21 Sep 2021 23:53 IST

CAT 2021: How to prepare for the verbal section

Do not skip learning the rules of grammar, and read a lot to understand finer differences among word groups.

As get closer to the CAT examination date, we look to it with hopes, expectations, and dreams of getting into a reputed IIM. One has to get cut-off marks in all sections, including Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension section (VARC). Let’s examine this section a bit more closely.

Sectional pattern for CAT-VARC section has focussed largely on reading comprehension passages with accompanying questions sets (usually 4 to 5 questions per passage).The section has also included paragraph ordering, paragraph exclusion, and summary questions in recent years. Other sought after exams may include direct questions on grammar and vocabulary too, thus challenging our very basic knowledge in these areas. It becomes imperative that our preparation is multi-dimensional, and covers the diverse question patterns. This can be further strengthened by building a strong base in vocabulary and grammar.

Build word power

While practising, try and sift the subtle differences among word groups such as — exquisite, superlative, exemplary, sterling, peerless, and striking. Concomitant to this is usage such as-exquisite workmanship, a superlative performance, an exemplary record, a sterling silver candlestick, peerless beauty or a striking feature wherein, the aforementioned words have similar meanings. However, phrases such as a superlative garden or peerless interiors may sound like a bit of a ‘forced pairing.’

More than merely knowing these ‘bunches’ of synonymous words, one might gain manifold by focusing on finer differences in their usage. A thesaurus is a go-to place for locating these bunches of words while a regular dictionary simultaneously familiarises us with the usage of the unfamiliar, newer ones. In the limited time frame before the CAT, the word-group based approach should propel our vocabulary knowledge exponentially. Every opportunity to know new words and phrases need to be grasped.

Grammar and syntax

A writer breathes life into words as sentences are formed, yet the meaning that one may take away from texts could be subjective; thus exposing our naiveté. For instance, in the sentence — ‘The laptop that I bought last week has started making a strange noise!’ — the underlined expression gives essential information about the laptop. However, in ‘The house, which was built in 1883, has just been opened to the public’ — the underlined clause is only additional information. Similarly, in ‘The editor said on Monday that he will study the drafts’ — it is unclear whether the editor said so on Monday or whether he intends to study drafts on Monday. An understanding of sentence patterns ingrained with clauses and phrases indicates the focus of the author while removing ambiguity.

Prudent learners should not skip rules of grammar and syntax as these are a mine of inputs for the differences that we so many times see among answer options for reading comprehension or summary based questions. Lest we forget the direct questions on grammar that can become a source for scoring quickly. Essentially, one can proactively use standard grammar reference material for our immediate purposes and alongside ace our written communication skills as well — not to forget the writing ability test that many elite B Schools conduct nowadays.

Importance of reading

Needless to say, enhancing the aforementioned skills will give us the speed that we all look for while reading passages. Additionally, we can regularly expose ourselves to reading a variety of subjects — politics, governance, philosophy, psychology, arts, sciences, economy, history — to suggest a few. Our daily practice should include at least a few passages of a reasonable academic standard. Plus, it is time to challenge ourselves to so-called difficult questions — let’s say critical reasoning or tone based questions. Paragraph ordering, apart from semantics, can be tackled by focussing on conjunctions, adverbials, and sentence transition expressions.


Any approach for the exam attempt requires a diligent understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses in various testable domains. One can keep track of accuracy on the different types of questions as we now practise furiously for the exam and play it to our advantage.

Guessing answers can prove costly where negative marks are applicable. However, intelligent eliminations are possible. Practise using a number of mock tests and a concerted analysis thereafter to calibrate your understanding and further attempts. May you come out with flying colours!

(The writer is Senior Knowledge Expert, T.I.M.E. Delhi.)