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


Self-government is in inverse ratio to numbers. The larger the constituency, the less the value of any particular vote. When he is merely one of millions, the individual elector feels himself to be impotent. The candidates he has voted into office are far away, at the top of the pyramid of power. Theoretically they are the servants of the people; but in fact it is the servants who give orders that the people far off at the base of the great pyramid must obey.

Human beings act in a great variety of irrational ways, but most of them seem capable, if given a fair chance, of making a reasonable choice in the light of available evidence. Democratic institutions can be made to work only if all concerned do their best to impart knowledge and to encourage rationality. But today, in the world’s most powerful democracy, the politicians and their propagandists prefer to make nonsense of democratic procedures by appealing almost exclusively to the ignorance and irrationality of the electors.

Increasing population and advancing technology have resulted in an increase in the number and complexity of organizations, an increase in the amount of power concentrated in the hands of officials and a corresponding decrease in the amount of control exercised by the electors, coupled with a decrease in the public’s regard for democratic procedures. Already weakened by the vast impersonal forces at work in the modern world, democratic institutions are now being undermined from within by the politicians and their propagandists. “Both parties,” we were told in 1956 by the editor of a leading business journal, “will merchandize their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods. These include scientific selection of appeals and planned repetition. Radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power. Candidates need, in addition to rich voices and good diction, to be able to look ‘sincerely’ at the TV camera.”

Inured to television and radio, the audience is accustomed to being distracted and does not like to be asked to concentrate or to make a prolonged intellectual effort. The great issues of the day must be dealt with in five minutes at the most—and preferably in sixty seconds flat. The political merchandisers appeal only to the weaknesses of voters, never to their potential strength, in no way attempting to educate the masses into becoming fit for self-government. They are content merely to manipulate and exploit them.

For this purpose all the resources of psychology and the social sciences are mobilized and set to work. Carefully selected samples of the electorate are given “interviews in depth.” These interviews in depth reveal the unconscious fears and wishes most prevalent in a given society at the time of an election. Phrases and images aimed at allaying or, if necessary, enhancing these fears, at satisfying these wishes, at least symbolically, are then chosen by the experts, tried out on readers and audiences, changed or improved in the light of the information thus obtained. After this the political campaign is ready for the mass communicators. All that is now needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look “sincere.” Under the new dispensation, political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance.

Question: According to the information in passage, which of the following statements regarding the relationship between population size and the amount of power held by officials is true?
[A] The larger the population, the greater the amount of power held by officials.
[B] The larger the population, the smaller the amount of power held by officials.
[C] The smaller the population, the greater the amount of power held by officials.
[D] There is no systematic connection between population size and amount of power held by officials.
Option (A)

Paraphrase the relationship between power and population carefully: you need to consider the power of officials, not the individual voters. The passage argues that the larger the population, the more power officials have.

Wrong answers:

(B): Opposite. This refers to the relationship between population and the power of individual voters.

(C): Opposite. This is the opposite of the correct answer choice.

(D): Opposite. The author argues explicitly for the connection in the first paragraph.

Strategy Point: Read the question especially carefully when relationships between abstract concepts are being tested. Simply reading the relationship as stated in the passage often leads to mistakes when choosing an answer choice.

Question: With which of the following statements would the author most likely NOT agree?
[A] Politicians could win elections without appealing to voters’ weaknesses.
[B] In a democracy the officials are supposed to take command of the electorate.
[C] Science can be perverted to further bad intentions.
[D] Propaganda that exploits voters’ weaknesses is effective.
Option (B)

Consider the author’s main points before diving into the answers: officials have too much power, and they abuse it by playing to the population’s ignorance. Look for an answer choice that conflicts: (B) contradicts the argument that officials have too much power already, by stating that they are right to hold this power.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. The author argues that campaigns are poor because they don’t educate voters, so he must believe that there’s a better way.

(C): Opposite. The author argues that social science is used to further cynical political campaigns, which he considers a bad intention.

(D): Opposite. The author argues in 5 that modern successful campaigns are based primarily on propaganda playing on ignorance.

Question: With an eye towards the main purpose of the passage, which of the following findings best supports the author’s belief that political principles and plans for specific action are no longer important in political campaigns?
[A] Most Americans do not watch televised political debates.
[B] Most candidates do not follow through on their campaign promises when elected.
[C] Most Americans vote for candidates without knowing their stance on foreign policy.
[D] Most Americans remain undecided until the day of an election.
Option (C)

Review the belief cited in the question. The author believes that modern campaigns succeed on manipulation and entertainment, rather than substance. Apply this principle to the new situations: (C) would support the idea that the electorate isn’t concerned with the substance of a campaign.

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Whether or not Americans watch political debates, they might still feasibly care about principles and plans of action.

(B): Out of Scope. What candidates do after the campaign has no bearing on the author’s argument.

(D): Out of Scope. The time people take to make up their mind wouldn’t affect the author’s argument either.

Question: Suppose that just prior to an election one candidate’s campaign runs a commercial that portrays his opponent as “soft on crime.” What relevance would this information have to the passage?
[A] It would support the claim that merchandisers will try to play on the public’s fears.
[B] It would support the claim that merchandisers have little regard for the truth.
[C] It would weaken the claim that merchandisers never appeal to the strengths of the voters.
[D] It would weaken the claim that merchandisers focus exclusively on their own candidates.
Option (A)

An incorporation question. How would an attempt to smear an opponent just before an election fit into the author’s arguments about elections? It would likely support the claim that they’re based on manipulation, rather than on substance, since the action is an attempt to sway voters without leaving them any time to consider the point. (A) argues a similar point.

Wrong answers:

(B): Distortion. There’s no indication that the charge is false, only that it’s cynical.

(C): Opposite. It would support the claim, as this is another example of merchandisers playing to weaknesses rather than strengths.

(D): Out of Scope. This claim is never made in the passage.

Question: Some people have suggested that politicians should appeal to their voters in a more rational manner by giving detailed explanations of their views in extended television appearances. Based on the passage, the author would most likely NOT agree because:
[A] the public never seems to respond to rational appeals.
[B] merchandising candidates has proved to be the most successful method.
[C] the radio would be a much better forum for imparting detailed information.
[D] the public’s attention span is too short for them to benefit.
Option (D)

An application question. The suggestion seems sound, since the author believes that there’s too much fluff in campaigns. What in the passage would lead the author to possibly disagree? The author has a low opinion of the public’s attention span, as described in 4. He’d likely argue that the public wouldn’t pay attention to extended discussions of the issues. (D) says the same.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. The author argues that the public is capable of responding to reason, but that it rarely has the chance to.

(B): Faulty Use of Detail. While this is true, the author certainly doesn’t want to further encourage this.

(C): Out of Scope. There’s no reason to believe the author would consider one medium better than another.

Question: If an individual wished to adopt the views and methods of the political merchandisers as presented in the passage, this action would most likely mean acknowledging that:
[A] the public will not accept surface without substance.
[B] each person has his or her own unique fears and desires.
[C] anyone can be molded into a political candidate with enough effort and money.
[D] a candidate is not needed in order to begin a political campaign.
Option (D)

Go back to the part of the passage principally concerned with merchandisers: paragraphs 4 and 5. Quickly take stock of how the author describes their views: political merchandisers view the campaign as all packaging, no substance. The main quality of a good candidate is the ability to be coached. (D) fits in with the idea that the candidate is secondary to the campaign.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. The merchandisers believe just the opposite.

(B): Opposite. The author argues that the political merchandisers view the public as a monolithic whole.

(C): Distortion. While candidates don’t have to meet a high standard, the author makes it clear that personality is an important part of campaign calculations.

Strategy Point: Be sure to keep track of competing viewpoints in a passage. The author will often list multiple view points that conflict with one another, as well as with the author’s own point of view.

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