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CAT: How to improve Verbal Ability
ARKS Srinivas
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June 13, 2007

In our countdown to CAT so far, we have looked at how to prepare for the sections of Quantitative Ability and Reading Comprehension. Now, we take up another section -- Verbal Ability.

Verbal Ability is clubbed with Reading Comprehension in CAT. The number of questions, and therefore marks, vary almost drastically every year. For instance, in CAT 2005, the number of questions in VA were 18 out of a total of 30 questions (60 percent), whereas in CAT 2006, the number of questions in VA were only 10 out of a total of 25 (40 percent).

This trend has been observed in CAT almost every year, and hence preparation for every kind of question that may be expected is of the utmost importance. Just to emphasise this point, in CAT 2006, there were five questions in VA on Facts, Inferences and Judgements. This type of question was last seen in CAT in the early 1990s, after which it made an appearance in CAT 2006. What it obviously means is that you have to prepare for all the possible variations in which the VA questions can be given.

Of all CAT sections, the area that can be solved fastest in the exam is VA. However, this section happens to be the most difficult one to prepare for. In fact, unless one has some amount of grounding in grammar, and a sizeable vocabulary (which you can build only from extensive reading), this area can turn out to be your biggest CAT hurdle.

Let's understand what sort of questions you can expect in VA, and then look at how preparation can be taken up for the next few months.

On the whole, the VA section in CAT has seen a drastic change from, say, the 1990s. The emphasis then was more on vocabulary. Now, the paper is moving surely towards verbal reasoning, critical reasoning and grammar.

A case in point is the set of questions that was presented in CAT 2005. Ostensibly, the student had to find the meaning of words underlined in sentences -- the words were 'klang', 'fingummy', 'crupping', and 'plunk'. However, if you read each sentence and understood the context in which it was written, interpreting the meaning of the underlined words was a cinch.

Similarly, in CAT 2006, we saw critical reasoning questions of the Facts, Inferences and Judgement variety. This clearly indicates that CAT is moving away from traditional vocabulary, and concentrating instead on the usage of words and reasoning in VA.

Coming back to the type of questions, broadly four types of questions have been seen in CAT for the last six years:

1. Paragraph Forming (rearranging a jumbled paragraph)
English Usage and Vocabulary
Critical Reasoning

Paragraph Forming (rearranging a jumbled paragraph)

In this type of question, there are four to six sentences (labelled 'A' to 'E', and which are actually all part of a paragraph) presented in jumbled form. The student is expected to arrange the sentences in such a manner that the sequence forms a coherent whole.

To be able to crack this kind of question, an understanding of sentence construction is a great help. This ability only comes with extensive reading (or, of course, if you are a good writer). However, with the help of a few techniques, these questions can be solved very easily in most cases. The basic methodology that should be followed is:

Step 1: Identify the start -- Out of the sequence given, if you can identify the starting sentence of the paragraph; that itself will eliminate one or two other choices.

Step 2: Find a link -- When you read all the sentences given, you can find links between any two sentences. This will further reduce your choices.

Step 3: End statement -- Sometimes, checking out which statement/ sentence could be the concluding line of a paragraph can also help zero in on the right answer.

All the above techniques work only when your fundamentals are strong. For that, you have to read everyday. The reading that was recommended for the Reading Comprehension section will do for VA also.

When preparing for Paragraph Forming, you need to keep notes on why one answer is right, and how the link has been established. On a regular basis, attempt about five to 10 questions of this nature daily. Analyse the mistakes, and find the correct answer.

Make sure you note the errors you made, as well as the correction to the same. This way, in a week you will be solving about 50 to 75 questions, and in five weeks you will have solved around 250 to 350 questions. After that, implement whatever you have learnt while attempting the Mock Papers. Ensure that you crack Paragraph Forming within a certain time limit, so that you do not overshoot the time available.

In Part II of this feature, we will explore the other three kinds of questions to be expected in VA -- Grammar, English Usage and Vocabulary, and Critical Reasoning.

Part II -- CAT: Crackdown on Verbal Ability

IIM-Calcutta alumnus ARKS Srinivas is the director of TIME, an organisation that prepares candidates for courses like the MBA and the MCA and competitive examinations like CAT, the GRE and GMAT.

Calling past CAT candidates -- your feedback with regards to study strategies and subject-wise patterns will prove invaluable to those scheduled to appear for CAT this year, so please share any past experiences, suggestions and/ or advice you have with us. Send in your articles to, and we will publish the best ones in the Get Ahead section of

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