skip questions.
Choosing the right RC passages
You are not going to read and attempt every RC as you encounter it. You are not going to solve all RCs. You are going to first sample each of the RCs, decide how many them to solve in the first round and then come back for second round after solving the VR questions.
- Read the first paragraph of an RC
- On a scale of 1-10, rate it in terms of readability (style and content) for you1 being tough content that you are sure that you will never be able to read
- 10 being easy content that you can read understand while doing something else on the side
- Do not read further
- Repeat the process for all the other RCs
- After you rate all the passages, choose the 3 passages you have rated the highest and begin solving them starting with the one you rated highest
How to approach RC questions
One of the curious things that applies to most aspirants on all tests be it CAT, GMAT, GRE or any other test, is that very few people have a strategy or approach towards solving an RC question correctly.
- Ask them how do you solve a CR question and pat comes the reply — LOGIC
- Ask them how they solve Grammar questions and the reply is immediate — RULES
- Ask them how they solve RC questions and there will be no reply — just a sheepish grin.
The most widely used strategy to solve RC questions is — I think I have read this somewhere in the passage!
It goes without saying that it is not even a strategy — RC is not match the following!
Treat RC questions and options the way you would treat CR questions and options — for the logic.
I am always stuck between two options and choose the wrong option
Most test-takers think that by eliminating two options they have done a great job. They feel they have done half the job and now only the small part of choosing between two options is left.
Let us look at the situation this way. If a team decides to send its batsmen in the reverse order of the batting line-up — Number 11 and 10 open the batting, with number 9 coming in one-drop and so on. After they have taken the first five wickets, will the opposition bowlers think that 50% of their job is done and they just need 5 wickets more? Obviously that is when the bowlers’ real job starts!
Eliminating two options is not an achievement, you are just picking off the lowest hanging fruit — the real job starts after eliminating that.
Answer with a focus on accuracy not attempts
Do not try to SELECT the right option, ELIMINATE the incorrect options
the right option can be phrased differently by different people so always find reasons to eliminate options rather than to select
When caught between two options
Do not just match phrases in the option with phrases in the passage
Trap options will have the same phrases but faulty logic
Always go to the specific part of the passage check the logic in the passage and the logic in the option before you make a choice.
It is always better than repeating the two options in your head and trying to think which one is correct
You have the passage next to you, use it!
If you are unable to choose between two options, LEAVE!
I have read this RC so I will attempt all questions!
This is one of the biggest roadblocks hindering your accuracy.
The one refrain I keep hearing all the time — my VA accuracy keeps fluctuating!
That is because irrespective of the difficulty level of the paper, everyone more or less attempts the same number of questions always — a reason why attempts in VA-RC are always the highest among the three sections.
In Quant you know the question is tough because you do not get the answer. In Verbal you think that it has to be between these two options so you mark one anyway! Why not give the benefit of the doubt to the test-setter that he or she might have made a good question that you are better off leaving.
So just because you have read an RC does not mean that you have to attempt all questions, if you cannot break the deadlock between two options even after evaluating the logic of each one and checking with the passage then it is best to shoulder arms and let the ball go to the keeper.
Even if you are able to confidently attempt only 2 out of 4 it is fine. At this stage it will be better for you to perfect your technique & accuracy than guessing.
What if my attempts on RC are lower than usual
Firstly, your attempts have to vary as per the difficulty level of the paper. So there is no need to somehow reach a particular number of attempts.
If you feel that in the passages you have selected you have not been able to attempt many questions then come back to the passage you have left after attempting the Verbal Reasoning questions.
Remember, when you come back to the passage you have left in the first round, do not comeback with the intent to answer all questions to boost your number of attempts — do not think of the last 5 minutes as slog overs and swing your bat at every question — mark only the questions you are sure about!
In the next SimCAT and in the practice leading up to it — try to implement this process. It might not work immediately but persevere. Otherwise you will be doing the same things and expecting different results that will not follow.
Increasing your accuracy on the VA or non-RC questions
One of the favourite Verbal question types of all test-takers is Jumbled Paragraphs or Parajumbles and rightly so since it is the one that can be solved with the most logical approach. So it is no wonder that all test-takers from all backgrounds have a special liking, a sort of a soft-corner for this question type.
Yes, this question-type is the most likely one to get you 3 marks in quick time but only if it is an MCQ.
In the TITA format avoid jumbled paragraphs at all costs, attempt Jumbled Paragraphs questions in a TITA format only if you have finished everything else and have time to spare.
But if TITA questions have no negative marks then what do we stand to lose?
- Well the most valuable commodity in an aptitude test — time!
- 5 sentences can be arranged in 5! ways and with no options you chance of arriving at the right combination in 2 minutes is highly unlikely to say the least.
But what if it is an easy question?
- You will know that only if you get into it and so you are better off leaving these questions right till the end so that you do not have time to waste.
Time at the beginning of a section is like money at the beginning of the month, you will always spend beyond your means.
So do not attempt JP + TITA till the very end.
For each of the other question types — Summary and Choose the sentence that does not fit you can increase your accuracy by becoming more process-oriented and sticking to a strategy than by going with your gut-feel.
For example for Summary questions the best strategy is to note down 3 big logical/idea hooks in the passage — X, Y and Z — and eliminate each option that does not contain all three.
For choose the incorrect sentence, read the first sentence and put a label on it that describes what the sentence is about — say, formation of constellations. Now proceed to other sentences do the labelling process. All but one sentence can have the same label.
Those of you who are not that good at Verbal will know better than to rely on your gut, more often than not your accuracy levels when you see the results will leave you feeling gutted.
Let your gut do what it does best — digest food!
To answer these Verbal Ability questions correctly you are better off relying on your brains and process-orientation.
And yeah do read the directions — do not arrange sentences and type in the sequence when you have to choose odd of the lot!