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CAT 2010: A winning strategy to crack RC

By KB Sharma,
Last updated on: July 06, 2010 12:01 IST
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The greatest undoing of many CAT aspirants has been the fear of the reading comprehension (RC) section and the consequent inbuilt resistance to RC-based questions. Some test-takers believe, mistakenly though, that RC-based questions are subjective and the right answer could depend upon the opinion of the test-maker, which the test-taker does not necessarily share. Nothing could be farther from truth.

Another misconception is that the online format makes RC more difficult. Some of the fallacious reasons advanced are:

  • The test-taker can no longer underline important parts of the passage that would  have been helpful in locating the correct answer.
  • Since the passage is displayed on only half of the screen, the test-taker has to  scroll up and down a number of times to read the passage.
  • Since, only one question is available at a time on the other half of the screen, overviewing all the questions becomes time consuming.

Talking of the third fallacy first, let it be known that all the questions are visible on the right half of the screen, while the passage is available on the left. So, the passage and the questions can be viewed simultaneously. Underlining never helped in cracking CAT RC, because the test requires the student to comprehend the underlying idea, rather than the detail. Scrolling up and down the passage repeatedly also means you are looking at the detail whereas you be looking for the underlying idea instead. 
In most cases, the test-taker cannot attempt each question based on each passage. So, the best way is to choose what suits you best. Select the passage for attempt that you find interesting. Your interest means you understand, or will understand easily.

Remember every RC passage has a one-line gist. A 10-line gist means you did not understand the underlying idea.

So how should you go about cracking the RC section of CBT CAT?

Construct a "Dot Diagram" of the passage
Remember the dot diagram that you find in the kids section of a paper or magazine? There could be hundreds of dots. When once you join a few dots to form a picture, the other dots become irrelevant. Your RC is like that dot diagram. The hundreds of words are like the hundreds of dots. The questions revolve around the picture and not around the words. So get the picture out of the dot diagram.

Now how do you join the dots? Our advice:

Pre-read (First reading: 1 min)
Get a feel of the passage by reading the opening lines of each paragraph (the opening paragraph in particular) as well as the concluding lines of the last paragraph. Also have a look at the question stems (not the options).

Speed read (Second reading: 3 min)
Say you have to drive a train from Delhi to Mumbai. Should you drive at the same speed throughout? What about the stations that fall along the way? You will definitely slow down and even stop at some of the stations. Do the same thing in the case of RC.

I keep forgetting as I proceed: Speed read the first paragraph. Write down its gist in one single phrase on your scratch sheet. Do the same thing in case of the other paragraphs. Now you have five ideas for (say) five paragraphs. The common link among these five ideas is your dot diagram.

Post-read (Third reading: 30 sec)
This is to make sure that the picture you made was right. Look for repetitive words and phrases in the passage. These have to be part of the picture.

The opening paragraph and the concluding paragraph are important. But remember if the test-taker is smart the test-maker is smarter. Sometimes there may be nothing much in these paragraphs. So don't overdo it.

Linking up the answers
You will be able to view all the questions together. But the answers to various questions based on a passage should have some link. And the link is provided by (you guessed it) the picture that you formed.

The author is a faculty at and trains students in the verbal sections of CAT, GRE and GMAT examinations. For more CAT prep material visit:

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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KB Sharma,
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