Verbal ability... The last mile

Verbal ability... The last mile

The most elusive section of CAT in terms of ‘improved’ performance is usually the Verbal section. Unlike Quant and Data interpretation (DI) where there is a ‘formula-based’ technique, the Verbal section offers no such benefit.

Still, one can achieve some amount of fine tuning in these last stages of the preparation. CAT 2010 was similar to the prior CATs in many aspects. Irrespective of what the paper has in store for you, it is important to note that there are a limited number of question types that are most popular in any aptitude test of English. So one needs to focus on these in the last few days.

Let me try to list the critical ‘Dos’ in the three areas of Verbal - Reading, Grammar and Vocabulary.

1. Reading: This is probably the most troublesome of the three areas. The comfort in reading is purely a function of “past reading habits”. Let us see what are the dos for the various types of questions that check the reading skills.

a) Reading comprehension (RC):

Spend time on three to four passages each day. Make a note of the types of questions. Being aware about what to look for is half the game. The rest is about comprehension.

That is a function of your basic English skills. For instance, the types of questions could be — the tone of the passage, specific words or phrases in the passage, specific facts which could support arguments in the passage and so on. Log them into categories. This needs to be done while analysing the passages that you have solved that day. There may be patterns on the types of questions that are asked in RC, when you have sufficient information in your log.

b) Critical Reasoning (CR):

Spend a few days doing only critical reasoning from the reference material that you have. For instance, CR could have the following types of questions : Supporting arguments, weakening arguments, analogy arguments, neutral arguments, conclusions / inference that can be drawn from the arguments. Keep a tab oon errors and where you are committing the mistakes. The advantage of doing them at a stretch is that the linkages in errors are better cemented in your mind.

The other popular types are summary of passage and paragraph completion. Summary types are more like ‘Mini RCs.’ They check your critical reasoning skills. So a constant practice in RC and CR should, in most probability, take care of the performance in Summary type questions.

Paragraph completion could be of a couple of types. The ‘last sentence’ of the paragraph could be based on styles of writing.  

2. Log the rules : Grammar is close to mathematics. It is rule-based. So it is easier to ace if one were aware of the standard types of errors. What you would need to do is to look back at your grammar material, and complete all the exercises in a span of 3 to 4 days. Log the errors and the points that you would want to remember. Use this as a revision tool just before the exam.

3. Vocabulary and Usage : Previous CAT papers have been unlike GRE. There has  been a time when CAT had analogies, antonyms like GRE. Even then the words that were used were not very difficult. But the most frequently-used types of questions have been words that you can get confused with, idioms and phrases, and fill in the blanks. The first two types can be effectively revised by referring to a standard list of such words and idioms.

The third type is more open-ended and challenges the candidate to finish the section in the given time frame. A student with an average vocabulary can get at least 70 per cent of the questions right.

Spend 45 minutes every day on the verbal section to get good at it. This is probably the best tool to build the rhythm of reading.

Quick Tips on VA:

With the number of questions in this section coming down to 25 in 2006 and 2007, the focus is no longer on speed as on comprehension and accuracy.

*  Tackle the two groups in this section, namely English Usage (i.e. sentence correc-tion, paragraph completion, parajumbles, etc.) and Reading/Comprehension separately.

*  Choose the right questions (a mix of many easy questions with some difficult questions which are unavoidable would be appropriate) and attempt these questions. If the cut-off  for the Verbal Ability Section in 2007 was 25, experts say that attempting 13 out of the 25 questions in this section would be enough. Attempting 13 would mean attempting 52 marks. To get 25 marks, you would need to get 8 correct and can afford to get up to 5 questions wrong.

* Use your knowledge of common idioms and grammar. Read sentences and try to identify if they read right or not.
n Apply logic to see what comes first and what comes later (parajumbles) and which option among the paragraph completion answer choices ties best with the main topic of the passage (paragraph completion).
* For the Reading/ Comprehension section, choose the easier of the passages (2 out of 3 or 3 out of 4) based on your comprehension and quickly grasp the main idea of each passage.
*  Attempt those questions where the answer seems to be easily available in the passage (more factual and less inferential).
* Re-read the relevant portions in the passage carefully and choose the option that ties best with the relevant portion

Sample Question -

In each question, there are four sentences. Each sentence has pairs of words/phrases that are italicised and highlighted. From the italicised and highlighted word(s)/phrase(s), select the most appropriate word(s) /phrase(s) to form correct sentences. Then, from the options given, choose the best one:

*The cricket council that was [A] / were [B] elected last March is [A] are [B] at sixes and sevens over new rules.

* The critics censored [A] / censured [B] the new movie because of its social unacceptability.

*Amit’s explanation for missing the meeting was credulous [A] I credible [B].

*She coughed discreetly [A] / discretely [B] to announce her presence.
Options: (1) BBAAA    (2) AAABA    (3) BBBBA    (4) AABBA     (5) BBBAA

The correct answer is (4)   

Cricket Council is a collective noun so it takes a singular verb. The reference is made to a group as a whole and not to an individual.
*  Censure implies harsh criticism.
*  Censor means to put a ban on something objectionable.
*  Credible means capable of being believed.
*  Credulous means tending to believe without evidence.
*  Discretely means distinct whereas discreetly means to carefully avoid social emba-rrassment or distress; tactful.

Get cracking.

Logical Reasoning & ata Interpretation (DI):
* DI is generally tough. Only a few can crack all the sets. So at the very beginning you should know that you need to clear the cutoff.

* If you are not aiming at IIMs and similar institutes, you should not worry about cutoffs. Maximise the score in whatever section that suits you.

*  This section is like a one-day international or Twenty 20 match! You need to choose the right bowler to target.

*  Division of time is crucial. Ideally for DI, it should definitely not be more than one-third of the total time. Allow more time to English or Quant so that you can maximise your score according to your ability and try to clear the cutoff for LR&DI.

*  The key in DI lies in choosing the right set. Actually, no paper is tough, no paper is easy. There is a very clever mix of easy, difficult and tough questions in all CAT papers. Devote 10 minutes to read the sets thoroughly. If you choose at random, the luck factor comes in!

*  Do not get sentimental about any particular set / question. Try to be practical rather than foolhardy. Move on in case you are stuck with a question for a long time.

* Be ready for surprises like new sorts of questions and sets.

* Sometimes what may look alien may not actually be incomprehensible. In fact many a times, the new types of sets are a shade easier than the questions you are well accustomed to. Be a calculated risk taker but do not totally come out of your comfort zone.



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