Reading Comprehension : Break the barriers, hoist your flag at IIM, IAS, NLS.. !

Book – Young leaders Success Code – features R.Sreenivasan!

In the last edition of this series, Make ‘Reading’ a Passion : especially CAT and competition participants, we discussed some of the fundamental principles you have to inculcate to be an effective and efficient reader, and to enhance your performance in the Reading Comprehension (RC) section.  I am sure some of you have certainly tried out the principles that we discussed in the last column.

The principles you came across were –

  •  Involvement, enthusiasm or enjoyment is the foremost requirement for excelling
  • Visualizing the authors narration of his imagination will make you a clear winner
  • Elimination of regression will result in augmentation of your speed

In continuation, in this edition, you will encounter a few more principles, which would make all the difference between a good reader and a bad one.

Principle No. 4.   Enlarge Recognition Span; Decrease Fixation Time

Many of you must be looking at one word at a time while reading. You concentrate more on words rather than on the meaning behind the words. You are having an affair with the words and not with ideas. By doing so, you realize many a time that you have not got the hold on what the author intends to say.

An effective reader will take the given lines as a stream of ideas or thought processes rather than as a stream of words. He will read a chunk of words or a clause that offer some meaning and conveys a thought.  Ideally, if you are an effective reader you will be imbibing seven to eight words in one go. This measure of grasping a group of words in one go is called recognition span. It means, in order to be effective, you should try and increase your recognition span. Newspaper columns offer you a good practice exercise to increase the same. You should be able to take one line of newspaper column in one go. The time taken to recognize the span is called fixation time. The lesser the time you take to recognize the span, the faster you will be in covering the distance. Hence, you should try and increase your recognition span and at the same time decrease your fixation time and become an efficient reader.

Principle No. 5.   Push your Comfort Zone Speed (CZS)

You read at speeds at which you believe can comprehend most of what you read. This applies to both information reading as well as pleasure reading. This speed of reading could be termed as ‘Comfort Zone Speed’.

CZS is a result of poor habits that you have built through years of the wrong kind of practices. Passive reading habits have worsened the situation. It is you who have decided that the speed at which you are reading is the most comfortable speed. No one has thrust that upon you. It is now time to have a re-look and question the reading methods and techniques you have become a slave of.

The reading comprehension demands you to read at speeds which are much higher than your CZS.  If your CZS is low, you will find yourself reading at an uncomfortable speed, to pace with the required speed. This will result in low comprehension or ‘cognition strain’. On the other hand, if you do not want to take the risk and you enjoy being at CZS, then you will not be able to complete all the given passages. This will definitely not serve your purpose. Hence, you have to take the risk. You should practice constantly and gradually in order to improve on speed and comprehension. This would help in pushing the CZS.

When you try pushing your speed comprehension and retention may go down initially. You should not be flustered. Try maintaining at the same speed, the comprehension will return in due course. This speed will be your new CZS. Once you start enjoying this speed, its time to push the speed again. It is a proven fact that the higher the speed, the greater the comprehension, since you are trying to break the frontiers and you are keeping your brain on alert to come to your help in comprehending whatever you are reading. At lower speeds the concentration is low, and you must have realized while reading, your mind wanders and goes for shopping, watching movies etc. Increase your concentration by increasing your speed.

Principle No. 6.  Indulge in Active Reading

The secret to effectiveness is to do active reading. By being active, you are trying to understand what author is trying to say. While you are grasping the information provided therein, you keep asking questions like ‘what is he saying’, ‘why is he saying so’, or ‘How can he say that’ etc. By questioning his intentions, his narration or his way of giving information, you are trying to bridge the distance between the your knowledge base, a collection of all of your life experiences and learning, existing in your brain and  the new information provided on the piece of paper. By seeking more, you are able to predict what the author may say ahead in the passage. By doing so, you will make this information a part of your knowledge base and rule the RC section.

The stream of words is not mere words, they give away much more. Authors reveal attitude by their choice of words and narration of experiences. By indulging in active reading you are also running with the authors flow of thoughts and ideas, his style of expression. You will be able to grasp the mood of the author, attitude or intentions of the author.

Invariably all the passages will have questions probing authors’ views and intentions, idea behind the passage, implied information etc. If you are involved in active reading you will be able to crack all such questions.

Mechanics for reading

In order to be efficient while reading, skim all the questions at the end of the passage before entering the passage. So you know what to watch for in the written material.

  • Read the passage as quickly as you can, concentrating first on the main points and essence.
  • Mark the focal points, specific examples
  • Mark the shifts in the viewpoint, like the phrases – nevertheless, ironically, in spite of, however, although etc.
  • Also pay attention to the concluding sentences to get the gist or theme of the passage.

Make an effort to incorporate some of the principles discussed so far and reap rich dividends. Push the frontiers. Experience the pleasure.


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Thanks and Best Wishes.


For motivating yourself regularly, I recommend you bookmark the following and watch the sessions and videos there in- Dream It, Do It!

Think Big, Start Small!

[A variant of this article first appeared in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES, September 03, 1998. Since then this has been picked by so many publications. Here I reproduced for the benefit of all CAT and competition exam takers. The principles of excellence do not change… they live for life time!]


Kashmir – On the verge of realizing its potential …… especially intellectual..

Welcome to the beautiful Kashmir Valley

Welcome to the beautiful Kashmir Valley

“Over two lakh tourists in the valley and only 25 thousand rooms available,” screamed the headlines of a newspaper in the Kashmir Valley. The ever-green tourism sector of Kashmir has seen unprecedented growth in the last 3-4 years. The people of the valley are re-discovering and realizing the potential of the valley to attract tourists from around the world, especially the mainland India. Every person talks about it and says that, “Kashmir will not see the dark days again as we realize what we can be, now.”

What we can be now, is taking a different meaning all together, among the youth of Kashmir. I was once again in the valley for my annual pilgrimage of addressing and motivating youth at its most prestigious venue, SKICC on the banks of the DAL. This conference was with a difference though as it focused on helping youth to challenge the civil services.

Having a young chief-minister is certainly seems to be making the difference. Sharing the dias with Mr. Omar Abdullah in the last years conference.

From one civil services entrant in the last decade, in 2013 J&K sends 17 charged youth to IAS/IPS/IFS. Hundreds want to, now! This is transformational! This is what I meant when I repeated, “We are realizing now, what we can be!”

More youth exceling at the national stage, will see they taking greater responsibility in Kashmir and in India, and resulting in more opportunities and greater integration.

At the conference to facilitate youth to challenge Civil Services, June 2013

While last years conference was inaugurated by the young CM, this years conference to facilitate more youth to get into CIVILS SERVICES, at SKICC, Srinagar on June 7th had Mr. Iqbal, Chief Secretary J&K; MR Wahid ex-VC University, Mr Shafi Pandit first IAS qualifier (1968) and ex-chair J&K public services commission, Dr Shah Faesal first IAS Topper from the valley in 2010; Dr Sehrish Asgar (2011 IPS, 2012 IAS) first woman from J&K to enter civil services) and Dr Ruwida (2012 IAS), another inspiration who qualified this year.

In the last couple of days, I came across a newspaper article in a national daily, that Over five hundred children from Valley have enrolled in various coaching institutions for engineering and medical entrances at Kota, Rajasthan. Over sixty percent of these children are girls. They all want to excel in life. The institutions in Kota have created provisions for classes and their stay, even taking care of their cultural needs like prayers, food etc. This augurs very well for the aspiring youth of Kashmir.

At the Career Launcher centre in Srinagar, I met a young lady, Sumaira, a post-graduate from Kashmir university, very articulate, and got to know that she has been picked up by Saudi Airlines as an airhostess. In all, this year, about 17 young women have been recruited by international airlines from the Gulf to meet the needs of their services. She was so overwhelmed by the facilitation CL has done in infusing her confidence that she even chose to come with us on a spectacular train journey in the valley, to interact more with her mentor Mr. Vijay Jha of CL who was accompanying me, as I chose to get the insights of train travel in the valley for the first time. More about it down under.

While with Sumaira, in the office, another youth walks into CL, asking for the coaching that he could get for Civil services at CL. While interacting, he was very effusive about the education, attitude of co-learners and the environment he got in the last four years of his engineering under-graduation at an institution in Jabalpur. In fact, he was countering the pessimism that Sumaira was expressing, about the outlook of youth in mainland towards the youth from Kashmir. The interaction was very healthy and enlightening.

The Kazigund to Baramullah rail connectivity sees packed trains running all the time…

In 2009, Kashmir was blessed with railways, a long delayed initiative, that could have been at the heart of integration with the mainland. I took time off to experience the train journey in the valley on this visit of mine. The train runs between Kazigund at the southern tip of the Valley to Baramullah in the northern end. The frequency is of every two hours.

By the schedule published, we reached the station closest to Srinagar, on its outskirts and found the station empty as we were an hour before the scheduled train. But we got a great opportunity to see the beautifully decorated station. This station has be declared the most beautiful station of our country and figures in the Limca Book of records.

Within no time the station was bustling with crowd, as we neared the departure of the train. The train arrived and we found it to be jam-packed. Within a couple of years of the introduction of the train in the valley, it has become the most preferred transportation mode for the valley. A distance of about hundred kilometers by road (Baramullah to Qazigund), that used to be covered by shared rickety-taxis on a bumpy road, at a cost of over hundred and fifty rupees, now, gets covered by the air-conditioned train in a little over two hours, in a comfortable way, at a mere fifteen rupees. Why will not this be most sought after?

The whole circuit of Srinagar-Kazigund-Baramullah-Srinagar took us about five hours. But it was a great eye-opener for me in every respect. Each one talks about the difference this train has made to them. As I am writing this article, Dr Manmohan Singh is going to inaugurate the extension of railway track further south of Kazigund. By 2017, the Valley will be completely connected with Udhampur, Jammu and the mainland.

Train connectivity to the mainland is going to make a huge difference. The mobility of citizens for the valley to the mainland is going to be smooth, comfortable and economical and the tourism inflow will be multiplied. That’s when we will see the true potential of the valley being realized.

While on the train, I noticed a couple of youngsters having a few sheets of paper that looked like an entrance exam question paper. I took it from them to have a look, then realized that it was the entrance exam paper for undergraduate programs of Aligarh Muslim University. I had a wonderful interaction with the youth. Realized that over 2000 youth appear in the exam. Vijay had extensive interaction with the students and even helped them figure out what their true scores in the exam could be.

I have been addressing youth of J&K since 2007, almost twice a year. In the last 6 years I have experienced immense changes in the outlook of youth. They now realize that they are as good as anyone across the country and they want to show what they can do. I am sure Kashmir is on the verge of realizing its intellectual potential.

All these developments on the intellectual front, will impact social, cultural, physical and economical development of the valley. We will see many entrepreneurs emerging too, as a couple of our own IWSB students started contributing to the economy there. It augurs well for J&K and of course for India too.

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