CAT, as you all are aware of by now, tests an MBA aspirant’s abilities in four different sections, namely – Quantitative ability (QA), Data interpretation (DI), English usage (EU) and Reading comprehension (RC). In this edition, we will look at the salient features of RC and some of the approaches you should adopt to maximize your scores not only in this section, but across the sections.
READING IS A LIFE SKILL! IMAGINE WHAT ALL IT WOULD ADD TO YOUR QUIVER TO STRENGTHEN YOU TO TAKE ON THE WORLD IN DISCUSSIONS AND INTERVIEWS. KINDLY LOOK AT THE BIGGER PICTURE OF YOUR JOURNEY OF LIFE.
In my classes, following these principles I am going to talk about, majority of students move from their average speed of 200 words/minute to over 800 words/minute in 4-6 weeks, with an accuracy rate of over 80%! Then the magic happens not only in RC passages, but in entire CAT or any competition paper! A few daring ones even reached 1600-2000 wpm with as high accuracy! Many of them have passed out of IIMs
The utterance of word RC brings forth two extreme reactions in a given set of audience – one, that is enthusiastic and eagerly looking forward to what is in store, the other set is rather better off not looking at this section. One end of the spectrum comprises of those who are from arts and humanities background, and also includes those who have reading as a passion, for them reading reams and reams of pages is nothing new. The other end predominantly comprises of students of science and engineering, who are comfortable rather with numbers and equations than with stream of words. But, CAT does not give any concession to any one. If you want to qualify it, you better be good in all sections, more so in English sections. Now the point is how could you get out of that diffident mindset and improve your comprehension and scores.
We all usually indulge in two distinct types of reading, which are performed differently –
– Pleasure reading – Comics, novels etc.
– Study / Information reading – Academic books, Newspapers, Magazines etc.
But, CAT / MBA entrance or other entrance exams want you to perfect ‘demanding’ reading. They expect you to be totally involved with the passage at hand. In order to succeed in such a situation you have to imbibe and implement some fundamental principles.
Principle No 1. – Involvement
The most important requirement to succeed in any sphere is to enjoy what you are doing. You should be enthusiastic, involved and eagerly look forward to whatever the activity has to offer. Reading Comprehension is no different. If you approach RC with a mindset of just scoring the minimum qualifying marks or if you are taking the test for it happens to be a section in CAT, then you will never improve in this section. Approach it with eagerness to learn what it has to offer. After all, the passages that figure in RC are extracts from some of the best articles that have appeared in various newspapers, magazines, reports and other publications. Hence, you should feel that you are going to enhance your knowledge. This will make you feel comfortable, physically and mentally, when you attempt a reading comprehension passage on any practice test or on the actual CAT.
Once you start enjoying what you are doing, you will realize that the critical ingredient, ‘concentration’, which is usually the first victim of lack of enthusiasm, is back. Most of you who keep complaining that you are not doing well in RC, don’t do well just because you do not approach the section with the intention of enjoying it. Let me cite a simple example – just imagine the night before your final-year examinations in the university. Even if you have studied only twenty percent of the portion till the day before the examination, you manage to finish the remaining eighty percent of the portion the night before the examination, and also you get up early in the morning and revise the entire portion. What does this mean? If you are involved everything is possible. Reading comprehension is no different. If you start enjoying, your concentration, comprehension and scores will start showing a marked improvement.
Principle No. 2 – Visualize author’s narration
Once you start enjoying reading, then the next point to address is how to improve your comprehension; and retention of the information provided therein.
An author sits at his table, in a corner of room, for hours, months or years to produce a piece of work – could be a newspaper article or a novel. How does do it? He visualizes, concocts the story he wants to narrate, as a sequence of scenes. He translates each scene into a stream of words conveying whatever he wants to carry across to the reader. As a reader the onus is on you to understand, what the stream of words you read mean.
What could be a better strategy than reading the stream of words and translating them into a stream of visuals, which the author is trying to explain in detail. If you are able to visualize yourself being a part of the scene that the author is portraying, that would be the best way of comprehending the author’s ideas and it would help you in retention as it would become a part of your visual database. You must realize that you still retain and recall many a sequence vividly from your dreams in your childhood, though you have not experienced practically whatever you saw in the dream. Visualization is the best mechanism for retention and faster comprehension. Make it an ally to succeed in RC.
Principle No. 3 – Eliminate Regression
How about increasing the speed? One of the prime culprits to hamper speed is regression. When you are reading, at times you may feel that you have run over a group of words and have not understood it. You then read the sentence again and again. This reduces your speed. If you are aware of the structure of a passage, regression could be eliminated there by increasing the speed.
You should know that most of the times any given passage will have an introduction or beginning; a body – made of many paragraphs, and an end or conclusion. Each paragraph in the body gives one and only one idea and followed by illustrations to make you understand what that idea is all about. If this is the structure, you should never regress. If you got the idea behind the paragraph, and even if you miss an illustration you can make up many more illustrations; if you skip the idea and understand the illustrations, the idea falls in place. It just means that, even if you did not comprehend a certain sentence, just keep going ahead and do not regress. By the end of the passage, you would have missed nothing.
Here, we have discussed three of the fundamental principles of RC. In the next article we will look at strategies to increase speed. After all, RC is all about speed, comprehension and accuracy.
Make a beginning. Enjoy reading. Make it a passion.
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[A variant of this article first appeared in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, August 20, 1998. Since then this has been picked by so many publications. Here I reproduced for the benefit of all CAT and competition exam takers. The principles of excellence do not change… they live for life time!]