9 pointers to make you an effective reader | CAT VARC preparation
How to become an effective reader? There are several things to get hold of if you want to score well in the VARC section. Usually it is “read a lot”. But what do I read, where do I read, how much to read, and most important of all, how do I spend my time reading effectively?
- What to read – Articles and Books
- Where to read – Bharath’s reading list
- How much to read – at least an hour every day. If you feel your VARC is not great, make it 2 hours a day.
What is the best way to read an article
Further in this blog, we will discuss how to make the most out of reading an article, especially if you are preparing for the CAT VARC section. If you are beginning, you might also want to have a look at this page.
Why read long-form articles?
We keep sharing a lot of long-form articles on a daily basis. In fact if you head out here, you can find about 900 high quality, hand picked, curated articles in a repository. We’ve been sharing articles for about four years now. We started that as an exercise on our facebook group, and have now grown to multiple platforms with a daily quiz on our Instagram channel. We have kept at it for a long while. There is enough value in reading articles that are much longer than those that appear in CAT. Some of the benefits include understanding articles while being topic/genre agnostic, better understanding of passages ultimately leading to being able to score better in the RC section of CAT.
Understanding the underlying idea Vs Remembering facts
Whenever you are trying to read an article you are hell bent on remembering facts from the article. But in reality you shouldn’t be trying to remember facts because one can always scroll up and down and figure out where the facts are presented in the passage. However understanding the idea, understanding the tone, understanding what the author is trying to convey is super important, because there are no shortcuts to figure that one out.
The longer the articles, the harder it is for our brains to retain facts. So our natural inclination to remember facts fails in this scenario. From our experience, someone normal can either try and remember facts, or understand the passage, however doing both is out of the ordinary. That being said, I would give my right arm to be able to comprehend everything that the author is trying to convey at the cost of remembering facts. The current trend with CAT aspirants usually is to identify key facts (some call it skimming, more about it later), numbers and years are even better and remember them after reading a passage. This is done to give our brains a false sense of accomplishment and nothing more than that. If that is indeed not so useful might as well change to what could be really useful for you.
We are trying to break the pattern in your head by sharing loads of long form articles, as it can get tiring for your brain to constantly remember fact after fact after fact. And after a point it naturally gives up, and creates enough room in the system for you to start understanding, as your brain space is not being occupied by trying to retain facts that are anywhichway available at a click.
Let us take an example to drive this point home
Let us say you are in college, and you are required to remember lots of information to pass your exams. However, if you graduate and start working and your boss does not let you use google to get randomly required not so critical information you would be pissed wouldn’t you? I know I would be. My argument would be, as long as I know how and where to find the correct information, in a short period of time, how does it make any difference if I indeed remember or look it up?
Trying to remember is similar to the previous example, and is not really necessary. In addition to understanding, if you are able to retain a few facts, brilliant, more power to you!
The sad part is, most of us do this unconsciously, hence have no clue that we are caught up in this spiral, and since we have no clue we have no way of escaping the same. Humour me, take up one article from the following link, and read it like how you would naturally. See what do you recollect about the article after reading the same. Is it facts or the overarching theme/opinion/story and the deep understanding?
9 pointers to make you an effective reader
We started the article by saying that we will provide you with 9 key ideas to become an effective reader. I can sense the impatience growing as every longish sentence passes by. Have some patience my friend, you will need that a lot in this journey!
We have split the 9 points into 3 categories. Things to do, things to not do, things that are not so helpful in some context, but is not super bad either. Let us jump into things to do first.
Becoming an Effective Reader: Things to do
- Read Patiently
- Take in everything
- Figure out the author’s opinions/biases
This is super counterintuitive. Always you have felt that you need to max out on your reading speed to make the most of your VARC section. However, believe me my friend, you can score a 99th percentile in the VARC Section after skipping one full RC passage in the exam. It is natural to assume that 99th percentile might be super tough to achieve, it is indeed. But it is not usually “getting all 34 questions correct” level of tough to achieve.
Take in everything
If you read a lot, naturally your ability to comprehend goes up. However, in CAT the difference between haves and have nots lies in those questions where usually one struggles to zero in on one amongst the last two options that are real close to each other or those questions that have twisted double negatives. Taking in as much information, nuance, tone, opinion, and bias as possible helps nailing these tough (read as differentiating) questions.
Figure out the author’s opinions/biases
Knowing where the author is coming from helps in connecting a lot of dots. This helps in reducing the time spent in figuring out the nuances. The more you can recognise sarcasm, desperation, joy, satire, political leaning, scientific leaning etc from the author, better place you will be to answer the tougher questions in the RC passage. Critical Reasoning has been indirectly part of CAT RC for the last few years. Not just understanding the crux of the passage, but adding one layer of where is the author coming from, what is he implying, what can you infer etc adds up beautifully in getting these questions right.
Becoming an Effective Reader: Things not to do
- Skimming and speed reading
- Reading Questions before reading the passage (in the context of RC)
- Set an arbitrary time limit per passage
Skimming and Speed Reading
Skimming is very similar to a party trick. Same goes for speed reading. If you want to gauge a passage to attempt or skip, reading the first few lines should do the trick, instead of trying to speed read it. Speed reading, wpm etc the moment they kick in, your focus goes to completing the reading part in as little time as possible, at the cost of understanding. This is very similar to the speed vs accuracy debate that we had discussed elaborately a few days ago. The answer is there is no tradeoff between speed and accuracy. This holds true in this context as well. If you feel there is a tradeoff between speed and comprehension of the passage given, you can be very assured that you are not moving in the right direction.
Reading Questions before reading the passage
In the context of CAT, reading questions before actually reading the passage is counter productive. Let me take a few moments to explain the same. The moment you have read the questions, your eyes start looking out for patterns (words) in the passage that is familiar, and stick there. The downside of this is, you are missing the context, and just focussing on understanding standalone lines from the passage. This might end up confusing you and make you spend more time than you would have originally expected to have spent reading it in full just once.
Set an arbitrary time limit per passage
I’ve had students ping me all the time with this one particular question.
I am unable to complete the passage in 10 minutes. How do I go about it?misguided CAT aspirant
There is no rule that says one needs to complete a passage in 10 minutes/12 minutes or any such arbitrary number of minutes. Sometimes some passages are tougher than the other passages, which means that passage is going to consume more time than the average. Account for that. Likewise, some idea might be tough for You as an individual to grasp, but might be a moderately tough passage for others. In this case, comparing with others’ reading speed and solving speed does not help at all. This once happened in my life, during an Actual CAT (elaborated in point 9), which also helps in understanding that there is no one set time for any passage. The more you can internalise this as an idea, better it is for your scores.
Becoming an Effective Reader: Things that are ok in moderation
- Vocab building
- Taking notes
- Going back to the passage more than once to establish understanding
This is the most interesting bit in my opinion. There are no hard and fast rules as to where do I limit these things, however we will discuss what is a reasonable expectation out of a CAT aspirant to make these ideas helpful and prevent them from sabotaging your CAT Preparation.
Vocab building is the holy grail of all questions asked by CAT aspirants, perhaps just below my Xth score is 78%, XIIth score is 72% and UG score is 69%, what are my chances with IIM X. If you are 3 months away from CAT, building your vocabulary would be the most criminal way to waste your time. If you are 12 months from your CAT, then perhaps it is a decent thing to do, if done naturally (for instance working your way through learning new words with the help of Normal Lewis) rather than using GRE Flash cards to memorize 1500 most tested words.
The best way to build vocabulary in my opinion is to keep going back to dictionary / google when / immediately after reading to understand the meaning in context. Once again, you should not have to memorise the meaning. That does not stay for long, instead the feeling of what this word meant in this context, that stays for a while. Use that to your advantage.
Taking a few words per paragraph as notes is a good way to go back to the right place in the entire passage when in need. However, aspirants tend to overdo and start writing sentence after sentence instead of very short notes without even realising what they are doing. Taking precise, clear notes helps in going back to the right place in the passage. This saves a lot of time and helps better in the exam context. The longer the notes, doubly wasted is the amount of time in this futile exercise. Keep’em short.
Going back to the passage more than once to establish understanding
It is indeed okay to go back to the passage more than once, as long as you don’t do it in every RC passage that you read. I can recollect reading the British Colonialism passage thrice in the CAT 2019 Exam and scoring 99.21 in the VARC section in spite of reading a passage thrice, and not being able to begin reading one other full RC passage due to paucity of time.
For most students in the less than 99th percentile group, VARC is proven to be the most scoring section (section that helps you push your percentile up). We sincerely hope this blog post is useful in giving you simple but useful ways to transform yourself into an effective reader to facilitate better CAT preparation. If you are looking to get a detailed preparation schedule based on your strengths and weaknesses, this is the place to look.