The CAT Verbal Enigma – Part II

The Verbal Ability Enigma – part II

ARKS Srinivas


Over the last three years CAT has clubbed the Verbal section with the Logical Ability section. An odd choice though it may be, it gives an equal opportunity to score well in this section for students who or good as well as not so good in English.

With 21 questions expected under the English area (Verbal Ability(VA) and Reading Comprehension(RC)), it is imperative that one scores well in this area to ensure a winning percentile.

There are three main types of questions that appear in Verbal Ability viz., Vocabulary based, Language based (read grammar) and Verbal Reasoning based (Para Jumbles, Sentence Completion, Critical Reasoning etc).

In the previous article we have seen the importance of Vocab and Grammar and the way to improve one’s vocabulary. Let’s now look at Grammar.

How to Improve Grammar

Can you improve grammar over a short time period? The answer is yes. In fact, grammar is like math. Just as while preparing across math topics, the more questions one solves per topic, in the process familiarizing oneself with varying patterns and application of relevant formulae, so also, the more number of times one comes across similar grammatical errors in questions, the more comfortable one is in identifying that error the n’th time one notices it. So the more questions one practices/solves, the higher is the comfort level in facing grammar questions of any pattern.

The level of grammar study required of a CAT aspirant is no more than the basics that he/she has studied in school years. Mostly, errors in grammar questions test the student on his/her proficiency in identifying correct/incorrect usage of the various ‘Parts of Speech’. Going over common error types in each of these areas is sufficient and comprehensive preparation for the English section of the exam.

Parts of speech comprise –



–       Nouns and pronouns are of varying types – most common noun/pronoun-related errors may be found in the subject-verb agreement part of a sentence or to do with the singular/plural nature of the noun/pronoun used in the sentence.

–       Adjectives are describing words, adjective-related errors generally are to do with the degree of comparison used in the sentence.

–       Verbs denote action. Some of the most complex errors revolve around the appropriate use of tenses in sentences. A slightly detailed study of tenses would benefit the student in building familiarity with verb-related errors and sentence construction patterns in sentences. One relieving piece of news though – clauses are not generally tested per se in the CAT (or several other management entrance exams for that matter) and so you need not pore over that particularly tedious chapter in your grammar prep.

–       Adverbs which qualify verbs are some of the trickiest errors to spot. Placement of adverbs in a sentence follows some rules, which once mastered, the errors become easy to identify.

–       Prepositions are numerous and layered with meaning. When dealing with prepositions, it is often ideal to visualize the meaning of the sentence. That helps a lot in nailing the most suitable preposition for every situation/sentence.

–       Conjunctions – it pays to clear some common misconceptions when it comes to conjunctions. They bring out in full clarity the thin line we often miss, between spoken and written English.

–       Articles – the rules may seem unending when studying articles, but it’s easier to master them all through sheer practice.


Speaking of parts of speech… below are a few examples that bring out the beauty of the English language and the grammar tricks it plays on us… (Beauty, of course, lies in the eyes of the beholder…a CAT taker in this case.)


fast – this simple four-letter word can pull a fast one on you. Look at the usage of this word in the 3 sentences below and note how the meaning/usage changes the function of the part of speech used.

He is a fast bowler.   (here ‘fast’ is used as an adjective to describe the noun ‘bowler’.)

He speaks too fast.   (here ‘fast’ is used as an adverb to describe/qualify the verb ‘speaks’.)

They fast every Tuesday for religious reasons. (here ‘fast’ is used as the only verb in the sentence.)


foot – Note the varying function/usage of this word in the sentences below.

My foot aches so much, ballet is not for me!   (here ‘foot’ is used as a noun.)

He used to foot the bill each time we ate out. (here ‘foot’ is used as a verb.)

footstool, footboard – these are examples of compound words (nouns) formed by using ‘foot’ as an adjective combined with a noun.


Apart from revising parts of speech, punctuation is one area of study that is not necessary but definitely useful in preparing for the verbal section.

To suggest a broader outline of how you can work on your grammar skills, apart from the simplest method of relentless solving of as many exercises as you can sit through, a healthy wide reading habit is always useful. Reading material, the kind that gives you exposure to flawless sentence construction and high standards of vocabulary/syntax, will be your best bet. Reading newspaper editorials (make The Hindu part of your daily diet) rich in language and editorial content will do wonders for your English section score. Reading novels (and sorry, I do not mean Sidney Sheldon or Chetan Bhagat) and good magazines (your local magazine vendor is a richer resource than you probably give him credit for) will boost your own awareness of grammatical nuances that you may otherwise be blissfully ignorant about. ‘Thompson and Martinet’ offer reliable and comprehensive Guides to Modern English Grammar.

All in all, grammar is all about as much relevant practice as you can get. The more you solve the more you discover and eventually the more your score mirrors your happy discoveries. Grammar is not boring. Though on first sight it appears so!

In the next article, we will look at Reading Comprehension and the way to tackle it. It will be the third and last of the series on Verbal.

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ARKS Srinivas

ARKS Srinivas is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta and has been the All India CAT Director at TIME. He is currently the National Head for MBA Prep at Career Launcher.