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How To Prepare VARC For Cat [Complete Guide]

Verbal ability and reading comprehension or VARC for CAT confused many candidates who are used to logical explanations. Find out tips, syllabus, and strategies to get better and how to prepare for VARC, prepared by IIM Skills- online CAT coaching



  • Introduction
  • VARC syllabus
  • How to prepare for VARC for CAT
  • Books
  • Importance of VARC
  • Strategy to score in VARC CAT


Introduction to VARC for CAT


VARC for CAT is arguably the most confusing section, especially for candidates with a technical background. Sometimes, you do not understand why the answer is right. Unlike Quantitative ability or logical reasoning CAT sections, in Verbal ability, there is no logical explanation or mathematical step-by-step solution to the answer. The answer is simply the answer. This is how the language is.


Engineers especially have problems with subjects that do not have a logical or mathematical explanation. Language is one such area. There are rules and standard practices that are just there. Just like your name is your name without any reason, the rules of language are rules without any logical explanation. There is a logical explanation of the Pythagoras theorem. There is no logical explanation as to when we use ‘who’ and when we use ‘whom’.


The only way to master the VARC for CAT or the language for that matter is reading as much as possible. In order to score high marks in VARC, you need a long-term and consistent approach. You certainly don’t want to be out of the competition just because you couldn’t read enough books, right? Because we hope you know there is a sectional cut-off in CAT. That means if you are hoping to score high just on the basis of LRDI and QA, you might end up in trouble.


Let us first talk about the format of the VARC CAT. Out of the total of 34 questions, in general,  the larger chunk of 24 questions goes to RCs ie. Reading comprehension, and the remaining 10 questions come from the Verbal Ability part. So, the first area to focus your efforts on is the RCs.


For the last few years, there have been 5 RC questions, each containing 4-5 questions. In order to save time, you need to build your comprehension and reading speed. It is advised that you take time out for reading every day.


You can read anything from novels, newspaper editorials, feature articles in magazines, etc., and on any topics like technology, business, history, arts, sports, and so on. Read a variety of subjects. And then try to explain what you read in your own words.


If you think VARC is a weak area for you, you need to know that it will not get better in a few weeks. You need to be consistent. Do not skip practice even for a day. Reading is a great habit in itself and has many benefits for the brain. 


Reading is not only important for your CAT exam but also beneficial for many other avenues in life. You develop focus, and you know about so many new facts and information that may help you in the group discussions and interview rounds.


Coming to the VA or Verbal ability in CAT, it consists of chiefly paragraph summaries/ paragraph completion (3-4), paragraph jumbles (3-4), and odd sentences (3-4). It rarely happens that a CAT asks direct questions related to grammar or sentence corrections. Out of these 10 questions in VA, around 6-7 are TITA (Text Input Type Answer) type questions. There is no negative marking in TITA.


VA in CAT requires lots of practice as the accuracy becomes very low here. You can only increase accuracy through practice. 


We also talk about the VARC strategy for CAT later in this article.


Syllabus for VARC


This syllabus for VARC for CAT is based upon the previous year’s question papers of CAT:

  • English Usage or Grammar
  • Vocabulary (Synonyms/ Antonyms)
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Sentence Correction
  • Jumbled Paragraph
  • Meaning-Usage Match
  • Analogies or Reverse Analogies
  • Summary Questions
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Facts-Inferences-Judgments
  • Punctuations
  • Modifiers
  • Subject-Verb Agreement
  • Verbs Tenses
  • Word Usage
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Logical Deduction
  • Statements & Assumptions
  • Courses of Action
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Categories of Passages
  • Writing Styles
  • Tone of Writing
  • Types of Questions
  • Reading Skills
  • The Articles – A, An, The
  • Grammar rules
  • Parts of Speech in English
  • Sentence Construction in English
  • Para jumbles (Basic Rules, Extra tips)
  • Para Completion
  • Sentence Exclusion
  • Fact Inference Judgment
  • Syllogism
  • Basic Assumption And Inference
  • Paragraph Summary
  • Method of Reasoning and Boldfaced
  • Flawed and Paradox
  • Parallel, Further Application, Evaluate
  • Fallacies
  • Strong Weak Arguments


Find the List of Top CAT Coaching Institutes In Delhi here


How to become better at VARC for CAT?


1: Read, read, read


Your goal for VARC should be to read as much as your timetable allows. Target at least an hour of reading per day. You can read anything that interests you like Philosophy, politics, technology, history, current affairs, etc in a day. 


It is also important that you analyze the text after reading it. Read it as many times as you want. Go for quality, not quantity. As you read it multiple times, you will find information that you did not pay attention to the first time. As you practice this, you will understand and comprehend more information in fewer attempts.


  • Once you read it, write it in your own words.
  • Write what do you think about the writing style
  • You can also critique the opinion. Write about what you like or don’t like about the writer’s opinion.


Even if you just write the piece in your words, it is enough. Just be consistent and do this every day. You will see the progress yourself and will find out how much your reading comprehension, as well as writing, has improved.


2: Improve your vocabulary


As you read, mark and write the words whose meaning you do not know. Write their meaning by looking at the dictionary. Make this list in a copy or somewhere so you can come back to it and read it again. Unless you revise it you won’t memorize it.


If you read on a laptop or mobile, it is more convenient to find the meaning by just clicking on the word. There are many browser extensions for that. Check it out and install one. You can check the meaning of any new word by just double-clicking on it.


In one month you will have hundreds of new words and by 4-5 months you will have a vast bank of novel words.


3: Baby-steps


Conquering CAT is a big mission. What you should do ideally is to divide your plan into many many small steps. Small goals are easy to conquer,  give you motivation and keep you inspired. Divide big topics and take one week for each whole topic. Divide each topic into levels and exercises for every day. For example,  Reading Comprehension, Sentence Correction, Incomplete sentences, and Critical reasoning.


Prepare a timetable or a study plan for CAT. divide each subject into small parts to be accomplished in weeks and days. Take time for reading every day. Either that or solve 2-3 RCs every day. Keep analyzing your mock test performance and focus on areas that are weaker than others. 


Some candidates prefer to keep a target of 20-30 pages of any novel every day. In this way, you can finish a book in 2 weeks. During the whole CAT preparation, this can mean about 12-15 books depending on your reading speed. The key here is not to go for more pages but to try to fully understand the limited pages you read.


4: Grammar is Maths


Grammar is like elementary maths. If you don’t think you are absolutely comfortable with English grammar, like most candidates, you can refer to a good grammar guide like the wren and martin. Learning rules of grammar will help you understand how correct or incorrect communicative English is. You will understand the minor nuances of the language. 


Find out what are some common grammatical mistakes people do. You will instantly become better than most people.


5: Practice


If you keep following the instructions here and keep practicing diligently and consistently, you will be much better than most candidates in 3-4 months. The questions in the VARC take much less time compared to the quant and DILR. You can increase your CAT percentile significantly, in fact, for every unit of time, you can solve more VARC CAT questions than the other two sections. This means a much higher return on investment of time. 


Just remember, practice is the mantra. Don’t slack off after getting better because a lack of practice will also deteriorate your performance. It’s just like cricket if you keep playing you will become better, but if you stop for a month or two, you will get worse.


6: Mock tests


If there is something other than practicing questions that should be your mantra, it is solving mock tests. Mock tests give you practice, but they also help you develop the exam temperament. You get just 60 minutes to solve the whole VARC for CAT. This is not a lot. You should aim for solving 50-60 % of questions correctly. Increase your correct percentage before you try to attempt more questions.


In addition to practice, mock tests let you develop the strategy for VARC CAT. As you might know. Starting to solve the paper as soon as you get it, is a bad strategy. You should always spend 3-4 minutes looking through the paper and see which questions you can solve. Mark 50-60% of the questions. Solve them first. Then check if they are correct. Only when there is any time left should you go for the unattempted questions.


As you keep practicing you will get better at choosing questions. You will also know your strengths and weaknesses. It is advisable to work on your weak areas in the preparation stages but if you only have a few weeks left for the CAT, work more on your strong areas, because there is no need to attempt the whole paper.


Don’t give more than 2.5 minutes on one question, unless you can see the solution coming. Every question will get you equal marks. 


Verbal Ability Books For CAT:


How to Prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension for CAT Arun Sharma and Meenakshi Upadhyay


This CAT book is fit for candidates who want to know the different types of questions in verbal and reading comprehension for CAT. It has enough problems and explanations of all topics: reading comprehension, verbal ability, and verbal reasoning. At the end of the book, it even contains mock tests.


Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension CAT by Nishit Sinha


This CAT book is published by Pearson. It provides complete support for the VARC section for CAT. It also has numerous tests as well as shortcut problem-solving techniques and tricks. 


Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis


This is a very popular book among many CAT aspirants. This is a book that only focuses on increasing your vocabulary. This book is not made for CAT aspirants, however, it is helpful. This is a quite large book and completing it will definitely increase your vocabulary to super-high levels but no one seldom ever completes it for CAT. It is good as a regular practice, not just for CAT preparation, but also for GD and PI. 


However, its effectiveness and return on investment of time are debatable. If vocabulary is your goal, you may learn more words with norman lewis but make sure you use those words too or they will stay in your memory like historical facts without any recollection when you need them.


High School Grammar and Composition by Wren and Martin


Any Indian student who studies in an English medium school would remember this book as part of their school memories. This book is synonymous with English grammar, at least in India. The book is a few decades old but has had numerous revisions and editions to keep up with the evolving language. It is essential for every student, not just CAT aspirants.




Reading English newspapers especially the financial ones widens your knowledge and keeps you updated while also making your language skills stronger. The editorials are a good way to build your comprehension skills and also understand the implications of challenges and opportunities we face today. 


It is good for both GK and VARC. Some good examples are the financial times, the economist, the Hindu, Indian express, etc.


Diverse books from different genres


The ultimate answer to developing your verbal ability and reading comprehension for CAT is to read broadly and from different styles and genres. You can learn all the new vocabulary and all the grammar rules you want but if you don’t read much and look at their usage in sentences you are not going to remember or make any use of them. Reading exposes you to various styles and topics. It also increases your reading speed and improves comprehension skills. There is no other way to do that. There are a few books you can start with, that are specified here:


The God of small things by Arundhati Roy

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ( very easy language and vocabulary. Good to begin with)

A brief history of time by Stephen Hawking

My experiments with truth by Mahatma Gandhi

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

War and Peace by Tolstoy


Importance of Reading Comprehension and verbal ability in CAT


Many individuals read, but everyone has different levels of comprehension. They understand at different levels and different things as per their comprehension skills.  A few people simply read over texts and do not understand complex sentences. Some read between the lines and understand what the writer may not even have intended to communicate, by looking at the phrasing, the choice of words, and punctuation.


Reading comprehension demands more work than just plain reading. Without proper comprehension skills, candidates will not be able to grasp what they read. The purpose of reading is not to make phonetic sounds connected with words and letters but to gain knowledge and learn important information. By the act of reading, we gain important lessons, learn scientific teachings, thoughts and philosophies, memories, and knowledge of new possibilities. Most of the knowledge in the world is stored in the form of words.


Many parents in India think that Reading is useful only for clearing competitive exams. But, the importance of reading comprehension is not just for CAT but for all subjects and enhancing the quality of life. The necessity to understand is everywhere from Math to History and of course in day-to-day communication.


Science: We learn about various scientific theories and facts in school. Good reading comprehension skills help us read and interpret facts about animals, plants, the human body, outer space, and much more.


Math: Math textbooks have word problems that contain a lot of text. The questions are framed such that without properly understanding the text, you cannot possibly know what the problem is asking. 


History: There is so much to read and learn in history about notable people, important wars, movements, lessons, and much more. In order for learning history to be fruitful, students must take lessons from it and that is not possible without understanding what is being told.


Tips for Time Management in VARC Section


 VARC for CAT is not tough to crack for those who follow the tips here. Be prepared with the topics and solve many mock tests and you will definitely crack it. 


If you plan to appear for CAT 2020, you must have already started your preparation. If not, you must get serious for CAT now. The time left is not a lot but if you manage it properly, you can ace the exam with a high CAT percentile. The CAT exam is as much about preparing the topics as it is about speed.


Candidates can try various time management strategies during the mock tests phase. The purpose is to find out which strategy suits you the best.


We must remember that the pattern for CAT is not some fixed pattern. It may have some changes that would be unexpected. So it is also important to be agile and adapt. You must always solve as many mock tests as possible.


Plan on how to attempt CAT 2020 exam. Which type of questions takes more of your time? Which ones are easy and quick for you? Which ones to steer clear of? You will only find this out after many mock sessions. 


There are two strategies for time management:


  • One for the entire CAT paper
  • One for each section 


You are allowed 60 minutes for finishing each section. You get equal marks whether you solve a difficult question or a simple one. There are many candidates who are confused and fearful of the VARC in CAT. Since most candidates are engineers who are used to logical and mathematical explanations, answers in VARC sometimes do not make sense to them.

To help the candidates in VARC for CAT, IIM Skills online CAT coaching has compiled these tips:


  • Never start attempting the paper as soon as you get it. Take 3-4 minutes to read all the questions. 
  • Mark the ones that can be solved easily and in much less time and the ones you can solve but they will take more time. Leave the ones you intend to skip.
  • In VARC for CAT, try to attempt the VA questions first. They usually take less time and you instantly know whether you can solve them or not. They are also a nice break from the intense DILR or QA sections. This is easier so try to improve your accuracy here.
  • Different RCs have different difficulty levels. You can not judge them by just the number of questions. Read the passage properly in just one attempt. This might be difficult to imagine now but as you practice, this will be achievable. You can take about 10 minutes at one RC.
  • Do not stick to one question. Every question has equal marks.
  • If you are not great at focus, it’s a good idea to attempt the RC and VA alternatively. This will keep you going and help you focus on the change of pace.
  • If you have enough practice and have great speed and comprehension, you can attempt more RCs simultaneously. As soon as you find yourself tired or losing focus, solve a VA question.
  • Do not keep all the difficult ones for the end if you are not good with focus. You will become overwhelmed as you will be more tired and exhausted. You’ll end up taking more time and become less efficient.
  • As you solve mock tests, identify which strategies work for you and which ones don’t. Everyone has different areas of strength and weakness.
  • Be calm and relaxed. The more you practice the less intimidating real CAT becomes.


Be sure to check out more interesting and helpful articles for your CAT preparation at our CAT preparation blog.


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Gaurav is a Content Writer at IIM Skills. He has a B.Tech. degree but then he switched to the creative side by doing his master's in advertising and public relations. Gaurav is also a part-time blogger and graphic designer currently living in Mumbai

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