Tips To Improve Your CAT Vocabulary

  • Introductory Question :

    The time is rife (A) / ripe (B) for us to buy a new car – we can afford it.
    All sorts of knick-knacks filled every nook and cranny (A) / corner (B) of the room.
    She was ill (A) / hard (B) at ease throughout the interview: she kept fidgeting and looking around nervously.
    Stop dragging your head (A) / feet (B) and finish the project as soon as possible
    (1) AAAA
    (2) ABBA
    (3) BAAB
    (4) BBBB

    'The time is ripe' is a proverb meaning that 'it is the most favourable time to do something'; 'rife' makes no sense in this context. 'Nook and cranny' is an idiomatic phrase meaning 'every part of a place'; the word 'corner', though it may seem semantically appropriate, cannot be used instead of 'cranny' in this phrase. 'Ill at ease' means 'uneasy' or 'anxious'; 'hard at ease' is meaningless. To 'drag one's feet' means to 'act slowly or reluctantly'; 'head' cannot be substituted instead of 'feet' in this idiomatic phrase. Therefore, the correct sequence is BAAB.

    From a theory perspective, we have three strategies, in general, to go about Vocabulary:

    1. Read a lot and note down every new word you read.
    2. Mnemonics.
    3. World lists.

    You all read and must come across new words everyday. It is not expected of you to know the meaning of every single word, that's not the point. The idea is to learn enough words that even if you come across a complex text full of gibberish and incomprehensible words, you are able to extract the main idea and actually comprehend the passage. The idea is to enhance your lexicon to an extent where you can talk to an MBA or a journalist or any other person whose job depends on the complexity of the words they use.

    You should maintain a diary, or flashcards if you can. There are a lot of free apps available on App Store that you can use for this purpose. Just search for "Flash Cards". One application is enough for this. You don't need to cram every single app in your phone. However, the most important aspect of learning words is constant revision. You can learn or mug thousands of words, but you'd never be able to use that knowledge effectively as long as you do not revise your word lists, or the words that you have learned.

    A lot of mentors will suggest reading a lot of books to enhance vocabulary and to get the real context of a word. While nothing beats reading, this suggestion can be sometimes counter-productive especially for people who are not bibliophiles. If you pick up any book published before 1900s, or the classics, as they are termed, you will realize that the language used there was rich of complex words, but unfortunately for us, the definition of a lot of words has been altered or modified significantly in the past century. And hence it is of pivotal importance to select your books really, really carefully.

    But even then, nothing beats reading. While cramming words from a dictionary or a word list might be less time consuming in the short run, it gets quite difficult to comprehend the context these words are used in solely based on word lists and dictionaries. While word lists and dictionaries have their own importance, it is important to stay in touch with books and the contextual and colloquial usage of words too.

    Reading plays a major part in developing a good set of usage based understanding. And your reading doesn't have to be limited to books. Go through a global newspaper such as NYT, The Guardian etc. this will help you in the RC section as well. Avoid reading newspapers like Times of India, which are full of vernacular mistakes. Also avoid Indian authors barring a couple like Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Nehru, Tagore etc.Do not waste time with cheap bestsellers. Stick to Murakami, Marquez, Wodehouse, Gaiman et al and the results will start showing in a couple of months. In short- There is no shortcut as far as improving a particular language is concerned. The more you expose yourself to it, the more it will befriend you.

    Make sentences on the words that you come across. Without making sentences, it's useless. And I can't reiterate this enough that it wouldn't help your case if you know 100 complex words but don't know how to use them in a sentence. There is only one painless way to remember words with their contextual usage: MAKE SENTENCES. It doesn't get easier than this.

    To sum up, this is the recommended procedure to learn and more importantly, retain new words:

    Step 1: Note down any new word that you come across.
    Step 2: Note down the sentence (if available) where you came across the sentence, full paragraph, if required.
    Step 3: Finish whatever you are reading.
    Step 4: Look up the words you noted, and write down its full meaning, different meaning, if applicable, different contexts etc.
    Step 5: Make 5 sentences on the word, increase the number if the word has a lot of different meanings, or can be used in different contexts.
    Step 6: Revise!

    If you think that you just have to learn a few words, mug a few word lists, sit through CAT, get into IIMs and then forget all there is about vocabulary, then you aren't really looking at the practical usefulness and utility of vocabulary. Vocabulary and grammar are probably the only areas of the entire CAT curriculum that you will actually use in your real life even after finishing your MBA. So take these two sections seriously. Have you ever met a CEO or senior manager who haven't said the words "paradigm shift" "effective" and "efficient" every 5 minutes? There is a reason behind that. Learn better words.

    Another Example:

    I. She was their diary, their calender(A) /calendar(B) and their conscience, and they loved her like a sister.
    II. Bordeaux's eyes twinkled and a rye(A) / wry(B) smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
    III. The coin and bullion(A) / bouillon(B) held by the banks varies between 20 and 24 millions sterling and the note circulation is almost stationary at about 34 millions.
    IV. The faun(A) / fawn(B), a friend of the demigod, was one of the central characters in this movie based on Greek mythology.
    V. The invidious(A) / insidious(B) pleasures of Temptation Island soon showed their true colors as Pinocchio and his companions started turning into donkeys, complete with ears and a tail.

    Diary is the keyword in statement I. It hints that she kept time for them and so the word needed is calendar. Calender refers to a machine in which cloth or paper is pressed by rollers to glaze or smooth it.
    Sentence II talks of a smile and so we get to know that wry is the word needed. Wry means an expression of dry humor. Rye is a plant used to make cereal.
    Bouillon is a thin broth made by simmering beef or chicken in water, while bullion, the word needed in statement III, means reserves of gold kept by banks in the form of bars, ingots or plates.
    In statement IV, a faun is a mythical creature with the body of a man and the horns, ears, tail and legs of a goat. Fawn refers to a young deer.
    Invidious means something unpleasant or offensive. Insidious means something which proceeds in a gradual, subtle way but with very harmful effects. It goes with the word pleasures in statement V.

    The following question has a sentence with one capitalized word that does not make sense. Choose the most appropriate replacement for that word from the options given below the sentence.

    The idea that simplicity, as distinct from beauty, is a guide to truth seems like something of a JUXIPO in itself, for, as these examples show,
    it is not reliably correct.
    (1) bromide
    (2) shibboleth
    (3) periphrasis
    (4) platitude

    Based on the context, the missing word must denote something that seems true, but is not really. Both ‘bromide’ and ‘platitude’ mean ‘a dull or obvious remark’, which does not fit the criteria. ‘Periphrasis’ means a ‘roundabout way of saying something’, which is completely irrelevant. Only ‘shibboleth’, which means ‘a common saying or belief with little current meaning or truth’, meets the required criteria.

    There is a popular joke that if you want to identify a person who didn't get a decent GRE score, chances are, that all the tough words they would be using will start from A or B. And this tells us one of the biggest problems. Lack of discipline and persistence while learning new words. Vocabulary learning is a constant process and you will never live to see a day when you can truthfully say "I know every single word of the English Language" and hence it is important to maintain persistence and constantly learn new words.

    Context and Structure:

    Many words have different grammatical and contextual usages. Even if one doesn't know th exact definition of the words or the homonym, or both, one can try to look at contextual and grammatical cues to eliminate options. Though it seldom happens when the test taker is aware of the grammatical usage but not the meaning (Generally, it's the other way round), in those rare scenarios, looking out for grammar and context can be of huge help.

    Usage of "O" vs "Oh!"
    "Aw" vs "Ow"
    "Help" vs "Helps"
    and so on

    Process of elimination

    This is quite easy. In all questions, not just vocab based, you will come across sentences that you can partly crack. For example, let's assume that out of the four sentences, you are able to determine the answer of 2. Now, based on these two, you can easily eliminate at least 2 options, giving you surety about your answer choices. Though based on common sense, this is not realized by many. Of course, this doesn't apply to TITA questions.

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