4 Rules to Crack the Paragraph Completion questions in the CAT

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

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 Paragraph Completion questions in the CAT:

Rule 1 for cracking Paragraph Completion Questions:

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

While answering Paragraph 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 Paragraph

b)    It must preserve the unity of thought and structure

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

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 Paragraph 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 Paragraph instead of contrasting them. Contrast offers us an opposing viewpoint without invalidating the other. Contradiction essentially refutes what the given Paragraph asserts. Remember, the writer of the Paragraph 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 Paragraph.
  5. A problem-solution approach: The Paragraph 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 Paragraph structure. The Paragraph 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 Paragraph 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 Paragraph. 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 Paragraph that precedes it.
  3. Contradiction: The last line cannot disprove what the Paragraph 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 Paragraph 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 Paragraph, 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 Paragraph 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 Paragraph, but they cannot be immediately introduced. The writer may talk about them in the next Paragraph, or the one after that, but not in the given Paragraph. Ask yourself: Is this option likely to end this Paragraph, or is it more likely to start the next Paragraph? If it is the latter, you are looking at a wrong answer.

Rule 4 for cracking Paragraph Completion Questions:

Solving Paragraph Completion questions requires a combination of observation, deduction, empathy, and most importantly instinct. A Paragraph 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

Other posts related to Verbal Reasoning

What Sherlock Holmes can teach you about Parajumbles in CAT
Tips and Tricks to Solve Para-Jumble Questions for CAT Exam
Let Sherlock Holmes help you solve Sentence Exclusion questions in CAT
Fact Inference Judgement – Tips to Solve FIJ Questions in CAT Exam
How to solve problem on Syllogism in CAT Exam

CAT Questions related to Verbal Reasoning

All questions from CAT Exam Verbal Reasoning
Verbal Reasoning – Summary
       Q1: To me, a “classic” means precisely the opposite of what my predecessors understood
       Q2: A translator of literary works needs a secure hold upon the two languages involved, supported by a good measure        of familiarity with the two cultures.
       Q3: For each of the past three years, temperatures have hit peaks not seen since the birth of meteorology, and        probably not for more than 110,000 years.
       Q4: North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillars (Amorpha juglandis) look like easy meals for birds
       Q5: Both Socrates and Bacon were very good at asking useful questions.
       Q6: A fundamental property of language is that it is slippery and messy and more liquid than solid, a gelatinous mass
Verbal Reasoning – Parajumbles
       Q1: The process of handing down implies not a passive transfer, but some contestation in defining what exactly is to        be handed down.
       Q2: Scientists have for the first time managed to edit genes in a human embryo to repair a genetic mutation
       Q3: The study suggests that the disease did not spread with such intensity, but that it may have driven human
       Q4: This visual turn in social media has merely accentuated this announcing instinct of ours
       Q5: The implications of retelling of Indian stories, hence, takes on new meaning in a modern India.
       Q6: Before plants can take life from atmosphere, nitrogen must undergo transformations similar to ones that food
       Q7: This has huge implications for the health care system as it operates today
       Q8: Johnson treated English very practically, as a living language, with many different shades of meaning
Verbal Reasoning – Odd One Out
       Q1: People who study children’s language spend a lot of time watching how babies react to the speech they hear
       Q2: Neuroscientists have just begun studying exercise’s impact within brain cells — on the genes themselves.
       Q3: The water that made up ancient lakes and perhaps an ocean was lost.
       Q4: Although we are born with the gift of language, research shows that we are surprisingly unskilled when it comes to        communicating with others.
       Q5: Over the past fortnight, one of its finest champions managed to pull off a similar impression.
       Q6: Those geometric symbols and aerodynamic swooshes are more than just skin deep.

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