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 weightage of Reading Comprehension 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 it changed to three sections with RC having almost a 70% wieghtage 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 recent years to discuss strategies.
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.
QUESTION 1: Easy
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 bodies like an accordion and forcing air out through specialised holes in their sides. The whistles are impressively loud – they have been measured at over SO dB from 5 cm away from the caterpillar – considering they are made by a two-inch long insect.
X — NAW Sphinx look like easy meals but they are not.
Y — They have a trick — they produce whistles that sound like bird alarm calls, scaring potential predators away.
Z — The whistles are impressively loud (for their small size)
- North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars will whistle periodically to ward off predator birds – they have a specialized vocal tract that helps them whistle.
- North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars can whistle very loudly; the loudness of their whistles is shocking as they are very small insects.
- North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars, in a case of acoustic deception, produce whistles that mimic bird alarm calls to defend themselves.
- North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars, in a case of deception and camouflage, produce whistles that mimic bird alarm calls to defend themselves.
1. Incorrect. Does not mention X, Y or Z — an easy prey, alarm call, loudness.
2. Incorrect. Only mentions Z.
3. Correct. Mentions X and Y. Paraphrases trick to acoustic deception
4. Incorrect. Mentions X and Y but adds an idea that is not present — camouflage, which means changing colour to blend in with surroundings to avoid detection, the passage onyl mentions vocal deception.
Option 3 lacks Z but has to be the option you must choose since it has two important ideas, X and Y.
The VA of this CAT had two summary questions, let us look at the other one so that we can get a proper hang of the process.
QUESTION 2: Difficult
Both Socrates and Bacon were very good at asking useful questions. In fact, Socrates is largely credited with corning up with a way of asking questions, ‘the Socratic method,’ which itself is at the core of the ‘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.
X — Socrates introduced and Bacon popularised the scientific method and asking questions
Y — Socrates and Bacon both tested theories by asking to determine exceptions and testing it against real-world observation and experimentation.
Z — 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.
- Both Socrates and Bacon advocated clever questioning of the opponents to disprove their arguments and theories.
- Both Socrates and Bacon advocated challenging arguments and theories by observation and experimentation.
- Both Socrates and Bacon advocated confirming arguments and theories by finding exceptions.
- Both Socrates and Bacon advocated examining arguments and theories from both sides to prove them.
1. Incorrect. Z is incorrectly captured — they did not advocate only disproving theories by asking questions but stressed the importance of both
2.Incorrect. Z is incorrectly captured — they did not advocate only challenging arguments by asking questions but stressed the importance of both
3.Incorrect. Z is incorrectly captured — they did not want to confirm arguments but to test them through questioning and finding exceptions
4.Correct. Z is correctly encapsulated — examining arguments from both sides to prove them is the nothing but a paraphrase of proving and disproving to test an argument.
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 odd-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.
QUESTION 1: Easy
- Although we are born with the gift of language, research shows that we are surprisingly unskilled when it comes to communicating with others.
- We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition.
- We often choose our words without thought, oblivious of the emotional effects they can have on others.
- We talk more than we need to, ignoring the effect we are having on those listening to us.
- 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 this CAT was not this straightforward.
QUESTION 2: Medium
- Over the past fortnight, one of its finest champions managed to pull off a similar impression.
- Wimbledon’s greatest illusion is the sense of timelessness it evokes.
- 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.
- Once he had survived the opening week, the second week witnessed the range of a rested Federer’s genius.
- 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
How to crack the Jumbled Paragraphs Question
There are question types and there are Jumbled Paragraphs. 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, JPs 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 Jumbled Paragraph 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. In reality it is a PJ played on the poor test-takers.
So, for the longest time I stuck to the principle — I will not respect Jumbled Paragraphs by giving a strategy for the same
But then when students keep asking for strategies, there is only so much before I put my head to it and come up with something.
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, I thought I will try to replicate the process we used to use when there were options.
The three-step process to solve Jumbled Paragraphs is Sort-Link-Sequence
Step 1: Sort the sentence into one of two categories — Starter or Follower
When you read the first sentence you need to figure out one of two things — is it a starter or a follower.
A starter is as it will be obvious is a sentence that begins the paragraph. So, what qualities will a starter have? A starter will usually
- Introduce an idea, term, topic, concept, issue, or a theme
- It will thus be at a macro-level and not a micro-level
- Will have no pronouns — his, her, this, that, etc — or references to another sentence or idea — or logical continuations at the beginning of the sentence such as but, thus, hence — or time continuations at the beginning of the sentence such as — after that, then
- Any sentence that has any of the things listed in the previous point is a follower and not a starter.
Step 2: Look for links
If you sort the sentence to be a follower you will always get clues as to how it is linked to another sentence. Your task as you move to the next sentence is to identify links between sentences using these clues. The common links are:
- Noun Link — A sentence is a follower since it has pronouns such as his/her/this/that. So it means that this sentence is linked to another sentence that reveals the name of his/her/this/that. So when you encounter a follower with a pronoun, you look for a noun link
- Temporal Link — Temporal means a series of events that have a chronological sequence — first X happened, then Y was discovered etc. The words that hold clues to a temporal sequence are after, before, then etc.
- List Link — A paragraph might be listing out things such as the there are two kinds of X, three reasons for something etc. The clues to the existence of such a list are words such as first, firstly, secondly etc.
- Logical — When there is no other link there is only logic left. A few clues are words sentences with words such as then, this can mean a time sequence and it can also mean an if-then possibility, there was to be some precondition to be fulfilled and only then something happens. Other logical links are revealed through words sentences that start with but, since, hence, thus etc.
Step 3: Sequence the sentences for coherence
At the end of Step 2, you should (will) always know the starter sentence and a couple of links. The easier the question the more the links. For example, 3 is the starter, and there are two links, 3-1 and 4-2. Then you know the sequence has to be 3142.
On a tougher question you need to do the sequence using a starter and one link, which you should always be able to find. Let us take a few questions of varying levels and both 4 and 5 sentences and execute the strategy.
QUESTION 1 : Easy
- Self-management is thus defined as the ‘individual’s ability to manage the symptoms, treatment, physical and psychosocial consequences and lifestyle changes inherent in living with a chronic condition’.
- Most people with progressive diseases like dementia prefer to have control over their own lives and health care for as long as possible.
- Having control means, among other things, that patients themselves perform self-management activities.
- Supporting people in decisions and actions that promote self-management is called self-management support requiring a cooperative relationship between the patient, the family, and the professionals.
Sentence 1 — Not a starter has to follow something since it has the word “thus“
Sentence 2 — Possible starter since it introduces an idea
Sentence 3 — Follows 2 immediately since it defines having control, introduces self-management and hence 1 has to follow 3 not necessarily immediately — 2-3
Sentence 4 — Has to follow 1 which defines self-management this defines self-management “support” — 1-4
Sequence — 2 is the only possible starter, and we have two links 2-3 and 1-4, so the only possible sequence is 2314.
CORRECT Sequence: 2314
QUESTION 2: Medium
- The process of handing down implies not a passive transfer, but some contestation in defining what exactly is to be handed down.
- Wherever Western scholars have worked on the Indian past, the selection is even more apparent and the inventing of a tradition much more recognisable.
- Every generation selects what it requires from the past and makes its innovations, some more than others.
- It is now a truism to say that traditions are not handed down unchanged, but are invented.
- Just as life has death as its opposite, so is tradition by default the opposite of innovation.
Sentence 1 — Does not seem to be a starter since it refers to a process of handing down and there has to be reference to “what” is handed down.
Sentence 2 — Not a starter due to the phrase even more apparent, it is linked to some “selection“, we do not know what the selection is.
Sentence 3 — Can be starter and has to precede 2 since it introduces the idea of selection referred to in 3 — 3-2
Sentence 4 — Can be starter, it introduces the idea of traditions being handed down, so this has to precede 1 which talks about process of handing down — 4-1
Sentence 5 — Has to be the starter, it introduces the idea of tradition, continued in 4 — 5-4-1
Sequence — 5-4-1 with 5 as the starter and 3-2 is a link, 5-4-1-3-2
CORRECT Sequence: 54132
QUESTION 3: Difficult
- The study suggests that the disease did not spread with such intensity, but that it may have driven human migrations across Europe and Asia.
- The oldest sample came from an individual who lived in southeast Russia about 5,000 years ago.
- The ages of the skeletons correspond to a time of mass exodus from today’s Russia and Ukraine into western Europe and central Asia, suggesting that a pandemic could have driven these migrations.
- In the analysis of fragments of DNA from 101 Bronze Age skeletons for sequences from Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes the disease, seven tested positive.
- DNA from Bronze Age human skeletons indicate that the black plague could have emerged as early as 3,000 BCE, long before the epidemic that swept through Europe in the mid-1300s.
Sentence 1 — Not a starter since it says, the study and the disease, this sentence can only follow after the study and the disease are introduced.
Sentence 2 — Not a starter since there is no reference what sample is being discussed.
Sentence 3 — Not a starter since we do not know what skeletons are being referred to here but this has to follow, not immediately, 1 since it gives evidence for the migrations introduced in sentence 1
Sentence 4 — Has to precede 1, 2 and 3 since it introduces both the study in the analysis of fragments, not a starter since it refers to “the” disease, we do not know which disease yet.
Sentence 5 — Has to be the starter since it introduces the disease, the Black plague
Sequence — 5 has to start and 4 has to follow this since the studies and analysis referred to in 1,2, and 3 and the DNA Analysis introduced in are all taken up in 4.
1,2 and 3; 1 has to immediately follow 4 since it talks about “the study” introduced in 4, so the order so far is 541 followed by 2 and 3. We need to determine whether it is 5-4-1-2-3 or 5-4-1-3-2.
2 cannot be a closer since it is a standalone piece of information, 3 can be a closer since it refers to the migration mentioned in 1 as a possible finding from the study and identifies the source of the pandemic to Russia referred to in 2, 3 can thus follow 1 and 2; 5-4-1-2-3
CORRECT Sequence: 54123
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.
For more, solutions using these techniques you can refer to the video solutions of the SimCATs