Being an author and a teacher for CAT English for the last 8 years, I have spent quite a significant part of my life understanding “how students read?”
Some students cannot read and understand a sentence in the first reading attempt while some others totally fail to understand when a sentence is too long or is a bit twisted. These problems exist – often we fail to realize. We do not perceive that these are real problems.
Let me give some examples from my training experience of thousands of students till now:
- Many students are not able to distinguish between options given in English questions in CAT because the sentences in these options are too long. Comprehension goes haywire when sentences become long. I see students unable to tell me the difference between two closely framed long sentences.
- Ask any Maths teacher. Most will tell you that this sentence becomes tough to comprehend for many students: “Find the minimum value for the best case return on investment in funds 1 and 2.”
See, a lot of problems in our learning does not lie with subjects, but in our ability to comprehend. Understanding of text holds the key to effective preparation for exams.
Reading is an area which most students don’t even realize that they need to work a lot on. If someone feels that he/she is weak in Maths, he/she will put extra efforts for it. Comprehension, on the other hand, to most, seems like something that you know. What you don’t know is that understanding of text is the real difference between a topper and a low scoring student. Understanding of text creates a huge difference in your overall performance. You might read and understand a question in may be two readings and in overall 3 minutes. What if 10% of your competition is able to read the question once and understand it in 1 minute? This scaled to 30 questions implies that you loose 2 min per question * 30 questions = 60 minutes in the exam and the game is lost.
Hence, while we continue to focus a lot on learning methods to solve different questions, we need to work equally on our ability to comprehend something fast and clear. Understanding of text is the key to success in any exam that tests your mental ability. Understanding of text will help you save time in reading LR questions, DI, RC, Jumbled Paras, Quantitative problem sums and so on. Everywhere. In this article, I am not going to focus on reading speed.
I am going to focus on, “What can be done to ensure that our comprehension effectiveness increases?”
Step 1: Pick up a relevant reading article everyday(article length 300-400 words only). For example – for MBA entrances, articles on philosophy, sociology, art, culture, literature, economics, psychology etc. are important. MBA aspirants can read from: guardian, aeon, NYT, Hindu etc.
Step 2: Read paragraph wise. Let’s say you are in para 1 right now. After you read the first two lines, stop and ask yourself a question, “What am I reading about?” – This is called subject identification. Write down the paragraph subject in your copy – not more than 3-4 words. This is done to understand the context of reading. Now you go on reading, keeping the context(subject) in mind. Now you know what you are reading about. This reading is more effective. When you come to the end of the paragraph, now ask yourself, “What did I read about the subject?” – This is called predicate identification. Write down this “what about it” part in not more than 4-8 words. In this way, by the time you finish the paragraph, you know all that is important about it in the first read itself. Repeat this for the remaining 2-3 paragraphs in the article. This exercise is called Central Idea identification. For me central idea is a two step process. When you enter a para, Subject, and when you exit, Predicate.
Step 3: What to do if I encounter difficult words or phrases which I do not understand?
Highlight them. If you do not understand a word – note it down. Write down it’s guessed meaning(contextual meaning) and then check in the dictionary – make suitable corrections if needed. If you are not able to understand a full sentence, Relax. Write down the difficult words – guess their meanings – correct them with dictionary and then re-read the sentence and write down it’s meaning. Point being: dissect, find, learn and comprehend.
Step 4: What to do after the article is over?
Re-read in a different fashion than before. May be this time, read it in front of a mirror, with panache! Once this re-reading is done, write down a summary of this article in 3-4 lines.
Step 5: Over now?
Wait. One final step. Re-read the central ideas of all the paragraphs together and close your eyes and try to recollect one final time – were your central ideas beautifully able to capture the gist of the entire passage? Read the summary now. Compare it with central ideas and see if you are able to understand and reproduce the main views/points of the article. This is how you learn!
Summing up, if you realize that you take more time to comprehend a sentence, a paragraph or an article than your peers, become conscious about it. Start acting. Start doing this “article a day” thing. It really helps you gain reading effectiveness and eventually helps you build speed.