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To start with, there have literally been tons of articles written about how to approach the section, how to keep your calm, how to get better at content and so on. In fact, a few posts on our blog have been among the most read articles on the website. I will probably delve a bit into the common issues that aspirants face in this section and how to better face your inner demons. From the content point of view, I would suggest that you refer to the following resources:

Sriram Krishnan’s post on how to attempt RCs

Sriram Krishnan’s post on how to prepare for the VA section

Sriram Krishnan’s video session on solving Parajumbles

How many to attempt?

A lot of time, students get really nervous if they don’t attempt all the questions in VARC. That has basically got to do with the mindset that one is in when one approaches the section (which, trust me has happened a lot of times with me too). VARC to most is not exact science; at least not as much science as say Quant is. So, it is say comparing these two questions

a. How many subsets of {1, 2, 3, 4, 5} do not contain two consecutive integers?

b. Which of the following cannot be said about the “whale’s song” as described in the passage?

1) Humans from Aristotle’s era were able to hear Whalesong.

2) A whale’s family group can be identified by its song.

3) Humpback whale’s songs reflected geographic differences.

4) None of the above

Now, it is perfectly understandable for someone to not have an answer to the first question because one might not know the underlying concept and s/he will leave this question without any feeling of guilt. However, it is almost impossible to leave the second question simply because you have put in the effort in reading the passage and comprehending it. Now if you do not answer this question, which is as straightforward as it could be, it would be criminal.

This is the issue with the mindset that we have while attempting the section. Just because you have practiced hitting sixes doesn’t mean that you start hitting sixes the moment it is your turn to bat. You take a call according to the situation right? Similar thing goes for VARC as well. Although you might feel that the more you attempt the more are your chances of scoring well, it is not as simple as that.

There will be around 25 easy questions and 9 difficult ones. Let’s say you have attempted 25 odd questions. Because you are close to 34 and you don’t want to attempt fewer questions in the first section than are available, you will end up marking the remaining 9 ones as well simply because even if you get 25 correct and 9 wrong, you won’t really mind. But if you do get 34 correct then it would be a brilliant tradeoff. But usually this doesn’t happen. Because we are under pressure to mark most of/all the 34 questions, we end up solving the 25 easier ones in a hurry missing out on subtle traps. Greed will probably be your worst enemy in this section; more than even content or reading speed or lack of a solid vocabulary. If you feel your optimum attempt is somewhere around the 25-27 mark, stick to it. Don’t attempt a question because you think there is a 50-50 chance of you getting it correct. If you are hoping for a 50-50, you will most probably end up getting a 0.

Order of attempt

Another issue is students getting bored with RCs easily. If you are in the morning slot, you would anyway be anxious, tired and sleepy because of travel and the waiting period (similar goes for the afternoon slot when you would either be full or hungry and will have read morning slot reviews of people attempting 34/34). Reading 5-6 passages from various topics is not exactly the way in which we want our test to begin and so, you would be pretty slow to start the test. The problem occurs if you are impatient as well (Exhibit A: yours truly). Now you have no clue whether to go fast or to go slow. I personally figured out that mixing up the VA and the RC questions was helpful in this regard. So, if you are facing this issue and have not figured out a strategy, I would suggest you not to exhaust your VA questions right at the start. Try to plug in a couple of VA questions between two RC passages especially if the RC that you have solved was particularly intense. It might help you maintain focus.

Avoid getting lucky

A lot of you would be facing fluctuations in your VARC sectional scores. On good days, you will end up scoring 60 odd whereas on horrible days, you might be lying in the 20s. If you cannot pinpoint the exact reason why this happens, it would most probably be because you were lucky on the day you scored well. Now we cannot really depend on luck to bail us out on the CAT day, right? The best way to avoid this is being extremely careful while marking answers in this section, especially during practice. There has to be a stronger reason to not mark a particular answer than to mark another answer. It cannot be simply because it doesn’t look good. How would you feel if a girl/boy turned you down simply because you don’t ‘look good’? Answer options have feelings too! The moment you start doing this, you will see your scores becoming consistent (either good or bad, but at least you will have solid areas that you could then work on).

VARC is overrated!

Almost all good aspirants spend time on two things that are practically useless: solving difficult quant questions and thinking about what could go wrong in VARC. As goes the common query: I always mark the incorrect option out of the last two options! You would have realized by now that the more you think, the more the incorrect options start looking attractive and subsequently the more are the chances of you making an error. We have seen students not marking an answer because it looks too straightforward (which ended up being the right answer). You tend to think more because there isn’t a process that has been developed that tells you if a particular question is easy or difficult. If you have put in the hard work and have strong reasons why option A should be right and not option B, C or D you will do well. Your entire preparation should ideally be dedicated to finding the reasons that make an answer right or wrong.

To address this, it is advised that you stick to good sources when it comes to practice, especially RCs and PJs. GMAT, GRE, LSAT are good sources simply because they give good reasons for their answers (something at which, most of the mocks and material we have available suck). I have been using the passages from these sources selectively so that there is some quality practice material. Hope you have been solving the same from here: RC of the Day (Archives)

So bottom line is, treat the section on par with QA and LRDI when it comes to prep, mindset and attempts. Be harsh on yourself if you mark a random answer without any rhyme or reason and remove the emotional bit out of your attempts. Also, discuss your answers and thought process extensively with others. It will help you gain perspective. We have a pretty active community here and in case you are facing any issues with prep, you are always welcome to gain some insights: Cracking CAT with Learningroots

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