Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension

In CAT you are presented with 4–5 passages followed by 4 – 6 questions based on their content – either stated in or implied by the passage.

A CAT reading comprehension passage and question appear as follows:
[We will be using this passage for discussion throughout]

DIRECTIONS: Read the passage below and answer the question that follows.

The behavioral school of psychologists believes that all learning is responses to stimuli. And that all learning should be assessed through definable responses. For behaviorists the concept of ‘size’ among children for example, is assessed by cuing the child to respond to questions pertaining to size; if a child is unable to respond to the stimulus, the child is assessed as not having developed the concept of size.

However, for Piaget, this is a ‘mechanical’ view of the behaviorists. The concept of ‘size’, among children, Piaget says, is one dimension of an array of interrelated images (mental images): Covert responses can be expressed only with the image of all other concepts, say, length, height, weight etc. All these contribute toward a child’s response to say, the expression of size. Difficulties arise only if a child is unable to express a concept through a response to a single stimulus without the other images. In such a case, Piaget argues, that any dimension of concept formation can be assessed by providing clues on other related dimensions, in order to make the child respond covertly to achieve the fundamental requirement of assessment through response to stimulus, even if one has to present tangible examples of other conceptual dimensions.

1. The author of the passage is primarily concerned with presenting
A. Criticism of Piaget’s views on the conceptualization of behaviorism.
B. Evidence to support Piaget’s claims about the problems inherent in behaviorism.
C. An account of Piaget’s counter proposal to one of the traditional assumptions of behaviorism.
D. An overview of behaviorism and its contributions to Piaget’s alternate understanding of behaviorism.
E. A history of behaviorism and Piaget’s reservations about it.

The reading comprehension questions in the verbal sections tests your interpretive, applicative and inferential skills. The passages contain words ranging from 600 words to 1300 words. And these discuss topics from the pure sciences, social sciences and art/ literature. Since the reading passages include several different content areas, you will probably be generally familiar with some of the material. However, neither the passages nor the questions assume detailed knowledge of the topics discussed.


Reading comprehension questions measure your ability to understand, analyze and apply information and concepts presented in written form. All questions are to be answered on the basis of what is stated or implied in the reading material, and no specific knowledge of the material is required. Reading comprehension, therefore evaluates your ability to
Ø Understand words and statements in the reading passages (questions of this type are not vocabulary questions. These questions test your understanding of and ability to use specialized terms as well as your understanding of the English language. You may also find that questions of this type ask about the overall meaning of the passage)
Ø Understand the logical relationship between significant points and concepts in the reading passages, for instance, such questions may ask you to determine the strong and weak points of an argument or to evaluate the importance of arguments and ideas in a passage.
Ø Draw inferences from facts and statements in the reading passages. (The inference questions will ask you to consider factual statements or information and on the basis of that information, reach a general conclusion)

The following factors contribute to success in CAT passages

Previous knowledge of the content of a given reading selection invariably helps in efficient comprehension and in reading with speed. A technical test taker, therefore, familiarizes himself with varied contents and domains of knowledge. The single factor that contributes to your reading ability consequently is, wide reading. Read as much as you can. There’s nothing like being able to prepare for your reading comprehension test while having your morning cuppa!

Proficiency in language most necessarily means better reading in terms of speed and comprehension. Shifts in meaning in a sentence are generally signaled by those structural words that carry profundity of ideas; you overlook them and the essence of the sentence is not grasped. So is the tone of a write up determined by the language intonations! If you’re a voracious reader you are fluent in reading and understanding written information. Some of you wouldn’t have been able to maintain your reading habits due to reasons such as the nature of academic course chosen, lack of time, and/or a host of other reasons. In order to compensate for it you have to spend more time now catching up with your reading.


Contributes greatly to your performance in CAT reading passages. Those who have a flair for reading would find passages from any source readable – whether the passage is on art, history or science. Therefore we reiterate the need for your familiarizing with such literature.


Often you’ll come across passages that would require slow reading when you’re hurrying through a test. The content may be highly abstract and may require repeated reading. You may not be able to cope with the expected accuracy. Such passages as philosophy, art and literature come under this category.


The general clarity of writing seen in well-organized articles may be missing in certain passages. Their inclusion most certainly is to add to the difficulty of reading the passages and answering those questions. Such passages may have to be read repeatedly to understand and then answer the questions that follow them.



Essentially reading comprehension questions in any aptitude test, measure an individual’s ability to comprehend information given in the passages and to answer the questions that follow the passage, based on what is stated or implied in the passage.

The passages that we see in the CAT verbal section are intended to measure your ability to read and comprehend the information so that the questions that follow are answered with maximum accuracy. The difficulties that test takers encounter are manifold:
Ø Unfamiliar content
Ø Uninteresting reading matter
Ø Higher level questions such as inferential, application and evaluation questions
Ø Difficult-to-eliminate choices

Added to these is the stress and tension that goes with taking a test!
In order to overcome these difficulties, you need to acquire,
Ø strategies to overcome reading difficulties
Ø practical tools to improve up on your current comprehension levels
Ø productive tactics to crack the of the varied types of question types
Ø methods of logic analysis of each of the question types and
Ø strategies for answering the different question types

Reading is a skill

Reading ability is a cognitive disposition acquired over years of learning and practice- both conscious and unconscious. Reading ability depends, to a greater extent, on readability – the attribute of the reading material. You should not assume that your reading ability is poor by assessing the speed with which you have read, say, a passage on philosophy, in a given time. Even if you have previous reading in philosophy, you require more time to read a philosophy passage with fairly good comprehension, owing not only to the abstraction involved but also to the implicit meaning underlying such text than read a passage on a concrete readable text.

At the same time you should realize that there are certain cognitive behaviours that are peculiar to efficient readers, viz. concentration, mental translation as one navigates through the passage, summation, connecting ideas, inferring, judging the material read etc.

When do we consider a passage readable?
why do test takers differ in their ability to read?

There are differences between the reading skills required in an academic environment and those that are required on standardized tests. If you have a good sense of the passage structure and gist of paragraphs, you’ll have no problem navigating through the text.

Practice active reading; what does an active reader do?
Ø He thinks about what he is reading and assimilates denotations.
Ø He goes beyond the denotations, searches for connotations (implicit ideas)
Ø Translates ideas into his own language.
Ø Poses questions to himself as he reads.
Ø Skims through illustrative matter and scans through meaty points.
Ø Looks for both matter discussed, and the speaker’s points of view.

As you read across the passage, build a cognitive map of the information assimilated: while reading, you should keep asking these questions:
– What is the topic the author is dealing with?
– What is he attempting to establish?
– How well does he succeed in this attempt?
– What are his observations?
– What shift does the author have in mind when moving on to this paragraph?
– What bearing does this paragraph have on the author’s main idea?
– What is the author trying to portray? Is he proposing a new idea?
– Is he making any recommendations?
– Challenging notions? Criticizing policies? And so on.

Much of our reading is neither accurate nor thoughtful. When relaxed, we naturally skip and skim. Ordinarily, such reading neither deserves nor receives careful attention. But, often, we attempt to read closely reasoned and fact-packed texts. Reading to understand involves attention, retention and awareness. The reading of genuinely important material must be painstakingly careful. Comprehension passages in tests need to be carefully read:
I. to gain and understand accurate information and ideas.
II. to recognize author’s organization of the content and style of writing.
III. to interpret author’s intent and
IV. to analyze and evaluate the textual matter.
Reading effectively is reading with both comprehension and speed. An efficient reader reads thought units, not word by word. Your aim should be to reduce the number of fixations, and lengthen the eye span. Your reading rate will increase as you learn to do this efficiently and so will your comprehension. A skillful reader does not work with isolated units but with context – what precedes and follows the particular material being read. A good reader rarely loses time by having to refer to the beginning of a sentence or paragraph. Rather, the thought will have been carried through in one series of lengthened glances.

The best way of learning to read with speed as well as comprehension is to “read with your mind assisted by your eyes”. Doing this will enhance comprehension by reducing the number of fixations and increasing concentration. Practice finding main thoughts in a passage and separating them from purely illustrative matter. Learn to find key words and phrases that summate the main ideas of the passage. These steps will greatly increase reading speed, although you must not forget that different kinds of material require different reading speeds.

An efficient reader assimilates information that is read and translates it into his own language. Recall of information exactly as it is, is neither possible nor necessary. Instead, gather the gist of the information, form opinions and draw conclusions. Careful reading of any selection should lead to an understanding of the central theme and purpose as well as organization of the main thoughts.

If you’re methodic, that is good for your academic reading. For aptitude test preparation, take the road not taken. You can’t approach an aptitude test in a casual, piecemeal way. If you want to maximize your likelihood of success, you have to take advantage of the unconventional approaches.

The number of passages ranges from 2 to 4; the number of questions ranges from 6 to 10 and the length of the passages ranges from 70 – 250 words. The passages are either run-on matter or with indented paragraphs. Therefore, be sensitive to issues of topic, scope, structure and source of such passages in order to draw from the repertoire of your tactics to maximize your performance.

In sum, read to locate those crucial ideas
Ø to find out where answers to specific questions lie.
Ø to get the gist of each paragraph.
Ø to distinguish opinions or interpretations from factual assertions; this is an important skill in reading.
Ø to attack the passage for author’s view.
Ø when asked for meanings of words/phrases look for nearby context.
Ø finally get the author’s purpose in writing the text, to help you answer inferential questions (if any)

Know these facts:

Ø Different questions require different strategies.
Ø The reading comprehension questions are of varying difficulties.


Where are these CAT reading passages drawn from? Are they from college textbooks? No.
These passages are drawn from:

1. Pure Sciences :

articles from biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences or any other sub branches or related disciplines.
Ø evaluation of research hypotheses
Ø discussion of recent findings
Ø research reports drawn from science journals
Ø new scientific observations
Ø new developments in a specific science discipline
Ø history of a discovery / events that led to a discovery

2. Socio-political/cultural :

A passage pertaining to social /economic / political / history
It may be a discussion on:
Ø achievements of Indians, since Independence
Ø cultural heritage
Ø an event from history
Ø cultural aspects of our life
Ø economic/ trade matters
Ø contributions of famous personalities
Ø discussion of cults / movements etc.

3. Art / literature :

A passage from humanities – related to art, literary criticism, or history of any of these.
Ø discussion on / evaluation of art forms
Ø book review
Ø author review
Ø comparative discussion of books / authors
Ø trends / progress in art / literature
Ø philosophical discourses / discussions
Ø literary movements
Ø philosophical articles
Ø anthropological discussions

The common comprehension questions are:


The questions that are based on the information stated directly in the passage (denotations) include these.
Content-based questions are of two types:
i main idea question
ii. specific idea question (mostly line numbered or with paragraph references)


These questions ask you to analyze and evaluate
i. the organization and logic of a passage
ii. the author’s style of writing
iii. how the paragraphs are arranged
iv. how the author takes the discussion forward


These are questions that ask how information given in the passage can be applied in contexts outside the passage.

These include
i. working with hypothetical situations
ii. recognizing scope of the text outside its context
iii. evaluating analogous situations
iv. the ideas the author would agree / disagree with


These questions ask about ideas that are implied in the passage (connotations)
i. meanings that are drawn from the passage
ii. suggested ideas
iii. inferences based on comparisons
iv. inferences based on cause-effects
v. drawing generalizations / conclusions


A higher-difficulty question type based on a passage involves evaluation questions. The question requires you to judge the information given in the passage, evaluate the authors arguments and/ or assess the scope and application of the information in the passage. These questions would also require you to identify, if any, the flaws in judgment, question the validity of a proposition and the like.


These are questions in which you are required to identify the assumption that the author is making while stating something within a passage.


In this question type you are asked to identify a statement that would logically follow the passage. The answer is closely related to the content in that it summarises the ideas discussed in the passage.


These questions require you to make a statement about the author, his attitudes, values, and principles as inferable from the passage or the tone of the passage (again an indirect reference to the author himself).


A not so common question; nevertheless, there could be questions in which you are asked to infer the specialization of the author.

An occasional question may be asked on the source from which the passage is drawn.

Now let’s discuss each of these question types in detail and the strategies for answering for each of these.


Each reading comprehension passage in the CAT verbal section is a unified whole – that is, the individual statements and paragraphs support and develop one main idea or central point. Sometimes the central idea is told in the passage explicitly and sometimes it will be necessary for you to determine the central point from the overall organization of the passage. You may be required to recognize a correct restatement, or paraphrase, of the main idea of a passage, or to assign a title that summarizes, in a clause or sentence, the central idea of the passage or a particular paragraph.

The central idea question is phrased in one of the following ways.

Ø Which of the following best states the central idea of the passage?
Ø The author’s primary purpose / objective is to…
Ø Which of the following is the principal topic of the passage?
Ø The author’s main concern is…
Ø The central idea / theme / topic of the passage is…
Ø Which of the following best summarizes the passage as a whole?
Ø In the passage, the author is primarily interested in…
Ø Which of the following titles best summarizes the passage as a whole?
Ø The primary purpose of the second paragraph is which of the following?
Ø The last paragraph of the passage performs which of the following functions?
Ø A suitable title for the passage would be…
Ø Which of the following questions answers the central theme of the passage?

Central idea questions are general questions; therefore, they will always have ‘general’ answers. This helps you to eliminate choices that are specific – choices that contain information pertaining to a specific paragraph alone. The wrong choices are partly true or are centered on any of the paragraphs.

The main idea may be presented immediately in the very first sentence.
it may be presented in the end of the first paragraph.
the main idea may be a sum of the opening sentences of each paragraph

Just focus on the first and last sentence of each of the paragraphs and it is unlikely that you do not get the main idea

If you have questions, please ask below

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