10 Strategies to Prepare for CAT Grammar

In the past few years, the CAT exam has moved away from asking straightforward grammar and usage questions. Why is this? Well, how often is a member of upper management asked to provide the dictionary definition of an obscure English word (and expected to know it by heart)? Not that often. The exam now focuses more on reading comprehension and problems about verbal logic—those para-jumbles, for example! Nevertheless, knowing grammar is still important for the CAT exam. Not only will it help you understand the reading passages better, but it can also unlock some of the trickier elements of Verbal Reasoning, helping you answer those questions quicker and more accurately. With that in mind, here are 10 strategies to prepare for CAT grammar.

  1. Put everything in context. On the CAT, you’re most likely going to need grammar to understand passages and master verbal reasoning questions. Studying grammar rules is not the best way to do this! Instead, as you read for Reading Comprehension, constantly ask yourself questions: why is the sentence structured this way? What would happen if I moved this word there? How would the meaning change? This will help you achieve a more global understanding of English grammar—and a more useful one, too.
  2. Spend an hour or two going over Strunk & White. Strunk and White are the authors of Elements of Style, an old but essential (and short!) manual on some of the most commonly confused points in the English language. Don’t spend days on the book, but reading it through to brush up on a few rules and finer points of usage will be helpful. An older version is free on Kindle, though the paperback is handy for quick reference and doesn’t cost much.
  3. Work on usage as well as—or more than&grammar. This has to do with the following two points (grammar concerns the placement of words in a sentence, while usage has to do with which words you use). You’ll find that the understanding the word choice, or diction, in the reading passages on the CAT will open up a lot of answers for you about tone, main ideas, and more. With that in mind…
  4. Master your phrasal verbs. Here again, studying lists won’t be that helpful: only context will. So how do you provide context? You can check out some of David’s awesome posts on phrasal verbs for the TOEFL. Making and using flashcards of phrasal verbs as they’re used in actual sentences you read is another great way to make sure you remember the correct usage.
  5. Don’t get confused by commonly confused words. A section in Strunk & White (see above) can help you out on this. Another strategy to reinforce their lesson is to circle and take note of the usage of any word you read that sounds like another with a different meaning (“affect” and “effect” come to mind, or “accept” and “except,” just to get started). I can pretty much promise you that memorizing these definitions will do nothing for you. As always, follow the first strategy here. Everything in context!
  6. Study transition words and techniques. To get a great score on CAT Verbal, you’ll need to know how sentences relate to one another (and also how the different parts of a sentence relate to each other). Take a look at some shift words and phrases used on an American graduate exam, the GRE. Knowing these and identifying others will not only help you score higher in reading comprehension, but also in verbal reasoning and logical reasoning, too.
  7. Identify any tricky grammar on the CAT. Any time you read a complex sentence, whether in a question or in a passage, take a step back and ask yourself: what’s being tested here? Are there numerous clauses and modifiers? If so, what’s the core meaning of the sentence? Where are the subject and verb? Where are there pronouns and referents (the CAT loves these last type of questions)? Consistently analyzing the texts during your practice will help you think like the test-maker, and that will have a significant impact on your score.
  8. Practice in short, regular intervals. Other than your work on Reading Comprehension and Verbal Ability as a whole (for example, with reading practice), don’t spend more than 10-15 minutes a day on grammar study. Do it regularly, and start early, but don’t focus on this to the exclusion of other test materials.
  9. Study grammar rules sparingly. Most of the tips so far have to do with context above all. There’s a reason for that! The CAT almost certainly will not ask you to recite grammar rules, but you will have to see grammar in action and may have to answer questions about that. Lists of grammar rules will do you no good—for the most part, Strunk & White should suffice.
  10. Use “sound” as a last resort. You wouldn’t believe how many students tell me that they know an answer is correct because it “sounds” right. Wrong answers often do sound right, because almost nobody speaks with perfect grammar on a day-to-day basis! Written English is different, so master grammar rules through reading, not listening.

At the end of the day, is studying grammar in these ways important for the CAT exam? Yes. Is it more important than regular mock CATs, lessons, practice, and evaluation? No. Ideally, you’ll combine these strategies with your strategies for reading comprehension passages, helping you get the most out of your practice and score higher on the exam.

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