The mention of Verbal Ability in CAT typically evokes two polemical responses. One is “There’s nothing difficult about Verbal questions. RCs or paragraphs are given. You read them and answer the questions given.” The other response tends to be “You just can’t figure out what is correct in Verbal. The most bizarre option tends to be correct.”

Not really! And the answer to this is not a middle ground between these two responses. Verbal Aptitude can be simple, only if you get your perspective about Verbal right. Only if you understand there’s nothing illogical or bizarre about Verbal questions and that beneath the complexity of difficult language, there are simple patterns of reasoning being tested. So, what are the Verbal Ability questions and what are the skills that one needs to tackle these questions?

Vocabulary-based questions can range from Sentence Completion and Cloze Tests to Synonyms, Antonyms, Analogies, Spellings, Words Often Confused and Odd Words. These questions require a combination of vocabulary knowledge, reading skills, and reasoning powers. Further, vocabulary knowledge is not merely knowing what a word means but understanding what contexts the word can fit into. For example, a Sentence Completion question can present the four answer options as: mitigate, alleviate, ameliorate, assuage. At first glance, all four words may be defined generally as, ‘to lessen the intensity or severity of something unpleasant’, but specifically mitigate, alleviate and assuage are used to refer to lessening pain, grief, suffering, anger. Assuage is particularly used with hunger and anger. But ameliorate is ‘to make something more bearable’. Difficult conditions or states are ameliorated. Take another example, the difference between the words incredible and incredulous. An unbelieving person is incredulous. An unbelievable thing is incredible. An analogy like misanthropist: philanthropist requires not only understanding what these words mean but also knowing the relationship between the two words.

While CAT 15 did not have any vocabulary tested directly; IIFT, NMAT, SNAP, XAT, CMAT have always posed a large number of vocabulary questions. IIFT 2016 had about 10 vocabulary questions. So did the other exams. Of the 32 Verbal questions of NMAT, about 12 to 15 tend to be vocab-based. The other exams also test idioms or at times, figures of speech.

Some samples from previous years:

IIFT 2016:

Select from the options the pair with the same relationship as the given pair:

  • Cacophony: Euphony:
    1. Belligerent: Serene
    2. Loneliness: Peace
    3. Horrific: Sympathetic
    4. Nocturnal: Diurnal

Fill in the blanks with words from the given options:

  • The conspirators met _________ in order to plot a(n) __________ against the oppressive government of Julius Caesar.
    1. aggressively….referendum
    2. clandestinely….revolt
    3. wittily….upheaval
    4. wickedly…..invocation

Vocabulary can be approached through etymology – understanding root meanings. Etymological understanding of words is a very empowering exercise. Knowing the meaning of a Latin root like ‘loqui’ will enable one to understand words like eloquent, loquacious, soliloquy, ventriloquize, circumlocution, grandiloquent, magniloquent etc. Add to your understanding of roots, the meanings of prefixes and suffixes and you have considerable control over vocabulary. However, at the next level, you must seek a thorough mastery of the connotations and collocations of words by encountering words in their appropriate contexts. Contextual word learning also allows you to retain the words through the associations that the context creates for you.

Mastering Grammar, the structure of the language, is mandatory and is best taken up along with Vocabulary learning. Breaking the multifarious myths that surround Grammar in Aptitude testing could well serve as the subject of another full-length article. Some say, “Do not get into that zone.” Others, “Even if you master a few Grammar texts, you will not be able to get Grammar questions in CAT and other exams right.” Nothing can be further from the truth. There are two simple truths about Grammar questions. The first truth: you do not need to master Grammar books. In fact, you don’t need any textbook. You only need guidance on understanding what is tested and why it is tested. And plenty of practice in identifying errors and correcting errors. The second truth: understanding Grammar is crucial to solving other Verbal questions like Para-jumbles. Logical Continuation, Summary and even RC questions. CAT 15 may have surprisingly dropped Grammar questions, but the other management aptitude exams did pose plenty of them. The usual questions are Error Detection, Sentence Correction, Word Usage and Fill in the Blanks. An example of a question that appeared in IIFT 2015:

Select the option which is grammatically correct:

  1. I forgot that they are coming today.
  2. I met her more frequently than I meet you.
  3. This course is challenging and an inspiration.
  4. She is confident to speak English within six months.

CAT 15 threw a complete surprise with Reading Comprehension. 24 questions, 5 RCs rather than the expected 16 questions based on 4 RCs. A whopping 70% weightage of the Verbal section! But, considering that the other questions were 3 Summary questions, 4 Para-jumble and 3 Logical Discontinuation or Odd Sentence, clearly, the entire Verbal section depended on good reading skills. Your reading skills made or marred your CAT 15 Verbal score!

How is the reading skill developed? The components of reading include sustained concentration and retention of information while reading. This is the reading habit. First, cultivate the reading habit. Read, read and read. Start with simple fiction, newspapers, and blogs. And then, build your skills of reading. The speed of reading being a critical component of any aptitude exam, you must cultivate speed. Target nothing less than a reading speed of about 300 words per minute depending on the level of the text. Now, read more but read diverse material. Choose to read those topics that are outside your comfort zone. Remember, diversity of reading is another challenge. RCs in aptitude exams can be drawn from any field.

Train yourself to summarize the main points of the author. Ask questions like, “What point is the author making?”, “Why has the author written this article?” Similarly, understand other question types. Focus on what is expected by these question types.

A piece of writing is as logical as any piece of logic can be! One of the biggest learnings for a student of Verbal Aptitude is the realization that writing follows logical patterns. This is why a reader must learn to read critically. Understanding the technicalities of Critical Reasoning is fundamental. Critical Reasoning not only prepares you to address the whole gamut of CR questions- Assumptions, Strengthen, Weaken, Method of Reasoning, Flaw in the Reasoning, Syllogisms but also enables you to understand structuring of ideas thus, facilitating critical reading. With Critical Reasoning, you are ready to take on questions like Logical Continuation, Logical Discontinuity, Para-jumble.

True, developing Verbal Aptitude has multi-layered benefits. The structuring of thought that results from good Verbal aptitude is fundamental to being a successful manager. Here’s to grooming yourself to become a successful manager!!

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