A Wine-lover’s Guide to CAT Reading Comprehension Strategies

Friday, June 14th, 2019

A Wine-lovers Guide to CAT Reading Comprehension Strategies

In the sunlit Cote de Beaune region of France lies a commune called Puligny Montrachet. Its four Grand Cru vineyards are the birthplace of arguably the world’s finest white wine. The eponymous Puligny-Montrachet has a bright golden color, with greenish highlight. Its bouquet tells of hawthorn blossoms, hazelnut, marzipan, green apples, with the aromas of honey and flint. It intensifies with age and is considered to be the perfect expression of the chardonnay grape. As any oenophile worth their grape would attest, no other white that comes out of green is as elegant and angelic as Puligny-Montrachet – with the possible exception of Roger Federer in pristine whites on the manicured lawns of Wimbledon.

If you ever wish to taste Puligny Montrachet, you must have it in the Riedel Vinum Montrachet glass. Riedel customizes each glass to the type of wine. The finest crystals offer unparalleled clarity to experience the wine’s color and texture. The shape of the glass is fine-tuned to direct the flow of the wine onto the parts of the palate that best express the flavors and aroma of Montrachet.

For all the differences in their respective cultures that the French and the English wear on their sleeves, there is something sublimely similar in the way you enjoy Puligny-Montrachet and an English ale. Tottenham Court Road in central London is home to Jack Horner, a Victorian pub that serves an ale called ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Twice the world champion ale, the full-bodied ESB is the perfect balance of the fruity and the hoppy. Of rich mahogany color, ESB blends Pale Ale and Crystal malts to give a unique biscuity and toffee taste that lingers on the palate to give a superb finish of smooth and mellow bitterness.

The good folks at Jack Horner will serve you your ESB in a customized, unique ESB glass that has the body of a snifter glass, the wall of a goblet, and the stem, the base and the head of a chalice. There is no name for its type; it’s just the ESB glass. The well-rounded, wide body allows the ale to breathe; the thin wall makes ESB warm nicely and begins to release its aroma. The chalice-like head forms the perfect head of the ale, and together with the wide body, brings out the volatiles of the ale – its bursting flavors of marmalade, cherry, and caramel. In the eyes of an ESB-lover, it is the Holy Chalice, and a special place is reserved in hell for those who have their ESB without the ESB glass.

Well, that’s the way it is. You need a Riedel for Montrachet. The ESB glass for ESB. The Novica Hand Blown shot glasses for Zafiro Anjeo – the tequila with which Gus Fring poisons Don Eladio. There would be no Guinness without its tulip pint. A perfect cup of Pimms would be unimaginable without the collins glass. Fernet Branca – the dark drink that Alfred drinks in The Dark Knight Rises – must be enjoyed in a Milano shot. Long story short, every great drink deserves its own way of appreciation.
If you are a kind of drinker who understands this, you are a kind of reader who will understand that every RC passage needs to be read in its own way. There are several kinds: descriptive passages that are full of information, narrative passages that unfold like a story, analytical passages that explore an issue in depth, argumentative ones that aim to prove or disprove a point, abstract passages that philosophize on a topic. They all are fairly complex, and the level of complexity is not necessarily evident at the first glance. Imagine three shots of vodka with no labels. You never know which one is your usual Smirnoff with 45%, which one is the vicious Balkan vodka with 88%, and which one is the murderous, stairway-to-heaven-type Spirytus Rektyfikowany with 96% alcohol.

I love my vodka. But I don’t have it when I must be responsible!

If reading an RC passage were similar to downing vodka shots, even a single shot could leave our heads spinning, let alone 3 to 4 back-to-back ones, which is precisely what happens when the speed of reading rules over comprehension. Most test takers are obsessed with being done with the RC passages as quickly as possible and therefore run through the passages faster than Groucho Marx through his whiskey. As a result, they get only a superficial understanding of the passage, which may not be good enough to answer even the direct questions, leave aside the indirect questions. When they hit the questions, they keep going back and forth between the passage and the questions, which is tiresome, because they have not grasped the basics of the passage, the basics that are crucial to preparing a summary of the passage. This behavior is similar to that of an addict who mindlessly keeps on downing bottles after bottles, neither enjoying the drink nor benefitting their health. This necessarily has a spill-over (pun intended) effect on the rest of the questions one attempt, thereby lowering the overall accuracy. Just watch most of the CAT takers walk out of the exam room. They look spectacularly stoned. It is the worst kind of feeling – a hangover without the actual drink.

Instead, read a passage like you taste your Montrachet

You don’t drink a wine, you appreciate it. You pour your Montrachet in your Riedel and then follow the 5 Ss of wine-tasting: See (the colour to know the grape variety), Swirl (to know the ‘body’ of the wine – heavy or light), Sniff (to anticipate the wine’s flavours from its bouquet), Sip (to saturate your taste buds with the full flavour of the wine), Savour (to appreciate the ‘finish’ of the wine and the lingering taste it leaves after it has been swallowed). In this way, each sip of the wine becomes the experience of the entire wine profile in a microcosm.

Just as a wine has a profile, an RC passage has a profile. Just as the goal of wine-tasting is to understand the profile in a single sip, the goal of reading an RC passage is to understand its profile in a single reading. So here I go with the 5 Ss of Reading Comprehension:

1. See the passage:

The first paragraph of an RC passage is a usually good indicator of what the passage contains. It reveals the topic, hints at the style, and sets the tone of the rest of the passage. As we begin to read the passage, we begin to see it in images. This happens naturally in narrative and descriptive passages, but it may not happen so easily when we are looking at an analytical, an argumentative, or an abstract piece. I personally have always found it useful to ‘switch on’ voluntarily the visual reading mode in my head whenever the passage seems difficult. We understand and remember comic book stories easily because they come with pictures. On the other hand, every RC passage may not have been written very visually. If we consciously choose to see it, we will always understand it better and remember it more clearly.

2. Sift through the passage:

Sifting is separating the important from the unimportant. We don’t know what is important in an unseen passage. Hence, DO NOT randomly skip lines, or paragraphs. Instead, go through the passage a little quicker than you normally would. Let’s say we keep it NOT in the 5th gear, NOT in the 4th, but in the third most, and move back into the second wherever we need to, whenever the passage gets complicated. This ensures that we are reading just a little faster than the usual, non-RC reading mode, but we are also being sensitive to the complexities of the passage. In other words, we don’t have a uniform speed, but a variable speed, which itself indicates that we are not going through the passage passively, but actively and intelligently. This will sharpen our sense of seeing the important. Do remember that difficult words in a passage should not interrupt our flow of reading. We may not understand them all; that is not even expected of us. Our aim is to understand what is important so that we can prepare a summary.

3. Sniff through the passage:

We sniff for information. Reading actively is having a dialogue with the writer. As we read, we begin to ask questions, and subsequently try to find answers to the What, the Why, and the How of the passage, as we discussed in the previous post. We try to anticipate what’s coming. The first line of the passage usually reveals what happens in the first paragraph. The first para gives us an idea of what the first half of the passage contains. When we reach the end of the first half, we may be able to foresee what happens in the second half. This is most likely to happen in an analytical or an argumentative passage. Narratives may have twists and turns which make it more challenging to predict their course.

4. Summarise every paragraph of a difficult passage:

In a single reading, no matter how fast or slowly we read the passage, we must be able to understand enough to prepare a basic summary of the passage. We must know the topic, the writer’s main objective, and the process and information the writer uses to achieve the objective. If needed, we must have the summary written down before we hit the questions. If I am reading a dense abstract passage, I shall summarise each paragraph before I proceed to the next.  Each paragraph, in fact, each line in a passage contributes to the main objective of the writer. We must find that objective, and NOT deviate from our summary when we answer the questions.

5. Sit back, relax, and enjoy:

If you are confident of your summary, you will find it incredibly easy to answer the questions. There will be very little need to go back to the passage, except in the case of some direct and specific questions. In some cases, you may not have to revisit the passage at all. The taste of the passage lingers in the mind for long enough to answer the questions. There are passages that linger in my mind several years later, just like a rare vintage.

DO NOT read the questions before reading the passage. That’s tantamount to buying wine by the price tag. The questions offer very little idea about what the passage contains. They neither follow the flow of the passage nor have the answers explicitly given in the passage. Reading the questions first invariably means trying to find the answers. It only distracts the reader from understanding the core message of the passage.

If the RC passages are wine, the questions of Reasoning, Grammar, and Vocabulary are the cheese, fruit, and bread. After you have tasted a wine, they should work as palate cleansers before you taste the next. That gives us a necessary mental break.

I feel everything we do in life has a grander purpose which if perceived can elevate an everyday experience to an enlightening inward journey.

You do not have Montrachet because you can afford it, or you need to drown your sorrows, or you are happy and want to celebrate.

You have Montrachet for only one reason: to learn that you have a yet finer and softer side to yourself that you haven’t hitherto discovered.

You don’t read an RC passage because there is an exam you need to pass. You don’t read it because you think you are good at it. You don’t read it because you need to get out of it.

You read an RC passage only because it tells you something new, a perspective you have never seen before.

You can also see: Reading Comprehension for CAT – Different types of Questions

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4 responses to “A Wine-lover’s Guide to CAT Reading Comprehension Strategies”

  1. Ravikumar says:

    I am b com degree student
    I am intreset is business

  2. AK says:

    Can i just say that this write up was absolutely beautiful.

  3. Sumanth says:

    Awesome write up on Wine and RC

  4. Simi says:


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