CAT VARC – the expanded form of this abbreviation would read, “Carefully Assembled Travesty – Very Ambiguous and Riddled with Confusion”, especially after CAT 2019. If one reads the RC passages of CAT 2019 and the kinds of double-negation questions that stacked themselves up one after another, and compares them with, say, those from CAT 2017 or even CAT 2018, one realizes the CAT VARC has metamorphosed a lot.
Check out all the previous CAT questions from our question bank, here.
Given this reality, and given that it is after all not too impossible for a repeat of CAT 2019 in CAT 2020 as well, how does one prepare for CAT VARC starting today? Good question, but the answers this time are fairly straightforward.
1) Read for at about an hour daily
The first and best way to tackling CAT VARC is giving due importance to the R of RC. Aspirants are susceptible to failure in this section because and only because they look for shortcuts.
Nothing – ranging from RC shortcuts to viewing the questions first before reading the passage – would help you as much inculcating the
hobbyhabit of reading.
Choosing to spend 1 out of 24 hours (in percentage terms, approximately 4%) every day would be the best catalyst in catapulting your CAT VARC score.
2) Read with intensity and focus
Terms like ‘intensity’ are mistaken to mean ‘knowing the meanings of many words’ or ‘covering 3 million passages in 30 seconds’, in the context of CAT VARC. Reading with intensity is totally different from reading a lot or reading quickly.
While you are reading an article or an essay or an editorial, make sure you are there. You may not understand an article in entirety because the genre or topic of discussion could be new to you; or, you may be new to reading articles. It is alright.
Do not consciously try to get the “details” from a passage/article. That is not going to help you in the long run.
This is where the C of RC comes into picture. Comprehension is different from memorizing or retaining the details (read numbers, facts, names, persons, timelines, chronological order, etc.)
3) Read until you do not get tired of it
As with any habit, reading is not easy in the beginning. If you are good at Quant, you would want to stay perched in your comfort zone of solving more sums in Time Speed and Distance OR Geometry. If you are that DILR freak, you might be nudged to think that you are better off solving more puzzles than read some incomprehensible opinion piece.
Read so much that your mind does not get tired reading.
As I keep reiterating, give it that time. Comprehension gets built as soon as you start reading a lot. Details, facts, figures, agreements and disagreements, arguments and counterarguments and everything else start falling in place once you acquaint yourself to the habit of reading.
4) If reading is a race, variety is the nitro-booster
If you have played any racing game in your video game or PS or XBox or PC, you know what I am talking about (except for the ancient Road Fighter video game, I guess every other racing game has this idea of ‘nitro-booster’, the phrase that supposedly started with Roadrash and attained his unassailable peak with the GTA).
You must look for variety while reading; read short passages, long articles, 3000-word passages, novelettes, novels, journals, research papers, editorials, Op-Eds, sports columns, entertainment pieces, analysis, statistical and data-intense passages, fiction, non-fiction, autobiographies, biographies… (tries to catch breath) The list is endless just like the number of Quant sums to practice to get a 99.9x percentile.
Variety is important primarily because the passages that appear in CAT VARC are of different topics.
One passage could argue for the case of Capitalism in reference to Communism, while another might tread into the territory of DNA, mRNA, chromosomes and genes; a third could veer into archaeology, while a fourth might be an expository take on Physics. Be on the lookout for diverse topics and sources to read.
5) Follow Bharath’s Curated Reading List
The headline says it all. Just pay a visit to the diligently curated list, here, and you will know what this is all about. Forget CAT VARC and negative marks and speed and accuracy for a minute; reading these articles will light(en) up your day.
6) Read to get a feel for it
Gazillion famous personalities maintain the habit of reading; in fact, they get their highs from reading. Read to get a feel for it; read until you get a feel for the habit of reading. You can start off with your favourite topics or books, and then slowly diverge out to read other genres.
Now that enough has been said about the need to read, how does one juxtapose this with “actual” CAT VARC preparation?
Classic question. Let us get this sorted as well.
1) The idea of “actual” preparation is a fallacy
Your “actual” preparation for CAT VARC started from the day you started reading. You could have been in your second grade in school or sophomore year in college, but remember that day you started reading the first novel ever? Your “actual” preparation started back then.
2) The power of 400 hours of reading
Your CAT VARC performance gets immensely better if you are sitting on top of 400-500 hours worth of reading. Nothing – read, NOTHING – can substitute the edge a voracious reader has while attempting CAT VARC. You get a flavour for the topics, the contradictions and paradoxes, and get better at answering “What is the central idea of the passage?” and “Which of these can be the least inferred?” What is more interesting is that occasionally, you could even stumble across a passage that is taken from an article you have read earlier.
3) Start with 2-3 passages per week to get an idea
As you continue the habit of reading daily, start delving into the RC passages at the rate of two to three per week. This phase is to slowly get you familiarized with the kinds of passages that appear and the types of questions that accompany them. The best time to start with this routine will be in August.
4) Take it to 5 per week
In Phase II of your RC preparation, increase the number of passages you work with per week to 5 per week (which necessarily means 1 passage per week day).
5) Mocks and RC
Once you have had a solid foundation of reading a lot coupled with two phases of practicing RC passages, the third phase should kick in. This is where taking mocks alone will suffice. Mocks contain an unthinkable diversity in terms of passages; solving and analyzing is one of the best ways to get you going in terms of RC.
6) The best passages are from actual CAT papers
This point remains the same for CAT DILR as well as CAT VARC. The actual puzzles from the easiest to the toughest have appeared in the CAT question papers of CAT 2017, CAT 2018 and CAT 2019.
In the case of RC, there are around 30 passages from the last three years; solve them to get a hang of the actual level of difficulty.
CAT VARC is not an impossible hurdle to cross. It just needs time, patience and consistent efforts.
Stay safe, and best wishes for CAT 2020!
Rajesh Balasubramanian takes the CAT every year and is a 4-time CAT 100 percentiler. He likes few things more than teaching Math and insists to this day that he is a better teacher than exam-taker.