The Reading Comprehension section on the CAT has more to it than just strategizing and mastering reading ability. Being a good reader only pays off when you are confident that you will be able to leverage your abilities well on test day. In fact, most people can actually read and comprehend quite swiftly, but deliberately don’t. This is simply because they’re afraid to miss the facts. What if a there’s going to be a question on this? What if I have to come back and re-read this? Isn’t it just better if I take my time with the reading and then be super-quick with the questions? If I read very, very carefully, there’ no way I can’t answer the questions quickly, and well. Is there?
The constant tussle with time during the test can indeed become so crippling that students often forget the purpose of the exam itself. While your imagination is convincing you of the test’s apparent malice, your ability to reason is taking a back seat. The CAT has its priorities predetermined and when the RC questions are designed, those priorities are heavily taken into account. If you are prepared, you will know this even before you have started reading, and hence, will be more likely to be aware of what’s coming up.
More than anything else, the test wants you to grasp the reading material presented in its entirety. Nobody can remember every little detail from every line, but it’s important that you learn to identify where it’s all headed. You must learn, through practice of course, to identify what information is worth retaining and what is not. A good way to understand this is to become familiar with the types of questions that appear on the test, and WHY they appear. There are the broad global questions, answers to which are found throughout the length of the passage, and then there are the narrower inferential questions that rely on your ability to reason with the information presented in the passage. There are also the relatively easy cause and effect questions, and questions that quote a specific part of the paragraph to ask the reader what it represents. Let’s take a look at each in turn:
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- Global Questions are the overarching questions and are usually easy to tackle if one has read the passage thoroughly. Questions that involve the main idea, the passage’s logical structure, and the writer’s style and tone are the usual variants of these questions, because they are all predetermined and remain consistent throughout the write-up.
- Questions involving the main idea might ask you re-assert the main idea or to summarize and re-phrase it. Additionally, they may also include questions about the author’s purpose behind writing the passage, and questions that ask of you a suitable title. Clearly, questions like these are asked to ensure that the reader has grasped the overall meaning of the passage and has not merely skimmed through the writing for the sake of it.
- Questions involving the logical structure of the passage ask you to analyse and evaluate the construction, organization and logical composition of the passage. This means that you will be asked about how the passage was planned; whether it defines, whether it compares and contrasts, whether it supports an idea or whether it refutes and challenges opposing ideas. Questions like these are asked on the test to assess the reader’s critical reasoning skills. Therefore, you may also be expected to answer questions framed on the assumptions the author makes in presenting his/her ideas, or asked to evaluate how the author’s ideas can be strengthened or weakened.
- Questions involving the passage’s style and tone are based on the language used by the writer. Questions that ask you for the tone have words like “critical”, “supportive”, “narrative”, “pragmatic” etc. in the options, and to answer these you need to identify the kind of language that is consistently used throughout the passage. Remember that a few words of criticism in paragraph one cannot make the overall tone of the passage “critical”. Likewise, the writer’s attitude towards the ideas presented will determine his/her writing style, and is typically determined by the choice of words he/she uses in the writing. Questions like these are asked on the test to assess the reader’s ability to go beyond the literal meanings of the words used in the passage.
- Inferential Questions can broadly be of two types; one that demands inferences based on information presented within the passage, and one that asks how the presented information can be applied to an external context. For both these types of questions, remember to strictly keep within the scope/boundary of the passage. Make sure that, in your attempt to visualise an external context, you use only and only the information that you definitively derive from the passage alone. It is easy to breach this rule if you already have some knowledge on the matter, so bear exclusive caution if and when that is the case.
- Questions that ask for internal inferences (i.e. based on information within the passage) are often asked when ideas in the passage are not stated explicitly, but are implied. These types of questions assess your ability to deduce those ideas from the information that has been stated in the passage, and are asked to gauge how well you can read between the lines. The correct option for a question like this will strongly suggest this implicit idea, and your challenge is to find the part of the passage where the inference may be hidden. A good way of doing this is to find the supporting details that point to each of the four options, and observe in which case these details actually string together to form the idea. You should be able to recognize these questions because of their use of words like “implies”, “infer”, “suggests” etc. that provoke you to look for something within the passage.
- Questions that demand external application (i.e. require you to apply presented information elsewhere) are inherently difficult because you need to be able to differentiate between relationships/ideas presented in the passage and other parallel ideas/situations that lie outside its scope. In order to answer questions like these, you have to be very clear about what the passage was about and what it was intending to do aside from merely remembering details it presented. Only then will you be able to recognize the attributes and implications of these ideas, and use it in the new context that the question poses. Questions like this are asked on the test to assess your advanced reasoning skills, and are usually what make the RC section wildly unpredictable.
- Cause and Effect Questions are relatively easier to solve, because they are very direct, and the cause-effect relationships on which the questions are based, are explicitly stated in the passage. The only skill required to answer these questions is the ability to distinguish between the cause and the effect. Remember that the cause always precedes the effect, and once again, a clear understanding of the passage’s plan and organization should help you answer questions like these.
- Questions that pick out on a specific part of the passage are one of the most common types on the CAT. This specific part could be a sentence, phrase or a meaningful argument, based on which an entire question is constructed. Since these excerpts are directly from the passage, answering questions of this sort can be easy if you have understood the passage well, and can trail back to the part where it came from. This is because the options created for these questions either pick up directly or rephrase the sentences that surround the specific detail.
Now that you are familiar with the types of questions that appear on the test, remember to bear them in mind whenever you practice for the RC section. In fact, for good reading practice, why not incorporate them whenever you read at all? A good place to start could be with the passages posted on the CAT Verbal Prep Group.
The discussion awaits!