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Given the various areas from which RC passages are taken, it is clear that to succeed in this skill, it’s very important to develop a habit of reading widely (and wildly). If you haven’t been a voracious reader till now, start immediately. Read as much as you can, and on diverse topics. The need to read on diverse topics cannot be overemphasized. Begin by reading the short passages given below and answering the questions that follow each passage.

Mahatma Gandhi went from city to city, village-to-village collecting funds for the Charkha Sangh. During one of his tours he addressed a meeting in Orissa. After his speech, a poor old woman got up. She was bent with age, her hair was grey and her clothes were in tatters. The volunteers tried to stop her, but she fought her way to the place where Gandhiji was sitting. ‘I must see him,’ she insisted and going up to Gandhiji touched his feet. Then from the folds of her sari she brought out a copper coin and placed it at his feet. Gandhiji picked up the copper coin and put it away carefully.
The Charkha Sangh funds were under the charge of Jamnalal Bajaj. He asked Gandhiji for the coin but Gandhiji refused. ‘I keep cheques worth thousands of rupees for the Charkha Sangh,’ Jamnalal Bajaj said laughingly ‘yet you won’t trust me with a copper coin.’ ‘This copper coin is worth much more than those thousands,’ Gandhiji said. ‘If a man has several lakhs and he gives away a thousand or two, it doesn’t mean much. But this coin was perhaps all that the poor woman possessed. She gave me all she had. That was very generous of her. What a great sacrifice she made. That is why I value this copper coin more than a crore of rupees.’
The above passage is:
  1. an insight into the money collection mechanism of the Charkha Sangh.
  2. an example showcasing Mahatma Gandhi’s role in India’s independence struggle.
  3. an incident that reflects the personal values of Mahatma Gandhi.
  4. a description of how the poor contributed during India’s freedom struggle.
The above passage is from an article about Mahatma Gandhi. It narrates an incident in an extremely simple manner. The language is conversational (Gandhiji’s elaboration on not giving the coin to Jamnalal Bajaj) and the mode of writing is descriptive (the description of the old woman and her movement towards Gandhiji).
The passage is clearly not about India’s freedom struggle and therefore options (B) and (D) can be immediately ruled out. The last dialogue of the passage clearly suggests that the focus of the passage is on the value that Gandhiji attached to the copper coin because he realized the significance of the sacrifice made by the poor old woman. Therefore, although the passage does tell us that Gandhiji went from village to village to raise funds for the Charkha Sangh, the same has only been used as a platform to highlight his personal values. Hence the best answer is option (C).

‘Garcon a la Pipe,’ part of Sotheby’s May sales, may become the most expensive Picasso ever sold at auction, Charles Moffett, 58, co-chairman of Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern department, said. Collectors such as the foundation are eager to convert some of their holdings into cash after three years of record-breaking auctions, Moffett said.
New York’s fall fine-art sales in November brought in 482.3 million dollar, surpassing previous-year sales by 20 percent and setting more than three-dozen artist records. The Picasso is being offered as part of a May 5 sale of 34 paintings from a collection amassed by John Hay Whitney, the philanthropist, diplomat and publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, who died in 1982 at age 77. His wife, Betsey Cushing, left the works to the foundation when she died at age 89 in 1998.
The number of paintings in John Hay Whitney’s collection was:
  1. 5
  2. 34
  3. 77
  4. Cannot be concluded
The above passage is actually a newspaper report. It is extremely precise (read the second last sentence that brings together many distinct pieces of information together in very few words—‘The Picasso is being offered..’) and informative (every new line brings a new piece of information, from the prospective Picasso sale to the previous record setting sales to John Hay Whitney and his wife!).

In contrast to the previous passage, the use of numerical data is liberal and makes the otherwise simple piece of information relatively confusing at first. The 34 paintings belong to the collection amassed by John Hay Whitney but the total number of paintings in the collection is not known. Hence, the best answer is (D).

Appreciation in biology can come slowly. Researchers once deemed as junk the parts of genes not represented in proteins; likewise, neuroglia were thought to be mere bystanders to neurons. So it is with the extracellular matrix (ECM), the ‘scaffolding’ and ‘glue’ that fill the spaces among cells. New ways of excavating the ECM reveal that it is much more.
An eclectic collection of molecules, the ECM was once relegated to the backwater of connective tissues in histology texts. But, ECM’s status is shifting. Henry E. Young, an associate professor in anatomy at the Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Ga., calls it ‘a three-dimensional ‘spider web’ latticework-like structure within a fourth-dimensional time continuum.’
The various guises of ECM are dynamic, with profound influences on cells. Were it not for the ECM, those cells couldn’t attach, divide, communicate, or move, says Young.
Fibrous networks of ECM pervade the human body, from toenails to tooth enamel. Disturb its delicate balance of components, and disease results. Long hidden from microscopy because of its transparency and sensitivity to fixatives, the elusive ECM is now coming under closer scrutiny through the lens of gene-expression profiling, while model organisms, such as the hydra, are finally giving the invisible mediator its due.
Which of the following cannot be inferred about ECM from the passage?
  1. ECM is present throughout the human body.
  2. ECM is a transparent assortment of molecules.
  3. ECM was wrongly believed to have adhesive properties.
  4. All of the above can be inferred
The above passage is from a Science Journal and talks about some recent developments that have altered the way ECM and its functioning was understood earlier. The language is made complicated by the various scientific terminologies and some very long sentences. Although there are no numbers, there are a lot of facts regarding ECM mentioned in the passage, providing a lot of information in very few sentences.

The first sentence of the last paragraph suggests that fibrous networks of ECM are present throughout the human body (hence option (A) can be inferred). Option (B) can be inferred from the first sentence of the second paragraph (‘..an eclectic collection of molecules..’) and the concluding sentence (‘… invisible mediator ...’). It is clear from the first paragraph that ECM is more than just ‘glue’ and the new information about it has not contradicted its adhesive properties. Therefore (C) cannot be inferred from the passage and is the best option.

As you have seen in the above passages, the source from which the passage is derived, the simplicity or the complexity of the language and the idea being expressed along with the directness of the question(s) being asked can vary a lot even for passages of similar lengths. Even for the same passage, some questions may require an overall understanding of the passage while others may be answered directly from specific parts of the passage. For all these reasons, reading from diverse topics becomes extremely important.

So, if you haven’t been a voracious reader till now, start immediately. And instead of getting lost in what you read (though that’s a very pleasurable state undoubtedly!), consciously try to increase your reading speed in whatever you are reading.

Purposeful reading should help you in improving your reading speed, besides enabling you to relate better to the material being read. You may try underlining the key points or phrases while you are reading as a part of purposeful reading. This helps in getting the flow of thought within the passage and the central idea of the passage. Most of the questions asked could be answered very accurately once you understand the flow of thoughts expressing the idea(s) in the passage and the central thought the passage intends to convey. In this regard, purposeful reading becomes very important.

Remember to go over the passage with a mission. Always keep in mind that you are not reading for leisure or for expanding your knowledge base immediately, you are reading in order to answer the questions that follow the reading correctly and in the minimum possible time.

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