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Conquering CAT English: Mastering the concepts

  With CAT 2016 scheduled for December 4, it is beyond doubt that you have been preparing rigorously for the big day. Here, we give you a few things that you can refer to at the last minute to tackle the English section of the test.  

The Advanc’edge Team

Language is a measure of Man’s progress. If the caveman had not communicated his thoughts and feelings by means of grunts first and language later, we would have been at the primate level. If Aryabhatta, Chanakya, Copernicus and Shakespeare had not employed language to disseminate their offerings to the world, all of us would have been poorer today in a substantive way. The lower order animals have a limited vocabulary because their lives revolve around specific sounds. Man is the only “thinking reed” who has advanced by means of language and you can see that the results are mind-blowing.

In the present context, the corporate world requires the manager to undertake rigorous study of disparate texts during report preparation, during organisational overhaul or when deciding marketing strategies. So is it any wonder that the CAT examiners test your proficiency in English?

The English portion in the CAT broadly consists of Verbal Ability and Reasoning, and Reading Comprehension. Of course, these are just names of sections but there could be overlaps. The Verbal Ability section could have questions on jumbled sentences and summary or analogies, which are aspects of reasoning. Even Reading Comprehension questions are reasoning-based or occasionally vocabulary-based ones. Thus the objective is the same – to see how good you are at understanding concepts and how strong your command over the language really is.


Take a simple word like “hold”. It can mean any one of the following.

  • To have a belief or opinion about something.
    Example: He held strong views on capital punishment.

  • To wait, in a telephonic context.
    Example: Hold the line, she is coming.

  • To last through time.
    Example: The theory held good for centuries.

  • To suppress or control.
    Example: I held back my fury at this provocation.

  • To maintain interest.
    Example: The programme did not hold the child’s attention.

  • To signify ownership.
    Example: The old man holds fifty percent of the shareholding.

The catch is that you, as a test taker, should be aware of the varied usage to be able to crack any question type based on this quickly and correctly.


Q. “I am not conversant of all the rules.” Is the sentence correct or incorrect?
If you have done your homework on prepositional usage, you will know that the sentence is incorrect because the word “conversant” always takes the preposition “with” after it.

Hence for sentence correction questions, you need to know the fundamental rules of grammar that govern sentence construction. There are some things you could do or follow that might help strengthen your grammar and English usage.

  • Refer to an advanced learner’s dictionary like the one by Oxford, with at least 1,50,000 words to help you understand usage and build your word base. An online version of the Oxford Dictionary also serves as an excellent reference.
  • Maintain a ready-reckoner or a checklist with respect to grammar rules that will be of immense help in sentence correction exercises.
  • Whenever you come across an unfamiliar word, look up the meaning and write it down using it in a sentence of your own. Vocabulary cannot be built overnight.


In the case of “Fill in the Blanks” type questions, a sentence has a single or double blank followed by four options. To tackle such questions, always form “shadow words” of your own based on your understanding before looking at the options. “Shadow words” mean words that you, as a reader, feel will contextually fit into the blank(s). You should look at the options only after you have deduced the contextual implication so that you are not misled by the options. Consider the following example.

Q. After the sudden death of their leader, the revolutionaries thought it best to be _______ for a while before resuming their attacks on the reigning monarch.

  1. belligerent
  2. craven
  3. querulous
  4. quiescent

In the example above, the shadow word will be based on the phrase “for a while before resuming their attacks”. It means that “they lay low”.

“Belligerent” means “aggressive”; “craven” means “cowardly”; “querulous” means “in a complaining tone”. Hence, logically only “quiescent” (meaning “inactive”) can fit. This does call for a certain proficiency in vocabulary but then, if you read regularly and combine it with the shadow word technique, you will find that your job will become far easier.


Questions based on contextual usage could test your grasp on vocabulary, although the CAT per se is not vocabulary-centric. For example, take a look at the question below.

Q. Mark the option that is closest to the word in bold.

The soldier was arrested and tortured for his alleged complicity in the Boscoli conspiracy.

  1. reasonableness
  2. stature
  3. patience
  4. involvement

To crack questions of this sort, first determine the mood of the sentence. In the above sentence, it is decidedly negative because he was tortured and arrested. Nobody would have done that to him if he had been reasonable. “Stature” doesn’t make sense in this context. “Patience” is a positive term as well. Hence, “involvement” is the right option.


Questions based on jumbled sentences actually constitute an aspect of verbal reasoning. You should quickly scan the text, eliminate the options that recur and then look for logical links. Here’s an interesting example.

Q. “However” is a connective, you agree! Can it begin a sequence? Observe the following.

  1. However, he was tired.
  2. However hard he tried, Sam could not forget the incident.

In sentence (b), we see that we can begin the sequence with “However” because it introduces the topic. In sentence (a), we cannot begin the sequence because the comma placed after “However” indicates that some thought process has already gone before!


Summary questions too hark back to the good old précis concept of school days without the “one-third of the actual length” norm. Here’s an instance.

Q. A politics of sustainable globalisation needs more than just the correct picture of what is happening in the world. It also needs the right balance of policies. Specifically, it demands a new social bargain among workers, financiers and governments that will make for sustainable globalization. Give them their due – the Thatcherites and Reaganites helped to prepare their countries for this era of globalisation and were instrumental in bringing it about by offering an unadulterated free-market vision for globalisation. Their view was “Let the market rule everywhere as much as possible and things will all be OK”. But a pure market vision alone is not enough. It is too brutal and therefore politically unsustainable. The Left, meanwhile, or what’s left of the Left, has tried to hold on to the paternalism of the welfare state as much as possible. This is not economically sustainable.

  1. Sustainable globalisation calls for a new balance of power between workers and financiers and governments after the Thatcherites and Reaganites have done their bit.
  2. It is necessary to strike a balance between politics and policies to ensure sustainable globalisation. A pure free-market or welfare state vision is not politically and economically sustainable.
  3. Thatcherites and Reaganites are usually at odds with the Left as they believe in pure market – -driven economics.
  4. Market – -driven economies are most likely to succeed as opposed to welfare state economics.

Ans: [1] While the passage mentions this, it does not reflect the whole essence of the passage. [2] Is closest to the essence of the passage, which is talking about finding a mix of politics and economic policies that will enable sustainable globalisation. [3] This may be true but the passage is not a commentary on ideologies. [4] The passage does not conclude on either economic policy and, therefore, not true. Hence, the answer should be [2].

To tackle such questions, remember:

When you read the passage, mark those words that are crucial to the essence of the passage.

Negate those options which are skewed or lack an essential component. Elimination this way will yield the right answer.


Questions based on critical reasoning deal with assumptions, conclusions, premises and inferences and are important from the point of view of rational thinking. To tackle such questions, remember these following points.

Logical thinking means doing away with emotional responses.

Examine the evidence and arrive at the answer.

Remember that an assumption is always implied and it must lead you to the conclusion.

Go by the process of elimination, negating unwarranted generalisations.


Again from the world of reasoning, syllogisms are based on a form of logic where the conclusion has to be derived from both the premises. Conditional syllogisms are based on the “fulfillment of the condition, occurrence of the consequence” rule. Consider the following example.

“When I am hungry, I scream.”

Do not waste time drawing a Venn diagram. First, understand the break-up. “When I am hungry” is the condition. “I scream” is the consequence.

There are only two valid placements. Condition and consequence. Negation of the consequence implies negation of the original condition. Therefore, this is what follows.

“When I am hungry, I scream.”

“I do not scream; I am not hungry.”

However, “I am not hungry; I do not scream” will not be a valid placement as it negates the original condition first. The negation of the consequence must be placed first.

Now, let’s try this conditional syllogism with a twist. Consider this example.

“Either you are crazy or you are a genius.”

This is an example of an “either-or” syllogism (technically called disjunctive syllogism).

If you are crazy = x and you are a genius  = y, then there are only four valid placements for this type:

  1. x, not y
  2. not y, x
  3. y, not x
  4. not x, y.

To prepare for this section, remember the following.

Chart out a detailed study plan.

Work hard on all the concepts of verbal ability as well as verbal reasoning constructs.

Never hesitate to use reference material and make notes to facilitate recall.

Practise regularly so that you learn to make the optimum use of time.


Reading comprehension in the CAT straddles diverse subjects ranging from psychology, religion and politics to business, philosophy, science, etc. The emphasis in this portion is on interpreting the text and answering the multiple-choice questions that follow.

Generally, the number of passages varies, and so may the number of questions per passage, but essentially, a question may be direct, partially indirect or indirect. Traditionally, the percentage of direct questions has been lower than the other two types. Here’s a sample.

Since all knowledge is knowledge of sense-objects, truth is simply the correspondence of our impressions to things. How are we to know whether our ideas are correct copies of things? How do we distinguish between reality and imagination, dreams or illusions? What is the criterion of truth? It cannot lie in  concepts, since they are of our own making. Nothing is true save sense impressions and, therefore, the criterion of truth must lie in sensation itself. It cannot be in thought, but must be in feeling. Real objects, said the Stoics, produce in us an intense feeling, or conviction, of their reality. The strength and vividness of the image distinguish these real perceptions from a dream or fancy. Hence, the sole criterion of truth is this striking conviction, whereby the real forces itself upon our consciousness and will not be denied. There is, thus, no universally grounded criterion of truth. It is based not on reason but on feeling.

After reading the above extract, answer the following without going back to the text:

  1. Truth cannot be based on reason. True/false?
  2. Knowledge is synonymous with knowledge of sense -objects. True/false?

Ans: Both the statements are true.

Now you can gauge how attentive and proactive a reader you had been  and what the gap in understanding that you have to bridge is.

If this passage has scared the wits out of you and you start to despair, then here’s a word of assurance: all is not lost. First read the passage slowly, understand it and then gradually, over a period of ten days or so, increase your speed. Timed reading will work best for subjects that you love and then you can begin using it on all topics.

Here are a few golden rules that you must keep in mind for tackling the RC component:.

Everything is contextual. No external knowledge is expected or required.

You should view this as a functional process and not as a literary attempt.

Learn to read in thought units and not word after word. Remember, concentration is the key.

Mentally mark the important elements that you come across while reading.

Ensure accuracy in your attempts, because negative marking is a reality.

A reading speed of 300-350 words per minute is ideal. You can develop speed by gradually reducing the time taken to read the same length of text.

Ensure exposure to rigorous non-fiction by reading editorials, research studies. Read on a regular basis, beginning with subjects that you like. Subsequently, keep moving on to topics that are new or unfamiliar.

Spending a couple of minutes in determining the order of attempts will prevent you from getting stuck in a passage that is abstruse or has very close, difficult options.

If there is a question on selection of an apt title, opt for one that encompasses the gist of the passage than going for generic or out-of-range ones.