Solving an RC passage is all about getting into the mind of the paper-setter.  After all what matters is the questions that follow the passage. More than what the author is trying to communicate; it is important what the question-setter is trying to ask!

With IIM-Bangalore conducting CAT 2016, there anyway is a speculation that VRC would be slightly more challenging than last year. While the previous blog on RCs, “The Art of Solving RC Passages” discusses a general methodology of cracking the section, in this blog let us introspect further.

Let us look at RC passages from the eyes of the question-setter – the question-setter’s logic

  • Step 1: Pick a RC passage
  • Step 2: Think of a few questions and come up with the best option for each
  • Step 3: Create the other 3 incorrect options for each of the question.

To make the question difficult, the paper setter will have to set traps for the test taker – you. While thinking of the traps, he is thinking of how each of one you will react to the question

When it comes to Reading Comprehension (RC) passages, CAT-takers fall in three broad categories:

  • LAZY BUM – This trap is for those who read the passage in a hurry, this is where you belong
  • DREAMER – If you end up bringing in things outside of what is mentioned in the passage, you’re a dreamer
  • LOST CASE – if you read the passage but have no clue what the passage was all about, welcome to this group

 LAZY BUM: What if someone reads bits and pieces of a passage? If the paper setter creates an option from bits & pieces of the passage, then he’s trapped the lazy ones.

DREAMER: What if someone brings in things outside of what is mentioned in the passage? If the paper setter creates an option that sounds pretty logical but is not from the passage, then the dreamer is likely to fall for it.

LOST ONE: Setting a trap for these types is trap is the easiest of all. Put a passage that is difficult to comprehend!

Good news is that from a question-setter’s point of view, it is generally difficult to create difficult questions based on a difficult passage!

I know you CAT-ters never believe anything without proof so here’s an example for you. Let’s get into the mind of the paper-setter and identify the traps…

Foucault’s idea of an archaeology of thought is closely linked to the modernist literary idea that language is a source of thought in its own right, not merely an instrument for expressing the ideas of those who use it. Here, however, the project is not to open up, through transgression or withdrawal, a field for language itself to ‘speak’. Rather, Foucault begins with the fact that, at any given period in a given domain, there are substantial constraints on how people are able to think. Of course, there are always the formal constraints of grammar and logic, which exclude certain formulations as gibberish (meaningless) or illogical (self-contradictory). But what the archaeologist of thought is interested in is a further set of constraints that, for example, make it ‘unthinkable’ for centuries that heavenly bodies could move other than in circles or be made of earthly material. Such constraints seem foolish to us: why couldn’t they see that such things are at least possible? But Foucault’s idea is that every mode of thinking involves implicit rules (maybe not even formidable by those following them) that materially restrict the range of thought. If we can uncover these rules, we will be able to see how an apparently arbitrary constraint actually makes total sense in the framework defined by those rules. Moreover, he suggests that our own thinking too is governed by such rules, so that from the vantage point of the future it will look quite as arbitrary as the past does to us.

Foucault’s idea is that this level of analysis, of what is outside the control of the individuals who actually do the thinking in a given period, is the key to understanding the constraints within which people think. So the ‘history of ideas’ – where this means what is consciously going on in the minds of scientists, philosophers, et al. – is less important than the underlying structures that form the context for their thinking. We will not be so much interested in, say, Hume or Darwin as in what made Hume or Darwin possible. This is the root of Foucault’s famous ‘marginalization of the subject’. It is not that he denies the reality or even the supreme ethical importance of the individual consciousness. But he thinks that individuals operate in a conceptual environment that determines and limits them in ways of which they cannot be aware.

Q. Which of the following best describes the central theme of the passage?

(a)   The primary purpose of archaeology of thought is to understand the constraints within which people think.

This is a LAZY TRAP. This is where it is picked from – “Foucault’s idea is that this level of analysis, of what is outside the control of the individuals who actually do the thinking in a given period, is the key to understanding the constraints within which people think.”

Look at the word ‘PRIMARY PURPOSE’ in the option. If that were true, logically that would mean everything else is secondary purpose, which is not the case.

(b) Archaeology of thought can justify what people thought in the past through understanding of the then prevalent constraints.

This is a DREAMER TRAP. Look at the word ‘CAN JUSTIFY’ ‘WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT’ in the option. If that were true, then it would suggest that the passage would basically be trying to give a justification of what people thought in the past, which is not the case.

 (c) How people think is determined by certain constraints, which may look arbitrary in hindsight but are justified due to implied laws/rules involved in the thinking process.

Look at this option. This, to me, best captures the essence of the passage. BEST ANSWER.

(d) History of ideas is less important than the underlying context for thinking.

Again, this is a DREAMER TRAP.

Do you fall for these traps too? Tell me, or better still, come back to me with examples. In the next RC, set aside the lazy bums and the dreamer traps and find out the right option – it’s easy once you know what to look for.

More on how to tackle RC in my next posts. Write to me with any questions that you have and I will get back to you very soon.

Also, you might like to read 10 ways to develop a reading habit which will help you get better at the RCs.


About Gejo:

He is Gejo (and yes that is his real name!).  If you want to know his full name, purely for academic reasons, it is Gejo Sundarswamy Sreenivasan. Since it was getting too complicated, he stuck to Gejo Sreenivasan! Thankfully, the man is not as complicated as his name is.

An excellent dancer during his college days, he is now making students dance to CAT through his entertaining sessions. For the past 11 years he has been coaching and mentoring students for the CAT.

Gejo has done his Chemical Engineering from IIT Madras (Batch of 1997) and PGDM from IIM Calcutta (Batch of 1999).  He is a core member of the CL-Mumbai family and has mentored thousands of successful students in the last few years.