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CAT: There's no substitute for reading

July 21, 2009 11:53 IST

With CAT now becoming a computer-based test (CBT), what can students expect in the Reading Comprehension section of the CAT paper? How should students prepare and what questions could they be asked? Let's look at some of these aspects:

The computer-based Reading Comprehension (RC) section
It is expected that in the CBT, in the RC section, you are likely to see a split screen with the passage on one side and the questions appearing on the other side of the computer screen. Or you could have the passage given first, with the questions at the end.

It is expected that you will be allowed to scroll on the screen using a mouse and read the passage and then the questions.

RC: Type of questions

Title of the passage
Passages given in CAT are often extracts from a larger text, and you are asked to choose the 'most appropriate title'. The title must not be vague (too broad) or too specific or narrow. It is one that expresses a theme that is consistent throughout the passage.

Central idea
Here you may be asked to pick a choice that correctly summarises or re-states the main idea of the passage; it may also reflect the main aim of the author in writing the passage that you have been given.

Who is the author?
This is another type of inferential question -- you have to state who you expect the author to be. For example, could the author be a journalist, a teacher at a professional institute, a corporate executive etc. You need to remember certain pointers for these questions -- for example, a journalist is supposed to be unbiased and present the facts without necessarily taking sides on the issue under discussion.

Author's tone/ attitude
This is an important type of question. You are asked to pick the tone of the author. The author may have been analytical -- analysed the cause and future repercussions of the given issue. S/he could have been sarcastic -- poking fun at someone's view or idea. Make sure you know what these terms mean. While practicing, try to make sure that you can recognise a particular style or tone when you see it.

Direct questions
These are the easiest type of questions, checking whether you have paid attention while reading. A question is asked on some detail and the answer is clearly given in the passage. All you have to do is read with concentration and remember in which paragraph a particular topic was mentioned.

So how should you prepare?

The author is an MBA from IIM Calcutta and is employed with a management consultancy firm. He is also a visiting faculty with an MBA coaching centre in New Delhi, and can be contacted at

Sidharth Balakrishna