Improving RC time and accuracy – Beat The CAT

READING COMPREHENSION is one of the difficult sections to improve on.Even when improvements occur, they occur slowly. Many become discouraged—and rightly so. After all, there are few sections in which you can still feel flustered and perplexed even after reading the explanation. Perhaps my number one piece of advice on this matter: don’t give up.

You may have even applied my other advice: read widely from publications noted for their high-quality prose. Doing this will help you strengthen your reading brain. But to get over the hump, you will want to apply the strategies below.

USE CONTEXT TO HELP YOU.

If a question asks about a particular line, don’t go back in to the passage and read just that line. A good rule of thumb is to read at least 2 sentences before and after the line in question. This will give you an idea of where the point started and where the author is going with it.

SAVE UNFAMILIAR PASSAGES FOR LAST.

The CAT passages will cover a variety of subjects, from history to science to literature. Like with any question type, do the questions that are easier first and save the harder ones for last. Each question is worth the same amount, so you don’t want to waste a big chunk of time on a passage with a few questions when you could answer twice as many questions on easier passages. If science passages are confusing to you, come back to that one after you’ve completed the rest.

REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT THE QUESTION IS ASKING.

Reading comprehension questions have the most “gray area” of any question type on the CAT. Some people skim through the question, not really understanding what it is specifically asking, start reading the answer choices, and pick the first one that sounds true. This is not a good strategy – many times more than one answer choice will ring true or partially true with the passage, but only one will specifically and best answer that particular question.

DO NOT BRING IN OUTSIDE KNOWLEDGE.

The CAT does not require you to have any outside knowledge for the reading comprehension passages, so check any you have at the door. Your own biases might actually hurt you when answering the questions, especially if it is an opinion passage.

NOTE HOW CAT VOCABULARY IS USED IN THE SENTENCE.

You will come across some “vocabulary in context” questions where you will be given possible definitions of a vocabulary word in the passage. There may be more than one answer choice that gives a correct definition for the vocabulary word, but only one choice will fit the word in this particular context. Notice how the word is used in the sentence, and plug in the answer choices to see which one works best.

FOR “SELECT ONE OR MORE ANSWER CHOICES” QUESTIONS, CONSIDER EACH CHOICE SEPARATELY.

For some of the reading comprehension questions, you will have to choose one, two, or three of the answers. This format can lead you to second-guess yourself more than with a typical multiple-choice question where you can eliminate choices decisively. To avoid these issues, consider each choice separately and only select it if you feel that it could be the only correct answer to the question.

UNDERLINE AND TAKE NOTES AS YOU READ.

Read the passage actively. Underline key words or sentences that contain the main idea. Jot down any notes, probably just a word or two, that you think might help you. If the author is taking a side on a certain issue, write a positive or negative sign next to the passage to remind yourself later what his or her position is.

AVOID EXTREME ANSWERS.

Generally, if an answer choice sounds very extreme in tone, it’s not the best choice. Be wary of answers that use words like never, always, completely, etc. There’s usually an exception to the rule

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

Inferring and assuming are not the same thing. When you infer, you make an inference based on the information in the passage. When you assume, you make an assumption that brings in outside information or biases and is not based solely on the given passage. An assumption may seem valid, but if you can’t back it up with statements from the passage, it’s probably best to stay away from it.

PRACTICE, AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE,USING OFFICIAL MATERIAL.

Content-wise nothing beats practicing with actual CAT questions,once you are done with basics. The style and tone of the passage, the why questions and answer choices are worded, and the subtlety between the correct answer and the incorrect answers can only be found in actual questions.

KNOW WHY THE ANSWERS ARE WRONG.

Oftentimes, you may know the general answer to a question. That is not what the CAT is really testing. It is testing whether you can tell the difference between an answer choice that is almost right and one that is clearly right. Indeed, while sifting through the verbiage of the answer choices, you are truly employing your critical thinking skills.Only by having a strong sense of why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answer incorrect will you truly have mastered a question.

RE-DO PASSAGES.

Many times students balk at doing the same reading passages: ‘I’ve done that one before.’ Unless you have the photographic memory of an autistic savant, you’ll probably have forgotten most, if not all, of a passage you read six weeks ago.

Second, it is not about getting questions right. It is about knowing why the correct answer is correct and the wrong answer incorrect (as I just noted above). The chances that you remember the nuances between answer choices are slight to none. Thus each time you go through the answer is a fresh opportunity to exercise your analytical muscles.

BE AWARE OF YOUR PROPENSITIES FOR MISTAKES

Often there is a pattern to your mistakes. It could be that you infer too much in inference questions. It could be missing a single word in the passage that makes all the difference. It could be misinterpreting answer choices. Anticipating these mistakes can help you greatly.

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