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CAT Verbal: What to read and why

July 02, 2009 12:27 IST

Many CAT aspirants feel that their performance in the Quant & Logic sections of CAT hits a ceiling at some point or the other. Thankfully, the Verbal section always has scope for further improvement.

In this article, we shall try to understand what purpose the Verbal Section serves and how you -- the CBT-CAT taker -- can score well.

Since communication is a very important tool in all spheres of management, this section tests a person's English skills. That the CAT increased the number of questions in this section points to the importance that the examiners attach to this aspect. B-schools try to gauge how well a person:

i. Comprehends the given data (passage / sentence) and understands:

1. The contextual meaning of the words used
2. The explicit message conveyed
3. The implicit undertones of the passage or sentence
4. The correctness of grammar (punctuation, usage etc) and
5. The direction / conclusion that is being hinted at

ii. How well s/he manages to respond to the question posed by applying a similar analysis of each of the four-five options presented, before picking his answer.

In order to do well in this section, one needs to demonstrate competence on the above metrics. It is easy to see that each question type asked in the CAT paper is trying to test one or more of the above. Since the reading comprehension section of the CAT employs almost all these skills in parallel, it poses the most challenges to the CAT taker.

It is also known that candidates who are voracious readers do well in this section. This is now clear since they have honed their skills on all the important aspects by working hard on them. Hence, in order to excel in Verbal one should start with these basics in place.

Read a lot
The most important part of Verbal preparation is reading. And now that CAT is computer-based, it is the habit of reading on the computer screen. Not only does it help in the Verbal section of CAT but also in the General Awareness section of other MBA entrance tests. This effort can't be intensive in nature, since one needs to assimilate what one reads. Thus, the reading has to be consistently spread out across the next five months.

Why read
It is much easier to understand a language by knowing the way its words are used, its sentences framed and ideas conveyed rather than by memorising an English language guide. Also, noticing how a word is used will cement the correct meaning and usage of the word / phrase than learning it by rote.

The structure of CAT is such that a lot of time is required to read a passage. Irrespective of the style of answering followed (reading before answering or vice versa), understanding the passage in its entirety is critical to cracking CAT in its new avatar of shorter and complex passages.

What to read
Since, management schools want its students to be good business leaders, they dish out stuff that an MBA graduate is most likely to read. However, due to exam constraints, the passages in the exam are often excerpts of a bigger and wider article. These articles typically deal with economic, social, political issues and the impact of these issues on the intended reader.

I think however it is much better to start off and read articles longer (about 5,000 words) than the ones that appear in the CAT (about 400 words). A complete article has a proper structure unlike those in the exam. Also, while reading in English, make a conscious effort to start thinking in English as well, since this can be a handicap for many of us who come from vernacular schools.

I personally found that articles in reputed emagazines / e-newspapers like The Economist or the Guardian are written well.

How to read
After reading an article, it is important to discuss it with friends who have also read it. You should make sure that all the implicit opinions / arguments are talked about and not missed. Often at the face of it the article seems straightforward but we fail to locate the point the author is trying to make.

Correctly filtering the facts from the author's opinions helps gain an insight into the article. Similarly, it is important to get a feel as to how arguments are built by good writers and what an expected line of thought is, following a passage. This again comes with discussing the passage with friends who have read it. A great place to try this out is the forum threads on For more details logon to

Build vocabulary
While learning words organically (through essays and articles) is an excellent long-term option, with the view of preparing for the CBT-CAT -- it makes sense to parallely learn the less common words. Many candidates find comfort in starting with books that help derive the meaning of a word from its word roots and other techniques.

As the CAT draws closer these lists are a good tool to recall what one has learnt. Whenever a new word is learnt, try using it in a sentence for better retention.

The verbal section too calls for a lot of practice, which becomes more important in the last few months. The scores in the Reading Comprehension section get tremendously boosted by practice followed by analysis of the questions attempted incorrectly. The associated explanation to an answer is important since it shows what the examiner thought was the correct answer, why and how it was different from what we thought.

While answering subsequent RCs, be mindful not to repeat earlier mistakes. For questions in the vocabulary section it is important to also know why the incorrect answers are incorrect. In case the options to a question throw up a new word usage, make it a point to look up the word in a thesaurus.

In summary, scoring in the Verbal section can be elevated by sincere efforts towards improving the language followed by extensive practice. It is very difficult to score well unless you have a good command over English as a language. Similarly, it is very easy to make mistakes if you are over reliant on your language skills without the requisite practice. Try and modify your approach to suit yourself best, keeping the above skills in mind. You will be surprised how you keep moving closer to clearing the cut-offs.

Shantanu Gangal has authored this article for He is an IIT-B graduate and scored 100 percentile in CAT 2008. is the leader in online MBA test preparation and provides complete MBA prep for CAT and other MBA entrance tests in Online, CD and print format. With 4 IIT-IIM graduates leading the 65+ team of programmers and subject matter experts, TestFunda currently has more than 94,000 registered users and is growing at 300 unique users each day. For free content- Strategies from CAT 100%tilers, vocabulary games, puzzles, quizzes, previous CATs, XATs with detailed solutions logon to