Thursday, July 5th, 2018
We all have our monsters, demons, the lords of the netherworld that haunt our darkest nightmares. For most CAT takers, there is an unsettlingly large variety of them.
A grammar question is a Mothman (Watch “The Mothman Prophecies” starring Richard Gere). You constantly tell yourself that there is going to be no Mothman anywhere, but you NEVER forget that there may be one right beside you. Grammar, in fact, could even be the dark, omnipresent, omnipotent crime lord Keyser Soze (Watch “The Usual Suspects”) – you don’t have to believe in it in order to be afraid of it.
If the CAT were a stage, and all questions were players, then the Parajumbles would be Macbeth’s Three Witches – full of mysterious language and cryptic clues, yet leaving much to be desired. Summary questions would be the Revenant – not the ever-enigmatic Leonardo DiCaprio but an ancient Serbian ghost brought back from the dead (Refer to the CAT 2004 paper) to haunt the living.
What would Reading Comprehension be? A shapeshifting Count Dracula who sucks the life out of you? No. I shall reserve that for the XAT Essay question. A Poltergeist? It may pinch you, bite you, hit you, trip you, throw your furniture and cutlery around, but that sounds more like a pesky little vocabulary question. A Professor Cuthbert Binns from Hogwarts then? He would be dangerous if he could bore you to death with Critical Reasoning. How about a Banshee that wails and announces the imminent death? Perhaps evocative of the day when the CAT results would be out, but till then the Banhsee is just an image in the likeness of a feeble, old, keening woman, sometimes even a sweet singing virgin! On the other hand, a Headless Horseman more appropriately reflects the test taker rather than any questions they may face. No, no, none of these could even begin to foreshadow the dark horror that is Reading Comprehension.
There is only one name: The White Walkers.
Imagine that. The sheer enormity of both the number and the size. The army is massive, and moves like a glacier – very slowly, but determinedly and menacingly. You never know who exactly is in it nor how many. Anybody dead can be turned into a Wight, the minions of the Walkers. Your own allies, including your dragons, can be turned against you. The White Walkers have only one strategy: a brute-force annihilation of everything in their way. They are the Rafa Nadals of Westeros. There is a certain bone-chilling air of finality to their arrival. It means THE END.
There are at least four RC passages in a typical CAT paper. There could be even a fifth one. Each is of approximately 700 to 800 words. Some can be of about 1000 words too. You never know what the topics of these passages will be. They could be any under the sun. In fact, the topics you think you can ‘manage’ could very well be the topics that present the toughest passages. They are almost always followed by indirect questions, whose answers we must infer from the passage. Just like the White Walkers, they keep coming on and on at you. A respite from them is but a dark, macabre reminder of the inevitable. They are not a normal enemy. You cannot jump headlong into them and hope to brave out the storm.
Make no mistake, Winter is Coming…Specifically on 25th of November 2018!
You need a plan. A strategy. A weapon that can cut through any White Walker.
Where do you find it? The answer lies in the question itself. In fact in the QUESTIONS THEMSELVES.
There are the White Walkers, and then there are the Wights. Theoretically, a weapon that could kill a White Walker should be good enough to kill a Wight. The opposite, though, is not true. By targeting the Wights alone, you will never succeed in eliminating the Walkers.
The Wights of Reading Comprehension are the questions of a peripheral and specific nature, such as the direct questions, the vocabulary-based ones, the inferential, the structure-oriented, and the critical-reasoning types. What makes them ‘specific’ is that their answers lie in a particular part (a specific paragraph, or even a specific line) of the passage.
On the other hand, The White Walkers of RC are the questions of a central nature that require a thorough, comprehensive understanding of the passage. Their answers cannot be found in any one line or one paragraph of the passage. This means that if we haven’t found their answers in one reading of the passage, we must read the entire passage all over again. We can of course read a passage ten times if we want to, but we have no time for it in the examination. In other words, we get only one shot at a White Walker. We must make it count. The White Walkers include the following: the Title of the passage, the Primary Purpose/Main Objective of the author, the Style of writing, The Tone of the author, the Central Argument, the Thesis statement of the passage. Ahead of them all rides the Night King: The Central Idea of the passage. The pivot around which the entire passage revolves.
Remember what Beric Dondarrion tells Jon Snow: If you could kill the Night King that might mean that all his creation i.e. the entire army dies with him. But how do you kill the Night King?
As you finish reading the passage, ask yourself three basic questions:
A – What is the topic of the passage? If we have spent a few minutes reading that passage attentively, the least we should be able to articulate is its topic. If we cannot sum it up in a few words, we must read the passage again.
B – Why has the writer written this passage? Does he wish to inform the reader about a matter, or explain something complex in a simple manner, narrate an experience, analyse a phenomenon, argue for/against a viewpoint, philosophise on an issue? If we are able to answer the first question, we must also be able to understand the writer’s objective.
C – How does the writer achieve the above objective? If it is a description or narration, then what is the key information? If it is an analysis, what are the nodal points of the analysis? If it is an argument, what is the substantiation? If the approach is abstract (e.g. philosophical) what universal issues does it touch upon?
The What, the Why, and the How should complete our understanding of the basics of the passage. The answers to them all, if put together, should form a good summary of the passage and take us within the touching distance of the Central Idea/Theme. Once we have that, we are on to the Night King. The rest can no longer hold us off.
If we know the topic, we have effectively answered the Title question. If we can also find the objective, we know the Primary Purpose. This in turn should help us find the Style and the Tone. The ‘How’ will tell us the Central Argument or the Thesis statement of the passage.
Once we have taken care of these Walkers, the Wights cannot bother us anymore, for answering the former equips us with a bedrock of reasoning that underlies the latter. For example, it is almost impossible to understand the Primary Purpose correctly, and answer the Structure questions incorrectly. The only way that could ever happen is if one were unaware of what reasoning one followed while finding the main objective, which means it was a shot in the dark. The very aim of the summary is to eliminate the possibility of shooting in the dark. Without a summary, if necessary a written one, I would not be venturing into the questions. That would be tantamount to challenging the Walkers without being sure that you have a weapon better than an icicle. That is a battle with disaster written all over it. This also means that whenever you read a passage, its first reading must be good enough to give us the summary. Any attempt to read faster is conditional upon achieving a clear summary in A SINGLE READING.
Of course it is tedious. Of course it will take time. But that’s the only way to deal with RC passages without relying on guesswork and luck. In the next post, we shall look at some ways of reading better (I won’t say faster. That would be a misdirection). They are only possible if your fundamental goal is to get a clear summary of the passage.
All of us may not be Jon Snows with a Valeryan steel like Longclaw, but just like the humble, assiduous, and unrelenting Samwell Tarly, we all are capable of finding the dragonglass.
All questions from CAT Exam Reading Comprehension
Reading Comprehension – Forenoon slot – Set 1: Understanding where you are in the world is a basic survival skill, which is why we, like most species come hard-wired with specialized brain areas to create congnitive maps of our surroundings.
Reading Comprehension – Forenoon slot – Set 2: I used a smartphone GPS to find my way through the cobblestoned maze of Geneva’s Old Town, in search of a handmade machine that changed the world more than any other invention.
Reading Comprehension – Forenoon slot – Set 3: This year alone, more than 8,600 stores could close, according to industry estimates, many of them the brand -name anchor outlets that real estate developers once stumbled over themselves to court.
Reading Comprehension – Forenoon slot – Set 4: Scientists have long recognized the incredible diversity within a species.
Reading Comprehension – Forenoon slot – Set 5: Do sports mega events like the summer Olympic Games benefit the host city economically?
Reading Comprehension – Afternoon slot – Set 1: Creativity is at once our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one.
Reading Comprehension – Afternoon slot – Set 2: During the frigid season…it’s often necessary to nestle under a blanket to try to stay warm.
Reading Comprehension – Afternoon slot – Set 3: The end of the age of the internal combustion engine is in sight. There are small signs everywhere: the shift to hybrid vehicles is already under way among manufacturers.
Reading Comprehension – Afternoon slot – Set 4: Typewriters are the epitome of a technology that has been comprehensively rendered obsolete by the digital age.
Reading Comprehension – Afternoon slot – Set 5: Despite their fierce reputation. Vikings may not have always been the plunderers and pillagers popular culture imagines them to be.
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