CAT Reading Comprehension Questions with Answers and Explanations

CAT Reading Comprehension Questions with Answers and Explanations

When preparing for the CAT exam, you may find the Reading Comprehension section slightly intimidating. This is especially true if you haven’t worked with long reading passages since secondary school! The more you learn about these types of problems, the less intimidating they’ll be— and the higher you’ll score on CAT Verbal. With that in mind, here is a series of CAT Reading Comprehension questions, followed by answers and explanations, to help prepare you for the official exam.

CAT Reading Comprehension Questions: Passage

The passage given below is followed by a set of three questions. Choose the best answer to each question.
 
Many people have heard of the California gold rush, which took place in the 1840s and 1850s, less than a century after the United States declared its independence. However, fewer realize that the gold rush was started by only two men—two men who would end up having a huge impact on the demographics of the state. While constructing a sawmill for John Sutter, the founder of a colony near Coloma, California, that he called Nueva Helvetica, carpenter John Wilson Marshall saw gold flakes in the American River. Marshall and Sutter decided that they wouldn’t share the news with anyone, but the resolution didn’t hold for long. Sutter’s discovery occurred in January 1948; by the middle of March, the presence of gold on Sutter’s land had made it into the newspapers.

Still, most people did not believe the news, until one man took a vial containing gold he’d found at “Sutter’s Creek” through the streets of Nueva Helvetica. The impact of this one event was enormous: three months later, 75% of men from San Francisco (at the time, known as Yerba Buena) were working in the gold mines. There were more than 4,000 people panning for gold by August of that year, when the New York Herald reported the discovery.

The Herald‘s announcement proved to be the tipping point of the gold rush. Many people gambled significant amounts of money and property on the venture, borrowing, mortgaging homes, and leaving their families to find their fortune in California. A reported 30,000 people traveled west across the United States to California in the spring of 1849 alone. Others traveled by water, an immense undertaking that involved sailing through Panama or even around the southern end of South America. Travel by ship was more expensive, but the terrain in what is now the western United States was so harsh and the conditions so perilous that the average journey time by either land or sea was six months. This led to the first transcontinental railroad, the Panama Railway, constructed across the isthmus of Panama in 1850, which shorted travel time considerably.

Americans weren’t the only travelers seeking gold, however. People from around the world—South America, Europe, and Asia in particular—came in search of this precious substance. In China, the United States became known as “the Gold Mountain,” as numerous Chinese miners came to search for gold with the intention of returning with it to their native country. The presence of thieves led to the Chinese practice of melting gold to create seemingly everyday items, like cookware, cover them in soot to change their color, before traveling back to China and re-melting the gold into a salable form.

The number of settlers in California rose at exponential rates. The non-native population, which had been about 800 in spring 1848 and around 20,000 by the end of 1848, increased by 500% in 1949. There was a huge increase in businesses—but also in crime. Of course, the more settlers that arrived, the less gold there was. By the end of 1850, there was almost no surface gold (mineable gold) in previously rich areas. Always a skilled and risky venture, individual mining profits decreased even further as industrialists brought in equipment to set up mines that would extract gold from the deeper in the earth. Including the profits from such techniques, the peak year for California gold mining was 1852, when $81 million in gold was mined. In all, over $2 billion was mined during the rush.

Although the presence of easily available gold decreased, the settlers kept arriving. By 1860, nearly 400,000 people lived in California: a 4,000% increase in just over ten years. Nueva Helvetica became known as Sacramento, now the capital city of California. In the end, the discovery at Sutter’s Creek led to the foundation of a state. In fact, many descendants of the miners (known as “’49ers”), who meant to go west, get their money, and go back home, still populate the state today.

  1. According to the author, what was the biggest factor in spreading the news about the California Gold Rush?
    • The man who walked down the streets with a vial of gold
    • An article in The New York Herald
    • Marshall’s announcement that he had seen gold in the American River
    • The first newspaper article
  2. In the sentence “This led to the first transcontinental railroad,” which factor is the author referring to?
    • The California gold rush
    • The money earned by selling gold
    • The difficulty of travel
    • The number of people traveling west
  3. Which of the following cannot be inferred from the passage?
    • California would not have its current multicultural population without the Gold Rush.
    • The gold mining in California greatly increased the wealth of a young nation.
    • The Gold Rush might not have happened if a man hadn’t taken a vial of gold down the streets of San Francisco.
    • After 1850, individuals made significantly less money finding gold in California than in previous years.

CAT Reading Comprehension Questions: Answers and Explanations

Question: 1. According to the author, what was the biggest factor in spreading the news about the California Gold Rush?
Answer: 2. An article in The New York Herald
The tricky part of this question is that it asks what was the biggest factor in spreading the news about the Gold Rush. If you miss those two keywords, you might easily have answered this question incorrectly. You’ll find that the key sentence is the first line of paragraph 3, which tells us that the Herald‘s announcement was the “tipping point.” If you weren’t sure about this answer, you could check the numbers given in the passage, which are easy to skim for and roughly correspond to the different events listed. When you do that, you’ll see that before the announcement (paragraph 2), there were about 4,000 people panning for gold; after (paragraph 3), 30,000 people traveled west. This was definitely the biggest factor of those listed!

Question: 2. In the sentence “This led to the first transcontinental railroad” (paragraph 3), which factor is the author referring to?
Answer: 3. The difficulty of travel.
First, decode what the question is asking: which factor is the author referring to? Basically, we’re being asked to figure out what the word “this” refers to. Read the sentence before the phrase referenced: “Travel by ship was more expensive, but the terrain in what is now the western United States was so harsh and the conditions so perilous that the average journey time by either land or sea was six months.” With that in mind, what would make someone want to create a railroad? The difficult travel conditions is the most likely factor, with both land and sea travel cited here. This makes 3 the best answer.

Question: 3. Which of the following cannot be inferred from the passage?
Answer: 1. California would not have its current multicultural population without the Gold Rush.
If you didn’t notice the “cannot” in the question here, you almost certainly answered this question incorrectly! Sometimes the CAT will put this word in capital letters to draw your eye to it— but not always. We need to know that we’re looking for something that the passage isn’t telling us. Evaluating the answers, we can see that, while the passage tells us about California’s current population, which is most likely multicultural (based on the different origins of immigrants we read about earlier), it does not tell us anything speculative. In other words, we don’t know what would have happened without the Gold Rush, and the author doesn’t make any guesses, even implied, about it.

We know that 2 (The gold mining in California greatly increased the wealth of a young nation) is true, because the first paragraph tells us how young the United States was, and the fifth paragraph tells us about the billions earned during the Gold Rush; this is a valid inference. 3 (The Gold Rush might not have happened if a man hadn’t taken a vial of gold down the streets of San Francisco) can be inferred from the second paragraph, which tells us about the “enormous” impact of this man’s actions, then discusses the spread of the Gold Rush. Finally, 4 (After 1850, individuals made significantly less money finding gold in California than in previous years) can be inferred from the fifth paragraph: “By the end of 1850, there was almost no surface gold (mineable gold) in previously rich areas.” The paragraph then goes on to discuss the decrease in individuals’ success mining, making this a valid inference.

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