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Interview with Mansi Birla (CLAT rank 147, NUJS batch of 2018) in connection with how she built her vocabulary and used it to her advantage for her CLAT preparation

When and why did you decide to take the law entrances? Why not some other profession?

By the end of 11th standard, I had pretty much made up my mind about law and I started preparing from June 2012 along with my 12th boards. I had always been intrigued by this profession as I come from a family of lawyers. But that was not all. I discovered that law is a very unique field in itself as it changes the very basis of how you think and reason once you are exposed to it. Also this is a lucrative profession with a lot of opportunities to make big money and still keeps open other career options.


How did you develop a good vocabulary?

I had had a decent vocabulary even before I had started working towards it consciously, thanks to my pleasure reading and occasional reading of the newspaper. I started reading the newspaper regularly and marking the difficult words and noting them down in a notebook. I also got hold of “Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis”, which though sounds clichéd yet actually does wonders. Other than that, practicing for reading comprehensions also helped a great deal.


Do you feel reading newspapers can help build up one’s vocabulary?

Definitely, I’d say. Reading a word in a sentence makes it easier to remember and understand rather than just looking up random words in a dictionary. For most people, the newspaper is a very good aide in building vocabulary.


How do you think it (the newspaper) should be used by a CLAT aspirant to derive the maximum benefit out of it?

The newspaper has to be read as it is to prepare for general knowledge, so while you’re at it keep marking the words that seem a little difficult or ones you haven’t heard before and note them along with their meaning and usage in a notebook. Also the weekly supplements that include articles about art, literature, etc tend to have more, for the lack of a better word, fancy language. Go back to these words once in a week and try and memorize them.


What is your opinion on word lists? Do the word lists provided by various coaching centres help?

They are not harmful. They can actually help as they are compiled in a more organized manner than the word list you might prepare so it can help you relate antonyms and synonyms. But complete dependence on them might not yield the best results.


How did you go about your CLAT preparation for English? Would you say having a strong background in terms of vocabulary and reading speed helped?

Practice is the magic word. English needs a lot of practice with reading comprehensions and grammar. It is absolutely essential to master your grammar and solve lots of mocks and never forget to go and check the mistakes you made in the previous mock. Having a decent vocabulary does indeed give you a bit of an edge to kick start your preparation but it is nothing that can’t be achieved with a little extra effort.


What would your advice be to someone who wouldn’t have this advantage? How can one possibly bridge this gap?

I might have known maybe hundred more words than some other competitors when I started but I still had to work on my vocabulary. Again, I would say this isn’t a major handicap and that a good vocabulary can be achieved with some conscious effort, maybe a little more than someone with a better one.


Within English, what were the topics that troubled you? How did you go about tackling them?

Reading comprehension is the trickiest part and building up a good reading speed is very crucial to be able to solve that. Daily reading of the newspaper increases your reading speed a great deal automatically. Also practicing reading comprehensions and solving them in a measured time helps too.


Reading comprehension is quite often a section that is feared by aspirants. How would you advice them to go about tackling it?

As I said, practice is the key.


How important is it to have a good vocabulary and sound knowledge of English when you join a law school? What has been your experience so far?

A good vocabulary and fluency in English may get you somewhere in some of the arts subjects for writing better answers but that’s about it. Once you come to law school, for academic purposes it’s your aptitude for law and interpretation of law that plays the major part. Some might struggle a little in the beginning with the study material but that passes. Writing academic papers and moot memos also doesn’t need very grandiloquent language.


What were the biggest sticking points in your CLAT preparation, and how did you resolve them?

The entire paper is a bit of a challenge given the time limit but GK was the most dreaded section of all for me, as it is for most. I read the Hindu daily for a year and I would keep paper cuttings and paste them in my notebook for GK to help me memorize. I also subscribed to 'News and Events' and 'Pratiyogita Darpan'. For static G.K. Lucent and Pearson (the complete handbook) are good. I would read them every month and make notes of it and later I would go back and revise. Logical reasoning and specifically critical reasoning is tricky but that too can be tamed with practice. For practicing this I used Sijwali and Lexis Nexis handbooks. Lastly, it’s important to remember that whatever the problem might be, it can be overcome through continuous and persistent efforts! 



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