VARC CAT: Strategic Ways to Increase Attempts & Accuracy

Updated: Aug 22

I scored 71.88 marks (scaled) and got 98.29 percentile in the VARC section in CAT 2017. Here is a post which will share 14 strategic methods to increase your mock attempts and accuracy in the VARC section. I've spent an entire day collating the different techniques that have worked for CAT toppers in the past. I hope that many of them will work for you too.

Attempts or Accuracy?


Before we proceed to the part where I disclose the 14 strategies, I'd like to draw your attention to a common question, "Should I focus more on increasing my attempts in the VARC section or should I focus on accuracy?"


It is needless to say that when both attempts and accuracy come hand-in-hand, you score the best. However, one of them is surely more important than the other. Let's look at a table to understand which one:

Attempts v/s Accuracy

In the table above, the left-hand side represents the number of questions you choose to attempt in the VARC section. The top right-hand side represents the accuracy rate. Assuming that none of the questions are TITA, let us evaluate how much can you score at different attempt and accuracy rates.


10-15 v/s 25-30 Questions


During the mocks, most candidates attempt either in the range of 10-15 or in the range of 25-30 questions. Let us judge the two scenarios. If you aim to focus on the accuracy rate and keep your attempts between 10-15, then in the best case scenario, you can score a maximum of 37-45 marks (90-100% accuracy). On the other hand, if you aim to focus on the attempt rate and keep your attempts between 25-30, then even in the worst case scenario (70-80% accuracy), you can score a minimum of 43-55 marks.


Now evaluate for yourself - what is more difficult to achieve: an attempt rate of 25-30 or an accuracy rate of 90-100%? Hence, my first and foremost recommendation to you is to focus on increasing the number of attempts and then move on to improving your accuracy rate.


100 Percentilers


Most 100 Percentilers use this technique of increasing their VARC scores by keeping their attempts in the range of 25-30. In one of his Quora answers, Rishi Mittal, the 100 Percentiler of CAT 2019 quoted, "I always attempted 30-34 questions in my mocks in the VARC section. I ended up attempting 33 questions in the final CAT." Other VARC toppers have also mentioned this approach time and again.


Increasing Attempts


By now, you must have realized that it is important to focus on attempts. This section will share 8 strategic methods in which you can increase your attempt rate. Many of them have worked for me and others have worked for many more CAT takers in the past. So, brace yourself:


1. Prioritizing RCs


This is a commonly heard, yet weakly implemented strategy. CAT aspirants often spend too much time practicing VA questions, many of them being TITA in nature. In a section, if 24 out of 34 questions are from just one topic i.e. Reading Comprehensions, it should be your priority to improve that topic first. This will also ensure that you attempt RCs first, because you'll get more comfortable with them.


2. Order of Attempt


The second strategy is to decide how you're going to attempt the VARC section. A quick way to do that is to spend the first minute scanning all the 34 questions (which are essentially 5 RCs and 10 VA questions). Use the spare sheet you're given during the exam and in the very first minute, take a note of where the RCs are, e.g. write down on your sheet: Q6-8 RC3, Q15-20 RC6, etc. (translated as question numbers 6 to 8 comprise of a smaller RC, question numbers 15 to 20 comprise of a longer RC).


You just need to note two things: 1) the question numbers which are a part of an RC (as mentioned above) and 2) the length of the RCs with 6 questions using stars (I denoted a very long RC with one star, an average length RC with two stars and a shorter RC with three stars). This determined which RCs am I going to begin with first.


There are various methods to order your attempt (here 6 refers to RCs with 6 questions, 3 refers to RCs with 3 questions and VA refers to the verbal ability questions):


  • 6-6-6-3-3-VA

  • 3-3-6-6-6-VA

  • 6-3-6-3-6-VA

  • 6-6-3-3-6-VA

  • 6-6-3-6-3-VA

  • 6-VA-3-3-6-6

  • and many more..


My recommendation to you would be to ensure that you don't begin with VA. Keeping that in mind, you can try various orders during your mocks and see what works the best for you. After several trials, I found the order that suited me 6-6-3-6-3-VA (as highlighted above).


3. Start with RC6

No matter which pattern you choose from the above mentioned, keep the point regarding VA in mind. An additional strategy is to begin with an RC which has 6 questions. Since VARC is the first section you attempt in the CAT exam, your mind is the most attentive in the beginning. It also means it spends more time than it should on a question/passage in the beginning.


Since there is no escape to this overspending of time and attention, you might as well spend it on something that is going to fetch you the most marks i.e. an RC with 6 questions (a potential of 18 marks).


4. Set Time Limit


No matter how long an RC, there is a stipulated time after which you must consider moving on to the next set. That time needs to be decided by you, for me it was 10-12 minutes for an RC with 6 questions and 5-6 minutes for an RC with 3 questions. This time-check ensured that in case the passage I begin with is too difficult, I solve as many questions as I can and then move forward.


Along with a time limit for each RC, I had also planned in advance the two halves of the time allotted for the VARC section. In the first half (30 minutes) my goal was to attempt 2 RCs with 6 questions each and 1 RC with 3 questions. Psychologically, this gave me a feeling after half an hour, that I'm done with 15/24 RC questions. In the next 15-18 minutes, I kept a target to solve another RC with 6 questions followed by an RC with 3 questions. This used to leave about 12-15 minutes for 10 VA questions, which I felt was sufficient.


You may try this time plan in one of your mocks and see if it helps you. My suggestion to you would be to keep trying as many time plans as you can and see what works out the best for you.


5. Pace-up the Passage


This strategy is based on the observation that most RCs reveal their central theme within the first two paragraphs. So, you shouldn't distribute your time uniformly across all the paragraphs of the passage, instead when you start reading a passage try slow-reading to get the theme of the passage as quickly as possible. Once you get the theme, pace-up the reading of the subsequent paragraphs.


6. Questions Later


There are three methods to attempt the questions of an RC, commonly known as:


  • Classic: reading the RC first and attempting the questions later

  • Bottoms-Up: reading the questions first and then reading the RC

  • Mixed: referring to the questions mid-way reading the RC


Like other strategies, different people have different takes on this one too. Personally for me, the Classic Approach has worked the best i.e. reading the RC first and then looking at the questions. The reason is that this way I could impartially pay my attention to the passage as a whole. When I tried the other two approaches, I overlooked sentences that were given in multiple paragraphs, which were needed for the correct option.


After multiple trials, if you also find the Classic Approach to be your optimum, my suggestion would be to take a mental note of where each point lies in the passage. There is no need to memorize the facts, just know where they are so that you can refer the passage again after reading the questions.


7. Hidden Questions


Sometimes, we begin with a difficult RC unknowingly. As suggested in method 4, you should still read the passage till the stipulated time. This is because often there are easy questions enveloped in a difficult RC. Most coaching institutes teach this technique to their students. If an RC is difficult to read, there are chances that its questions might not be that hard. So, tap on these hidden questions.


8. Increase Reading Speed


This technique goes without saying that if you're able to read right (maybe not so fast, but right), then you can improve your attempt rate. There are 4 ways to do this:


  1. Reading Online: Almost everyone would recommend you to read editorials and famous blogs. Here is an extensive list of websites that you can refer for regular reading. You may add the Hindu Editorials and Mint Opinion articles to this list.

  2. Comprehending: There is more art to it than science. Here is a post that reveals how IIM students know this art of comprehension and use them in their day-to-day lives.

  3. Passage in Points: When you read a passage that comprises of 6-7 paragraphs, you should try summarizing each paragraph in 1 short line. This will increase your retention. This technique has been illustrated here in more detail.

  4. Out of Comfort: If you read articles that are out of your comfort zone, you'll be able to increase your reading speed for all the types of passages that might come in the exam. I'd recommend you to download Pocket for that purpose.


Increasing Accuracy


If you've read this far, I'm sure you can spare a few more minutes and go through the 6 strategic methods to increase your accuracy rate. Remember that this needs to follow an increase in the attempt rate:


1. Dilemma of Two


This technique is followed by most CAT toppers and has also proved out to be successful for most of them. It involves the usage of elimination method to narrow down the options of an RC to the last two. It is easier to find the right answer once you have rejected two options straightaway. So, this strategy suggests that you shouldn't be looking for the right answer, instead you should be looking for the wrong ones to be able to eliminate them. That way you'll automatically arrive at the right answer.


2. Use of Rationale


This strategic method is the best one available to improve your RC accuracy. It is based on the observation that the paper setter plants cues for you in the wrong options to be able to eliminate them. He or she also plants cues in the right option for you to select them. A candidate can be certain of his consistently good marks in the VARC section only if he or she is able to catch the cues in both the right options and the wrong options.


This technique needs to be practiced while solving an RC, be it in mocks or otherwise. When you read the options of an RC, you must have a rationale for why the right option is right and also why the wrong options are wrong, in other words, what are the 4 cues planted by the paper setter.


When you sit to analyze the RCs after marking the options, you can celebrate your victory not when you see that 6/6 questions of your RC are correct, but when you see that 24/24 cues planted in those 6 questions were caught by you i.e. the rationale that you used while marking the options was exactly what had to be used.


Trust me, this technique does wonders. This is one of the biggest reasons for my accuracy rate during the mocks as well as in the final exam.


3. Critical Reasoning


It is said that RCs are more of logical reasoning than verbal ability. Hence, if you are good at critical reasoning, you'll be able to identify those cues better. My suggestion to you would be to read this PDF on verbal logic which will improve the time in which you're able to identify the planted cues.


4. Extremes are Wrong


Often in the options, you'd encounter cues that are extremes. For example, "The author says that the universe is always flawed". If this was one of the options of a question that asked to find the statement which was true, I'd mark this option incorrect. Words like 'always, never, definitely' are extremes and are often cues to a wrong option. Always look out for such words to improve your accuracy rate.


5. In Context


I've always maintained that vocabulary building is not necessary to be good at RCs. You need to understand the meaning of the words when placed in a sentence, i.e. in a context. To develop this ability, a strategic method is to try guessing the meaning of a word when re-reading an RC during mock analysis. The guesswork should be based on the words placed around it. Once you've guessed, browse the Google Images by copy-pasting that word.


Images help in longer retention. This will ensure that you're able to remember both the meaning of the word as well as its context due to the image that will get registered in your mind.


6. Show Apathy


Yes, you read it right. It means don't get involved in the passage. Sometimes, when we're reading something we understand, we end up making assumptions and prejudices about what the author is saying. You don't have to get emotionally involved in the arguments, instead you need to read it without having any preconceived notions in your mind. Think of yourself as an observer of the author.


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With this, we come to the end of a long post on improving your VARC scores, this is all I had to share. If you like it or find it useful, definitely let me know in the comments. Would be glad to know what worked for you.


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