By Teesta Lahiri, National Law University, Odisha.
In CLAT, AILET and other law entrance examinations, the section on English has a varying weightage of 20-25% (40 out of 200 questions in CLAT, 35 out of 150 questions in AILET) which though numerically not much, often becomes the key scoring point in the paper and creates the quintessential difference between cracking and not cracking the paper. Of course I do not mean that English is the make-it-or-break-it point in CLAT, rather being relatively easier compared to the other sections, it generally is an area where aspirants score well. But, to have an edge over the others, it is necessary that out of the allotted 120 minutes (or 90 if you are appearing for AILET) not more than 7-12 minutes be spent on English especially with complex sections like Legal Aptitude and Logical Reasoning breathing fire down your neck, and also within those 7-12 minutes, you need to aim for a flawless section.
Inevitably, the section is to comprise of a Comprehension Exercise of 6-10 questions based on a paragraph which may vary in length. It is the easiest part of the English section, as it does not deal with anything above the run-of-the-mill vocabulary of a 17 year old, and is generally a piece of cake if you have certain tricks up your sleeve.
Trick One: Read Like a Proofreader, Hit Like an Editor
As far as general advice goes, for the English Section and well, Law Entrance Tests on the whole, (and there is no trick or easy way to do this) you must READ, READ and READ! No, I do not mean that you should be reading the question paper thoroughly (of course you must do that too) but I mean that you should generally be reading a lot, so that reading long paragraphs quickly is not a problem for you. Read boring non-fiction, the more drab the better, because trust me, no one is giving you passages from the Harry Potter Series for you Comprehension Test. The best thing to do is to start with the newspapers. I know a lot of us don’t read news as a habit, but trust me, it is a very useful habit to have. It develops a healthy reading speed, a good stock of official and not-too-pompous useful vocabulary and also you get plus points in General Knowledge.
Now comes the essential question, how to read? Take any 500 words article from any newspaper. The first thing to do is to skim through it. It’ll give you a general idea about the passage in its entirety. Make a note of that general idea. Divide the passage into two or three parts of equal length depending on your own logic, and make notes as to what each part of the passage conveys. This will make the logical consistency of the passage appear before you like a well drawn diagram.
Read it again, each word this time, in great detail. Underline words that you find crucial to the passage, words with double meanings and words you do not understand. If possible scribble down meanings next to the words. If you find mistakes (which you might) underline them too. Make it a point to find out meanings of the words you did not know or thought could have varying meanings as per the context. Add them to your vocabulary. An ever expanding vocabulary is a tool of paramount importance. This would make you an accurate reader, one who never misses a word, leave alone missing a point.
Of course, when you start practicing this, it’ll take time. But again, with time and practice, it’ll just seem like a unique way or habit of reading, and you would automatically get used to this way of reading and hitting on the point as if you had never known any other way to read.
Trick Two: Summarising
While the first trick is a skill building trick, this trick applies in the second stage of the process. When you can read fast and accurately, it is time for the most crucial thing, to locate the logic structure of the passage and make a gist of it. When you read accurately, you generally divide the passage anyway based on its flow of logic. For example, a paragraph talking about Shashi Kapoor may have six lines on his early life, fourteen lines on his filmography, and eight lines on the film fraternity commenting on his death. This is clear to you. Now comes the time, when in your head you need to figure out if the same 28 line paragraph with the same deliverable message can be computed in four simple lines, following the same linear logic.
This is not a board exam. Summarising is not indispensable; however it is a helpful habit. Do it while you are reading, you do not have to take time out for this separately. You may or may not jot it down, but in your head it must be crystal clear. Questions that deal with the logic of the paragraph become very easy to deal with if you do so. For example, if a question giving you a list of four things about Shashi Kapoor asks you if the same can be inferred from the paragraph given, you can solve it in less than a second if in your head, you have your own summary of points.
Trick Three: Attention to Detail
Remember the first trick. Read like a proofreader and hit like an editor. While a broad summary is indubitably useful, you cannot afford to not pay attention to detail. Time is short, and for questions asked in context to the paragraph, you cannot keep rereading the paragraph. Best is to read with a pencil in your hand, and go along underlining the most relevant points in each part of the passage given to you. That way, when you need to consult the paragraph again, you do not need to reread the whole paragraph, for the important details in the passage are already underlined.
Trick Four: Controversial
This is a highly controversial way to go about the comprehension exercise. Remember the statutory warning, CONTROVERSIAL. You read the paragraph once, fast and accurately. Skip summarization, and read the questions. Match questions to the relevant parts of the paragraph and voila! You are done. This way you do not need to know all the details of the paragraph but just the question specific details which you need.
However, there is always a chance of mismatching if in your first reading, you do not have a clear logical diagram of the paragraph in mind and you have skipped summarising or underlining all important points. You may need to then go on a hunt for one word or phrase through the entire paragraph, and freak out if you do not find it at a cursory glance. This small fiasco may ruin your confidence for the entire paper.
So, if you choose to take this short way out, you must do so with supreme confidence and a mastery over the first skill or only when you have a serious paucity of time.
Otherwise stick to the first three tricks, go slow, (not too slow though) steady but hit accurately on the mark, and comprehension would totally be your ballgame.