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CAT Prep: Examples on how to solve Reading Comprehension

The below article is brought to you by SDA Bocconi Asia Center and written by Dr Shashank Prabhuto help aspirants in their test prep. He is a CAT 100 percentiler, CET Rank 1, IIFT 100 percentile. He had a scaled score of 249/360 in NMAT BY GMAC 2016 and 99 percentile in each of the sections and overall score.SDA Bocconi Asia Center accepts CAT, NMAT, GMAT, GRE for its International Master in Business.

In this article, I will be discussing an actual CAT reading comprehension passage in detail. This passage is from CAT 2017.
Understanding where you are in the world is a basic survival skill, which is why we, like most species come hard-wired with specialized brain areas to create cognitive maps of our surroundings. Where humans are unique, though, with the possible exception of honeybees, is that we try to communicate this understanding the world with others. We have along history of doing this by drawing maps – the earliest version yet discovered were scrawled on cave walls 14,000 years ago. Human cultures have been drawing them on stone tablets, papyrus, paper and now computer screens ever since.
Given such a long history of human map-making, it perhaps surprising that is only within the last few hundred years that north has been consistently considered to be at the top. In fact, for much of human history, north almost never appeared at the top, according to Jerry Brotton, a map historian… “North was rarely put at the top for the simple fact that north is where darkness comes from,” he says. “West is also very unlikely to be put at the top because west is where the sun disappears.”
Confusingly, early Chinese maps seem to buck this trend. But, Brotton, says, even though they did have compasses at the time, that isn’t the reason that they placed north at the top. Early Chinese compasses were actually oriented to point south, which was considered to be more desirable than deepest darkest north. But in Chinese maps, the emperor, who lived in the north of the country was always put at the top of the map, with everyone else, his loyal subjects, looking up towards him. “In Chinese culture the Emperor looks south because it’s where the winds come from, it’s a good direction. North is not very good but you are in a position of the subjection to the emperor, so you look up to him,” says Brotton.
Given that each culture has a very different idea of who, or what, they should look up to it’s perhaps not surprising that there is very little consistency in which way early maps pointed. In ancient Egyptian times the top of the world was east, the position of sunrise. Early Islamic maps favoured south at the top because most of the early Muslim cultures were north of Mecca, so they imagined looking up (south) towards it. Christian maps from the same era (called Mappa Mundi) put east at the top, towards the Garden of Eden and with Jerusalem in the centre.
So when did everyone get together and decide that north was the top? It’s tempting to put it down to European explorers like Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan who were navigating by the North Star. But Brotton argues that these early explorers didn’t think of the world like that at all. “When Columbus describes the world it is in accordance with east being at the top,” he says “Columbus says he is going towards paradise, so his mentality is from a medieval mappa mundi.” We’ve got to remember, adds Brotton, that at the time, “no one knows what they are doing and where they are going.”
The first paragraph can be summarised as: maps have historical importance in a human context and have been referred to as a survival skill in fact (your exaggerated mental note would say: Perfect! This is absolutely correct. Let’s say I got lost at an alien place without a map. I would be in so much trouble).
The second paragraph tells us what the point of the passage is, that the direction north had not been mentioned on the maps till the last few hundred years. Also, there is a general propensity to not have north or west demarcated because one indicates darkness and the other indicates sunset.
The third paragraph talks about the north direction in Chinese maps and how it was not exactly because it would have been useful from the context of map making. It was more to please the emperor who used to look in the south direction because of the flow of the wind.
The fourth paragraph talks about the various cultures. Egyptian – East – Sunrise, Islamic – South – Mecca and Christian – East – Garden of Eden.
The fifth paragraph talks about how it would be wrong to attribute true north to Columbus and Magellan. They travelled by following the north star but when they made their map, east would be on top following the Christian beliefs of that time.
Now, let’s look at the questions:
Q1. Which one of the following best describes what the passage is trying to do?
A) It questions an explanation about how maps are designed
B) It corrects a misconception about the way maps are designed
C) It critiques a methodology used to create maps
D) It explores some myths about maps
Before we look at the options, we have figured it out that the passage discusses the ‘top of the world’ in terms of maps from the perspective of multiple cultures and discusses the possible explanations behind north being denoted at the top in modern maps. If we look at the options now, we can see that option A talks questioning an explanation. While there is indeed a statement in the last paragraph that talks about questioning the conflict between following the north star and plotting the map, it is not the central idea of the passage. Also, the passage does not question ‘an’ explanation. If anything, it compares the various explanations. Option B talks about correcting a misconception in the passage. This is indeed the assumption that the maps have pointed north since a long time. So, it is on the right lines. The ‘tempting to put it down to European explorers…’ bit also touches upon the misconception. Option C talks about a critique to ‘a’ map making methodology. Again, it is not about one specific methodology but a short insight into the cultural and geographical interpretations of the top of the world. Option D talks about myths. However random the explanations in the passage sound, they cannot exactly be called myths. So, D is wrong. Option B is the best option that fits in this situation. This was indeed a tough one but the presence of articles in a couple of options and the literal meaning of the word myth could have saved a good candidate.

Q2. Early maps did NOT put north at the top for all the following reasons EXCEPT

A) North was the source of darkness
B) South was favoured by some emperors
C) East and south were more important for religious reasons for some civilisations
D) East was considered by some civilisations to be a more positive direction
Fairly straightforward. Option A has been explicitly mentioned in the passage. Option B is the reason why the Chinese put north at the top and so, it violates the condition given in the question. So, option B is the correct option. Options C and D have been mentioned in the passage as a reason why east, west and south were more preferred to the north.

Q3. According to the passage, early Chinese maps placed north at the top because:

A) the Chinese invented the compass and were aware of magnetic north
B) they wanted to show respect to the emperor
C) the Chinese emperor appreciated the winds from the south
D) north was considered the most desirable direction.
They did it because they wanted to show respect to the emperor. The emperor looked southwards because the winds originated from there. Whenever you have two options that are linked to the answer, always go for the one that has an immediate relation to what has been asked in the question. So, the Chinese put north on the top because they wanted to show respect to the emperor. Option B is correct in this case.

Q4. It can be inferred from the passage that European explorers like Columbus and Magellan:

A) set the precedent for north-up maps
B) navigated by the compass
C) used an eastward orientation for religious reasons
D) navigated with the help of early maps
According to the last paragraph, Magellan and Columbus used the north star to pursue their direction but made the maps keeping east at the top. Option C fits best in this case.

Q5. Which one of the following about the northern orientation of modern maps is asserted in the passage?
A) The biggest contributory factor was the understanding of magnetic north
B) The biggest contributory factor was the role of European explorers
C) The biggest contributory factor was the influence of Christian maps
D) The biggest contributory factor is not stated in the passage
The passage clearly mentions in the last paragraph that however ‘tempting’ it would be to attribute it to Magellan and Columbus, it would not be true. So, the biggest contributory factor hasn’t been mentioned in the passage. Option D would work best in this case.

Q6. The role of natural phenomena in influencing map-making conventions is seen most clearly in
A) early Egyptian maps
B) early Islamic maps
C) early Chinese maps
D) early Christian maps
If we refer to our notes, we can see that early Egyptian maps had east on the top because it indicated sunrise. The early Islamic and Christian maps were driven more by their culture while the early Chinese maps had north on the top because the emperor faced south. Although it had a relation to winds flowing northward, it was not the immediate reason behind designing the map in the said manner. Option A would be correct in this case.

Solved passage 2

In this article, I will be discussing an actual CAT reading comprehension passage in detail. This passage is from CAT 2017.
I used a smartphone GPS to find my way through the cobblestoned maze of Geneva’s Old Town, in search of a handmade machine that changed the world more than any other invention. Near a 13th-century cathedral in this Swiss city on the shores of a lovely lake, I found what I was looking for: a Gutenberg printing press. “This was the Internet of its day — at least as influential as the iPhone,” said Gabriel de Montmollin, the director of the Museum of the Reformation, toying with the replica of Johann Gutenberg’s great invention.
[Before the invention of the printing press] it used to take four monks up to a year to produce a single book. With the advance in movable type in 15th-century Europe, one press could crank out 3,000 pages a day. Before long, average people could travel to places that used to be unknown to them — with maps! Medical information passed more freely and quickly, diminishing the sway of quacks… The printing press offered the prospect that tyrants would never be able to kill a book or suppress an idea. Gutenberg’s brainchild broke the monopoly that clerics had on scripture. And later, stirred by pamphlets from a version of that same press, the American colonies rose up against a king and gave birth to a nation.
So, a question in the summer of this 10th anniversary of the iPhone: has the device that is perhaps the most revolutionary of all time given us a single magnificent idea? Nearly every advancement of the written word through new technology has also advanced humankind. Sure, you can say the iPhone changed everything. By putting the world’s recorded knowledge in the palm of a hand, it revolutionized work, dining, travel and socializing. It made us more narcissistic — here’s more of me doing cool stuff! — and it unleashed an army of awful trolls. We no longer have the patience to sit through a baseball game without that reach to the pocket. And one more casualty of Apple selling more than a billion phones in a decade’s time: daydreaming has become a lost art.
For all of that, I’m still waiting to see if the iPhone can do what the printing press did for religion and democracy… the Geneva museum makes a strong case that the printing press opened more minds than anything else… it’s hard to imagine the French or American revolutions without those enlightened voices in print…
Not long after Steve Jobs introduced his iPhone, he said the bound book was probably headed for history’s attic. Not so fast. After a period of rapid growth in e-books, something closer to the medium for Chaucer’s volumes has made a great comeback.
The hope of the iPhone, and the Internet in general, was that it would free people in closed societies. But the failure of the Arab Spring, and the continued suppression of ideas in North Korea, China and Iran, has not borne that out… The iPhone is still young. It has certainly been “one of the most important, world-changing and successful products in history, “as Apple CEO Tim Cook said. But I’m not sure if the world changed for the better with the iPhone — as it did with the printing press — or merely, changed.
The first paragraph talks about how the printing press was similar to the internet of today.
The second paragraph talks about the various ways in which life became easier post invention of the printing press. The popular ones discussed are religion, travel, medicine and fighting oppression.
The third paragraph talks about a parallel drawn between the printing press and today’s iPhone. Loss of creativity, patience, trolling and narcissism. Generally, there is a bit of negativity surrounding the today’s technological advancement compared to how it was earlier.
The fourth paragraph is a continuation of the third paragraph and puts forth the apprehension that the author has with regard to the revolutionary prowess of the iPhone.
The fifth paragraph talks about how the claim that physical books would vanish post the launch of the iPhone is not exactly something that can be taken on face value.
The sixth paragraph talks about how personal freedom in closed societies is difficult to achieve with the examples of how censorship has suppressed freedom. There is a bit of wordplay at the end as to if the change has just been there or has it done any good.

Q1. The printing press has been likened to the Internet for which one of the following reasons?
A) It enabled rapid access to new information and the sharing of new ideas
B) It represented new and revolutionary technology compared to the past
C) It encouraged reading among people by giving them access to thousands of books
D) It gave people access to pamphlets and literature in several languages
If we look at the summary of the third paragraph, it is apparent that the author compares two technological leaps and arrives at the conclusion that the iPhone/internet might not necessarily be the technological breakthrough that the printing press was. Option A is correct in this regard and talks about the spread of information. Option B is overtly broad and talks about the technology part of it. Whereas, the passage dedicates an entire paragraph to showcase the spread of knowledge and awareness when it comes to the printing press. We need to understand that there could be a lot of new and revolutionary technologies at a single point in time and that one invention cannot possibly represent it all. So, option B loses out on this count. Option C focuses only on reading and not on the other aspects. Option D is again restricted to literature and pamphlets and so, will not be the best option. Option A is the best fit in this regard.

Q2. According to the passage, the invention of the printing press did all of the following EXCEPT
A) Promoted the spread of enlightened political views across countries
B) Gave people direct access to authentic medical information and religious texts
C) shortened the time taken to produce books and pamphlets
D) enabled people to perform various tasks simultaneously
This one is fairly straightforward. The first option talks about political enlightenment which refers to the American and French revolutions. The second option has been mentioned explicitly in the passage. The third option is also correct as is apparent from the example of the monks. The fourth one is related to the invention of the iPhone and not to that of the printing press. Option D would be the correct choice in this context.

Q3. Steve Jobs predicted which one of the following with the introduction of the iPhone?
A) People would switch from reading on the Internet to reading on their iPhones
B) People would lose interest in historical and traditional classics
C) Reading printed books would become a thing of the past
D) The production of e-books would eventually fall
This is again a part of our summary and talks explicitly about printed books going out of demand. Option C is an apt restatement of this fact. And although all the other options talk about books/reading, they are slightly off in terms of being factual. Option A incorrectly describes the switch from the internet to the iPhone whereas both of them are in fact, linked. Option B talks about only historical classics whereas Steve Jobs had an opinion on general reading and not specific genres. Option D is not what Steve Jobs professed and is a fact that the author refers to.

Q4. “I’m still waiting to see if the iPhone can do what the printing press did for religion and democracy.” The author uses which one of the following to indicate his uncertainty?
A) The rise of religious groups in many parts of the world
B) The expansion in trolling and narcissism among users of the Internet
C) The continued suppression of free speech in closed societies
D) The decline in reading habits among those who use the device
With regard to religion, the printing press broke the monopoly of the clerics and allowed free flow of information that was not available earlier. In case of democracy, the American revolution has been mentioned in the passage. This talks about people freeing themselves of oppression because of the penetration of knowledge. As we can observe from our summary of the sixth paragraph, the suppression still exists thereby limiting the spread of knowledge and communication. Option C expresses it best. Option A is out of context as the rise in religious groups has not been touched upon anywhere in the passage. Option B is indeed a fact that is referred to in the passage but it has got no consequence in terms of religion or democracy. Option D is a general observation and is not specific to religion or democracy.

Q5. The author attributes the French and American revolutions to the invention of the printing press because
A) maps enabled large numbers of Europeans to travel and settle in the American continent
B) the rapid spread of information exposed people to new ideas on freedom and democracy
C) it encouraged religious freedom among the people by destroying the monopoly of religious leaders on the scriptures
D) it made available revolutionary strategies and opinions to the people
Option A is out of scope of the passage and while a fragment of it has been mentioned in the passage (usage of maps), it does not connect the two things. Option B is on target and speaks about how propagation of ideas was achieved through the printing press. Option C talks only about religion whereas the unrest was due to oppression of said communities by powerful leaders and kings. Option D talks about strategies and opinions and while it is true, the key words that we can see in the passage are ‘enlightened’, ‘tyrants’, ‘opened more minds’ and ‘stirred’. Option D indicates that people had no access to strategy but the passage speaks more about a lack of knowledge of the idea of freedom. So, option B seems more appropriate in this context. Slightly difficult but the options are designed in such a manner that option B talks about the spread of awareness whereas option D talks about the next step once that awareness was reached.

The main conclusion of the passage is that the new technology has
A) some advantages, but these are outweighed by its disadvantages
B) so far not proved as successful as the printing press in opening people’s minds
C) been disappointing because it has changed society too rapidly
D) been more wasteful than the printing press because people spend more time daydreaming or surfing
The author seems to be pretty disappointed with the tall claims of the new technology and feels that it hasn’t shown and significant impact on the society yet. There is practically no advantage that the author has elaborated in the passage and so, option A can be counted out. Option B is spot on with our initial assessment and so, can be considered. Option C talks about the pace which is not the main conclusion of the passage. Even the printing press changed society rapidly but that didn’t lead to loss of creativity and general lack of awareness that disappoints the author when it comes to new technology. Option D says the opposite of what has been mentioned in the passage regarding daydreaming. The author says that daydreaming has become a lost art which implies the lack of it. So, option B would be the best pick in this scenario.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

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