First up, if you are expecting to find a magic bullet to easily ace the CAT VARC section in this blog then you can stop reading because I have none! In fact, you can stop reading any blog and consulting any resource because there is simply NO magic bullet at all. And if someone out there is claiming to have one then please ask them to (politely) shut up because they are lying.
That said, I will give you five strategies to triumph over CAT VARC but please note that this will require hard work. Good things don’t come easy and a high percentile in CAT VARC is bloody good!
Hopefully having set your expectations at the right level, let me get into what these five magical* strategies are!
*so much for setting the right expectations
1. Reading is NOT enough to ace CAT VARC
I’m just trying to be dramatic. Of course, the crux of the VARC section is reading! Of course, you have to read lots and develop your reading muscle and only then you would be able to ace the CAT VARC section! But you already know that and I don’t want to get into the obvious.
Please continue reading and if you haven’t started, start NOW! There is no getting away from reading when it comes to VARC. But it’s also very important to read “effectively”!
No, I’m not talking about Speed Reading (that’s a truckload of BS!). I’m talking about “Effective Reading”! Unfortunately, due to our education system, many of us acquire poor reading habits over the years and this can really prove to be an obstacle in VARC. The worst part is that many of us don’t even realize that we have bad reading habits.
Focus on learning effective reading strategies so that you can become a better reader. This will really help you in CAT and beyond. Now the question is how do you do that?
Join 2IIM and I’ll teach you! Ha ha, kidding! (not really). #ShamelessPlug
The second point below talks about one of those main strategies so check it out.
To learn more, I suggest a book by Norman Lewis, How to Read Better and Faster – It’s an excellent book that will help you become an effective reader. It’s more of a workbook with lots of exercises which require effort so buy it only if you are ready to commit to it.
2. Get inside the RC, extract the Main Idea, get out!
This is one of the most effective, effective reading strategies (such effective word play I tell you)! On a serious note, this is critical.
When you are reading the whole RC, remember your job is to extract the main idea at the end. Hence don’t get stuck on details. Don’t skip anything, read everything but do not get stuck! It doesn’t matter if there are multiple words & sentences that you don’t understand. As long as you are able to extract the author’s main point, you are sorted.
One of the biggest misconceptions about reading is that one has to understand each and every word & sentence in a write-up for excellent overall comprehension. Not true! In fact, it’s the other way round. The more you fixate on individual words and sentences, it disturbs your flow of comprehension, you lose track of how the author connects ideas and consequently, fail to understand the big picture or the main idea which is the most important part.
Now the question is, what do you do with the details. Well, as I said, you read everything but if you find a piece of detail confusing, move on as long as you have a hold over the main idea. If there is a RC question about certain details that you did not understand while reading the whole passage, you can always go back to that specific portion, re-read it and attempt to understand it. This way, you spend time on details ONLY if there is a question around it.
Main idea extraction is a skill that you will have to develop. Making mental or written notes about the main point of each paragraph helps. You should definitely pause for a few seconds after reading the whole passage to extract the main idea in your head or write it down quickly. Practice this during your leisure reading as well. Pause for a few seconds after you have read an article and talk to yourself about the main idea. Thinking about the author’s purpose of writing the passage/article also helps with the main idea.
3. My vocabulary sucks, what do I do?
Many students have this concern. Fortunately, CAT doesn’t directly test vocabulary so we don’t have to roam around with huge word lists desperately trying to cram them. In the ancient days (circa 90s & the decade post that), students used to be often spotted with vocabulary flashcards and a pained look on their face.
That said, improving your vocabulary will improve your reading skills. Best way to enhance your vocabulary is to first understand words through context (surrounding words & sentences) while reading. Once you are done reading, look up the unfamiliar words in an online dictionary and make sure to check 3 things – Meaning, Pronunciation and Sentence(s). Try to use the new word in your communication in the next 24 hours to further solidify retention.
Ensure to look up words in a dictionary AFTER you are done reading. Don’t pick up the dictionary while reading. Do not let anything spoil your reading momentum, especially not individual words which you can attempt to understand through context.
Vocabulary apps that provide the above three elements can be quite effective. Knudge.me is a good app that I personally use (NOT sponsored although I wish it was). Merriam-Webster has a good app. Google also has an interesting vocab feature that you can use. Of course, there is the famous book, Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis. Please buy this only if you are ready to put in considerable effort to read it otherwise like many CAT students, it will gather dust first on your desk and then gradually disappear into your cupboard and gather dust there.
4. For heaven’s sake, please do NOT ignore Verbal Ability!
For some warped reason, there are students every year who make this decision of ignoring the VA sub-section and decide to focus solely on RC! You do not have to choose and you should NOT choose one over the other. This is not like Quant where you have many topics out of which some are more important than the other. In order to ace CAT VARC, you have to prepare for both RC & VA.
VA can be quite profitable in the exam. If you attempted CAT 2021, you would know that the VA section was manageable and students who gave it a good shot, scored well in the VARC section.
Learn the correct strategies to solve the different types of VA questions, practice a ton of questions and it will really boost your score.
5. Figure out your CAT VARC exam strategy and don’t make drastic changes on the exam day
Which sub-section are you going to attempt first, RC or VA? How much time are you going to spend on each sub-section?
These are questions that you need to figure out in your mocks. Experiment with different techniques in your mocks and figure out the optimal strategy for yourself. Remember, different strokes for different folks! What works for your best friend or love interest might not work for you. So please use mocks to figure out the sweet spot for yourself.
The exam day is NOT the time to come up with a new drastic strategy! Last year in CAT 2021, slot 2 and slot 3 students heard from slot 1 students that VA was manageable. Some students got excited and then decided to attack VA first while all through their mocks, they had started with RC. The result was disastrous.
Yes, on the D-day, we are supposed to tweak our strategy based on the exam in front of us but these are supposed to be tweaks and NOT major drastic changes!
If you have reached here, thank you for reading. Hope this helps you in your journey to ace the CAT VARC section. I hope you didn’t mind the sarcasm/humor. I deliberately adopted this approach while writing this blog with the hope that it will keep you hooked. That said, I’m funny (in my own esteemed opinion, others disagree) in real life too. 🙂
I’m going to leave you with one more suggestion. VARC is the most neglected section out of the 3 sections (it hurts even to say these words). This is an unfortunate fact. There are multiple reasons for it and I won’t get into them here. All I will say is that as much as it seems that VARC doesn’t have a structured curriculum like Quant, it does have a structure to it! You need to start with the basics then learn different strategies for solving different types of RC questions and VA questions. There are distinct strategies and best practices for each question type so please don’t approach VARC prep in a random fashion.
Find good material, courses and teachers that have a structured and effective approach towards VARC and give it the respect that it truly deserves. In the eyes of CAT, all 3 sections are equal and there are some colleges (e.g. FMS) that actually give more weightage to VARC. So, it does not make any sense at all for a student or a teacher to ignore VARC!
All the very best for your CAT prep and may you shine bright in VARC!
Jatin is 2IIM’s Lead VARC faculty. He left the big bad corporate world after 18+ years to pursue his passions of teaching and English and he has been obsessing over VARC since then.
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