Verbal Reasoning Time Saving Tips

Advice & Insight From UCAT Specialists

The verbal reasoning subsection relies on your ability to both speed read and selectively read. It is recommended that you spend no more than 2 minutes on each passage. Aim to use the following timing breakdown:
Passage reading time: 45-60 seconds.
Item answering time: 15 seconds.
Being time efficient in this section relies upon developing an effective strategy for tackling each question and ensuring that you do not delay your decision making. The more verbal reasoning questions you can practice, the quicker you will become at recognising repeating ideas and patterns in questions.

As part of your preparation, use speed reader apps or practice reading newspaper passages. Once you have read a piece of text test yourself on the content and what you can remember from what you have read.

If you are looking for verbal reasoning specific time saving tips then keep reading!

1. Read the passage before the question

Most students tackle verbal reasoning questions by first reading each item before the text. Students argue that this approach is best because they can match key words from the question to the text and find specific areas. However, from experience we have learnt that by reading the question first your reading of the passage becomes over-focused. This results in important information being neglected. Passages may refer to the same topic in multiple parts of the text. It is important you signpost yourself to all the sections of the text that reference the topic of interest, not just the first section you see. You do not want to be caught out by contradictions. By reading the items first you are likely to remember the answer to the first or last question but may spend excessive time rereading the text to find information for other question parts. By speed reading the whole text you will be tackling all the question parts simultaneously. This tried and tested strategy means that you will need to refer to the passage less frequently, as a result avoiding running out of time.  When you practice questions, practice answering the questions without referring to the passage, using the knowledge you retained from the first time reading it through. By using this approach, you can reduce the number of questions for which you revert back to reading parts of the passage. Eventually you will remember questions answers without re-re-reading the text.

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2. Speed read the passage

During the Verbal Reasoning exam, you will not have time to read every word of every text passage provided. The ability to skim read and identify relevant parts of the passage is important. It can be useful to identify the subject of the passage and be aware of the different topics covered through the article. These can often be found within the first 40 words of the passage. Without contextualising the question in relation to the article, it can be difficult to identify important and unimportant keywords found within the question. 

3. Identify key words in the passage

Using the key word strategy, you can identify the required lines of text within the passage. Are there any words or phrases used in the question or answer options which are similarly found in the bulk of the text? Although you do not want to be reading unimportant parts of the text, it is important that you understand each statement in context. Always read through the sentence preceding and following the selected sentence.  It is useful to be familiar with the types of keywords which are cross referenced in the questions and text. Keywords are likely to be nouns such as the name of places, people or things or quotes. Remember keywords may be in the form of abbreviations, symbols or numbers. Dates are also often used as keywords. Sometimes you may not be able to find your identified keyword in the passage. Firstly, discern whether there may be other keywords in the question, which requires you to reread the question and answers. If you still cannot find the keyword, think if there may be other synonyms or alternative phrasing used in the text. It is important to remember that “can’t tell” options may be perfectly valid. 

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4. Work by process of elimination

It can be useful to eliminate options which you initially identify as incorrect. It is important to read all the answer options to identify how they differ, but if you have found the correct answer it may not always be possible to work through the other options to disprove them. Often answer options differ only grammatically. For example, questions may utilise adjectives in the superlative or comparative form. In addition, passages may utilise adjectives which attribute a quality to the keyword or noun. For example, the descriptive words: “often, always, normally, sometimes” all describe timings, adjectives may describe:

  • quantity such as “none, few, most, all”
  • necessity “shouldn’t’, couldn’t, wouldn’t”
  • certainty “definitely, uncertainly, perhaps”
  • measurements “longest, smallest, tallest”

Be aware that answers are more likely to be correct when they are subjective and specific.  Mild phrases are more likely to be true than extreme phrases. Be aware of mild and extreme words. “Might, could, sometimes and one of the …” are all mild phrases compared to “will always, biggest, longest, definitely, every time” which are extreme phrases.

5. Make educated guesses

When managing your time, it is better to have a greater proportion of your answers accurate with a few questions based around random guesses than avoiding investing extra time for any question and having a set of answers which are all uncertain. A useful rule of thumb is to move on with a question if you have not identified 1 or more incorrect options. If, however, you are deliberating between 2 answers, it is beneficial to continue with this question before moving on. Alternatively, you can flag these questions and use your whiteboard to note down which answer options you have eliminated. 

6. Prioritise easier questions

You do not want to waste valuable seconds actively searching for “true, False, cant tell questions.” Despite this, if you are short of time, you do not want to miss out on these questions. These questions are significantly easier than “Author’s opinion” questions and educated guesses can be made from language inferences. In contrast, questions that have a range of assertions may be more challenging to guess where answers only discretely differ. When returning to flagged questions focus only on the key areas of text or trigger words rather than rereading the whole passage.

Verbal Reasoning Time Saving Tips

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