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How to Prepare for the Verbal Section in CAT 
  Author :  Vijay Gupta,Mumbai      Saturday, March 7, 2009  

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I have a lot to say about the verbal section. Many CAT 2009 aspirants will identify with what I have to say because they come from the same background as I do. Characteristic of an education given in small towns of India, my early tutelage in the English language was very scant. Studying in a Hindi medium school- where even English was taught in Hindi- my grounding in the language was dodgy. I wrote my JEE in Hindi and came to IIT- Delhi. It was here, in this metropolitan atmosphere, that I started taking my knowledge of English language seriously. And I set off with the most tortuous path there was- over a period of two years, I memorized the whole dictionary, covering 5 pages every day. During the same period, I picked up the hobby of solving daily crossword in ‘The Hindu’ along with some of my batch mates. I also started reading extensively, from potboiler thrillers to highbrow literature, I read them all. Many of my batch mates still remember me reading a novel in the hostel mess during lunch or dinner. I even carried novels to my classes. And I did all this when MBA was not even on my distant horizon. I just wanted to master the language. Although I have forgotten many words over these years, I still preserve the habits of solving crosswords and reading.
In 2004, when I started preparing for CAT, I found that I used to score 32+ / 50 in the verbal sections in mocks in which the verbal cutoffs used to be less than 20 marks. And my fellow CAT aspirants- many of whom have had convent school education- were struggling in the section. To my delight I realized I had an ace up my sleeve despite my poor grammar and lack of convent education- my passion for reading. Three years after cracking CAT 2005 (I had started teaching quant to CAT aspirants), I took CAT 2008 and was triumphant once again, scoring 98.59 percentile (65 out of 160) in verbal. I had not touched a single verbal test for three years. So what advice do I have for CAT aspirants?

Nothing can beat a natural skill: So one fine day you got frustrated of your job or found your peers in college preparing for MBA and you decided to take CAT. You enrolled in a nearby coaching center and took a few tests, and suddenly found yourself stumped in the verbal section. Too many mistakes in the section and those nefarious negative marks eroded your score. Your response? You memorize the insufficient fundas given in your coaching material and try to attempt as many verbal questions as you can. You try to devour one RC after another, solve infinite parajumbles, mug up the scrimpy wordlist, all the time hoping to catch hold of that elusive accuracy. And many months later you discover that you have barely improved. A tough RC can still unhinge you. So can a tricky parajumble. Your hard work seems to bear no fruit. What is going wrong?

The truth is that you are trying to tame the tiger by its tail. In my class I usually ask engineers which section they are most comfortable with. The answer in almost all cases is quant. Most of these engineers achieve the cutoffs in quant easily, no matter what is the format of the quant section. And the best part is that they do not make any strategy in quant. They have become natural in quant. And many of them can easily beat a student who is weak in quant and taking one quant test after another. Because that student still hasn’t gained the mathematical skills.

Students who attempt to master the verbal section fail to understand the difference between skills and testing. Solving an RC is testing. Developing the reading habit is skill. Solving a parajumble is testing. Developing the sixth sense of continuity of idea through reading is skill. Solving a grammar question is testing. Picking up a grammar book and learning grammar completely is skill. Most students waste time testing themselves in place of gathering skills.

Having skills in a particular section means you can handle any change in the section. You don’t have to make any strategy in that section. Also, if you gain skills and become natural you would have gained something for life. You would have a good vocabulary, good grammar, and excellent reading skills which would help you become a good communicator and an impressive manager. If you only keep testing throughout the year, you would have gained nothing and after your MBA exams are over you would again become the person with lousy English.

Read. Read, read, read: My reading started with a lot of simple books- Hardy boys, Nancy Drew, Three investigators, Sidney Sheldon, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes etc. After one or two years, I shifted to books such as Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Fountainhead, Tao of Physics, etc. I soon got tired of it and shifted to serious literature. Over the last few years, I have completely shifted to serious fiction. Although I have a hectic schedule, I still finish one or two novels every week. Needless to say, reading has become my passion for life. Reading has given me a huge edge over CAT aspirants that they don’t have- the art of interpretation.

What is the difference between reading newspapers/ magazines and reading novels? Simply this- newspapers and magazines are mostly factual. They might provide you with rich vocabulary and grammar but in all other aspects they are completely plain and artless. Novels, on the other hand, have situations, scenes, dialogues, drama etc. where a reader has lot more to decipher from what he is reading. Novels have layers and layers of interpretations. They have tones and undertones, dialogues full of emotions, different shades of moods, which make you adept in gauging the mood and style of an RC passage. Novels make you adept at interpretation. And why is interpretation important? Because the same words can convey different moods and meanings:

 “Where have you been?” she demanded.

 “Where have you been?” she shrieked.

 “Where have you been?” she eyed suspiciously.

 “Where have you been?” she enquired.

 “Where have you been?” she was jealous.

Knowing how to interpret an RC passage exactly is an art that will not come without reading. Interpretation is also needed when you are trying to make a fine distinction between two option choices. And not only RC, interpretation will also help you in your parajumbles and paragraph completions.

So if you want to be absolutely unbeatable at verbal section, start reading!

Love the Language, keep struggling: Two months ago, on Dagny’s suggestion, I joined a gym to reduce my ever-growing tummy. Working obediently on my trainer’s direction, I realized that the rules of a gym are similar to that of my CAT classrooms with one exception- nobody comes to gym expecting a shortcut. Whether someone comes with an intention of reducing weight or gaining muscles, he knows he will have to sweat it out for it. In a CAT classroom, on the other hand, many students come expecting that we will perform a miracle within days or month. Or that we can tell some secret strategies to cracking the paper. Or that they wouldn’t have to read novels or pick up thick grammar books.

 “Sir if we finish your grammar material, is it sufficient?”

 “If we read 25- 30 novels is it enough?”

 “Is yours or Barrons word list enough?”

You want to be in top 1500 students out of 3 lac students and you think that you can study enough? Get Real!

The moment I ask you to finish more than 100 novels or finish 2- 3 grammar books, most of you would come up with instant excuses, and the oft-repeated one will be “I don’t get time from studies/work..” What if one of your loved ones had fallen ill and needed your time and care? Wouldn’t you make time for that? The only reason that you give those excuses is that you don’t give your preparation such extreme importance. Also, you don’t want to work hard.

One of the basic reasons that these tasks seem so imposing to you all is that you lack interest in the language. You are being forced to learn it for your MBA preparation. In order to effectively master the language, you need to love it. You need to love it so much that you would continue learning it even after you MBA exams are over. You would continue learning it all your life. The day you start feeling like that you would automatically be reaching our for dictionary to find out the meaning of the word you didn’t know, you would regularly be found roaming in bookshops trying to discover a new good novel, and you would habitually find yourself correcting the grammar mistakes of you and your friends. And then you would not be preparing for an exam; you would be enjoying a new-found love in your life.

Slow down, select questions: The biggest trap in the verbal section is that everyone can read English. And since everyone can read English, everyone reads the complete section and attempts more than 70% of the questions. And thereby everyone attempts the section at a jet set speed not caring about the accuracy. And when the results come out, students discover that there wrong answers are more than their correct ones. It is a mystery to me why students do not treat the verbal section similar to the quant or DI section and select limited number of questions to solve. In CAT 2008, I overlooked two categories of usage questions completely and also overlooked one or two questions in every RC passage. I spent a lot of time solving the rest of the questions and since I had selected a limited number of questions, I had enough time to understand them and solve them.

Remember this: attempting too many questions is the reason your accuracy is so low in the verbal section!

So next time you attempt a paper, select a few questions in the verbal section and spend sufficient time on solving them.

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Admin Vidyarthy,Mumbai 3/7/2009 4:20:48 AM
   Nice article Vijay. I also come from same background and agree with you that reading is important. I attempted Cat 2008 and was able to get only 90 percentile in verbal because i kept testing me throughout the year rather than gathering skills. Even this year i was doing the same and wont do it from tomorrow. I totally agree with you when you say "Students who attempt to master the verbal section fail to understand the difference between skills and testing. Solving an RC is testing. Developing the reading habit is skill. Solving a parajumble is testing. Developing the sixth sense of continuity of idea through reading is skill. Solving a grammar question is testing. Picking up a grammar book and learning grammar completely is skill. Most students waste time testing themselves in place of gathering skills." that is so true and applicable to most of the aspirants. From now onwards i am going to start what u suggested 1)Economist 2)Hindu Editorials 3)Articles on Philoso

Raj Kishan,Hydrabad 6/17/2009 1:38:39 AM
   Hello Mr Vijay,

Seems to informative, but would like to here about it.Well i think i need to focus more on the practical side and logical aspects.

Also mention the recent changes in CAT exams and additions..