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

Passage

In Manhattan, the beauty of the night sky is only a faded metaphor, the shopworn verse of an outdated love song. The stars shine no brighter at midnight in midtown than the ones depicted on the time-dimmed ceiling of the waiting room at Grand Central Terminal. The eternal orange glow of the city lights leaves only the faintest hints of the blackness beyond. And when the sky is truly clear and the clouds do not reflect this amber aura, the brightness of the city environs constrict the pupils so much that only the moon can be seen on most evenings. But over the last few weeks it has been possible, even in Manhattan, to watch the evening star—Venus—descending in the west, presenting her orbit, edgewise, to viewers on Earth.

Venus is the luminous body hanging over New Jersey to the west in the early evening. In spite of the fact that it emanates no light of its own—only reflecting light from its neighbor and provider, the sun—it is brighter than any heavenly object visible from Earth except the sun and the moon. For the moment, Venus becomes apparent at twilight, about a third of the way up the western sky, and it sets around 11. Every night people go to bed wondering what strangely bright star that is. To those who live in New York City, it may be the only star they see when trapped on this tiny little island. Whatever the case, in the morning no one remembers that luminous body any longer.

To say, as one must, that Venus is not a star but a planet seems ungrateful, almost pedantic. Astronomers might have us know that this distinction is not a mere splitting of hairs, but the most basic of divisions, not unlike that of plants and animals. Be that as it may, it is the kind of technicality the English essayist Charles Lamb had in mind when defending the generosity of his personal ignorance almost 200 years ago. “I guess at Venus,” he wrote, “only by her brightness.” Lamb was no Copernican, and neither are most of us. We are little Ptolemies every one. The sun rises and sets upon us. When one lies upon a meadow late at night, etherized by the fullness of the sky, it is all one can do to imagine the simplest of celestial motions—the pivoting of constellations around the North Star. To impart to each point of light the motions that are proper to it—to do the unimaginable calculus of all those interfering rotations, those intersecting gravities—is simply impossible. It is easier to imagine that one is staring at the ceiling of a celestial waiting room, forever spinning around and around above our heads.

But at the moment, one can almost picture the motion of Venus in its orbit, as if one were looking at a diagram of the solar system. Imagine a line between the sun, at sunset, and Venus, glittering high above the horizon. That, roughly speaking, is the path of the Venusian orbit. When Venus moves toward Earth, as it is doing now, it is the evening star, and when it moves away from Earth, it is the morning star. Even this, to some, might seem like a stretch of the abilities of conceptualization, but it is worth the challenge. For if one can muddle through this mental errand for a moment, it will become clear that a change is about to take place. The moment of transition will occur on June 10, when Venus passes between the sun and Earth. As May wears on, Venus will appear nearer and nearer the sun, until the planet is engulfed by twilight. Venus will come back into view, at dawn, sometime in late July.

For now, the evening star—Hesperus, as it was anciently known—is a steadily waning crescent, no matter how star-like or globular its light appears. It will not return to its present position until sometime in December 1997. And who knows where we will be by then? Surely someone, but not me, not one of the little Ptolemies, that stares up into the night sky and sees a most beautiful display, arranged every night for his personal enjoyment.


Question: Which of the following would support the author’s phrase, “We are little Ptolemies” (line 35)?
[A] Most people visualize the night sky from a geocentric point of view and in this way are unable to understand the complex paths of the numerous celestial motions in space.
[B] Most people are not as knowledgeable about space as Copernicus or Ptolemy and for them, it is impossible to understand the complexities of numerous celestial motions in space.
[C] Those who have studied astronomy are the ones most likely to understand the complexities of numerous celestial motions in space.
[D] Those who are aware that Venus is a planet and not a star are still likely to refer to Venus as a star because of its beauty and resemblance to a star in the night sky.
Answer
Option (A)


Explanation
Go back to review the author’s point in context. The author follows the “little Ptolemies” statement with the elaboration that “the sun rises and sets upon us.” Looking for an answer choice that fits this earth-centered point of view immediately turns up (A).

Wrong Answers:

(B): Distortion. While the author discusses the astronomers, he’s not using them to compare their knowledge to regular people, but to contrast their different astronomical views.

(C): Out of Scope. The author is arguing that “most of us” have little knowledge of astronomy and so don’t understand the complexities of space. The case of those who do have this knowledge is outside the scope of the comment.

(D): Out of Scope. While this might be true, it doesn’t tie into the author’s point about Ptolemies: most don’t understand the complexities of the universe.


Question: Taking into account all the points made within the context of the passage, the author would most likely support which of the following statements?
[A] Venus can be observed in the sky only once every several years and only between May and late July.
[B] Venus may be observed first in the western sky and then in the eastern sky between May and late July.
[C] Without the astronomical skills of Copernicus, those on Earth are unable to comprehend Venus’ orbit even though they may identify it by its brightness.
[D] Environmental and clean-up efforts should be made in Manhattan so that Venus and the other wonders of the night sky are again visible to those that reside there.
Answer
Option (C)


Explanation
Go back to 3 to review what the author says about Copernicus. The author mentions Lamb who says that he sees Venus by its brightness. The author follows this with the statement, “Lamb was no Copernican, and neither are most of us.” Paraphrase this: Copernicus had a good enough grasp of astronomy to understand what Venus was doing, but we can’t. (C) captures all of this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. While the author implies that the appearance of Venus changes over a long period of time, this doesn’t mean that Venus is only visible during a certain range of years. The author also argues in 4 that Venus isn’t visible between May and July.

(B): Opposite. The author argues in 4 that between May and July, Venus isn’t visible.

(D): Out of Scope. While the author mentions in 1 that it’s difficult to see much in the Manhattan sky, there’s no indication from the author that environmental efforts should be made.

Strategy Point:

Paraphrase difficult or confusing text, especially when it’s essential to an answer. Paraphrasing is one method of prediction.


Question: According to the passage, Hesperus is best observed in the evening when:
[A] Venus is moving toward Earth.
[B] Venus is moving away from Earth.
[C] Venus is passing between the sun and Earth.
[D] the sun’s brightness does not make it impossible to see Venus without the aid of a telescope.
Answer
Option (A)


Explanation
Take a moment to predict where the answer will be in the passage. While 2 might be tempting, as it discusses time, we already know we’re looking for Venus in the evening. We need another criterion. A quick scan of the answers shows that they have to do with orbit. Go to 4. The author says that when “Venus moves toward earth....it is the evening star.” (A) rewards the careful and targeted research.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Opposite. When it’s moving away, Venus is the morning star.

(C): Opposite. The author suggests that when this happens, Venus isn’t visible at all.

(D): Opposite. Rephrase the double negative. If this were true, Venus would best be visible in the evening when the sun’s brightness made it possible to see Venus. This doesn’t make sense; the author doesn’t argue that the sun’s brightness is responsible for Venus’ exceptional visibility.


Question: In the passage, the author describes the beauty of the night sky as all of the following EXCEPT:
[A] pivoting constellations.
[B] a verse in an old love song.
[C] a celestial waiting room.
[D] a stationary display of ethereal lights.
Answer
Option (D)


Explanation
In All...EXCEPT questions keep an eye out for answer choices that contradict what the passage says. (D) immediately jumps out: The author argues in 3 that we see the stars rotating. Therefore, the night sky wouldn’t be a stationary display.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. The author mentions this in 3.

(B): Opposite. The author mentions this in 1.

(C): Opposite. The author mentions this in 3.


Question: The existence of which of the following would most strongly conflict with the author’s explanation of the motion of Venus in its orbit?
[A] A scientific article which asserts that Venus moves toward Earth every winter and spring
[B] A scientific article which asserts that Venus may be seen as one of the many points of light surrounding the North Star only at certain times of year
[C] A scientific article which asserts that in late July, Venus will be moving away from Earth
[D] A scientific article which asserts that, standing in the polluted streets of Manhattan, it is impossible to view Venus descending in the west
Answer
Option (D)


Explanation
The right answer will conflict with the author’s explanation of Venus’ motion. A scan of the answer choices shows that they’re pretty dense. Don’t take time to evaluate each one fully; look for something that will immediately contradict the author. (D) does just this. The author says in 1 that it’s possible to watch Venus “descending in the West” from Manhattan, and (D) is simply the opposite.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. The author makes points in 4 suggesting that this is exactly what happens, and, therefore, that Venus is the evening star in the winter and spring months.

(B): Opposite. Paraphrase: this choice basically says that Venus can only be seen in the sky at certain times of the year. The author backs this up in 4.

(C): Opposite. The author says in 4 that this happens.

Strategy Point:

When faced with a series of difficult answer choices, evaluate only as much as you need to. Very often, the right answer will be easy to spot, and getting bogged down in the choices that come before will waste time.


Question: According to information given within the context of the passage, Hesperus is known as the evening star for all of the following reasons EXCEPT:
[A] as Hesperus passes between the sun and Earth, it is globular in form and appears star-like.
[B] until June 10, Hesperus can only be seen at twilight until about eleven o’clock at night.
[C] Hesperus’ path toward Earth can be observed only in the evening as it descends in the western sky.
[D] except for the sun and the moon, Hesperus is sometimes the brightest object visible from Earth during the early evening.
Answer
Option (A)


Explanation
Review the location of the author’s main points about the evening star, primarily in s 1 and 4. As usual with this question type, keep an eye out for something that contradicts the author’s argument. (A) not only does this, but also makes no sense. The author argues in 4 that Venus is invisible when passing between the earth and the sun, which makes sense if one has to look in the direction of the sun to see Venus.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Opposite. This is a combination of the author’s points in s 2 and 4 about Venus’ visibility during time of day and month.

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

(D): Opposite. The author states this explicitly in 2.

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RC Practice with Explanation
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