Developing a Reading Strategy for the UCAT Verbal Reasoning Subtest

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There are different strategies for how to read a passage and answer questions in the verbal reasoning subtest. Some candidates read the questions before reading the passage. Others read the passage first. The one you pick should line up with your strengths and weaknesses perfectly, or else you’ll make mistakes or run out of time.

You must figure out through testing which reading strategy is best suited for you to keep a low error rate and finish subtest on time.

To do this, you need cold, hard data from practice.Try each reading strategy when practising VR questions. Start with untimed practice before doing timed practice. If one of them is a clear winner for you, then develop that method further. If there isn’t a clear winner, choose the one that feels most comfortable for you

Reading Strategy 1: Skim the Passage, then Read the Questions

Skim the passage on the first read through. Don’t try to understand every single line, or write notes predicting what the questions will be. Just get a general understanding of the passage. You want to try to finish skimming the passage in 1 minute, if possible. The goal with this method is that you are trying to map key ideas to where they appear on the text so that you save time later on when scanning the passage to answer questions.

Next, go to the questions. If the question refers to content in a specific paragraph, then go back to where it is located in the paragraph and understand the read the around it.

The key to mastering this method is by improving your ability to skim effectively. Skimming works because questions in the exam will ask about far fewer lines than the passage actually contains. Therefore, if you spend time trying to deeply understand an entire passage, you’ll be wasting time.By only focusing on the parts of the passage that are important to answering questions, you guarantee reading efficiency.

You must be able to skim effectively. This means being able to quickly digest a text without having to slowly read every word. If you’re not quite good at this yet, practice on newspaper articles and VR practice questions.

There is no universal method to skimming, find what works for you, be creative if you have to, as long as it works. For example, check out the unconventional skimming method recommended below by a past candidate that scored 740 in the VR subtest (total score: 3150):

Advice from top-scorer: My preferred approach to dealing with questions in the VR subtest is skimming on the first read-through before answering the question. My method of skimming involved reading the first paragraph at normal speed to fully understand the main idea of the passage, then reading the last paragraph at normal speed to fully understand the conclusion. Then after that I look at the body paragraphs and read only the first and last sentences of each one, I may glance in the middle to pick up some keywords, but I won’t read it, I do all of this before looking at the question.

However, I must reiterate that there is no one-size-fits all, do not shy from tweaking or adding to the proposed methods included in this article.

Strategy 2: Read the Questions First, then Scan the Passage

Read the question first and understand what is being asked of you before finding the relevant information in the passage. With this method, you save time by scanning parts of the passage that aren’t asked about, only reading the sentences that include the information needed to answer the question. This method is recommended by many past students because it saves time to know what you are looking for in the passage.

Make sure when using this technique, you read the question carefully and have a clear understanding of what is being asked – What kind of information will you need to gather when you read? Will you be looking for facts? Or will you be reading between the lines to come up with your own conclusion?

In addition to skimming effectively, the key to mastering this method is by improving your ability to spot and scan for keywords. This can be a word or phrase – nouns (such as names, countries, places), dates and figures are common examples. It is important to scan for all the appearance of the keyword. If a keyword appears more than once you may have to combine information to determine the correct answer

Advice from top scorer: I personally found that method 2 worked well in answering True/False/Can’t Tell questions, method 1 worked better for other VR multiple-choice question-types. I recommend testing which reading strategy works best for you in answering each question-type. In the actual test, I always took a quick glance at the question, if it is was a T/F/C question then I knew the remaining 3 questions associated with the passage will also be T/F/C question-types as the test is set up that way – so I would switch to method 2. If the questions were any other question-type, then I would switch to method 1.

Strategy 3: Read the Passage in Detail, Then Answer Questions

Since most people have a reading speed of about 250 words per minute, this method is pretty much impossible to adopt in the real test, as you won’t have enough time to read an entire passage in detail. Additionally, you waste time reading parts of the passage that isn’t being tested so it is not an efficient reading method. However, this is a good method to adopt during practice to help identify gaps in critical thinking and comprehension. Once you start to improve accuracy then you can begin to up the pace by trying one of the earlier reading methods.

Reading a passage in detail should only be reserved for practising questions at your own pace. As you prepare for the exam you ideally want to increase your speed and thus shift from Method 3 to either Method 1 or 2 over time

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