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CAT: There's no substitute for reading

By Sidharth Balakrishna
July 21, 2009 11:53 IST
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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.

  • It is important that you become familiar with reading passages on a computer screen, as opposed to reading them on paper. For those who are used to working on a computer this should not be too difficult, but for students who are not too familiar with computers, this could perhaps pose a problem.
  • Keep in mind that you will not be able to underline words or sentences in the passage or write something in the margin. Hence, if there are important aspects of the passage that you wish to remember, you may have to commit them to memory. Writing these on a rough sheet of paper will waste crucial time for you.
  • The focus of Reading Comprehension is likely to be on relatively shorter passages, but those which require you to 'infer' the answer: this means that you really need to understand the passage as the answer will not be found directly in the passage. This is in line with what has been seen in the last few years in the CAT paper. You shall have to use your mind and try to accurately grasp what the author is actually trying to convey, his attitude or tone towards the issue being discussed etc.
  • You will also be expected to be fairly proficient in the usage and nuances of English as a language. You should be aware of common idioms and phrases used in the language, and that you may well find in RC passages.

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?

  • There is still going to be no substitute to reading a lot to be truly comfortable with this section. The added point is that you should be used to reading passages on the net. Try and read articles on the computer on a regular basis.
  • The passages which appear in CAT are from a wide variety of topics such as science and technology, economics and business issues, politics and current affairs, biographical sketches, psychology, art and architecture, social issues etc, so make sure that there is variety in what you read.
  • A good site from to access a number of articles on differnet subjects is This site has a huge number of articles from various magazines on a variety of topics.
  • In addition to just reading a variety of passages, during your preparation stage, while you read, you could train yourself to stop periodically and ask yourself what the author wants to indicate by the usage of particular phrases, is there an implicit meaning in his words, what is the impression he is trying to convey etc. This will help you get better at 'comprehending' passages and understanding exactly what the author wants to convey.
  • Another skill that you should develop is the ability to understand the author's tone or style -- is the author being judgmental while expressing his views or 'prescriptive' while giving advice, sarcastic while referring to a particular issue or person, etc.
  • At the end of the day, you must read a number of passages on different topics on a daily basis. There is no short-cut for RC, and it requires sustained effort -- it is advised that you read around five passages every day while preparing for CAT.

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

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Sidharth Balakrishna
Related News: CAT, CBT, MBA, Reading Comprehension, IIM