One thing that has always bothered me a lot whenever I interact with students, is that they seem to be very reluctant to let go of their playing-the-percentages attitude to tests. Throughout school and college, we tend to study by playing the percentages — giving importance to topics as per the number of questions that appear from that topic in the exam. While this might be a great strategy for school and college exams, as far as aptitude tests go, this strategy is suicidal purely because of the fact that the difficulty level and the number of questions across areas do not follow a fixed pattern.
How is this related to Verbal Ability in the current pattern of the CAT?
The increase in the number of Reading Comprehension questions to 24 started with CAT 2015 when the CAT moved to a 3-section pattern from a 2-section one.
So until 2015, RC was something that people conscientiously avoided.
But the moment RC changed to 24 questions people started ignoring VA. Verbal Ability has almost become a side-show relegated to the last 10 minutes of the section and even within VA, the bulk of the time goes to the second most useless question type in the history of Verbal Ability question types across tests — Parajumbles.
I think as a strategy this is quite misplaced since CAT is always about picking out the questions that will give you three marks in the shortest possible time and having the technique to hit high accuracy levels in executing a solution.
The VA questions are TITA, and hence carry no negative marking, that does not mean that you answer them in a cavalier fashion. You should look at them like legitimate deliveries, off which you should to score 3 marks, rather than treat them like free-hits!
In this post, we will look at the specific strategies that will help you maximize the return on time invested in the three VA question types that you will encounter. We will use the actual VA questions from CAT 2017 – Slot 2 to discuss strategies.
First RC and then VA or first VA and then RC?
Most test-takers seem to be operating with the first RC and then VA strategy.
I would, as always, say that the difficulty of the questions will determine which order you should attempt the questions in.
The first exercise you should hence do is to ascertain the difficulty level of the section.
How do you go about doing this?
- Read the first paragraph of each RC and give it a rating out of 10 with 1 for very difficult and 10 for very easy.
- To give this rating first evaluate how easy is the language of the passage irrespective of the topic. Are you able to easily understand it and grasp the content or do you feel that this needs to be read slowly?
- Secondly, look at the complexity of the arguments presented — the language might be simple, the topic might be one that you like, but the arguments put forth can be complex
- Ensure that you rate the passages in such a way that your rating tells you in which order you should attempt the passages. For example, if you find two passages to be of moderate level, do not rate both as 7, differentiate and give each one rating that helps you decide the order, say a 7 and a 7.5.
- Attempt every passage that is rated 7 and above in the order of the rating — highest to lowest.
- Once you are through with all the passages that are 7’s, do the VA questions and come back to the other RCs.
- On an easy section, 5 out of 6 passages might be 7 and above, in which case, you will know that you have to really pick up the pace and answer as many questions as possible.
- On a tough section, 3 out of 6 might be 7 and above, so you know that you have to really focus on accuracy and also squeeze out as many as possible out of VA as well.
So whatever the position at which you attempt VA, you should try to get as many marks as possible out of the 10 questions in 15 minutes.
How to crack the Summary Question
The only way to reach higher accuracy levels on VA is to move from solving questions based on gut-feel to using a process to arrive at the answer. Leave your gut to what it does best — digestion!
What is the usual process?
Read the passage, read the options and then if it is an easy question, the answer will become obvious, if it is a tough question, you will get caught between two options.
Where is the space for reasoning in all of this or when does the reasoning happen?
So the first step is to stop after reading the paragraph and formulate what you are looking for.
Every paragraph will be about three big ideas (at most) — X, Y, and Z — all the rest of the sentences will be supporting arguments.
- After reading the paragraph you have to paraphrase the X and Y and Z of it, using the least number of phrases.
- You then proceed to check each option to see whether it has the X, the Y, and the Z
Let us take a question from CAT 2017 and see how to execute this process.
North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars (Amorpha juglandis) look like easy meals for birds, but they have a trick up their sleeves — they produce whistles that sound like bird alarm calls, scaring potential predators away. At first, scientists suspected birds were simply startled by the loud noise. But a new study suggests a more sophisticated mechanism: the caterpillar's whistle appears to mimic a bird alarm call, sending avian predators scrambling for cover. When pecked by a bird, the caterpillars whistle by compressing their bodieslike an accordion and forcing air out through specialized holes in their sides. The whistles are impressively loud - they have been measured at over 80 dB from 5 cm away from the caterpillar - considering they are made by a two-inch long insect. 1.North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars will whistle periodically to ward off predator birds - they have a specialized vocal tract that helps them whistle. 2.North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars can whistle very loudly; the loudness of their whistles is shocking as they are very small insects. 3.North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars, in a case of acoustic deception, produce whistles that mimic bird alarm calls to defend themselves. 4.North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars, in a case of deception and camouflage, produce whistles that mimic bird alarm calls to defend themselves.
What are the X, Y, and Z of this paragraph
- X — The Walnut sphinx is not an easy prey, it has a trick up its sleeve.
- Y — A whistle that mimics alarm calls of birds that scares predators away.
- Z — A whistle that is quite loud given its small size.
Now check the options for the one that contains all three.
- Lacks X, the part about the trick
- Lacks X, the part about the trick
- Has X and Y but not Z
- Has X and Y but introduces camouflage, which is a visual deception not mentioned in the passage, making it incorrect.
Option 3 lacks Z but has to be the option you must choose since it has the two important ideas, X and Y.
The VA of CAT 2017 had two summary questions, let us look at the other one so that we can get a proper hang of the process.
Both Socrates and Bacon were very good at asking useful questions. In fact, Socrates is largely credited with coming up with a way of asking questions, 'the Socratic method which itself is at the core ofthe 'scientific method', popularised by Bacon. The Socratic method disproves arguments by finding exceptions to them, and can therefore lead your opponent to a point where they admit something that contradicts their original position. In common with Socrates, Bacon stressed it was as important to disprove a theory as it was to prove one - and real-world observation and experimentation were key to achieving both aims. Bacon also saw science as a collaborative affair, with scientists working together, challenging each other. 1.Both Socrates and Bacon advocated clever questioning of the opponents to disprove their arguments and theories. 2.Both Socrates and Bacon advocated challenging arguments and theories by observation and experimentation. 3.Both Socrates and Bacon advocated confirming arguments and theories by finding exceptions. 4.Both Socrates and Bacon advocated examining arguments and theories from both sides to prove them.
What are the X, Y, and Z for this one
- X — Socrates came up with the method of asking questions popularised by Bacon.
- Y — The method involved disproving/proving an argument by asking questions and finding exceptions to the same.
- Z — Bacon also stressed science as a collaborative effort in which scientists challenged each other
Which option fits the bill?
- Limits the idea to “opponents” whereas the paragraph talks about arguments in general.
- Talks about challenging but does not mention proving and disproving.
- Talks solely about confirming but the paragraph talks about proving and disprove since Bacon stresses that disproving is as important as proving.
- Examining from both sides — best paraphrases proving or disproving by looking for exceptions.
What will happen on tougher Summary questions?
- One among X, Y and Z might be missing and you need to pick the two important ones among the three.
- The correct option will not use phrases from the paragraph but express the same using different words, in other words, paraphrasing.
How to crack the Out Of Context Sentence In Context Question
First introduced in CAT 2015 (if I am not wrong), the Out Of Context Sentence is the newest question type on the Verbal Ability section — there has been no new question type since.
I for one feel that this can be a tricky question type where a potential +6 (in under three minutes) can easily become a -2, and you know what an increase in 8 marks to your Verbal score can mean.
While test-takers use a semblance of a strategy when faced with other VA question types, I am not sure if they have a specific approach to tackle this question type. Even if they do have a strategy, it is likely to be related to Parajumbles since this question type is seen as an offshoot of the Parajumbles question type.
How do you go about solving this question type?
- The first thing to do or rather not do — do not try to make a coherent paragraph!
- Trying to make a paragraph will mean that you start looking for starters and enders and will end up wasting a lot of time on trying to sequence the sentences when that is not the task at hand.
- Your job is to get the odd-one out of your way and not sequence the sentences and then get the ood-one out of your way
- After you read the first sentence, label the sentence with a phrase that captures the content of the sentence, say — advantages of echolocation, latest advances in neuroscience etc.
- You have to then proceed to the do the same with the other sentences
- You will find that
- the label you have given to the first sentence is applicable to all but one other sentence — the out of context sentence or
- the label you have given to the first sentence is applicable only to itself and the other four need a different label
Let’s take a few questions from last year and go about executing a strategy.
1.Although we are born with the gift of language, research shows that we are surprisingly unskilled when it comes to communicating with others. 2.We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition. 3.We often choose our words without thought, oblivious of the emotional effects they can have on others. 4.We talk more than we need to, ignoring the effect we are having on those listening to us. 5.We listen poorly, without realizing it, and we often fail to pay attention to the subtle meanings conveyed by facial expressions, body gestures, and the tone and cadence of our voice.
What are labels that we can give to the content of each of the sentences?
Remember that you have to give a label that captures the content of the sentence at a top-level.
- 1 — Human troubles in communicating with others
- 2 — Speech control and goal achievement
- 3 — Human troubles in communicating with others (choose words without thought)
- 4 — Human troubles in communicating with others (talk more than necessary)
- 5 — Human troubles in communicating with others (listen poorly)
From this exercise, it is obvious that sentence 2 is the odd one out.
The other question from CAT 2017 was not this straightforward.
1.Over the past fortnight, one of its finest champions managed to pull off a similar impression. 2.Wimbledon's greatest illusion is the sense of timelessness it evokes. 3.At 35 years and 342 days, Roger Federer became the oldest man to win the singles title in the Open Era - a full 14 years after he first claimed the title as a scruffy, pony-tailed upstart. 4.Once he had survived the opening week, the second week witnessed the range of a rested Federer's genius. 5.Given that his method isn't reliant on explosive athleticism or muscular ball-striking, both vulnerable to decay, there is cause to believe that Federer will continue to enchant for a while longer
As you read the first sentence it is clear that this question is going to be tough — there are no nouns that tell you what the subjects are, but yet can you come up with a phrase?
How about — a championship, a player and an impression?
Let us start with this and work our way forward by looking at the second sentence.
From this it is clear, that the championship is Wimbledon, the impression is timelessness and unless you have just landed from a different planet and have decided to take the CAT, you would have figured that the player is Roger Federer!
So what is the label? Wimbledon, Roger Federer & Timelessness.
- 1 — Wimbledon, Roger Federer & Timelessness
- 2 — Wimbledon, Roger Federer & Timelessness
- 3 — Wimbledon, Roger Federer & Timelessness (oldest player ever)
- 4 — Federer’s progress from the first to the second week
- 5 — Wimbledon, Roger Federer & Timelessness (will play for longer)
What will happen on tougher Summary questions?
- You won’t find all the elements necessary to label the sentence right away
- You might not be able to fit a label precisely
- either the label you gave to the first sentence was not precise enough or
- the sentence you are seeking to fit the label to is an inference from the previous one and the label will fit once you able to identify that it is an inference and hence related
I will not respect Parajumbles by giving a strategy for the same
There are question types and there are Parajumbles. It is possibly the oldest question type on the CAT and has been around on and off basis in the ’90s if I am not wrong.
It is a question type that is most intelligible to test-takers and thus a type that everyone wants to take a shot at.
What do I mean by most intelligible?
Let us use a board game analogy. If you see a chess board arranged for two players to begin unless you know what chess is you can’t figure out what to do. Even if you watch two players playing you can’t figure it out in a trice.
What if you see a snakes & ladders board with a dice on it? You can figure out how to play it. Even if you do not know what a snake does you can figure that out to be the opposite of what a ladder does. In the worst case, you can see two people play for 2 minutes and understand.
To use another analogy, this time from a casino set up, Blackjack versus Roulette.
In short, PJs are like snakes & ladders and Roulette, too easy understand to not want to take a shot.
So why do I hate it?
Well, I have issues with how the question is made.
When that paragraph in question was born, it did not know that it will grow up and become a Parajumble question!
Did its progenitor imagine that this paragraph will one day become a pain in the wrong place for every CAT aspirant?
Since question writers are not writing their own paragraphs but use the words of others, I have serious doubts whether sentences can always follow one logical sequence.
Even with options, tough PJ questions were always a time sink with no process to rely on.
Without options, it’s not easy to fix one sequence out of a potential 120. Even if you fix 2 sentences it still leaves you will six options!
So what should you do?
Leave PJs right till the very end, when you have just 3 to 4 minutes left. Do not get engage with them earlier, unless you find that there is nothing else left to attempt.
Since they seem so straightforward, there is a huge chance that you will end up wasting 6 to 8 minutes on two PJs since something tells you that you can crack it.
The CAT VA as a whole does not test reasoning anymore, reasoning as defined in formal terms and tested through question types such as CR and Syllogisms.
While I have been able to outline a process to manage the other two question types what I can say for PJs except — look for connections.
At this point, I am very much tempted to launch into a rant about how the CAT VA-RC section is the most arbitrary section of all time, about how the GMAT VA is as good as it can get as far as testing Verbal Ability is concerned but I shall resist the temptation for now.
Some of you might be scoring well on the VA-RC section and might feel that you do not need to follow any process when your gut can do the job.
I myself am naturally good at Verbal but I realized a long time ago that having a process or a technique gives you a way to think and reason your way through tough questions, the easy ones can be taken care of by your gut. But even on the easy ones having a process ensure that you reach there faster without making any silly mistakes.
So those of you who find your scores in Verbal going up & down or feel that you are unable to move it beyond a particular level should diligently apply these strategies over quite a few questions and tests till they become your natural way of solving.