4 Rules to Crack the Paragraph Completion questions in the CAT

Friday, September 8th, 2017


4 Rules to Crack the Paragraph Completion questions in the CAT

No other question in the CAT is as deceptively simple as Paragraph Completion questions. Superficially, they do not require us to know or remember any rules. They, in fact, require us to do something far more difficult – to think like the writer.

Since the last week’s post on Parajumbles, I have been thinking hard over an appropriate parallel to explain the process of solving Paragraph Completion question. And all my thoughts end once again at the same point – Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, picking up the scattered clues, and building them into a clear chain of reasoning for anticipation are as inseparable as Sherlock and Watson.

Apart from his otherworldly observation skills, Sherlock possesses one quality that even the best at Scotland Yard (or pretty much anywhere else) do not. He can THINK LIKE a criminal. Following the flimsiest of clues – for example, Irene’s pulse – he can predict what the criminal will do next. And therefore, he is always one step AHEAD of his quarry.

Let us see how Sherlock would approach the Para Completion questions in the CAT:

Rule 1 for cracking Para Completion Questions:

“Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.” – From A Scandal in Belgravia

While answering Para Completion questions, the most important thing to remember is not to approach the answer option subjectively.

Sherlock often puts himself in the criminal’s shoes. He is able to keep his emotions, and more importantly his own perspective, out of the equation. He picks up clues from the observed behavior of his target and foresees the next step the criminal would take – however unlikely that step may seem.

Similarly, it is not about what in my opinion, or yours, should be the ending of the paragraph. It is for both of us to objectively follow the train of the writer’s thought, pick up the clues that exist in the paragraph, and reach the intended conclusion.

This conclusion must achieve the following:

a)     It must be a value addition to the given para

b)    It must preserve the unity of thought and structure

c)     It must be consistent in tone with the given para

This does not seem very difficult. Yet, we may unconsciously depart from the criteria while looking at the answer options. If we do not lose sight of the above objectives, the rest is usually a simple process of observing the standard patterns.

Rule 2 for cracking Para Completion Questions:

“From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other.” – from A Study in Scarlet

Do not wait till the clues present themselves. Read the paragraph with utmost involvement. Imagine that you are listening to the writer. Try to foresee what is coming, and pick up clues that may present a hint of any of the following patterns.

  1. Cause – effect: One of the most common conclusion patterns. The paragraph presents us with causes, and the correct answer option presents us with the logical effect. Do remember that the effect cannot be in contradiction with the causes. In rare cases, effects are discussed in the paragraph, and the cause is inferred in the answer option.
  2. Course-of-action: The paragraph presents us with a situation, and the correct answer offers a probable course of action.
  3. A contrasting option: The paragraph presents us with a viewpoint, or several view points, elaborating on one side of the story. The correct answer option may present us with another side of the story. This is a potentially dangerous situation, as the test taker must be wary of the answer options that contradict the contents of the para instead of contrasting them. Contrast offers us an opposing viewpoint without invalidating the other. Contradiction essentially refutes what the given para asserts. Remember, the writer of the para will not ever sabotage his/her own argument.
  4. Chronological order: The paragraph may present us with a series of events following a definite and linear timeline. The correct answer option may extend it further. Be wary of the answer options that are far removed from the timeline in the para.
  5. A problem-solution approach: The para offers us a problem or a problematic situation, and the correct answer option may be a solution to the given problem. The solution may be either of the two types: A – what can be done, and B – what could have been done.
  6. Theory-Illustration: The paragraph contains a theory or more likely a theoretical discussion, and the correct answer option offers an example to explain it. Remember, the wrong answers may contain examples that disprove the theory, instead of accomplishing the opposite.
  7. Reinforcement of an argument: Another extremely common para structure. The para contains the argument, and the correct answer option the appropriate substantiation of it. Do remember that wrong answer may inadequately support the argument.

Rule 3 for cracking Para Completion Questions:

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” – From The Sign of Four

Elimination can often be as effective a strategy as selection. The following kind of answer options are usually the wrong ones.

  1. Irrelevant: Such answer options are the conclusions which are either entirely unrelated to or only vaguely related to the para. If they are the latter, they do not present us with any reason why they should be the concluding lines.
  2. Repetition: A theme cannot be extended by repeating either directly or indirectly what has been stated earlier. Do not forget the “completion” part. It only makes sense if the information in the last line is a value addition to the para that precedes it.
  3. Contradiction: The last line cannot disprove what the para has tried to prove.
  4. Too broad: This is the kind of answer option that magnifies the scope of the argument beyond reasonable. For example, the para may only be about who will be the next governor of Texas, and the (incorrect) answer option concludes by suddenly raising the topic of the next US president.
  5. Too narrow – Here the incorrect answer option focuses pointlessly on a very minor aspect of the para, and therefore fails to complete the grander theme of the passage.
  6. Inconsistent tone – Be wary of the options that are clearly out of sync with the tone of the passage. The most common type of this is a para that is formal in tone and the proposed conclusion that is extremely informal.
  7. New themes – Perhaps the most deceptive of all. Such new themes are always related to the ongoing discussion in the para, but they cannot be immediately introduced. The writer may talk about them in the next para, or the one after that, but not in the given para. Ask yourself: Is this option likely to end this para, or is it more likely to start the next para? If it is the latter, you are looking at a wrong answer.

Rule 4 for cracking Para Completion Questions:

Solving Para Completion questions requires a combination of observation, deduction, empathy, and most importantly instinct. A Para Completion question of even moderate difficulty requires us to take a bit of risk. Do not hesitate to take your chances, for the only way to learn what to do is to first learn what not to.

“Any truth is better than indefinite doubt” – from The Yellow Face

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4 Rules to Crack the Paragraph Completion questions in the CAT
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