How to Prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension for the CAT (2014)


Preface to the Fifth Edition

The CAT is a dynamic examination and the pattern keeps changing from time to time. We as authors and trainers try our best to keep abreast of the latest pattern  and provide content which is up-to-date and relevant in the context of the examination.

Some changes noticed in the CAT exam over the years are as follows:

•The number of questions has been reduced drastically.

•There are now only two sections in the examination as opposed to the earlier four and three sections.

•The number of questions in each of the two sections is 30, adding up to a total of 60 questions.

•CAT has introduced two to three different question types in the Verbal section like Phrasal Verbs, Irrelevant Sentence and Paragraph Completion / Last Sentence of the Paragraph.

•The size of the comprehension passages has also reduced. It is now a one page passage as opposed to longer passages in the earlier CAT question papers.

•The number of questions in the Comprehension section is now limited to 10 questions with a break up of three to four questions per passage.


1.Inclusion of three important chapters namely Phrasal Verbs, Irrelevant Sentence  and Paragraph Completion or the Last Sentence of the Paragraph.

2.Addition of seven fully solved tests in Reading Comprehension with solutions according to the latest pattern.

3.Inclusion of a comprehensive list of phrasal verbs in the chapter on Phrasal Verbs which will be a good resource for learning, practice and revision.

4.Some older questions which have lost their relevance have been removed.

5.The newly-added question types have detailed solutions.

6.The write-up on how to take a holistic approach to the online CAT has been updated.

The book is now in sync with the latest examination pattern and the aspirant will hopefully find this a one-stop solution for the English portion of CAT and other popular MBA entrance examinations.

We would like to remind all students preparing for these highly competitive examinations that a thorough preparation of the English section is imperative for success in CAT and other similar MBA entrance examinations.

Through this book, we are providing you with an invaluable resource for improving your language section score drastically. Contained in this book is the very best advisory for each and every question type as also for developing your skills in comprehending and understanding the English language. Your job is to ensure that you follow the process diligently.


(i) Sentence Comprehension as the Core Skill in English

For many CAT aspirants, especially those who do not have an English medium educational background, this section represents the biggest hurdle in the CAT and indeed so, in most other management entrance exams.

At the same time, even for students who have the best education and are seemingly good at English, the experience of the past few years’ CAT papers shows us that being good at speaking and conversing in English does not automatically guarantee a top percentile score.

(ii) The Role of Reading in Developing Your Language Solving Skills

The most commonly heard advice for career aspirants when it comes to preparing for this all important section is “Read more and more”. So it is your right to ask, “If I read more and more, would I get a solution to my problems in the language section in a time frame of say, four months?”

The answer to this question is largely in the negative. The reason is that, for you to develop your scores in Verbal Ability (VA) and Reading Comprehension (RC) by just reading more and more—you require, maybe, a two to three year cycle of preparation.  A mere four months would be more like scratching the surface for the same.

We are not saying for a moment that reading is not important for preparing yourself for this section. Reading more and more remains one of the primary activities that you would still need to do, but rather than doing it blindly it would definitely be better for you if you did it with a clear purpose.

So let’s first try to set the objectives of reading more and more.

One of the key problems aspirants face when they take the CAT is that the language is too complex and the options for the answer to the question asked are too similar for comfort.

Your comfort with the language you read in the examination is going to depend on three broad factors. These give rise to the possibilities of the kind of language you are going to face:

1.Short Sentences (10–15 words long) versus Long Sentences (25+ words long)

2.Easy Vocabulary versus Tough Vocabulary

3.Familiar Topic versus Unfamiliar Topics

So obviously, short sentences, easy vocabulary and familiar topics would be the easiest to handle while you would have to grapple with long sentences, tough vocabulary and unfamiliar topics.

So one of your primary objectives has to be to improve your skill in handling the most complex language scenarios that the above three dimensions can throw up.

What we are referring to would be clear from the example below:

Consider this paragraph from a reading comprehension section of the CAT 2008 question paper:

“Finally, while we still have some other past societies to consider before we switch our attention to the modern world, we must already be struck by some parallels between the Maya and the past societies. As on Mangareva, the Maya environmental and population problems led to increasing warfare and civil strife. Similarly, on Easter Island and at Chaco Canyon, the Maya peak population numbers were followed swiftly by political and social collapse. Paralleling the eventual extension of agriculture from Easter Island’s coastal lowlands to its uplands, and from the Mimbres floodplain to the hills, Copan’s inhabitants also expanded from the floodplain to the more fragile hill slopes, leaving them with a larger population to feed when the agricultural boom in the hills went bust. Like Easter Island chiefs erecting ever larger statues, eventually crowned by Pukao, and like Anasazi elite treating themselves to necklaces of 2000 turquoise beads, Maya kings sought to outdo each other with more and more impressive temples, covered with thicker and thicker plaster – reminiscent in turn of the extravagant conspicuous consumption by modern American CEOs. The passivity of Eater chiefs and Maya Kings in the face of the real big threats to their societies completes our list of disquieting parallels.”

The above paragraph contains 202 words and has 6 sentences, giving an average sentence length of 33.66 words! And this is more of a rule than exception. An aspirant whose comfort level consists of 10-word sentences would be badly out of his depth in such a paragraph.

So the first point we would like to make here is:

You should focus on improving your ability to comprehend longer sentences with complex vocabulary on unfamiliar topics.

Do all your reading activity with this goal in mind and you would suddenly realise that a three-year cycle of development would crash into four months.

Remember, improved comprehension of sentences could well be the game-changer you are looking for in your language preparations!!

The second point is that CAT questions are more about logic than about language.

Consider this question and its options.

The question was based on a passage in Reading Comprehension (which cannot be reproduced here due to space constraints) but we want you to focus well on just the reading the options. Very often one sees that aspirants make an error in an answer simply because they have not understood what the question is asking and what the options are saying.

So read the options carefully and try to slot them into clear-cut compartments.

The question was:

What is the thematic highlight of the passage?

1.In the absence of strong biological linkages, reciprocal roles provide the mechanism for coordinating human behaviour.

2.In the absence of reciprocal roles, biological linkages provide the mechanism for coordinating human behaviour.

3.Human behaviour is independent of biological linkages and reciprocal roles.

4.Human behaviour depends on biological linkages and reciprocal roles.

5.Reciprocal roles determine normative human behaviour in society.

If you were to observe the options carefully you would realise that all the options are talking about the interrelationship between three concepts viz:

A.Biological Linkages

B.Reciprocal Roles

C.Human Behaviour

With this understanding if you were to look at the options they can be rewritten as:

1.In the absence of strong A, B provides the mechanism to coordinate C.

2.In the absence of B, A provides the mechanism to coordinate C.

3.C is independent of A and B.

4.C depends on A and B

5.B determines C.

Once you have this kind of clarity in your mind about what each of these options is saying all you need to do is to understand the purpose of what the author is saying in the passage. Now if you were to read the following random extracts from the passage, what do you conclude is the author saying?

Statements from the First Paragraph

Human biology does nothing to structure human society.

Giving birth is certainly not sufficient to be a mother but, as adoption and fostering show, it is not even necessary!

Statements from the Second Paragraph

The fine detail of what is expected of a mother or a father or a dutiful son differs from culture to culture, but everywhere behaviour is coordinated by the reciprocal nature of roles. Husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, waiters and customers, teachers and pupils, warlords and followers—each makes sense only in its relation to the other.

Statements from the Fourth Paragraph

The American sociologist Erving Goffman built an influential body of social analysis on elaborations of the metaphor of social life as drama. Perhaps his most telling point was that it is only through acting out a part that we express character.

Correct Option

It is clear that the author is indeed talking about a relationship between B (reciprocal roles) and C (human behaviour). So, clearly 2 and 3 are rejected. Option 4 can be rejected on the basis of the fact that the author is saying the opposite of the dependence of C on A. In fact he is saying that C does not depend on A. So we are in between Options 1 and 5.

In order to choose the correct option from these, you need to read the options clearly and take a call.

Option 1 is talking about the “absence of strong biological linkages” in a society. Hence, all you need to do to eliminate this option is to ask yourself the question—“Can biological linkages ever be absent in a society?” Your mind would tell you clearly that this cannot happen. Hence, we are left with only Option 1 which indeed is the key argument that the author is taking.

Key Arguments

Obviously, the point of discussing this question with you is to make a certain argument about your preparation process for the language section. And the key arguments one is trying to make are:

1.Solving a language question is an exact science, just like solving a Quantitative Aptitude or Data Interpretation question. This section too always has one clear answer. The only issue is whether you have developed your mind enough to see it!

2.Even if you have good command over English you should not take this section lightly. Prepare to develop skills to score well. Remember, the test is more of your logical thinking ability rather than your level of English. So, a command over English is no guarantee to scoring well in this section. Focus on clearing the cobwebs from your mind, induce clarity in your thought and you should be well on your way to success!

In conclusion, we would like to emphasise that it has always been our effort to help and guide you with the best possible study material and practice questions so that you get a simulated experience of the whole process before you take the actual exam. As the saying goes, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win. Everyone wants to win, but not everyone wants to prepare to win. Preparing to win is where the determination that you will win, is made. Once the game or test or project is underway, it is too late to prepare to win. The actual game, test or project is just the end of a long process of getting ready, in which the outcome was really determined. So if you want to win, you must want to prepare to win. Once you prepare to win, winning is almost anti-climatic.”

Preface to the First Edition

The English section, comprising Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension, is one of the most crucial components of the Common Admission Test (CAT). Questions worth 50 marks have been appearing from this section regularly for the past five years. As teachers in this field for the past 11 years, we have found it extremely difficult to recommend one single book that would comprehensively cover the entire English portion of the CAT. This constant dilemma, coupled with the overwhelming response that we received for How to Prepare for Quantitative Aptitude for the CAT and How to Prepare for Data Interpretation for the CAT, prompted us to think of preparing a book on How to Prepare for Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension for the CAT. Besides CAT, this book would effectively meet the requirements of exams like XAT, IIFT, IRMA, CET, MAT, UPMCAT, and Bank PO examinations, where the English section is essentially a very vital component.

However, conceptualising and compiling a book which would provide a one-stop solution for English was not an easy task. And the inputs that we got from our sources regarding the expectations from such a book were no less demanding. They talked about a book which should help students:-

(a)improve their reading,

(b)give substantial inputs on how to read and retain it,

(c)teach accurate ways of interpreting the written material (Refer Part I on Reading Skill Development),

(d)have exhaustive practice of Reading Passages,

(e)have exhaustive practice for Reading Comprehension questions,

(f)have CAT questions,

(g)provide the correct approach to solve CAT questions in the limited timeframe (See section on Illustrated CAT Passages),

(h)have solved examples of previous year CAT Reading Comprehension questions,

(i)have difficulty-based exercises (one of the unique features of our previous books—See the Level of Difficulty (LOD) exercises given at various sections),

(j)provide students with a rich vocabulary—graded, if possible and suggest ways of enriching it,

(k)have sections on root words, origin of words, foreign words, prefixes, and suffixes,

(l)cover all vocabulary-based question types (like Antonyms, Synonyms, Odd-mans outs, and Analogies),

(m)cover question types and solving techniques for Fill in the Blanks/Cloze Tests; single and double blanks,

(n)provide a comprehensive solution to the all important question types of Paragraph Jumbles and Critical Reasoning (areas which we have covered in an extensive manner),

(o)have a section on Sentence Correction since it puzzles everyone and

(p)cover the all important Verbal Reasoning portion (where the inputs are too enormous to write in a single line).

Efforts have been made to accommodate the all these points. Basically, the book has been prepared in such a fashion that it would help students having varying requirements.


The book has been divided into four parts.

1.Reading Comprehension

2.Verbal Ability

3.Verbal Reasoning

4.Mock Test Papers

Let us now briefly look at the suggested approach for each part of the book.

Part I: Reading Comprehension

While going through the first part on Reading Comprehension your focus should be on:

(a)Improving your reading skills (ability to read, grasp and retain information)

(b)Improving your ability to predict questions that might be framed on a passage even as you read the passage (In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted to CAT passages which illustrate what you should perceive at each stage within the reading of a passage)

(c)Understanding the various types of questions that are framed under Reading Comprehension and how to solve these question types

(d)Gaining extensive practice through the Level of Difficulty (LOD) 1, LOD 2 and CAT Exercises provided

PART II: Verbal Ability

The second part of the book concentrates on three levels of the language viz., word level, sentence level and paragraph level.

The word level, apart from giving you a glimpse and practice of the various vocabulary-based question types asked in competitive exams, also contains an exclusive section to help you develop your vocabulary. This section has Word Lists based on three levels of difficulty—the words segregated on the basis of the frequency of appearance of the word in the CAT examination. To make full use of this feature in this book, you are required to work under a proper routine and go through the Word Lists in increasing order of difficulty.

Besides we have also given a comprehensive and rare collection of roots, prefixes and suffixes as well as foreign origin words, which is rather a unique feature of this book.

You will also get adequate question exposure and practice questions under the following question types: Fill in the blanks, Grammatical error-based questions, Paragraph Jumbles, etc.

PART III: Verbal Reasoning

This section exposes you to the various questions types in verbal reasoning viz., Critical Reasoning, Syllogisms, Binary Logic and Logical Deductions. Adequate practice sets for each of theses question types have been provided for improving your skills.

Part IV: Mock Test Papers

This part has eight Mock Test Papers designed in the pattern of CAT questions.

Efforts have been made to make the book as student-friendly as possible. Any suggestion for improvement will be highly acknowledged and appreciated.