How to prepare for VARC – Lessons you can learn from Tennis
Imagine that you are a club-level tennis player. You have been playing tennis regularly for a long time. As a result, you have acquired some skills. You have a good first serve that can reach about 100 mph. You can generate a nice topspin on your forehand, and your backhand is good enough to keep the ball in play till you can pull the trigger. Your volleys – the shots hit before the bouncing of the ball in your side of the court – are also better than most of your club partners, and you can hit overhead smashes as easily as if you were zapping mosquitoes with an electric swatter. All these strengths of yours (with a bit of luck) should be enough to take you to the quarterfinals of most average club-level tournaments.
But there is one problem with your game. You do not have the stamina to last 3 grueling sets of a club-level match that will require you to run from point to point through the entire length of your court for possibly 3 hours. You may hit the ball like a king as long as you can do it from your spot, but you cannot chase the ball. But, You cannot reach the ball. Your shot-making skills are hence useless. And that is the problem of most club-level players – they are defeated primarily by the physical requirements of the game.
“Wait, but what has my VARC preparation for CAT got to do with this ?”
You get tired from reading (ouch!)
This is one of the most common (and most serious) problems faced by most CAT aspirants. If all we had to do was to answer a couple of short questions of each type, we would score pretty well. If a good amateur player has to play only a couple of service games against a pro, he may even defeat the pro.
The problem is achieving consistency over long periods of time – 3 hours of a tennis match, or 3 hours of the CAT. Just as a budding tennis pro needs to develop fitness by running for miles every day, a CAT aspirant needs to develop fitness by devoting at least an hour every day to reading something substantial.
There are two parts of the everyday preparation for the VARC section
1) General reading, along with other benefits, primarily prepares us for handling RC passages, along with everything else in the verbal section – without getting tired.
2) Question-related preparation, an equivalent of learning how to hit perfect forehands and backhands, the aim of which is to learn the right technique of answering a particular kind of question.
Most CAT aspirants focus on 2 and completely ignore 1, which usually turns out to be counterproductive, as we get a false sense of preparedness – like an amateur who imagines that he will defeat the pro in a match because he broke the pro’s serve in one game.
The secret of winning lies in winning consistently – ball after ball, question after question. You should read Every day. Day after day. Without fail.
“Okay, I understand the importance of reading, but where should I read? Please help!”
Enter Bharath’s curated reading list
We have a thing called Bharath’s curated reading list, where 800+ high-quality, hand-picked curated articles are present. You can go there and read article after article. These curated articles are sorted across multiple genres. Let’s say if you like crime then start with that. Go berserk and read a lot!
Also keep in mind that when you no longer find the reading material difficult, it’s time to crank up the pressure. You need to run an extra mile. You must read something that challenges you. Then switch from crime to psychology. Look at it this way: if you are finding the reading material difficult to comprehend, you are on the right track.
Why reading is the only drug that you need?
If you are a regular reader, you can not only understand RC passages better but also read them faster, thereby giving yourself those precious extra few minutes to attempt some other questions. Reading skills acquired through such everyday reading also help in verbal ability questions. Good readers identify connections in thoughts easily – as it is needed in Para Jumbles questions. The breadth of our reading can make it easier for us to empathize with writers and predict where their arguments will head next – a skill most necessary in Para Completion questions.
Sometimes, we do not agree with the writer. While we are reading, we may even argue with the writer, point out the assumptions in the argument, evaluate it against our knowledge and experiences, and also counter it with evidence – preparing ourselves for Critical Reasoning questions without consciously being aware of it. When we read something complex, we naturally tend to articulate and simplify the message in our heads, as we consciously do while answering Summary questions.
Reading is an excellent (and the only) way of developing the most important tool required to answer Sentence Correction (grammar) questions – our instinct. If we have read a great deal of ‘correct’ English, we become sensitive to its ‘sound’, and can instinctively spot grammatical errors wherever we see them.
In order to maximize our CAT scores, we must be able to give 100% attention to every question. That does not mean we attempt every question. It means that we need to give each question time to determine whether or not we shall attempt it, and then further enough time to attempt it intelligently in case we go ahead with it. Unfortunately, many students don‘t look at all the questions because they can’t read and comprehend it fast enough, because they are tired too soon because they haven’t really practiced reading.
Roger Federer, isn’t the world number one because he has the world’s best forehand, or the strongest backhand, or the deadliest serve. He has none of the classic weapons. He is the world’s number one because he reaches every ball, He plays every ball, He becomes an indefatigable, relentless, fluid wall that cannot be penetrated.
Billy Jean King once said, “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquillity.” How perfectly these words describe the mind of a student going through an examination
Stay safe, stay positive, and best wishes for CAT. Always remember you can, you will, and you must. Ciao folks!
Abhishek works for 2IIM, and is a keen writer.