Let’s start with probably the most important topic in the VA section – Reading Comprehension (RC). RC has been an integral part of CAT for the last 20 odd years. I can’t recollect a single year of CAT in which RC questions have been missing. If we take the case of CAT 2015, there were 24 questions on RC which was single-handedly the heaviest weighted topic in the entire exam even ahead of Arithmetic. This should convey to you the importance of the RC questions in the exam.
While a lot can be written about solving RC questions, I’ll keep it crisp and simple in this article by discussing 3 points:
Picking RC passages is extremely important in the CAT exam and it is something that a CAT aspirant normally ignores. Out of the 5 odd passages present in CAT, it is essential that you choose the best one to start off things with. The first passage should be chosen based on several parameters:
Length of the passage: Choose the passage that is shortest in length.
Subject Matter: Choose the passage that has a topic that will be a comfortable read for you. For instance, I prefer passages based on science/nature and prefer to skip passages based on philosophy.
Question Types: Choose the passages that has descriptive questions at the end of the passage and skip the ones that have inferential questions.
These are 3 parameters that you should keep in mind when selecting passages.
The most important thing, as logical as it sounds, in RC is comprehension. If you can’t comprehend the passage, then there is no way you can get answer the questions. Hence, when reading it becomes important that you understand what the passage is talking about. A lot of candidates get dragged into the trap of speed reading and end up reading the passage so fast that they have no clue what they have read by the end. What I would suggest is reading the passage at a normal pace with focus on comprehension. Read the first paragraph slowly as it lays the ground for what the author wants to say. You can speed up while reading the rest of the passage.
Also, one technique that works for comprehension is to paint a visual picture of what the author is saying. The more one imagines, the more likely it is for the passage to stick in memory.
Learn the art of eliminating options. Options with extreme opinions are generally incorrect. When stuck between 2 options, always choose the milder of 2 options. Also, ensure that you read all the words in the options. A tempting option will be one in which the entire sentence will be correct barring the last word which changes the meaning of the sentence completely. This is a generic trick used by paper setters to tempt candidates into picking the wrong answer option.
2. Parajumbles/ Odd sentence out
Paragraph Jumbles (PJ) questions and their derivative – odd sentence out questions are the 2nd most common question type in CAT. Here are a few useful methods to help you decode these question types:
(i) Pronouns/shortened name/surname/nickname: If there is a pronoun in a sentence he/she/it/they etc. there should be a preceding statement that introduces the subject in most of the cases. Paper setters try to negate this strategy a fair bit when they make sure that there are two subjects in a particular parajumble with one being named after the pronoun for the other is exhausted thereby confusing aspirants. The way to work around this trap is by making sure that you identify the subject and the action it is performing. In most of the cases, there will be a difference between the ‘deeds’ of the two subjects which will make you choose the right link by simply maintaining continuity of thought.
(ii) Tenses: Ideally, all the sentences will be in the same tense. If there is a reference to a past incident, you have to make sure that all the statements involving the past incident are adjacent to each other. If there is a present and a futuristic scenario being told, you need to make sure that all the arguments of the present point towards the future and so on. This is not a difficult thing to do and once you have sufficient knowledge of tenses, you should be good to go.
(iii) Transition Words: Words such as ‘but’, ‘therefore’, ‘hence’, etc. are transition words. Sentences starting with these words generally give an idea as to which sentence comes before this sentence. For example, for sentences starting with ‘hence’ and ‘therefore’ among others, the sentence coming before this current one will convey the same idea as the current one. On the other hand, sentences starting with ‘but’ and ‘however’ among others, will convey an opposite idea to the sentence coming before the current one. Hence, noticing transition words can be pretty useful in solving these question types.
In case of grammar, it is like understanding a game. If you know the rules well, you can strategize how to play. Most of the time, the errors are with regards to a difference in the ‘number’ of subjects and the singularity or the plurality of the verb associated with the subject (commonly known and understood as the subject-verb agreement). Another important error is seen in terms of parallel construction of sentences wherein, it is stated that multiple activities that are performed by a subject should be in sync in terms of tense, and symmetry. The third, most common and commonly erred aspect is with regards to idiomatic usage.
The best way to approach this section in the limited time available is to solve as many questions as possible and learn whatever rules were not known before.
4. Paragraph Completion
A majority of the rules for solving parajumbles are applicable in paragraph completion questions. The things to keep in mind here are logical consistency, continuity with the preceding part of the para, non-introduction of a fresh topic, keeping the trend of generic to specific or vice versa depending on the preceding sentences, continuity in terms of tenses and so on. You can do justice to the question type if and only if you can understand the beauty of construction of a paragraph. So, be on the lookout for paragraphs and how they are ended and how a new paragraph is started. If you can manage to do that with a few techniques, your accuracy should be very high.
5. Critical Reasoning
Critical reasoning again requires you to think logically and separate the trivial issues from the main issues. The question would be in the form of a statement or a paragraph and you would be asked to either strengthen or weaken the argument using an appropriate option. The common mistake here is a failure to understand the central argument and assuming statements that aren’t there. Also an important thing to keep in mind is that, repetition of a sentence in the central argument is not the correct enhancer of the argument and so, can be crossed out on grounds of redundancy. The best way to go forward in this section is to practice a few questions and get the hang of it. It’s better not to devote too much time to this section as it has been rare in CAT.
Vocabulary is not that extensive when it comes to CAT and is limited to idioms and fill-in-the-blanks questions. There is no requirement to mug up word lists and the quite overrated (in my opinion) Word Power Made Easy (it adds little value and the prefixes and suffixes can be understood through focused casual reading as well). The best thing to do is to identify contextual usage and the mood of the statement (extremes are generally frowned upon, a nice balanced, politically sound word is the way to go) and then look at both the blanks simultaneously. Another strategy is to look at the options and check if 2 of these have the same meaning. If they do, then both the options can be eliminated as both can be the answer at the same time.
There are a few other question type such as Fact, Inference and Judgement (FIJ) questions that make a sporadic appearance in CAT. It’s better not to devote a lot of time towards these question types as time can be better spent on the other important topics of this section.
Approach for the next 30 days
The specific approach for tackling question types has already been detailed above. On a generic level, the way to go about now is to practice and cement those gaps which may be visible in certain topics. Also, it’s imperative that a candidate solves all questions from past CAT question papers (from CAT 1990 to CAT 2008). The best mock questions are the official CAT questions themselves and hence, it makes sense to attempt these questions first. Post this, other mocks can also be looked at.
With a little effort in the right direction, acing this section may not be such a difficult affair. All the best!
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