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CAT Tips: How to solve para jumble problems

Last updated on: July 6, 2011 09:08 IST

How to solve Para Jumble problems

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An alumnus of St Xavier's College, Kolkata discusses interesting ways to solve para-jumble problems appearing in CAT.

On first look, Para-jumbled sentences may seem challenging for anyone. To begin with, you need to first find the links between the sentences. The goal in these types of sentences is to rearrange the sentences in the original sequence. It consists of a group of sentences that have been jumbled up. Let us look at Para Jumble (PJ) questions that appear in the CAT.

I am sure you can rearrange the above passage to make coherent sense, converting it from a confusing 'Para Mumble' to a solved Para Jumble! You can either view solving a Para Jumble as a tough task or a kind of a fun activity we used to do as kids assembling Jigsaw Puzzles. Trying out various permutations and combinations of the pieces till the full picture emerges. Arranging and rearranging the pieces till all of them are interlocked. In Para-Jumble questions, you will be given a paragraph made of four to five sentences whose original sequence has been changed and you have a few minutes to figure out what that original sequence was.

Why are PJ questions important?

Para Jumbles are significant because they have been regularly appearing in the CAT and other MBA entrance tests. There is a good chance of three Para Jumble questions appearing in the 20 questions of the Verbal Ability (VA) section. Which means that if you cracked the Para Jumbles correctly 20% of your VA score stands secured (assuming that you will attempt 15-odd questions in this section).

Secondly, and more importantly, PJs are one of those questions of the CAT in which you can improve your skills dramatically within a short span of time. Engineers have a special fondness for PJs as they appeal to the need for symmetry in their souls and let's face it it is probably one of the few areas of CAT VA where the scope of ambiguity is limited!

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Image: Find the links between the sentences
Photographs: Rediff Archives
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Try the 'free fall' approach

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Types of PJ questions

Para Jumbles broadly fall in three categories. In each category, the Jumbled sentences are coded with an alphabet (usually A, B, C and D).

1. 4/5 sentences are given in a random order and you have to unjumble all of them. Toughest of the lot!

2. The opening sentence + 4/5 sentences are given and you have to rearrange the group of 4/5 sentences, having been given prior knowledge of the thought that starts off the flow of the discussion.

3. 4/5 sentences + the closing sentence is given and you need to correctly sequence 4/5 sentences so that they flow into the last sentence.

4. This is the easiest of the lot. Opening sentence + 4/5 Sentences + Closing Sentence are given. You know where the story starts and where it ends. You only have to figure out the screenplay in between!

The smartest approach

1)The best approach to solving PJ questions is the 'free fall' one. That is, develop a high reading speed and scan all 4-5 sentences. Try to get a feel of what the passage is about.

2)At this point, you need to decide whether this particular paragraph is one which you are comfortable with or not.

3) If you decide to go ahead, then scan the answer options. Are they of any help?

If, for example, the options are:

a) BDAC b) BCAD c) CABD d) CBDA

Then, you know for sure that this paragraph has to start either with B or C. A quick look at B and C will tell you which one looks like a better opening sentence and already your choices will be halved.

Similarly, with options like:

a) BDCA b) CDBA c) DCAB d) ACDB

Then, we know that it has to end with either B or A. So browse sentences A and B and see if any one of them looks like a concluding sentence.

There might be other indicators to keep an eye out for. For example, if three of the five options start with A and the other two with C/B/D there is a good probability that A is the starting sentence.

If, say, a link CB occurs in more than 2 options, then it is something worth paying attention to.

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Image: Exclude the obvious

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Strategies to save time and increase accuracy

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Strategy 1: Once upon a time long ago / and they lived happily after: Identify the opening/closing sentence using what we discussed above. Either the tone of the paragraph or the option elimination method.

Strategy 2: Where's the interlock dude? Identify links between two sentences and try to see if that link exists in multiple answer options (a sure way to know that you are on the right track). A combination of 1 and 2 will take you home most of the time.

Place your magnifying glass on the following:

Strategy 2a: Make it 'personal'. Look out for personal pronouns (he, she, it, him, her, you, and they). Personal pronouns always refer to a person, place or thing. Therefore, if a sentence has a personal pronoun without mentioning the person, place or object it is referring to, mark it in your head and scan the paragraph for the original person, place or object that it refers to.

For example if you go back to the opening jumbled paragraph of this article, the third sentence starts with 'it'. We now need to figure out what 'it' refers to and the sentence containing the original 'it' will come before this sentence.

Strategy 2b: Look for 'Poriborton' (Change, in Mamata Banerjee's tongue). Certain words called 'transition words' help the author to shift from one thought flow to another. In other words, they usher in change. Some transition words that appear regularly are hence, besides, simultaneously, in conclusion, etc. While you practice PJs whenever you come across a transition word note it down. Make a list!

Strategy 2c: Demonstrate! Look for demonstrative pronouns this, that, these, those, etc. Again, if you look at our opening paragraph, the first line starts with 'for this' now we know that we need to figure out what 'this' refers to and the sentence containing the original 'this' will come before this sentence.

Strategy 3: Main samay hoon! Sometimes the events mentioned in the paragraph can be arranged in a chronological order making it easy for you to identify the sequence. Example,

A: Alexander Bain, Scottish clockmaker, patented the electric clock.

B: The next development in accuracy occurred after 1656 with the invention of the pendulum clock.

C: Clocks have played an important role in man's history.

D: Spring-driven clocks appeared during the 15th century, although they are often erroneously credited to Nuremberg watchmaker Peter Henlen around 1511.

It is quite obvious by studying the chronology what the sequence should be.

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Image: Strategic solving

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What an idea sirjee!

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Strategy 4: The Chota Rajan Approach. Sometimes, you will find that for some terms in the paragraph both the full form and the abbreviation have been used. For example, IMF International Monetary Fund, Charles Dickens Dickens, Dr Manmohan Singh Dr Singh. In these cases where both the full form as well as the abbreviation is present in different sentences, the sentence containing the full form will obviously come before the sentence containing the abbreviation.

Strategy 5: What an Idea Sirji! If there are two sentences one containing an idea and another giving examples of the same idea then the sentence containing the idea should come before the sentence containing the examples. But they need not necessarily be exactly side by side. For example,

A: Russia possesses the largest stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in the world.

B: 489 missiles carrying up to 1,788 warheads and 12 submarines carrying up to 609 warheads form a looming threat.

A will come before B in this case, even though there might be sentences in between.

Strategy 6: An article of faith. It is highly unlikely that the definite article 'the' will be part of an opening sentence. If 'a/an' and 'the' both are used for the same noun then the sentence containing 'the' will come after the sentence containing a/an.

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Image: Getting closer to solution

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Develop accuracy and speed

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Tips for beginners

Focus on improving your reading skills. Also try to improve your cognitive ability. For example Go to a random website article. Go immediately to the second paragraph and after reading it try to guess what the author could have possibly said in the previous paragraph and the next paragraph. This will help you with a couple of other types of questions as well which we shall discuss in later articles.

Tips for the 99 percentilers

Whenever you solve Para Jumbles, the accuracy and speed is a function of how quickly you can become comfortable with the topic. So, from today for every PJ you solve, plug a sentence from the PJ into Google which will throw up the source of that PJ or similar articles. Read up that article fully. This will broaden the base of your reading.

To-do practice activity for all of you

Team up with another friend. Both of you select passages from newspaper editorials, magazines, etc. Paste them to Microsoft Word. Break them up into sentences. Jumble up the sentences. Exchange and solve.

Practice!! Practice!! Practice!!

Tanveer Ahmed is an alumnus of St Xavier's College, Kolkata and currently works with a people search firm as a recruiter. He is a visiting faculty with T.I.M.E. and also coaches and mentors CAT hopefuls online in the intricacies of the English language.


Image: Practice regularly

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