Reading Passages - Online Article

Reading Comprehension

One skill that a student should immediately start improving on, if he is keen on cracking CAT, is reading speed. It is a misconception that reading speed is relevant only for the Reading Comprehension section. In recent years, the stress in English Usage is more on para-jumbles and inferential reasoning. Your ability to do these types of questions fast enough, depends a lot on your reading speed.

Even in quantitative aptitude section, the average length of questions has increased. Nowadays questions of four to five lines are very common in quant. Thus, a high reading speed will help you score over others.   On the whole, the question paper has anything in the range of 40+ pages to be solved in two hours. This makes a good reading speed absolutely essential.

Improving Reading Speed

Our current reading speed is a result of our reading habits over the past years. One cannot hope to improve reading speed dramatically overnight. There are certain bad reading habits that one would have picked up over time. Even eliminating these can improve speed substantially. Let's have a look at few of these bad habits.

1. Mindset/Interest: Almost all of us read at good speeds of about 400 words per minute, but only if the reading matter is something that interests us. And subjects that interest us are very few.

For CAT one does not have the luxury to ask for passages from a certain subject area. The five or more passages would be taken from diverse backgrounds ranging from sociology to science, from economics to engineering or just about anything under the sun.

Thus, the first hurdle to overcome is our bias against few subjects. As soon as our interest is absent, reading speed drops down. One would need to consciously work on developing interest in whatever one is reading. There should be an amount of curiosity and urge to read on to maintain higher reading speeds.  What one can do as a starting point is to ensure that one reads atleast one article every week from a subject different from his academic and professional background. Start from articles or books to do with basics of that subject, so that the reading becomes easier.

2. Vocalisation: Vocalisation means reading aloud. It may occur in various degrees and even movement of tongue while reading is one form of vocalisation. Vocalisation ensures that you cannot read more than you speak. If needed, keep a pencil between your teeth. This will ensure that you don't vocalise.

3. Eye Span: Eye span simply means the number of words that we can take in at one go. For poor readers it is just one word at a time. One word, independently, does not have any meaning. Thus, 'Jack', 'and', 'Jill' do not mean anything independently. But 'Jack and Jill' does mean something. Thus, having a large eye span improves our understanding considerable. One should be more concerned with the meaning behind words rather than the words themselves.

Ideally a good reader absorbs around seven to eight words in one go. Newspaper coloums offers a good practice exercise to increase eye span. While reading a newspaper coloumn, our eyes should only move vertically down and not horizontally.

4. Regression: How many times has it happened that after reading a few lines we realize, we have not understood it very well and we have to read the lines once again or, while solving questions on the passage we have an urge to go back to the passage and verify our answers? This is regression. Due to regression we end up reading the passage more than one and half times and hence our reading speed gets cut down by almost two-thirds.

The habit of re-reading a line you have not understood should be immediately and consciously stopped. It is rare that one would not get the idea of the passage because of one line. Just keep reading on, most probably you would understand the missed out line by inference.
  Going back to the passage to ascertain the answer for a fact-based question and if one knows where the fact is in the passage, is ok because it hardly takes any time. However, if one is sure of the answer, one should not regress just to be 'doubly sure'.
  Regressing just to check an inference-based question should be avoided, as reading the relevant part even once more would in most of the cases not help resolve the dilemma.

Types of Passages

Before moving on to the various approaches, we would have to differentiate between types of passages. There are passages that are heavily loaded with facts and figures and then there are passages that lean towards abstruse conceptual matters like a passage on morality, psychology, etc. To identify what is the type of passage, one can take help of the following.

  1. Usually, fact-based passages would have a lot of paragraphs and the length of each paragraph would be small, anywhere between 5-10 lines. Conceptual assages would have just around 3-4 paragraphs but each paragraph would be pretty lengthy.
  3. Also passages can be distinguished based on the types of questions asked — fact- based questions, answers of which can be directly found in the passage, and inference- based questions, which asks you to be in the author's shoe and think as he does. Also questions like 'tone of the passage is . . .?', 'the author is most likely to be . . .?', 'this passage appeared in . . .?'are inference-based questions. A glance at the type of questions can also tell a lot about what type the passage is likely to be.

Approaches to Reading Comprehension

Tackling questions on Reading Comprehension, in the traditional sense, i.e. what we are taught in school, meant reading the whole passage first, understanding it and then going on to questions. However, to excel in a competitive exam, where not only comprehension but also speed is of immense importance, one needs to adopt different approaches for different passages.

Different passages have to be approached in different ways. Four effective approaches to Reading Comprehension are as follows.

P - Q

This is the traditional way or reading the passage first and then approaching the questions. This approach is good for a conceptual passage, but for a fact-based passage it involves unnecessary waste of time. Also it is a very reactive way of tackling an RC passage.

Q - P - Q

The other approach most commonly used is to have a look at the questions first and then read the passage, underlining part of the passage where an answer to the questions read may be found. After reading the passage, one can go to the questions and if need be just revisit the underlined part.
  However, while one is reading the questions, one must not waste a lot of time reading any inference-based questions and just keep a look out for names, events and terms that can be found in the passage.


One should try this for a fact-based passage. It can save a lot of time. In this approach, one never ends up reading the passage. A question is taken one at a time and its answer is searched for in the passage. Obviously not many inference-based questions can be answered in this way, so these questions will have to be left. But if it were a fact-based passage, these types of questions would be minimal. Also one can take advantage that usually the answers to the questions would lie sequentially in the passage.

One - third P - Q - P

In this approach, around one-third of the passage is read, which gives one a fair idea of the structure of the passage. Then questions are looked at and all those questions whose answers lie in the part of passage read are attempted. Then for the remaining passage the QP-QP-QP approach is followed. This also helps in saving time searching for the answers as the amount of passage unread is less and also one understands the flow of the passage. A few inferential questions can also be answered using this approach.

The above approaches coupled with a proper selection of the passages to be attempted should help one comfortably clear the cut-offs of the Reading Comprehension section.

Selection of Passages

Usually, the number of passages asked will be at least five. Even if one does three of these, it is good job done. Thus, one should proactively select which passages are to be done and which left. Passages should be selected based onthe following.

  1. Comfort level with the topic of the passage
  3. Difficulty level of the language used
  5. Understanding the structure of the passage
  7. Length of the passage and number of the questions asked
  9. Types of questions asked, i.e. number of fact-based and inference-based questions

All those who have a difficulty in selecting which passages to be done can try the following.
  Read five to seven lines of each passage, turn by turn, keeping the above points of selection in mind. While reading the passages successively, it is a good idea to keep rating the passages relative to each other, e.g. after reading passage one and two, do make a rating which of them is easier or are both of them at par in terms of difficulty. By the time the initial lines of the last passage are read, one should have a clear idea of the order of tackling the passages.

Types of questions in Reading Comprehension

The six types of reading comprehension questions :

1. Main Idea Questions

These questions ask about the central theme that unifies the passage. They are often worded as follows.

Which of the following is the main point of the passage?
  The primary purpose of the passage is to . . .
  The author is primarily concerned with . . .
  Which of the following titles best describes the content of the passage?

2. Specific Detail Questions

These questions ask about details that are explicitly mentioned in the passage. This type of question differs from a main idea question. A specific detail or a point mentioned by the author is used as the basis for the question. These questions are often phrased as:

The author mentions which of the following ?
  According to the author, . . .
  The author provides information that would answer which of the following questions?

3. Logical Structure Questions

This type of questions asks about the logical structure of the selection. Some such types questions ask about the overall development of the passage and are sometimes phrased.

"The author develops the passage primarily by . . ."
  "The author proceeds primarily by . . ."

Others ask about the role played by a specific detail. These are sometimes phrased as: "The author mentions . . . in order to . . ."
  "Which of the following best explains why the author introduces . . .?"

4. Implied Idea Questions

These questions ask not about what is specially stated in the passage in so many words, but about what can be logically inferred from what is stated in the passage. For example, the passage might explain that certain organism, X, is found only in the presence of another organism, Y. Then an implied idea question might ask, "If organism Y is not present, what can 1 infer?" The answer would be 'X is not present'. The passage implies, and you can infer from the passage, that in the absence of Y, X cannot be present.

The passage implies that . . .
  The author uses the phrase ". . ." to mean . . .
  It can be inferred from the passage that . . .
  Which of the following can be inferred from the passage?

5. Further Application Questions

These questions are somewhat like implied idea questions, but they ask you to go one step further and apply what you have learnt in the passage to a new situation. These are sometimes phrased as:

With which of the following statements would the author most likely agree?
  The author would probably consider which of the following as a good example of her theory?
  The passage is most probably taken from which of the following sources?

6. Tone Questions

While reading any passage, it is important to be aware of the 'tone' of the passage. This could mean the attitude of the author or the overall tone of the passage.

Every passage in a reading comprehension section generally has one tone-based question and many times the choices are close.

Now in order to crack a tone-based question, there are two strategies.

  1. To be consciously aware of the tone while reading the passage
  3. To know clearly the meanings of the tones in the answer choices

Both 1 and 2 help you to arrive at the answer. A list of tones that commonly occur in MBA entrance examination RC questions is given below.

Positive, Negative, Optimistic, Pessimistic, Humorous, Sarcastic, Cynical, Narrative, Illustrative, Pedagogical, Exaggerated, Regretful, Humorously, Angry, Argumentative, Objective, Analytical, Neutral, Frivolous, Superficial, Serious, Thought-provoking, Scholarly, Approving, Condemning, Empathising, Callous, Indifferent, Mandatory, etc.

Hints for Answering Questions

For a main idea question, find an answer that is neither too broad nor too narrow. If the choices are supposed to complete the question stem, start by checking the first words. Eliminate any choices that do not correspond to the author's treatment of words.

  1. For a specific detail question, locate the reference you need in the passage. Don't be distracted by choices that make true or partially true statements but are not responsive to the question.
  3. Logical structure questions ask either about the overall development of the selection or a particular detail. Treat a question about the overall logical development of a passage as you would a main idea question. For a logical detail question find the appropriate reference and determine why the author made the point.
  5. For an implied idea question, find a choice that is logically supported by the passage. The chain of reasoning will not be very long — only one or two steps. But the correct choice must be inferable from what is explicitly given.
  7. For a further application question, find the choice that is best supported by the passage. This means that you will have to apply what you have learned in the passage. Remember, this is perhaps the hardest type, but you can get a good score even if you omit some difficult items.

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Prashant Gaur on 2009-03-16 09:46:16 wrote,

It can be of gr8 use for the people who wants to improve their communication skills...!!!!