RC Practice with Explanation

Tips on how to approach CAT Reading Comprehension passages
  • Don’t get into the minor details of the passage; just focus on what each paragraph has to say
  • As you read, create a map of the passage; you must remember what thing is located where in the passage
  • Once you read the question, come back to the part of the passage that is likely to have the answer
  • Compare the options and eliminate the incorrect choices based on the evidence that you see in the passage
  • Choose the answer once you are convinced of the right choice


The palette of sights and sounds that reach the conscious mind are not neutral perceptions that people then evaluate: they come with a value already tacked onto them by the brain’s processing mechanisms. Tests show that these evaluations are immediate and unconscious and applied even to things people have never encountered before, like nonsense words: “juvalamu” is intensely pleasing and “bargulum” moderately so, but “chakaka” is loathed by English-speakers. These conclusion come from psychologists who have developed a test for measuring the likes and dislikes created in the moment of perceiving a word, sound or picture. The findings, if confirmed, have possibly unsettling implications for people’s ability to think and behave objectively. This is all part of preconscious processing, the mind’s perception and organization of information that goes on before it reaches awareness—these judgments are lightning fast in the first moment of contact between the world and the mind.

Some scientists disagree with the claim that virtually every perception carries with it an automatic judgment, though they, too, find that such evaluations are made in many circumstances. These scientists believe that people don’t have automatic attitudes for everything, but rather, for areas of interest.

In responding to a stimulus, a signal most likely travels first to the verbal cortex, then to the amygdala, where the effect is added, and then back. The circuitry involved can do all this in a matter of a hundred milliseconds or so, long before there is conscious awareness of the word. This creates an initial predisposition that gets things off on a positive or negative footing. These reactions have the power to largely determine the course of a social interaction by defining the psychological reality of the situation from the start.

The “quick-and-dirty” judgment tends to be more predictive of how people actually behave than is their conscious reflection on the topic. This may represent a new, more subtle tool for research on people’s attitudes, allowing scientists to assess what people feel without their having any idea of what exactly is being tested. You could detect socially sensitive attitudes people are reluctant to admit, like ethnic biases because these automatic judgments occur outside a person’s awareness, as part of an initial perception. They are trusted in the same way senses are trusted, not realizing that seemingly neutral first perceptions are already biased.

Conclusions from both camps are based on a method that allows them to detect subtle evaluations made within the first 250 milliseconds—a quarter of a second—of perception of words. The measurement of liking can be made outside the person’s awareness because if the first word is presented in less than a quarter of a second the reaction to it never registers in consciousness, though it can still be read.

Question: According to the passage and with regards to words like bargulum, juvalamu, and chakaka, “preconscious processing” (line 14-15) would most influence which of the following?
[A] Subconscious memories concerning traumatic childhood events
[B] Perception of a stranger on first sighting
[C] Formulation of arguments after intense research
[D] Thought processes involved in creating an intricate novel
Option (B)

Read the relevant lines to get a feel for what’s going on, which is made easier by the fact that the author defines the term immediately after using it. We’re looking for an answer choice that involves forming an opinion on something near-instantly. Choice (B) fits this perfectly.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. A basic understanding of the difference between subconscious and preconscious (line 14) is crucial here.

(C): Opposite. This would involve consciousness, not preconsciousness.

(D): Opposite. As above, this would primarily involve consciousness.

Question: Which of the following, if true, would serve to most strengthen the argument of an opponent to the author?
[A] Many of our actions are influenced by perceptions unknown to our consciousness.
[B] In Swahili, “juvalamu” and “chakaka” mean enjoyable and severe pain, respectively.
[C] Peoples’ actions are most regulated by conscious thought patterns rather than unknown feelings.
[D] Humans perceive their surroundings subjectively.
Option (C)

We need to find something that disputes the idea that many impressions are formed preconsciously. (C) says exactly the opposite of what the author argues, while the other three choices are all things with which the author would agree.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. This is the author’s primary argument. 32

(B): Opposite. This would reinforce the idea that preconscious perceptions can influence conscious behavior, in this case, language formation.

(D): Opposite. The author makes this same point in 1.

Question: According to the author, information retrieved from these types of perception experiments could best be used by psychologists to:
[A] help patients with language barriers.
[B] map out the pathological thought patterns in a murderer’s mind.
[C] identify attitudes that cause a Hispanic and an Anglo to repeatedly clash on various issues.
[D] determine why one sibling has math skills while the other excels in literature classes.
Option (C)

Where does the author discuss possible uses for this information? Hit 4, summarizing why the author thinks that this information will turn out to be useful. Choice (C) is simply an example of the author’s argument that the info could be used to pinpoint ethnic biases. The wrong answer choices simply aren’t mentioned.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The author never makes this claim.

(B): Opposite. As above.

(D): Opposite. As above.

Question: Scientists that disagree with the idea that humans place a value on all perceptions would most likely agree with which of the following statements?
[A] Most perceptions receive a value due to a familiarity with the stimulus.
[B] The mind cannot possibly interpret information in an interval as short as a quarter of a second.
[C] Preconscious processing would have no effect on behavior patterns.
[D] The senses are not used when placing a value on stimuli presented during an experiment.
Option (A)

How do these scientists fit into the author’s argument? They’re the ones disagreeing with it in 2. Look for a statement that would challenge the author’s point of view. Choice (A) would contradict the idea that values are placed automatically on things such as unfamiliar words.

Wrong answers:

(B): Distortion. The author mentions in 5 that even the scientists who disagree rely on the idea that the mind can make interpretations in the first 250 milliseconds.

(C): Distortion. 2 states that the scientists who disagree admit that "such evaluations are made under many circumstances," just not all. Note that the phrase "no effect" makes this choice too extreme.

(D): Out of Scope. The passage doesn't discuss this.

Question: Based on information in the passage, in the author's view, which of the following statements is NOT true?
[A] Information regarding external stimuli is processed so quickly that it does not become part of our conscious awareness.
[B] Automatic judgments occur on stimuli with which there is great familiarity.
[C] Nonsense words have little or no effect on a person’s mood.
[D] Ethnic biases may be influenced by attitudes of which we are unaware.
Option (C)

Keep focused on the map when evaluating the answer choices. Look for three things that fit in with the author’s argument, keeping an eye out for one that might simply contradict the author’s point outright. In this case, (C) is unusually easy to spot: it contradicts the basic conclusion of the experiment the author cites in 1.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. This is the author's main argument.

(B): Opposite. The wording "these evaluations are...applied even to things people have never encountered before" implies that they also apply to things with which people are familiar.

(D): Opposite. 4 discusses this.

Question: If given the chance to expand on his arguments put forth in the passage, the author of this passage would most likely propose:
[A] to use this type of experimentation to map the pathway through which brain signals travel.
[B] that the evidence presented in the passage is inconclusive and directs psychologists in no specific direction.
[C] that automatic judgments have little or no effect on important behavior patterns.
[D] to continue with further experimentation, so that in the future a more reliable type of testing can be used to identify the roots of problems found in human relationships.
Option (D)

Consider the word “propose” in the context of the passage: it sounds like the answer choices will have an element of action: an application question. This would fit in with what the author discusses in the last paragraph. Choice (D) is a logical extension of what the author describes there, particularly the "measurement of liking."

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. The author seems less concerned with the physiological process than with what it indicates about human behavior.

(B): Opposite. The author certainly believes the opposite, as indicated by the last paragraph.

(D): Opposite. The author argues the opposite throughout the passage.

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