Preparing for Verbal Ability & Reading Comprehension sections of competitive exams

Competitive exams feature a separate section aimed at testing the language skills of the candidate. This section usually tests the candidate on his knowledge of English words and his ability to understand a passage and answer questions about the same. It is observed that many candidates find this section quite difficult to crack because of their lack of understanding of some words which are not frequently used and inability of comprehending passages. 

 The way to increase knowledge about meanings of different words, the candidates can learn a word list by heart. Word lists are easily available on the internet and can be downloaded and printed for personal use. These word lists consist of words which are frequently asked in exams for synonym-antonym or correlation questions but are not used in the spoken language.  A typical word list consists of anywhere between 1,000 to 3,000 words depending on the exam that the candidate is taking. A candidate can make a separate notebook for words with meanings to keep them in mind. Preparation for learning the words must be started about a year in advance as it becomes difficult to remember these words in a short span of time. Students can refer to ‘Word power made easy’ by Norman Lewis, which is a popular book aimed at improving vocabulary. 

 Though reading comprehension sounds like an easy area, students are found to be struggling in tackling it. The questions on the given passage are not factual (i.e. they are not based upon simple facts given in the passage) but depend upon the student’s understanding of the passage. Even the answer options are quite close to each other and might leave the candidate confused. The time spent in reading the passage and the questions can be significant and might turn out to be wastage if the student cannot answer even half the questions for a given passage. 

 The best way to prepare for reading comprehension is to inculcate the habit of reading at an early stage. Candidates are advised to read at least one newspaper everyday. They should particularly focus on the editorial page as the articles in this page have a close resemblance to the passages in competitive exams. After reading a passage, the candidate must spend a minute or two in assessing his understanding of the passage. It is advised that students should make study groups and discuss the passages to assess and improve their understanding. Frequent reading also helps in improving the reading speed. Every second of the clock counts in a competitive exam. However, students should strike the right balance between speed and accuracy as negative marking can often eat up a sizeable chunk of the score. 

 Students can even have daily and weekly targets for their reading material. For example, they can aim at finishing a newspaper daily, a magazine and a book in a week. 

 Students can build their vocabulary power by making a list of words that they encounter while reading. It is observed that understanding a word becomes relatively easier if its context is known as compared to learning a word list. 

 The advantages of getting into the habit of reading go beyond improving vocabulary and improving reading speed. It also helps the candidate to build a strong knowledge base about current events. This knowledge will be immensely useful in group discussions and interview phases of the selection procedure.