For CSS 2023 exams: Solving Comprehension Passages in English Precis and Composition Paper

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Albert Einstein

Comprehension is an exercise in reading any material, and then initiating a process of gauging and explaining your understanding of that in simple words. It is a delicate and attention-warranting process whereby an interaction between the reader and the writer takes place. In order to comprehend, one would divert one’s attention, focus and concentration to enable a fair understanding of the issue discussed in the reading material. It is an effort to understand the contents of the matter discussed – proverbially speaking by looking toward the trees without missing the forest. It concentrates on the vocabulary of words used, punctuation etched and various events and ideas propounded that arrest the attention of the reader. The main purpose of comprehension is an economical understanding of the reading material and the ability to expound the understanding acquired in simple words.

Comprehension passage in the CSS and PMS exams serves two-pronged purpose of understanding the material and utilizing your own words to describe your understanding of that. The understanding part is pivotal insofar as it leads to answering the questions. Questions are answered by exposition of details and ideas which have been understood. The exposition of the understanding while answering the questions is vital as it prepares a candidate to parse information acquired, and reproduce the material after acquiring a fair degree of understanding. It helps in improving and enriching expression and diction.

How to solve Comprehension Passage in the CSS exams?

  • Read the passage at least twice and understand its contents well. This should not take more than five minutes for a small and ten for a long passages.
  • Do not read the questions first. This may tempt you to look for only particular information in the passage and consequently, affect full comprehension. It is important to first understand the passage before you go to the questions because if the questions are not very specific, you may commit a lot of mistakes. Generally, the passages have a mix of implied ideas and specific detail type of questions.
  • Eliminate regression, i.e., going back to the lines you have just read. This is out of habit developed over years of wrong or half-hearted reading. This must be done away with as the maximum time you should take to answer all the questions after reading a passage is about seven minutes. Regression is the result of lack of concentration and assumptions.
  • Do not let your own knowledge (or lack of it) interfere with the contents of the passage. Do not make any attempt to agree or disagree with the author.
  • Your principal task in attempting a comprehension passage should comprise: (a) Finding the topic. The topic must be precise. Generally the topic is found either in the first or in the last line. (b) Finding the main idea. This can be a definition, a classification, a purpose or an elaboration of the topic; often the topic and the main idea are the same. (c) Finding major supporting details. The supporting details modify, explain or elaborate the main idea. You should learn to recognize these supporting details that explain, illustrate, compare and contrast, show cause-effect relationship or merely restate the main idea in other words.
  • Underline the words you don’t know the meaning of. Try to relate them to the given context.
  • Resort to sentence analysis and break a sentence into parts, looking for answers to who, what, whom, when, where, which, why and how.
  • Locate reference words and check what they refer to.
  • Underline signal words and look for what they indicate.
  • If the passage contains more than one paragraph, resort to paragraph analysis in the manner given above (5 to 10).

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