Reading Comprehension – Passage – Understanding where you are in the world

Reading Comprehension – Passage

The passage below is accompanied by a set of six questions. Choose the best answer to each question.

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. Where humans are unique, though, with the possible exception of honeybees, is that we try to communicate this understanding the world with others. We have along history of doing this by drawing maps – the earliest version yet discovered were scrawled on cave walls 14,000 years ago. Human cultures have been drawing them on stone tablets, papyrus, paper and now computer screens ever since.

Given such a long history of human map-making, it perhaps surprising that is only within the last few hundred years that north has been consistently considered to be at the top. In fact, for much of human history, north almost never appeared at the top, according to Jerry Brotton, a map historian… “North was rarely put at the top for the simple fact that north is where darkness comes from,” he says. “West is also very unlikely o be put at the top because west is where the sun disappears.”

Confusingly, early Chinese maps seem to buck this trend. But, Brotton, says, even though they did have compasses at the time, that isn’t the reason that they placed north at the top. Early Chinese compasses were actually oriented to point south, which was considered to be more desirable than deepest darkest north. But in Chinese maps, the emperor, who lived in the north of the country was always put at the top of the map, with everyone else, his loyal subjects, looking up towards him. “In Chinese culture the Emperor looks south because it’s where the winds come from, it’s a good direction. North is not very good but you are in a position of the subjection to the emperor, so you look up to him,” says Brotton.

Given that each culture has a very different idea of who, or what, they should look upto it’s perhaps not surprising that there is very little consistency in which way early maps pointed. In ancient Egyptian times the top of the world was east, the position of sunrise. Early Islamic maps favoured south at the top because most of the early Muslim cultures were north of Mecca, so they imagined looking up (south) towards it Christian maps from the same era (called Mappa Mundi) put east at the top, towards the Garden of Eden and with Jerusalem in the centre.

So when did everyone get together and decide that north was the top? It’s tempting to put it down to European explorers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Megellan who were navigating by the North Star. But Brotton argues that these early explorers didn’t think of the world like that at all. “When Columbus describes the world it is in accordance with east being at the top,” he says “Columbus says he is going towards paradise, so his mentality is from a medieval mappa mundi.” We’ve got to remember, adds Brotton, that at the time, “no one knows what they are doing and where they are going.”


Q1) Which one of the following best describes what the passage is trying to do?

A) It questions on explanation about how maps are designed.
B) It corrects a misconception about the way maps are designed.
C) It critiques a methodology used to create maps
D) It explores some myths about maps

Q2) Early maps did NOT put north at the top for all the following reasons EXCEPT

A) North was the source of darkness
B) South was favoured by some emperors.
C) East and south were more important for religious reasons for some civilisations
D) East was considered by some civilisations to be a more positive direction

Q3) According to the passage, early Chinese maps placed north at the top because

A) the Chinese invented the compass and were aware of magnetic north
B) they wanted to show respect to the emperor.
C) the Chinese emperor appreciated the winds from the south.
D) north was considered the most desirable direction.

Q4) It can be inferred from the passage that European explorers like Columbus and Megellan

A) set the precedent for north-up maps.
B) navigated by the compass.
C) used an eastward orientation for religious reasons.
D) navigated with the help of early maps

Q5) Which one of the following about the northern orientation of modern maps is asserted in the passage?

A) The biggest contributory factor was the understanding of magnetic north
B) The biggest contributory factor was the role of European explorers
C) The biggest contributory factor was the influence of Christian maps
D) The biggest contributory factor is not stated in the passage

Q6) The role of natural phenomena in influencing map-making conventions is seen most clearly in

A) early Egyptian maps
B) early Islamic maps
C) early Chinese maps
D) early Christian maps


Q1: Option (B)
Q2: Option (B)
Q3: Option (B)
Q4: Option (C)
Q5: Option (D)
Q6: Option (A)


After going through the above passage of Reading Comprehension – CAT 2017 carefully, with particular focus on the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Reading Comprehension “Given such a long period of …. considered to be on the top” and the second and third sentences of the last paragraph “It’s tempting to.. at all” demonstrate that B is the correct choice.

Option A: In paragraph 2 of the Reading Comprehension – CAT 2017, Jerry Brotton says, “North was rarely put at the top for the simple fact that north is where darkness comes from”. So, Option 1 can’t be the correct answer.
Option C: In paragraph 4 we can see that Early Islamic maps favored south at the top because Early Muslim cultures were North of Mecca, so they looked up (South) towards it (A religious reason)
Also, Cristians put east at the top towards Garden of Eden and Jerusalem in the center.
Option C cannot be the answer.
Option D: In the last paragraph of the above Reading Comprehension of CAT 2017, we can see that Columbus says, “I am going to paradise”, by which he means East direction
So, option D cannot be the answer.
Option B: In the entire paragraph, we can’t see anywhere that North has been favored by any emperor.

Q3 Move to paragraph 3 of the above Reading Comprehension – CAT 2017 to answer this question
Option A: In the 1st two lines, Brotton says that even though Chinese did have compasses but they actually pointed towards South. So, this is the wrong option.
Option B: Wind comes from South and emperor prefers to look in that direction. Those who are in subjection to the emperor, face towards North to look up to him.
Option (B) is the right answer, maps pointed in north to show respect to the emperor.
Option C: Yes, the emperor appreciated winds from the south but this does not tell us why Chinese maps were pointed towards North.
Option D: Instead, South was a favored direction as that is where the winds came from.
This is the wrong answer

In the last paragraph of this CAT 2017 Reading Comprehension, we can see that Columbus says he is going towards paradise, and this comes from Mappa Mundi (Cristian Map) – which is pointed towards East due to Mecca (a religious reason). So, explorers like Cristopher and Megellan use an Eastward direction due to religious reasons.

The passage does not mention anywhere why Modern Maps put North at the top. The only thing that is stated is, that unlike modern period, history shows us that North was rarely put at the top.
Option (D) is the correct answer as it has been nowhere mentioned in the passage why North is put at the top in modern times.

In paragraph 4 of this CAT 2017 Reading Comprehension, we can see that Egyptians put East at the top because of the position of sunrise (a natural phenomenon). Rest all are pointed towards North, South or East because of religious reasons (Christians and Muslims) or to show respect to the emperor (Chinese)
Option A is the correct answer

Download CAT 2017 Question Paper with answers and detailed solutions in PDF

CAT 2017 Questions from Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension – Set 1: Despite their fierce reputation. Vikings may not have always been the plunderers and pillagers popular culture imagines them to be.
Reading Comprehension – Set 2: Typewriters are the epitome of a technology that has been comprehensively rendered obsolete by the digital age.
Reading Comprehension – 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 – Set 4: During the frigid season…it’s often necessary to nestle under a blanket to try to stay warm.
Reading Comprehension – Set 5: Creativity is at once our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one.
Reading Comprehension – Set 6: Do sports mega events like the summer Olympic Games benefit the host city economically?
Reading Comprehension – Set 7: Scientists have long recognized the incredible diversity within a species. But they thought it reflected evolutionary changes that unfolded imperceptibly, over millions of years.
Reading Comprehension – Set 8: 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 – Set 9: 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.

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