Wednesday, September 13th, 2017
Imagine that you are a tennis player – let’s say a club-level player. You have been taking tennis lessons regularly. As a result, you have acquired some skills. You have a good first serve that (may not be like Roger Federer’s, but still) can reach about 100 mph. You also have a reliable second serve with enough kick. You can generate a nice topspin (although not of 3000 rpm as Rafael Nadal’s) on your forehand, and your backhand (usually a weakness of most players, unless you are a Stan Wawrinka) is good enough to keep the ball in play till you can pull the trigger. Your volleys – the shots hit before the bouncing of the ball in your side of the court – are also better than most of your club partners, and you can hit overhead smashes as easily as if you were zapping mosquitoes with an electric swatter. All these strengths of yours (with a bit of luck) should be enough to take you to the quarterfinals of most average club-level tournaments.
But there is one problem with your game:
YOU GET TIRED FROM RUNNING.
You do not have the stamina to last 3 grueling sets of a club-level match that will require you to run from point to point through the entire length of your court for possibly 3 hours. You may hit the ball like a king as long as you can do it from your spot, but you cannot chase the ball. You cannot reach the ball. Your shot-making skills are hence useless. And that is the problem of most club-level players – they are defeated primarily by the physical requirements of the game.
Now imagine that you are taking the CAT. You have been preparing for the CAT for about a year. You may have also taken some coaching. Now it is the exam day. You are looking at the verbal section. You begin with the enthusiasm of a tennis player playing the first game of the first set. You begin to swing freely, and things go well for a while. However, as you proceed further into the verbal section and begin to deal with a variety of questions that require a lot of reading, you begin to have a serious problem:
YOU GET TIRED FROM READING.
This is one of the most common (and most serious) problems faced by most CAT aspirants. If all we had to do was to answer a couple of short questions of each type, we would score pretty well. If a good amateur player has to play only a couple of service games against a pro, he may even defeat the pro.
The problem is achieving consistency over long periods of time – 3 hours of a tennis match, or 3 hours of the CAT.
Just as a budding tennis pro needs to develop fitness by running for miles every day, a CAT aspirant needs to develop fitness by devoting at least an hour every day to reading something substantial.
There are two distinct parts of the everyday preparation for the verbal section:
Part A – General reading, which along with other benefits, primarily prepares us for handling vast amounts of information – such as 4 RC passages, along with everything else in the verbal section – without getting tired.
Part B – Question-related preparation, an equivalent of learning how to hit perfect forehands and backhands, the aim of which is to learn the right technique of answering a particular kind of question.
In my observation, most CAT aspirants focus on B, and completely ignore A, which may be counterproductive, as we get a false sense of preparedness – like an amateur who imagines that he will defeat the pro in a match because he broke the pro’s serve in one game.
I repeat, the secret of winning lies in winning consistently – ball after ball, question after question.
A CAT tutor, just like a tennis coach, can help us only with B. He/she cannot make us read. We must do it ourselves.
Every day. Day after day. Without fail.
I recommend keeping a balance of fiction and nonfiction in your reading, as both require different approaches to the process of reading, and both bring in their own varieties of vocabulary. I also recommend starting your day with a newspaper, as different parts of it present us with different styles of writing, all of which can be seen in the CAT RCs. Half an hour spent over the newspaper whilst you have your morning coffee will also do wonders to your knowledge of the current affairs.
Also keep in mind that when you no longer find the reading material difficult, it’s time to crank up the pressure. You need to run an extra mile. You must read something that challenges you.
Look at it this way: if you are finding the reading material difficult to comprehend, you are on the right track.
In the posts that will follow in the coming weeks, we shall discuss some books and journals worth reading.
Let us now see how A helps in B.
If you are a regular reader, you can not only understand RC passages better but also read them faster, thereby giving yourself those precious extra few minutes to attempt some other questions.
Reading skills acquired through such everyday reading also help in verbal reasoning questions. Good readers can identify the connections in thoughts easily – as is required in Para Jumbles questions. The breadth of our reading can make it easier for us to empathize with writers and predict where their arguments will head next – a skill most necessary in Para Completion questions. Sometimes, we do not agree with the writer. While we are reading, we may even argue with the writer, point out the assumptions in the argument, evaluate it against our knowledge and experiences, and also counter it with evidence – preparing ourselves for Critical Reasoning questions without consciously being aware of it. When we read something complex, we naturally tend to articulate and simplify the message in our heads, as we consciously do while answering Summary questions.
Reading is an excellent (and the only) way of developing the most important tool required to answer Sentence Correction (grammar) questions – our instinct. If we have read a great deal of ‘correct’ English, we become sensitive to its ‘sound’, and can instinctively spot grammatical errors wherever we see them.
Even the most casual and infrequent readers among us shall not dispute the importance of reading in the development of vocabulary. Every subject matter we read brings its own variety of words, which allows us to observe the composition of the words, and also infer the meanings of unfamiliar words from their contexts – a necessary workout for Sentence Completion questions.
In order to maximise our CAT scores, we must be able to give our 100% attention to every question. That does not mean we attempt every question. It means that we need to give each question enough time to first determine whether or not we shall attempt it, and then further enough time to attempt it intelligently in case we go ahead with it. In my observation, many students do not even look at all the questions because they simply cannot read and comprehend fast enough, because they get tired too soon because they have never really practiced reading.
Novak Djokovic isn’t the world number one because he has the world’s best forehand, or the strongest backhand, or the deadliest serve. He has none of the classic weapons.
He is the world number one because he reaches every ball. He plays every ball. He becomes an indefatigable, relentless, fluid wall that cannot be penetrated.
Billy Jean King, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, once said, “Tennis is a perfect combination of violent action taking place in an atmosphere of total tranquillity.”
How fittingly these words describe the mind of a student going through an examination!
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This post was contributed by a friend Sanket Chowkidar. He has an MA from University College Falmouth, UK. He is currently a faculty for English with one of India’s leading test-prep organizations. He has been teaching CAT aspirants for close to a decade.
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