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Comprehension Skills during exams

Part 2: Simple Tips that WILL save you during your Comprehension Paper!

Always read the questions before reading the passage(s)

  1. Reading the questions, more often than not, would give you a better idea of the ‘overall package’ better than skimming through the passage once. Having a glimpse of what the comprehension exercise/test/exam is about is
    better than diving in blind.

    Comprehension Skills during exams

    Comprehension Skills during exams

  2. And let’s face it, usually if the work is ungraded, you will be unmotivated or distracted when you begin on the exercise, hence you can work on your exercise at your own pace. However, if it is graded or has to be attempted under exam conditions, you will be nervous and slightly panicky – all these will not help you unravel the key ideas in a comprehension passage.
  3. Also, in cases where your teachers/paper-setters are trying to make the paper sadistically challenging, it helps to know what each question (and especially the subsequent questions that follow) are trying to ask for so that you will know which answer best fits which question. There will be cases where an answer seems to fit two different questions. In those cases, knowing the difference, albeit a slight one, between the questions will help you distill the best answer for the different questions. There won’t ever be a case where two questions share the same answer, which is highly similar.

In cases of ridiculously long passage(s) and/or passages that require to get your answers from a specified paragraph, always label your paragraphs (properly, at that) before moving on to read your passage, or even the questions.

  1. Most students are careful, yes, but most students are also careless when stressed (a fault not caused entirely by themselves). Hence, it’s always better to be on the safe side even though this suggestion appears to be pretty lame at first sight. It will save you precious time when you finally begin to answer your questions such that you do not have to count the paragraphs over and over as and when you need them.
  2. In cases where a summary is part of your comprehension paper, some students, despite instructions, are still capable of summarizing points from the wrong segments simply because they have identified the wrong paragraphs. Most of such students make those mistakes simply because they were in a hurry and hence counted the paragraph numbers wrongly. This can prove to be a costly mistake since the percentage of marks this section holds is fairly high.
  3. To be perfectly honest, summary is a section that can be a marks-giver as points can be identified fairly if the student can comprehend the question and the passage well. Thus, in order to minimize the room for error, students can identify the paragraphs required for the summary section at the beginning of the paper where they are arguably less panicky, rather than leaving it to the last minutes of the exam.

When reading the passage, don’t rush through it. Read it slowly to soak in the essence of the passage.

  1. For the simpler passages, it is possible to glean the key ideas and points to include in your answers. However, as you progress academically, chances are passages are going to get harder and hence, you will need to read the passage slowly to know for certain you are sure of the content.
  2. By skimming through the passage, there will be content covered which you think you fully grasp but perhaps because you’ve missed out key words, you will not actually understand at all.
  3. In fact, what you should try to do is to a) read through the questions b) skim through the passage c) read through the questions d) read through the passage carefully and start marking out answers which I’m confident are fairly accurate.
  4. [For the students who are more confident of their comprehension skills and grasp of the English language] It is actually humanly possible for students to a) read through the questions, b) read through the passage and then jump straight into c) answering the questions. However, this is not really recommended, even for students who feel extremely confident, because it leaves much more room for error. Still, this is a method that has been used by scores of students and these are students who succeed in doing so. [I believe, though, those students must have done a lot of groundwork before having that level of confidence.] This method, despite its obvious risks and shortfalls, is a calculated risk only if one is ready as it would mean more time for the student to check his work and to refine his answer, a privilege most students will not have.
  5. Having said that, it is simply reordering the process of tackling the comprehension paper. Personally, I’d still advise weaker and less confident students to tackle the comprehension segment the ‘traditional’ way.

Always double-check!

  1. Perhaps there is usually not enough time for you to even give enough thought for each question present due to the time constraint. However, you should aim to reduce your reading, thinking and answering time through consistent and constant practice.
  2. At the end of the journey (however long it takes) you should be able to have time to complete your entire comprehension paper, and at least double-check your work once!
  3. With practice, your reading skills will improve J So, keep reading and keep doing!

Read Comprehension skills Part 1 to find out how to prepare for your nerve-wrecking comprehension test adequately

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