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CAT 2009: 3 steps to master VA

July 10, 2009 10:57 IST

In my last post, I spoke of 3 keys to cracking CAT. One of the keys was 'Learning to love VA'. But how do you go about it? We look at some ways shall be detailing out how to do that in this .

VA for starters is Verbal Ability. In many ways, the word 'ability' is the key here. Abilities don't come within seven days, they have to be acquired over time -- through diligent work and practice. Many students fail to grasp this and try to go the 'rote learning' way for cracking VA (that is sadly the way we have been taught to study in schools and colleges, but that's another matter altogether). So, how can you develop this ability? Here are three simple steps:

1. Reading non-fiction
Generally, students love reading fiction -- bestsellers like Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer) and The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) have been long-time favorites. However, the passages that actually come in CAT are rarely from fiction-related masterpieces. For improving comprehension and reading speed, ideally one has to read passages of a similar genre to those coming in past CAT papers. Hence, it is important to read non-fiction. Reading opinions, analyses, even biographies is critical for developing a knack for comprehending non-fiction passages. Another possible way of approaching this issue is forming groups to study -- the group meets twice a week and discusses one aspect of literature of this genre.

2. Practicing vocabulary questions
Other questions in CAT apart from comprehension passages need to be tackled differently. I would highly recommend dividing this part into subsections -- such as pure grammar, sentence correction etc. Once this classification is done, catch hold of one particular subtype and do extensive problem solving. While doing so, continuously taking notes would help in referring to problem areas. 

One good avenue for practice I found was solving questions from GMAT guides. From the many mock examinations you may take during the next six months, it would be critical to learn from your mistakes and ideally avoiding the same mistake. Remember that the vocabulary section is a low-time-investment and high-returns section. In many cases, the vocabulary section makes the difference between a good score and a great score, so paying adequate attention to it is paramount.

3. Increasing pace of reading
In many cases, people good at comprehension suffer when it comes to reading the passage quickly. For passages coming in CAT, one has to be a quick reader. For this, I would recommend reading similar length passages, coming in newspapers, magazines etc. Target a step-by-step increase in reading speed. For example, if you require 10 minutes for reading a 500-word article, try to read a similar length in say nine-and-a-half minutes. Note that reducing time for reading should not reduce your comprehension level. Balancing comprehension and speed is tough, but I guess that is where your managerial skills are tested by the examiners.

This is a summary of what 'needs' to be done. Why I haven't gone into specifics is because I believe specifics will differ from person to person. Example, in my case, I could not tackle the central idea-type questions in the comprehension passages. So, I went for writing summaries of articles I could read and asked my study group to comment on the same.

As an aspirant, one has to be smart enough to identify your individual strengths and weaknesses. Working on your weaknesses definitely needs to be top priority, but the strengths should be further worked on as well.

As a final note, the importance of VA in CAT can be seen by the marks distribution in CAT 2008 -- QA and DI/LR were 100 marks each while VA was 160 marks. If there is one section that can make or break your attempt it's VA according to me. So go for it folks, study hard and study smart!

The author graduated from IIM Calcutta this year and has joined Rediff.com

Siddhesh Joglekar