After having talked about the 7 Rules to Excel in CAT QA section in our previous article, we get down to discussing similar tips to tackle CAT VARC section.

Understanding of a Paper (or a section) along with the understanding of own strengths and weakness are the two essential blocks of deciding the strategy for attempting it. The CAT 2019 paper structure is that of three back to back sectional tests and hence having a separate approach to tackle each of the three sections is required. The 2018 CAT VARC section had 34 questions to be attempted in 60 minutes, now the question arises, how many questions to attempt? If we look at the raw scores for 99%ile of last three years we see a drop. In 2015, a score of 78 in VARC was required for a 99%ile, in 2016 a score of 75, in 2017 the score required was 73 to get in the 99%iler category while 2018 saw a drop in level of difficulty as compared to CAT 2017 as the raw score required for a 99%ile was 75 marks. You must not panic if the level of difficulty rises in CAT 2019 as, that would mean, lesser questions to attempt in more time! Thus, an aspirant need not attempt all questions, rather very smartly pick 24-25 questions to be attempted with 100% accuracy or pick 28-29 questions if your accuracy is about 85%. Now, once we know the marks that we have to pocket in VARC, let’s see “how” to get them.

In this post, we will discuss the strategy to successfully tackle the Verbal and Reading Comprehension section. To understand the section, let us look at the question types that are likely to appear in the VARC section for CAT 2019, look at the skills required to answer them and also simultaneously look at my comfort level with each of these question types.

Reading Comprehension:

Reading Comprehension passages or what were called “unseen passages” in school are the nemesis of a large number of students because of poor (or lack of) reading habit. The passages can be from different areas and the questions can be factual or inferential. The good thing is that length of passage in Computer Based CAT VARC section has decreased as compared to its paper & pencil version. It is advisable to attempt those passages first that are from a subject you are comfortable with. If you are not good in Critical Reasoning, then it is okay to leave the inferential questions as it will help you cut down on the negative score.

My Comfort Level: Throughout my school & college years and even today, I read a lot because of which I am by and large comfortable with most kinds of RC passages. However, I do not find inferential, philosophical, literary, medical or biological passages enjoyable and hence avoid them in the paper. The RC passage topics that I prefer attempting in the paper are business, economics, current affairs, politics, history, and mythology.

 Verbal Ability:

Vocabulary questions in CAT VARC section like synonyms, antonyms & analogies, are knowledge-based questions and can be answered correctly only if you know the meaning of the word and/or the choices. Hence a good vocabulary is essential to do well in these types of questions. The good thing about these questions is that they consume very little time – a single reading of the question and the choices is enough to determine if you can/cannot answer the question. Reading the question or the choices, again and again, will not give you the answer. It is advisable to leave these questions if we do not get the answer in a single reading. One should never hesitate in leaving out the difficult questions as the 1 hour per section has to be utilized judiciously to maximize attempts.

My Comfort Level: I am fairly okay with vocabulary and even with an approximate idea of the word; I am able to get the correct answer by an elimination of choices. However, if I do not know the meaning of the word, I’ll leave the question.

Sentence Correction, like vocabulary, is knowledge based. If you do not know the rule of grammar to be applied, you are unlikely to get it correct and hence the question should be left un-attempted. However, if you have a good reading habit, you should be able to get a 3 out of 5 questions correct by instinct/gut feel.

Sentence Correction and Vocabulary typically contribute to most to the negative score of the students because of our propensity to mark an answer without being sure of the answer. Guesswork should be avoided in all knowledge based questions. Suggest that you read the question once; if you know the answer marks it else move on to the next question.

My Comfort Level: This is my weak area. I do not know grammar, however, because of my reading habit many times I am able to identify which part of the statement is incorrect. So, simple questions of sentence correction will be attempted but if the complexity of the question is high, I will leave the question.

Sentence completion (fill in the blanks)  questions in CAT VARC section are based on knowledge of vocabulary as well as grammar but can be worked out based on the context and elimination of choices especially if the question has more than one blank. It is worthwhile reading the question statement 2 – 3 times as guesswork based combination of knowledge and elimination of choices usually works in these questions.

My Comfort Level: Because of my reading habit, the contextual meaning of a word comes very easily to me and this helps me in sentence completion fill in the blanks. I usually attempt all sentence completion questions.

Para-jumbles and Deductive logic are logic based questions in CAT VARC section and no prior knowledge of any area is required. Hence you can you can work your way through in these questions even if the logic is not completely clear. Also, the choices are of great help in these questions. It is advisable to move back and forth between the question and the choices to get to the correct answer. For example, in Para-jumbles, identify the opening or closing or a logical pair and eliminate the choice that does not adhere to it. Successively eliminate the incorrect choices to get the correct answer.

My Comfort Level: These are my areas of strength; I’ll usually not make a mistake in these questions. I work on Elimination of choices by identifying logical pairs and successively eliminate the incorrect choices.

Critical Reasoning and Para completion questions in CAT VARC section can be attempted only if you understand the logic, elimination of choices is can help you reach the answer faster but the logic is essential.

My Comfort Level: I am comfortable with these questions. I’ll typically read the passage and get the answer by the elimination of choices. If I do not understand the passage, I will usually not attempt the question.

Unlike QA or DI, where most of the time it is visible that the question can or cannot be solved, in VRC all questions look solvable so we end up attempting all questions and end up with a high number of incorrect answers. Hence in this section it is advisable not to go in for guesswork, and follow the rule “When in doubt, leave”

Now on to my rules for attempting the CAT VARC section:

  1. A paper is not a place for R&D, hence a new type of question will be looked at only if I can peg it to an existing question type.
  2. I read the choices along with the question as it helps in elimination of choices.
  3. In my weak areas, when in doubt I leave the question without marking the answer.

If you are in the 60-85%ile category, then you need not focus on the Round 1-3 strategy mentioned below, just focus on RCs and odd-sentences parajumbles. And if time permits then only venture into other question types. In RCs stick to factual questions over inferential questions as the later come mostly with confusing options.

For those who score >85%ile in VARC, I would recommend the below mentioned step by step strategy I follow for a 99+%ile in CAT VARC section:

  1. In Round 1 (R1) I sequentially attempt the following question types:
    a. Vocabulary and sentence completion,
    b. Grammar,
    c. Deductive Logic,
    d. Para jumbles,
    e. Critical Reasoning
    f. Para-completion,
    g. Summary questions
  2. In Round 1 (R1), I will also glance through the RC passages to understand the length, subject and the question type of the passage to identify the 2-3 passages that I would want to attempt and the one passage that I would want to leave.
  3. In Round 2 (R2), I will attempt the 2-3 RC passages that I have identified as easy.
  4. In Round 3 (R3), I will check the un-attempted RC passage(s), go through the questions and attempt the factual questions. Time permitting I will also check the un-attempted verbal questions but will mark an answer only if I am sure of the answer.

Work out a similar set of rules for yourself for CAT VARC section and see if you can attempt a Mock CAT using them. In the video analysis of Mock CATs, you would have seen me applying these rules. You must refer to the article “Have you been choosing the right questions in your mock CAT” to come up with a strategy to tackle with the section.

All the best


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