Monday, February 12th, 2018
The verbal section in the CAT obviously tests some essential verbal skills, but beneath them, it also tests some very important managerial skills. We can lay the foundations of our CAT preparation by understanding how the verbal questions are designed to uncover the skills and qualities the top B-schools look for in a candidate.
The verbal section in the CAT (as of now) comprises primarily 3 kinds of questions – grammar and vocabulary (also referred to as Verbal Ability – VA), reading comprehension (RC), and verbal reasoning (VR). Traditionally, almost half of the total number of questions in the CAT verbal section has always come from the RC section. The other half is divided between the VA and the VR sections. Let us look at them individually.
The RC section usually features 4 passages, which are followed by approximately 4 questions per passage. These passages are almost always academic and non-fiction in nature and come from a wide variety of subjects. This is often a source of concern for most students, as the prospect of facing an unfamiliar topic (and possibly 4 in a row) is unnerving.
For a moment, imagine yourself as a manager, who has just been hired out of a B-school, and given charge of a TV brand. Although you have been taught management, you have not been taught TV. You may know just a little more about a TV than your mom does. Now you are on your own. You need to learn the TV in general and your client’s TV in particular – from both technical and marketing perspectives. You need to study the competition. All this may involve going through a great deal of technical literature, research findings, and general information, and quickly separating the important from the unimportant – as we do when we try to comprehend an RC passage in the CAT.
The data does not always tell us everything. Sometimes, we have to read between the words, and draw inferences. The data may tell us that most people do not want to maintain a huge library of DVDs at home, but it may not tell us that they want a TV with a USB port. We, as brand managers, may have to infer it ourselves. This skill is tested at a micro level when we deal with the ‘inferential questions’, which dominate the CAT RC passages.
Evidently, the RC section is not just a test of our reading skills. It is an attempt to find the individuals who possess an important managerial skill – to manage the unfamiliar without cracking under pressure.
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The VR section in the CAT consists of a variety of questions including Para Jumbles, Para Completion, Summary, and also occasionally, Critical Reasoning questions.
A Para Jumbles question requires us to ‘straighten’ a jumbled paragraph, and identify the answer option that offers the correct order of the sentences. This question requires us to observe the seemingly unconnected sentences, and identify the inherent links that many may fail to see.
At the business level, the ability to uncover the hidden connections that others cannot indicates a perceptive and creative individual, who is capable of out-of-the-box thinking. At one point we all had seen a computer and a Walkman, yet only one man could envision how to connect them, and the iPod was born.
No other question in the CAT is as deceptively simple as the Para Completion question. In this question, we see a paragraph whose last line has been omitted. We simply need to find an appropriate conclusion from one of the options. This question would really be as easy as it appears if we all were allowed to complete the paragraph subjectively – opting for any conclusion that we fancy, and later justifying it. Instead, we need to find that particular answer which the writer of the paragraph would opt for. We, therefore, need to place ourselves in the position of the writer and think like him/her.
One of the hardest intellectual tasks in life is to think like someone else. While the modern consumerist world we inhabit offers every conceivable means to gratify ourselves, what is short in supply is empathy – a quality that requires one to rise above the self, and see the world from another’s perspective, a quality that breeds intuition, a quality most necessary in a competent manager, who may be leading a team dynamic individuals, or attempting to predict the market trends, or handling complex negotiations.
The Summary question in the CAT would also be quite easy if we were allowed to write our own summaries of the given paragraph. What magnifies the difficulty is having to choose a summary from 4 alternative summaries. The question puts our observation skills to a stern test. In most summary questions, the answer options tend to be very similar, and we are required to spot the minute distortions that exist in the wrong options. Making such observations requires us to quieten our usually noisy and chaotic mind, and direct all our cognitive faculties to the task at hand. Additionally, this question also requires us to objectively prioritize the important information in the paragraph and weed out the rest. As managers, we are often required to present a ‘gist’ of something complex to a busy audience – usually, our seniors – which is when the skills acquired during the CAT preparation come in handy.
Critical reasoning questions require us to objectively observe the data in the question, make deductions from it, and use those deductions to strengthen or weaken the given arguments. Preparing from critical reasoning questions involves training the mind to look at the data exactly as it is, and not the way we want it to be. As you can probably imagine, achieving such objectivity is extremely difficult for a mind habituated to looking at the world through its assumptions about it. An objective perception of a situation or a problem is of paramount importance especially when a manager has to deal with people – who are primarily emotional creatures – in order to get the best out of them.
Of all the verbal questions in the CAT, the grammar and vocabulary questions are perceived as mostly irrelevant to everyday life, and a majority of the CAT aspirants, therefore, do not see any long-term benefit in developing their knowledge of English grammar, and vocabulary. Many students approach these questions with a preconceived (and false) notion of impossibility and avoid them altogether.
Why does the CAT test grammar and vocabulary? The obvious – and true – answer is to make the examination more difficult, as a majority, those who attempt these questions eventually get the answers wrong.
The unobvious, and equally true, answer is that command of grammar, and richness of vocabulary indicate a disciplined mind – a mind that not only cares for clarity in communication but also relentlessly evaluates and corrects itself to achieve it. It is a mind that says what it means, and means what it says – another of the rarest qualities in our world, and therefore necessary in a business leader of tomorrow.
I personally do not believe that one must necessarily be born great. Rather, I feel that a crystal clear perception of reality unlocks the potential that is latent in all of us and propels us towards the greatness to which we must aspire.
I hope this article has given you a window into that reality.
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This post was contributed by a friend Sanket Chowkidar. He has an MA from University College Falmouth, UK. He is currently a faculty for English with one of India’s leading test-prep organizations. He has been teaching CAT aspirants for close to a decade.
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