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CAT Verbal Section: Ideal attempt in mocks?

Key Highlights

  • In CAT, what matters eventually is how well you manage your time and how well you handle the stress.
  • You must learn to spot the easy questions because solving the easy questions will take less time, and while solving those questions you will be under little stress.

What should be the ideal no of attempts?

Students often ask me as to what should be their ideal attempt in the CAT VARC section. I reply by first asking them what exactly they mean by the word “attempt”. To many aspirants the word “attempt” means marking the answer, but to me the word means trying to solve the question, something that may not result in marking or entering the answer.

To attempt means to try, and if you think that you have not been able to confidently arrive at the right answer, then you must stay away from marking the option. So a straightforward answer to the question on the ideal attempts in the VARC section is 34.

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You must take a look at all the 34 questions. You might wonder why is it important to have a look at all the 34 questions. I will answer this question in the subsequent paragraphs.

Almost all students sincerely preparing for CAT experience ups and downs in their VARC scores. There is a simple explanation for this: in the mocks in which they stumble upon the easier passages, they do well; but in the mocks in which they pick the difficult passages, their scores go down.

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When these students solve the same mock again, they realize that they could have done far better. The reason they could not pull up an exceptional performance was just because they missed a good no of easy to moderate questions. Thus, it is very important for students to visit all the questions because you can never predict the topic or the passage from which the easy questions might come.

For example, in one mock you might feel that the parajumbles were tough, whereas in the very next you might realize that of all the questions, the parajumbles were the easiest. Similarly, in one mock, you may not do well in a passage that dealt with economics, but in some other mock, you might do well in a similar passage because the questions asked were easy.

In other words, you can’t simply generalize. In CAT 2018, many students missed the easy parajumbles questions because they had gone to the test centre with the preconceived notion that parajumbles were difficult.

There are a few things that you must have in control before you set out to write your mocks.

  1. You must have a good intuitive feel of what looks easy and what looks difficult: This feel is particularly useful when it comes to what questions you will solve in the first round, and what questions you will solve in the second round, preferring the easier questions in the first round, followed by the not-so-easy ones in the second round. For example, a ten-second glance at a parajumble question might be enough to tell you whether the question is easy or not; similarly, a look at the questions of the reading comprehension passage might tell you enough about whether the questions are direct or of inference kind. This intuitive understanding of the difficulty level of the questions can be acquired only by thorough practice

So, if you haven’t had enough practice, I would suggest that you practice enough to get a good control on the topic, a control so good that it helps you guess the difficulty level of the question accurately

  1. You must have developed a degree of swiftness: Speed is different from swiftness in that speed might result in recklessness but swiftness comes from awareness and control. You are not only reading quickly but are also conscious of what you are reading. This too comes from a good deal of practice. You should solve a good no of reading comprehension passages, ensuring that you are able to maintain a desired level of swiftness and concentration for three hours at a stretch.
  2. You must have learnt to let go a question: Not being able to let go a question is one of the critical weaknesses of many students. Once they get stuck at a certain point in the question, they go deeper and deeper into it, forgetting that time is slipping by. It is good to be serious about the whole CAT affair, but you must also learn to remain detached. If you realize that you have spent a good time in the question without making any headway, you must pull yourself out of it and move to the next question. Many good students spoil their mocks just because they got stuck in a question or two. Remaining emotionally detached will help you being cold and practical during those three critical hours.

You must ensure that you have worked on the above three parameters before you set out to write the mocks. If you have already taken mocks and things are not falling in place, then take a break from writing mocks, get into a practice mode and work on all the three areas mentioned above. You must not forget that CAT is as much about temperament as about aptitude. Focusing too much on the latter and ignoring the former may not always bring the desired results.

Now we enter the second part of our discussion, assuming that you have practiced enough and have acquired an eye for easy questions.

How should you plan your paper?

  1. The first 4 minutes: in the first four minutes you must have a look at the question distribution of the paper. While doing so, you will get a fair idea of the no of passages that have come, how many questions are there in each passage, whether the passages are too long or too short, what kind of subject matter have been discussed in the passage. Also, you will get to know the no of questions that have come from verbal ability, whether the summary passages are long or short, and whether the parajumbles and odd sentences have too many sentences in them. It would not be a bad idea to attempt a few questions while running through the paper, but only those questions that you think are short and look easy.
  2. The next 40 minutes: In the next forty minutes, you must attack those passages/questions that you found easy to read or were short or had a greater no of questions, depending on what you prefer. You must devote a larger proportion of your time to the questions and the options. If you have difficulty understanding the question, or the options or are having a tough time finding the evidence in the passage, you must quickly move to the next question. You must ensure that you complete the RC part of your section in 40 minutes.
  3. The next 15 minutes or whatever time is left: You should devote the remaining time of your section to the verbal ability part. Not all the questions in the verbal ability part will be difficult. You must first finish summary questions, followed by odd sentence and then parajumbles. Some of you might start your paper with summary and odd sentence and then move to the RCs, reserving the final eight to ten minutes for parajumbles alone. But the complicated questions should come last in the order of preference.

As a final note of caution, I would like to remind my readers that what matters eventually is how well you manage your time and how well you handle the stress. It all boils down to how good you are in spotting the easy stuff because solving the easy questions will take less time, and while solving those questions you will be under little stress. And you will never know what is easy until you have a look at it. You must ensure that you have a look at all the 34 questions of your section.


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