How to prepare for the verbal ability section for CAT 2016

For many of the aspirants, tackling verbal ability is a nightmare. There are many reasons why many good aspirants feel uncomfortable while solving verbal questions. First of all, there is no direct formula as such when it comes to verbal ability unlike quant. A majority of the section focuses on your ability to comprehend given information and be extremely cogent while deriving inferences from this information. Secondly, not much quality material is available in the market to get better at verbal ability and most of the available resources focus more on nitpicking rather than focus on broad technical aspects which are a must to strengthen the base. Thirdly, a lot of mocks focus on trivial aspects of the English language in pursuit of ‘setting’ a difficult paper while neglecting the objective behind delivering a mock test. An analogy can be drawn here wherein, there is a question in the quantitative aptitude requiring you to solve the area of a quadrilateral using Brahmagupta’s theorem or expecting you to know Josephus’ puzzle (circa XAT 2011). In these cases, the objective is not so much to allow aspirants to explore their existing intellect but to make sure that people leave the question thereby upping the overall difficulty level of the test.

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What all topics come under the domain of verbal ability?

Anything except Reading Comprehension can be put under verbal ability. It can involve one or more of the following types of questions:

1) Grammar-based

2) Critical reasoning

3) Parajumbles (either ordering or eliminating)

4) Paragraph completion

5) Vocabulary (multiple usage, idioms, fill in the blanks)

6) Facts, inferences, and judgments

7) Miscellaneous (Verbal logic, series, udli and other obscure types)

The entire sub-section can be divided into mechanical and inferential types and both require a different style of thought to be cracked. The mechanical ones include: parajumbles, grammar and paragraph completion which can be cracked following simple pre-defined rules and the inferential ones include: critical reasoning, vocabulary, FIJs and others which can be cracked through a bit of application of one’s existing knowledge.

How to prepare for individual types?

It doesn’t require a degree in rocket science (assuming that there is one which says that) to figure out that the most important contributor would be practice. Many aspirants fall into the trap of getting disappointed when their line of thought doesn’t match with that of the person who has compiled the material. If you still feel there is merit to your argument (remember, your argument should not be one that is taken in the realms of your brain but in front of all the stakeholders with a hundred cameras pointed at you; in short it should be morally, politically, and ethically correct), there is no need to worry yet. It is quite possible that the interpretation of the central statement might vary and there could be multiple interpretations and hence, multiple correct answers. The important takeaway should be that the reasons behind eliminating the other options should be clear and undebatable. If you can manage that, you have learnt an important lesson from the activity. This will give you an understanding of why a particular option was deemed wrong (generalized statement, assuming something that is not present in the argument, irrelevant analogy, contradictory statements).

I will give an overview of the various things one can do to get better at an individual sub topic. Will be covering every sub topic in detail in the coming few articles.

For parajumbles, clichéd as it may sound, one should be on the lookout primarily for links. All the methods have been beaten to death but a few useful ones that I would like to reiterate are:

(i) Pronouns/shortened name/surname/nickname: If there is a pronoun in a sentence he/she/it/they etc. there should be a preceding statement that introduces the subject in most of the cases. Once you figure out which statement comes before the other, you might have narrowed down your options to at most 3 in almost all the cases.

Paper setters try to negate this strategy a fair bit when they make sure that there are two subjects in a particular parajumble with one being named after the pronoun for the other is exhausted thereby confusing aspirants. The way to work around this trap is by making sure that you identify the subject and the action it is performing. In most of the cases, there will be a difference between the ‘deeds’ of the two subjects which will make you choose the right link by simply maintaining continuity of thought.

(ii) Tenses: Ideally, all the sentences will be in the same tense. If there is a reference to a past incident, you have to make sure that all the statements involving the past incident are adjacent to each other. If there is a present and a futuristic scenario being told, you need to make sure that all the arguments of the present point towards the future and so on. This is not a difficult thing to do and once you have sufficient knowledge of tenses, you should be good to go.

(iii) Using options: Once you have identified a particular link using the techniques, you can be sure that the options that do not contain the link are to be eliminated. Another way of using options to solve parajumbles is by using the sequence in an option as it is and then seeing if it makes sense. You are limiting yourself to 4 possibilities and then choosing the best out of them. If seeing links is not your thing, you can use this strategy effectively. To begin with, almost all the questions have multiple options starting with a single statement and in most of the cases, one of these is correct. That will reduce the number of options to 2 or 3. Ideally, you should start reading with this statement and evaluate which of the options make sense if you read the first two statements together. For example: if one of the options is abcde and the other ‘competing’ option is acdbe, you have to put ac against ab and see which one sounds more logical. If you feel both are equally compelling and that statement ‘a’ should start the sentence, you can eliminate the remaining options and then glance through the other statements for abcde and acdbe. Keep on doing this till you are left with one option and you can be rest assured it is that one.

For the incorrect sentence parajumbles, the question typically asks you to find out that one statement that does not fit into a coherent paragraph made by the remaining three. A common error while attempting this type is that, aspirants go about finding the opening statement and then try to figure out the next one and so on. A slight change in strategy can work wonders here. You can try to figure out two statements that are related to each other and then try to determine the order. So, basically you are trying to find a mini parajumble of two sentences instead of three. That would make your life easier, eliminate a couple of options and pave the way ahead for plugging in the third statement. Mocks and previous year CAT papers are fair sources of parajumbles. In case your answer does not match with the one that has been provided, you can always look up for the source and depending on the authenticity of the source (an excerpt from The New Yorker, the Guardian, the Economist and so on) you will know if there is a structural flaw in your paragraph construction.

In case of grammar, it is like understanding a game. If you know the rules well, you can strategize how to play. If not, it is like throwing darts wearing a wicketkeeper’s gloves with the dartboard behind you. You might succeed but there are higher chances of you not being able to hit the target. A few common mistakes done here are that, aspirants are on the lookout for minor blips and punctuation errors, lack of a capital, presence of absence of a comma, getting tangled between British and American English usage and so on. Trust me, they are not hiring for professional editors. They want people to keep calm, view the situation in its entirety, figure out some error at a macro level and move on. Most of the time, the errors are with regards to a difference in the ‘number’ of subjects and the singularity or the plurality of the verb associated with the subject (commonly known and understood as the subject-verb agreement). Another important error is seen in terms of parallel construction of sentences wherein, it is stated that multiple activities that are performed by a subject should be in sync in terms of tense, and symmetry. The third, most common and commonly erred aspect is with regards to idiomatic usage. No material in the market can cover all the idioms and so, nothing but dedicated reading would help in this case. A good couple of weeks with your Wren and Martin or the Manhattan GMAT sentence correction guide can work wonders.

A majority of the rules for solving parajumbles are applicable in paragraph completion questions. A paragraph with a missing sentence, in most cases the last one, is given and you have to identify the best fit among the answer options. The things to keep in mind here are: logical consistency, continuity with the preceding part of the para, non-introduction of a fresh topic, keeping the trend of generic to specific or vice versa depending on the preceding sentences, continuity in terms of tenses and so on. Will be covering all these in depth some time later. The best sources to practice are online articles, and novels written by literary geniuses with the help of professional editors (this article would be of help). You can do justice to the question type if and only if you can understand the beauty of construction of a paragraph. So, be on the lookout for paragraphs and how they are ended and how a new paragraph is started. If you can manage to do that, with a few techniques, your accuracy should be up in the high 70s-80s.

Critical reasoning again requires you to think logically and separate the trivial issues from the main issues, qualities becoming of a manager. The question would be in the form of a statement or a paragraph and you would be asked to either strengthen or weaken the argument using an appropriate option. The common mistake here is a failure to understand the central argument and assuming statements that aren’t there. Also an important thing to keep in mind is that, repetition of a sentence in the central argument is not the correct enhancer of the argument and so, can be crossed out on grounds of redundancy. The better sources to prepare critical reasoning are again, GMAT books which emphasize on technical formation of rebuttals and strengtheners to arguments.

Vocabulary is not that extensive when it comes to CAT and is limited to idioms and fill-in-the-blanks questions. There is no requirement to mug up word lists and the quite overrated (in my opinion) Word Power Made Easy (it adds little value and the prefixes and suffixes can be understood through focused casual reading as well). The best thing to do is to identify contextual usage and the mood of the statement (extremes are generally frowned upon, a nice balanced, politically sound word is the way to go) and then look at both the blanks simultaneously. Technically, there is only that much you can do to attempt these. A word of advice, if you are in doubt in these questions, refrain from making an intelligent guess. In most of the cases, these ‘guesses’ are incorrect.

FIJs though almost obsolete are covered in detail here.

All this advice is quite generic and is aimed at changing your outlook towards the section. If anything else works for you, you should not hesitate in trying it. When it comes to verbal, as I said at the start, there is no one size that fits all. It is your thought process that is being evaluated in this section and everybody who does well overall in the test has it. Few people might question the undue importance given to reading books and novels outside the ‘syllabus’. But, as random as the gyaan might sound, an irregular reader seldom transforms into a good manager. Reading is immensely helpful from a personal point of view and also in situations involving placements/jobs/promotions/sutta conversations with your boss! Would NOT post the George R.R. Martin quote here. Go Google if you are unaware! In most of the cases, clouded thinking or lack of practice or general fear of failure or a perceived less self-worth deter an aspirant from tackling this section to the best of his/her ability. If you manage to keep these barriers at bay and become mentally stronger, then this is the section with the highest potential output:time ratio.

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