What Sherlock Holmes can teach you about Parajumbles in CAT

Monday, September 4th, 2017

Sherlock Holmes teach you CAT Parajumbles

Para Jumbles questions in the CAT are important from 2 perspectives:

A – They are relatively easy to answer, as they do not require us to know any ‘rules’ (unlike grammar questions) beforehand

B- Most test takers not only attempt all these questions but also get most of the answers correct, therefore it becomes even more important to score well here.

If we have a low accuracy in Para Jumbles, we are under pressure to better in other questions, which could be significantly more difficult.

If all of us infinite time to answer every Para Jumbles question, eventually most of us would get most answers right, just as if we had enough time, we would be able to put a jigsaw puzzle together. The difficulty lies in doing it quickly. The objective is simple: maximum accuracy in minimum possible time.

The CAT 2015 brought about a change in the options pattern of Para Jumbles, as per which the test takers themselves had to put together a coherent paragraph. This certainly increases the difficulty level, as elimination of the wrong options – a very useful strategy – is no longer possible. The same continued in 2016 and if this pattern persists in 2017, it will require the test takers to practise the technique of ‘putting a paragraph together’.

Every time I attempt to solve a PJ question, I find that the accuracy (and of course, fun) increases if I approach the question in a fashion similar to crime scene investigation. I imagine myself to be the world’s only consulting detective – the one and only Sherlock Holmes who runs through the scene like an ultra-ferocious bloodhound onto a scent!

So here goes the Sherlock Holmes way of approaching the PJ questions.

Rule 1 for cracking Parajumbles Questions in CAT

‘It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ – From A Scandal in Bohemia

Ironically, a test taker is more likely to fall into this trap if there are answer options to follow the question – the CAT 2014 pattern.

Most students give the paragraph a cursory look, make up their minds about what could begin the para, and go directly to the answer options.  Once they find an option which, either correctly or incorrectly, reflects their choice, they begin to justify the remaining links in the chosen answer option to convince themselves that they have made the right choice. This may work if the question is very easy, and has a clear opening sentence, which is given in only one of the options. However, this approach is certain to fail in the difficult questions that offer several possibilities for the opening sentence.

The best way to approach a PJ question is to read the para thoroughly, like Sherlock, who studies the crime scene keenly with an absolutely open mind, and constantly searches for clues. Once we find a couple of certain clues, only then can we look at the answer options. We would then have a reason to eliminate the wrong ones.

Having said this, I emphasise that looking for a clear opening sentence of the para is indeed a good strategy, especially if we are looking at the 2015 variant of PJ questions. Imagine we are investigating two homicides. In one we have only the head of the victim, and in the other, only the torso. It is obvious which of them will be easier to identify.

The opening sentences usually have certain telltale signs – they may introduce any or all of the following:  the topics of discussion (e.g. The theory of relativity states that…), the timeline of events (e.g. In 1987, a significant discovery was made in the Arctic region of Russia…), the people involved (e.g. John F. Kennedy assumed the US presidency in 1961).

The opening sentences also give us an idea of the overall structure of the passage. Definition type, cause-effect, comparison, chronological, spatially descriptive-type are the most common structures. It is usually easier to put together a jigsaw puzzle once we know what the picture represents.

The opening sentence also directs the flow of the important ideas in a sentence. Usually, the important ideas come first, peripheral later.

For example,

Sentence A – The laws of combat are universal.

Sentence B – Whether it is a hand-to-hand ring-fight, or a corporate takeover, the same principles are at work.

In the correct order, B must follow A, as B extends the universality discussed in the A.

Sometimes a sentence may seem to be belonging either at the beginning or at the end of a para. On such occasions, observe how the sentence begins. If A were “Therefore, the laws of combat are universal”, it cannot start the paragraph. It must be the conclusion.
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Rule 2 for cracking Parajumbles Questions in CAT

‘No, my dear Watson, the two events are connected—MUST be connected. It is for us to find the connection.’ – From The Adventure of the Second Stain

If they are unable to identify the opening sentence of a para, many test takers tend to “jump” directly to what looks like a concluding sentence, which may even be present in a couple of options. This is essentially an equivalent of trying to close a case by first arresting a suspect, assuming the suspect’s guilt, and then fabricating evidence around him or her.

Whether or not there is a clear opening sentence, there exist connections between the remaining sentences, and it is for us to find them, especially when we are looking at the CAT 2015 variant.   What are the common connections?

  1. Names – Full names of people in the initial sentence will be followed by the last names of the same in the subsequent sentences
  2. Articles – We all are aware that the indefinite articles “A” and “An” precede the definite article “The”. For example, if the sentence A has a phrase like “a mastermind”, and the sentence B says “the mastermind”, then B cannot precede A
  3. Pronouns – Pronouns are replacements of nouns. In most cases a sentence with a pronoun will follow a sentence with its antecedent noun. This is, however, not always true.

For example:

A – It began in 1939 and ended in 1945.

B – WWII, however, led to worldwide catastrophic consequences – social, political, and economic – that were felt for several decades after.

In these sentences, the noun WWII in B must follow the pronoun “It” in A

  1. Determiners – Words such as “These”, “Those”, “Such”, “That” are followed by second or subsequent references to the nouns. For example, if the sentence A contains a phrase like “The horizons” and B contains “These horizons”, B cannot precede A
  2. Repeated words or synonymous words – The sentences that contain repeated words (for example, the words that come with determiners) or synonymous words are likely to be grouped together. This is so because most paras in PJ questions are logically-constructed descriptions or arguments. Imagine what would happen if you were asked to put together a poem. Considerably more difficult, isn’t it? Well, we must take advantage of the fact that that does not happen in these questions.
  3. Adverbs that start the sentences – If an adverb starts a sentence – for example, “Fortunately, I was on time” – it is most likely to be somewhere after the first sentence, or in the middle. It cannot the start the para. Also, observe that such adverbs are preceded by those sentences which justify the introduction of the adverb. In the example stated above, the sentence that precedes “Fortunately” must explain why good fortune is referred to in the following sentence.
  4. Tenses – It is possible that the tense changes will occur in the para. However, the tense cannot change without a reason. If the sentence A is in the present tense, and B in the past, then the ending words of A must offer us a reason to change the tense in B.

For example:

A – Today’s unfortunate situation is the fallout of the bad policies of the previous government.

B – The erstwhile government persistently appeased a particular section of the society, and conveniently ignored the common good.


Observe in these two sentences how the italicized part of A introduces a change of the tense (past) in the italicised part of B.

If you observe that the change of the tense between any two sentences occurs without a justification, you are looking at a wrong link. This is the most difficult observation to make in PJ questions.

Rule 3 for cracking Parajumbles Questions in CAT

‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact’- From The Boscombe Valley Mystery

In PJ questions there is perhaps nothing more deceptive than a sentence that appears to be the ending sentence. Words such as “Therefore”, “Hence”, “Moreover”, “Thereafter”, “Henceforth”, “In summary” etc. usually introduce the concluding sentences. However, this does not have to be always true. Such sentences may even appear somewhere in the middle. Use them as final pieces of evidence – a confirmation of what you have already deduced. I reiterate, avoid jumping to the possible last sentence if you are unable to find the first. Find the connections.
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Rule 4 for cracking Parajumbles Questions in CAT

The more you practice, the quicker will you be able to find the correct connections. Solve a thousand questions before you hit the CAT.

‘They say that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains,’ he remarked with a smile. ‘It’s a very bad definition, but it does apply to detective work.’ – From A Study in Scarlet

These are the words of the wisest and the best man the world has ever known.

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What Sherlock Holmes can teach you about Parajumbles in CAT
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2 responses to “What Sherlock Holmes can teach you about Parajumbles in CAT”

  1. Bhagirath says:

    “Recession however has nothing to do with this feeling”
    Can this be a starting sentence of a paragraph?
    that is can the feeling come later in the paragraph?

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