06 October 2016 15:28:46 IST

Read and reason

Practice makes perfect: learn how to prepare for verbal ability and reading comprehension tests

There’s less than two months to go for the CAT exam. The question on most students’ minds now, is how to improve the percentile in all areas, especially in the Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension section. This is one section that many students consider very difficult to score in, while others think it will be a cake walk. Some are also wondering about the number of questions in this section.

Students need not worry about the number of questions, or their difficulty level as the test will be the same for all the students. This section plays a critical role in the test as it can either pull up their overall score or bring it down. Thankfully, the type of questions that can come up are limited, unlike the Quantitative Aptitude and Data Interpretation – Logical Reasoning section, thus making the preparation for this section relatively simpler.

Generally, this section can be considered as having three parts – verbal ability and reasoning, critical reasoning, and reading comprehension.

Follow the rules

Some of the question types in verbal ability and reasoning are: paragraph formation questions (PFQ), paragraph completion, odd man out, sentence correction, vocabulary-based questions (synonyms and antonyms, analogies) and paragraph summaries.

Each type of question in verbal ability and reasoning is governed by a set of specific rules. Have a list of rules for each question type ready during preparation, use it, and every time you see that a rule is not working, analyse it to identify what went wrong. This way you will learn something from every question you solve.

The problem with most students is that they solve a lot of questions expecting to score better as they go, but that doesn’t happen. The simple reason for this is that they solve them by the same method (intuition) and look at the answers, and only check to see if the answer is right.

To improve their accuracy levels, students should practise questions every day religiously, even if they can’t master them right away. They should practice without looking at the options, especially for question types such as PFQs and sentence corrections and must never depend on the options as such questions in the CAT exam are mostly without options.

No second-guessing

Regarding critical reasoning, the key skill to doing well is to note the meaning of the sentences carefully — what is implied and what is not, and then read into, or deduce, things — the assumptions, logic, upstream and downstream arguments, conclusion and inferences. These are the skills students can build through thorough practice.

While practising the questions on critical reasoning, students should understand the tone of the author and evaluate the options without one option affecting the other. Students should not spend too much time on these questions as there is always a chance that one could second-guess oneself.


When it comes to reading comprehension (RC), if students are not regular readers, they should at least read a few articles on several key topics and current events over the next couple of weeks. This will help develop an ability to read and understand paragraphs. The first step is to start reading. Anything under the sun will do. But read.

Categorise the reading material — sociology, psychology, science, economics, business, and the like, and track your performance in different categories. This will help students make quicker decisions during the exam when it comes to the RC aspect.

One of the most common mistakes students make is spending too much time on reading the passage and the questions and then spending minimal time on the options. Instead, students should spend less time on reading the passage and employ the skimming and scanning method to understand the bigger picture. Students should read the questions carefully and evaluate the options as much as possible. Another apprehension students have is if they should go back to the passage to re-check their answers. It is always better to be safe than sorry.


The student should focus on areas such as economics, philosophy and literature, as they don’t generally prefer reading such topics. If students are not comfortable with any of the above topics, they should read more on them.

Students should categorise the different types of questions as and when they come across them in different RCs: (a) Big Picture – This type of question asks about the passage as a whole (b) Specific Questions – Details about the passage (c) Vocabulary Based Questions (d) Inference Based Questions (e) Assumption Questions (f) Tone Questions and, (g) New Types – what follow-up question would you ask the author? This will equip the students to perform better.

All the best!