How to Effectively Tackle Paragraph Summary Questions

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

How to Effectively Tackle Paragraph Summary Questions

Paragraph Summary questions had first appeared in CAT in the 2003 retest (they had appeared a couple of times before as part of critical reasoning questions). There were four questions that asked students to choose the option that best captured the essence of the text, from the four alternative summaries. Then, five of these questions appeared in the 2004 CAT. After that, these questions recently made a reapparance in the 2014 CAT. They also make an appearance, at times, in other exams. The skills required to solve these questions are essentially the same as those required to solve general Reading Comprehension questions that ask for the main idea or title.

In this question type, a paragraph of about 6-8 sentences is given to the student followed by four summaries of that paragraph. The test taker has to choose that option which best captures the author’s position or the essence of the paragraph. In CAT 2015 and 2016, Paragraph Summary questions were TITA questions but from CAT 2017 onwards they have been regular MCQ questions with negative marking for a wrong attempt. There have been three paragraph summary questions in the CAT since CAT 2015 and a striking feature of this question type is that in each of the CATs, each summary question was on a different topic of theme. Therefore, this question type presents no undue advantage to graduates from any specific stream of study.

Although, Paragraph Summary questions now have negative marking for wrong attempts, it would be advisable to attempt these questions since they are relatively easier than the other question types in the Verbal Ability section of the CAT. With diligent practice, it is eminently possible to identify the correct option from the four options presented. Secondly, they are less time consuming to solve than other question types such as Jumbled Paragraphs or Reading Comprehension questions. Thirdly, the paragraphs given are relatively easier to understand and comprehend as compared to Reading Comprehension passages or Jumbled Paragraphs. The CAT avoids dense, abstract passages for this question type making it a god-send for test takers unfamiliar with abstract reading material.

Techniques for solving Paragraph Summary Questions

  1. Read the paragraph first and then highlight what you think are the most crucial points that must appear in the correct answer.
  2. Remember that it is not necessary for illustrations, examples, specific dates and times to be included in the summary. But the point that these examples are trying to make (the purpose of the argument) must be present.
  3. Eliminate options that miss out on the essential information, contain information that contradicts the paragraph, or introduce new information.
  4. Remember not to choose options that contain any new information, no matter how reasonable or logical it may seem. In such questions, the answer should only summarize the paragraph, not draw inferences from it.
  5. Eliminate options that distort the meaning of the paragraph.
  6. Sometimes, the only difference between two options may be that one is more direct and establishes clearer relationships between the main actors and their environment. If two options appear correct, choose the more concise one and reject the more verbose option. Remember that the answer should be a summary, so it should be concise and to the point, not unnecessarily long and rambling.

Let us solve a few examples and match each wrong answer option with the techniques highlighted above:

Directions: Four alternative summaries are given below each text. Choose the option that best captures the essence of the text.

Example 1:

George R.R. Martin has always maintained that his fantasy novels have been influenced at least as much by history and historical fiction as by the traditional epic fantasy of writers like J.R.R. Tolkien. Aficionados know that his novels are loosely based on the Wars of the Roses, a vicious series of battles of succession that took place in 15th-century England. It would probably surprise several generations of British schoolchildren to learn that the dynastic politics of the 1400s could be transformed into anything coherent, let alone entertaining. (‘It’s worse than the Wars of the Roses!’ young Lucy Pevensie cries in dismay when someone tries to explain a particularly complicated bit of Narnian history in Prince Caspian. She speaks for many.)

(1) George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels have been inspired by the Wars of the Roses, 15th century English battles of succession, though schoolchildren might not consider the topic interesting.

(2) George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels are based on history as much as fantasy, though their historical background – the 15th century English Wars of the Roses – is not particularly entertaining.

(3) British schoolchildren such as Lucy Pevensie would be surprised to learn that the Wars of the Roses, 15th century English battles of succession, could be interesting, as shown by George R.R. Martin in his fantasy novels.

(4) Though George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels are inspired by the Wars of the Roses, battles of succession in 15th-century England, British schoolchildren do not find them entertaining.

Solution: The main points to be included are: George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels have been partly inspired by fantasy and partly by the Wars of the Roses, though schoolchildren might not consider the topic interesting. (Point 1).

Option (2) is incorrect, as it implies that the Wars of the Roses are perceived as an objectively dull topic, whereas the paragraph implies that only or mainly British schoolchildren think so. Option 2 distorts the meaning of the paragraph. (Point 5).

(4) suggests that the British schoolchildren dislike George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels – not their historical background, as stated in the paragraph. So (4) is incorrect as well. Option 4, contradicts the paragraph (Point 3).

(3) unnecessarily includes the parenthetical example of Lucy Pevensie; also, it wrongly focuses on the British schoolchildren rather than George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, which are the topic of the paragraph. The example of Lucy Pevensie is not essential. (Point 2).

Only (1) is a fully correct summary. Hence, (1).

Example 2:

There’s been a gradual, yet growing sense in the last year that the golden age of TV, so named for the recent decade of dark, cable antiheroes and intricate serialization, is coming to an end. I’ve seen this crop up in more and more places this summer. The primary idea driving this is that Mad Men will be halfway through its final season, and Breaking Bad will be long over by the time I write a fall TV season preview next year, and those two shows are some of the last remaining links to the age The Sopranos kicked off. (Indeed, a former Sopranos writer created Mad Men.) There are still antihero-driven shows out there, from the good – Boardwalk Empire – to the bad – Ray Donovan – but the dominant form of the TV drama is slowly moving away from dark men in dark times doing dark things.

(1) A new golden age of TV will come about when the current crop of dark and depressing shows about antiheroes such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men end.

(2) It will be the end of an era when the decade-long run of TV shows about antiheroes, which started with The Sopranos, concludes with Breaking Bad and Mad Men.

(3) A golden age of TV began a decade ago with shows about antiheroes like The Sopranos, and will end when Breaking Bad and Mad Men are over.

(4) There is a sense that the golden age of TV, characterized by shows about antiheroes, is coming to an end, with shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men getting over.

Solution: The main points to be included are: The golden age of TV characterized by shows about antiheroes may be coming to an end with the ending of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. (Point 1).

According to the paragraph, the current age of TV is the golden age, so (1), which states that the golden age is yet to come, is a complete misinterpretation of the paragraph. Option 1 distorts the meaning of the paragraph (Point 5).

The paragraph does not categorically state that the current golden age will end soon – rather, it only says that there is a ‘growing sense’ that this may be the case. So, both (2) and (3), which say that the age will definitely end, are incorrect. Options 2 and 3 contradict the paragraph and contain new information about the end of the golden age of TV. (Point 3).

Option (4), which maintains the uncertainty, is the best summary. Hence, (4).

Example 3:

In general, conifer trees are light lovers – an odd thought, as you wander through the green shade of the redwood forest, or peer through the close-set boles of some spruce plantation, or contemplate the long, dark winter months that the spruces and pines endure in the subboreal forests of the Baltic or the truly boreal forests of Alaska and Canada, Scandinavia and Russia.

(1) It is odd that conifer trees love light, given that they generally grow in dark forests or cold, dark places.

(2) Conifer trees are generally light lovers, which may seem odd given that they grow in shady forests and dark places.

(3) Since Conifer trees grow in shady forests with long, dark winters, they are light lovers.

(4) Though conifer trees love light, they can sometimes even grow in dark forests in cold places.

Solution: The main points to be included are: Conifer trees are light lovers which may seem odd since they grow in shady forests with long, dark winters. (Point 1)

There is nothing in the paragraph to suggest where conifer trees ‘generally grow’ – the subboreal and boreal forests and cold, dark places mentioned are merely examples of where they do grow. By the same token, it cannot be inferred that they grow in such places only ‘sometimes’. So both options (1) and (4) are incorrect. Options 1 and 4 contain new information (Point 2).

Option 3 is an incorrect inference. The passage mentions that although conifer trees grow in shady forests they are light lovers while option 3 twists this fact to infer that since conifer trees live in shady forests they become light lovers. (Point 4).

Option (2) is a better summary, as it also mentions the point made in the paragraph about the oddity of conifer trees loving light though they live in dark places. Option 1 misses out on essential information (Point 3).

Hence, (2).

Example 4:

Greek and Shakespearian tragic drama exhibits human suffering, desolation, unmotivated ruin and even physical horror (those blindings, mutilations and murders). Yet we do not leave the playhouse (or the reading) crushed, despairing and hoping to avoid such display in future. On the contrary. Our sensibility is complexly enriched and, somehow, rewarded. We register, in Nuttall’s thoughtful phrase, ‘a strange sweetness of grief and fear’. Unquestionably, this ‘strange sweetness’ has positive elements. It can provoke, at great depths of consciousness and understanding, a kind of dynamic peace, a tensed equilibrium.

1] Though tragic drama exhibits human suffering, we do not avoid their displays in the future. But we are rewarded with a kind of peace that we do not otherwise experience.

2] Though tragic drama exhibits human suffering, we are enriched in some positive ways by watching it. The mixture of fear and grief can arouse a dynamic equilibrium.

3] Tragic drama helps us in a positive way by giving us an equilibrium which we cannot avoid in the future. So we are enriched by watching human suffering and horror.

4] Though Greek and Shakespearian tragic drama exhibits suffering of the all kinds, it has positive elements to it and according to Nuttal’s phrase it induces a sweetness of grief and fear which in turn induces consciousness and it creates in us a kind of dynamic peace and equilibrium.

Solution: The main points to be included are: tragic drama induces suffering but we are enriched by it since it can create in us a sense of dynamic peace and equilibrium. (Point 1)

[1] talks about the peace that we cannot experience otherwise. The passage doesn’t say that we can’t experience this peace otherwise. So, [1] is an extreme statement and distorts the meaning of the paragraph (Point 5).

[2] correctly brings out the main points of the paragraph.

[3] wrongly states that we cannot avoid an equilibrium in the future. [3] distorts the meaning of the paragraph (Point 5).

[4] is correct but is too verbose and detailed as compared to option [2]. Option [2] is more succinct and avoids names and examples. (Point 6).

Hence, [2].

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