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CAT: VA questions you can expect
Sidharth Balakrishna
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November 10, 2008

We take a look at the questions you can expect in the upcoming CAT and other similar B-school entrance tests.

Grammar
Many management exams have questions pertaining to sentence corrections. Questions typically test your knowledge of certain correct ways of speaking and writing the language; afterall clear and precise communication is important for the modern manager.  

These require a fair knowledge of the rules of grammar, combined with common sense. In addition, knowledge of phrases or idioms appropriate for particular situations, ways of structuring a sentence in the language correctly (correct parallelism, subject-verb agreement etc) must be known.

Indeed, there are often questions on "subject-verb agreement" ie whether the verb used agrees with the given subject. Similarly, you must know which tense in appropriate given a particular context. When do you use past perfect tense or simple past? This can be trickier than you think, so don't become overconfident!

Certain rules must be revised and then put into practice to master these types of questions. For example, you need to remember that when singular subjects are connected using the words 'or' or 'nor', a singular verb should be used after that. Thus, it is incorrect to say "either the cat or the dog have eaten this", the correct way of writing the sentence would be "either the cat or the dog has eaten this".

Another important type of questions in the grammar section revolves around parallelism. Parallelism refers to the structure of the sentences, which needs to be the same throughout. The form of pronouns, gerunds, adverbs etc needs to be consistent throughout. For example, the correct form of the sentences is: "One must do one's duty" and not "One must do his duty".

Then there are questions around idioms. Idioms are phrases that provide a meaning different from the literal sense. For example, "a Catch-22 situation", "between the devil and the deep blue sea", "to hold water", "to pull up one's socks" are all common idioms, and you must know in what situation these are appropriate to use.

Parajumbles
Paragraph jumbles, or parajumbles for short, are of various types. Sometimes, you are given four sentences which you have to arrange in the correct order. At other times, there are five such sentences -- in fact, the five-sentence type of 'parajumbles' has become more common in recent years.

As a variation of this, sometimes, the opening sentence is provided and you have to arrange the next four sentences correctly. Alternately, the first sentence and the last one are provided and you have to arrange the four sentences in between in the appropriate order.

One can easily speculate that more variations of this type of question could be seen in coming years. You might be given the concluding sentence and asked to arrange the preceding four or five sentences correctly. Or you could be even given six-sentences to be arranged properly-far more time-consuming than the four sentence type.

Vocabulary
Exams such as CAT, in particular, seem to be experimenting somewhat with the Vocabulary section. The focus is now on whether you know how to use words in the appropriate context and situation. Thus, the emphasis has moved away from knowledge of difficult or esoteric words to being able to apply more-frequently used words correctly. Thus, you are tested on the multiple meanings of commonly used words; some as simple as the word "book" etc.

In some of the other management entrance tests such as FMS, IIFT, SNAP, NMIMS etc questions pertaining to synonyms, antonyms or analogies appear. These require a greater knowledge of Vocabulary than CAT (in the sense that difficult, less commonly-used words appear) and so you will  have to practice accordingly. A book such as Norman Lewis' 'Word Power Made Easy' may prove to be quite useful here.

Questions involving analogies are often found: here you are given a pair of words that bear a certain relationship to each other. From the answer choices given, you have to choose one in which the words bear a similar (or opposite, depending on the question) relationship to each other.

Critical Reasoning
These are another type of questions that is similar in some ways to those of Reading Comprehension. However, instead of a large number of paragraphs comprising the Reading Comprehension passage, you now have just a single paragraph expressing a particular idea, theme, statement or argument.

You then have a single question, which is broadly of a similar nature of the type you get in Reading Comprehension; the emphasis is once again, of the candidate being able to make the correct inference based on the information or view presented in the given paragraph. You could be also asked questions pertaining to the manner in which a theory or argument has been presented.

For example, a Critical Reasoning paragraph could state that medical tests were conducted on a group of 1000 people who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day and it was found that over 70 per cent of these smokers contracted lung cancer over a period of time. Thus, the researchers concluded that there is a link between smoking and cancer. Now, the question asks you to either strengthen or weaken the author's argument. The above argument can be weakened, for example, by stating that it was not smoking but some other significant factor (such as air pollution, for example) that resulted in the group of people getting lung cancer. This other factor would hit at the author's conclusion that it was solely smoking that caused lung cancer.

Similarly, if asked to choose an argument that strengthens the conclusion, you could mark an answer which points to the fact that some other similar study conducted five years previously also had resulted in broadly similar numbers and therefore a similar conclusion.

Conclusion
The Verbal Ability part in CAT and other management school entrance exams test you on your working knowledge of English as a language, with questions pertaining to grammar, vocabulary, parajumbles etc being seen. The focus is not so much on whether you know complex rules of the language and less-known words, but more whether you can use the language correctly and are aware when to use certain words, phrases etc.

The author is an MBA from IIM Calcutta and is employed with a management consultancy. He is also a visiting faculty with MBA coaching centres in New Delhi [Images] and a freelance writer on travel and management related issues.


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