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


Boccaccio’s donnée is of an upper-class milieu where girls and young men can meet socially at ease and move—thanks to wealth—out of plague-stricken Florence. In fact, it daringly reverses the standard form of morality, well summed up nearly contemporaneously by Traini’s famous Triumph of Death fresco in the Campo Santo at Pisa. There, an upper-class, amorous, hedonistic group of young people is depicted as doomed to die. Boccaccio’s group consists very much of stylish survivors. Almost more scandalous than any of the tales they tell among themselves, is their clear-eyed common sense. Since they can do nothing about the plague, they seize the chance of the general disruption of the normal covenances and the absence—or loss—of parents and guardians, to go off and enjoy themselves, for which they are not punished.

The code of behavior they assume and also promulgate is impressively liberal, civilized and un-prudish. Love is a natural bond between them, neither coarse nor etherealized. Seven girls who have met by chance at Mass at Santa Maria Novella plan their adventure and then co-opt three young men who happen to enter the church. The three are already known to them, but it is the girls who take the initiative, in a tactful, well-bred way, making it clear from the start that this is no invitation to rape. One has only to try to imagine Victorian girls—in fiction or in fact—behaving with such a degree of sophistication to see that society by no means advances century by century. Boccaccio is a highly complex personality who, like many another writer, may have felt that his most famous work was not his best. But the Decameron became famous early on, and was avidly read and frequently translated throughout Europe.

Today, only scholars settle down to read his more high-flown romances and classical compilations, or even his “life” of Dante, whom he profoundly admired. The Decameron is a thoroughly Florentine book and a thoroughly social one, down to its structure. After the poetry of the Divine Comedy, it is very much prose, in every way. It glories in being undidactic, entertaining and openly—though by no means totally—scabrous. Eventually it shocked and frightened its creator, who thus unwittingly or not recognized the force of its literary power. He repented and turned moralist and academic, leaving Florence for the small Tuscan town of Certaldo where he had probably been born and where in 1375 he died.

Part of his religious repentance was perhaps expressed by commissioning two altarpieces (sadly, not extant) for a local church. Whatever the medievalism enshrined in the Divine Comedy, the Decameron speaks for a robustly changed, relaxed vision, one set firmly upon earth. It is the opposite of lonely and ecstatic. It is a vision closer to that of Canterbury Tales than to the spiritual one of Piers Plowman.

It has female protagonists who seem mundane if not precisely modern compared with the real women mystics and saints of central Italy of a few generations before, women whose fierce, intense, sometimes horrifyingly palpable and semi-erotic visions read like real-life cantos from Dante’s poem. It is Boccaccio who should more correctly have been painted beside Giotto, for in a certain sense they share standards that are al naturale. No doubt Boccaccio has idealized a little, but he puts forward a calm, sane case for freedom and humor and good manners between the sexes which, however palely, foreshadows the Shakespearean world of Beatrice and Benedick.

The theme of the stories his group exchange is human behavior—often as it is manifested under the pressure of lust or love. But the group is also shown indulging in chess and music and dancing (even bathing though separated by sex). The ladies frequently laugh and occasionally blush, while never losing their self-possession and their implicit command of the situation. Never could they be mistaken for allegorical nymphs or bloodless abstractions.

That the diversions of the Decameron are set brightly against the gruesome darkness of the Black Death is effective and also realistic. The plague begins the book. It is seen working psychologically as well as physically, horribly corrupting manners and morals, in addition to destroying life. Diversion and escape seem not frivolous but prudent, especially when provided by a pleasantly sited, well-stocked villa outside Florence, with amenities that extend to agreeable pictures in its rooms. In sharing the group’s diversions the reader should be diverted, and Boccaccio says that he is thinking particularly of women, lovelorn women. Their lives are restricted: in love they cannot, unlike men, find relief in sport, travel, and business. It adds another, non-idealistic touch to his portrait of society, just as the retreat to the country is no literary convention but a reminder of the pleasant villas in the hills around the city.

Question: Which of the following statements best summarizes the author’s opinion in the passage regarding Boccaccio’s view of his own work?
[A] Boccaccio held more regard for the Decameron than for his later works.
[B] Boccaccio was later dismayed but nonetheless convinced by the literary power of the Decameron.
[C] Boccaccio felt that Dante was a literary figure worthy of high regard.
[D] Boccaccio was heartened that the Decameron was avidly read and translated.
Option (B)

Review 3 to get a prediction to this question. The author says that Boccaccio recognized the power of his own book and was horrified by it. (B) says the same.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Though this isn’t mentioned in the passage, if Boccaccio repented writing the Decameron, it would be safe to assume he preferred whatever he wrote later.

(C): Faulty Use of Detail. The author mentions in several points that Boccaccio did believe this, but this doesn’t answer the question of what he thought of his own work.

(D): Out of Scope. This isn’t mentioned in the passage, though it can be inferred that Boccaccio would have been unhappy about this also, since he didn’t like the Decameron.

Question: According to the author, the Decameron differs markedly from its Italian predecessor The Divine Comedy. From the information presented in the passage, which of the following statements can the reader NOT assume about The Divine Comedy?
[A] It is written in poetic verse.
[B] It is set in Florence.
[C] It is written in a didactic style.
[D] It has a tendency to be tedious.
Option (B)

The question gives hints as to how to figure out the answer to this question: If the Divine Comedy differs greatly from the Decameron, look for an answer choice that describes a quality the Decameron possesses. (B) fits, and there’s no evidence in the passage that the Divine Comedy is set in Florence anyhow.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. The author says in 3 that the Divine Comedy has this quality.

(C): Opposite. This can be inferred from the contrast to Dante’s work in s 3 and 4.

(D): Opposite. As above, the author describes the Decameron in contrast to Dante’s work as being “entertaining,” and so it’s safe to infer that the Divine Comedy wasn’t.

Question: The author chooses to strongly contrast Traini’s Triumph of Death fresco in Pisa with the Decameron because:
[A] they represent a correlation between the content of art and literature in medieval Italy.
[B] Traini’s fresco marks the departure of medieval art from pure religious content.
[C] the Decameron’s subjects depict chastity rather than the wanton behavior depicted in Triani’s fresco.
[D] their subjects are so markedly different in representation, despite their roughly contemporary installation.
Option (D)

Go back to 1 to review the use of the fresco. The author argues that the Decameron “daringly reverses” the morality shown in the fresco, also noting that both works of art were created at about the same time. (D) summarizes this.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. Both the question and passage suggest that the two works of art contrast, while this answer choice suggests that they correlate.

(B): Opposite. The author suggests that the fresco is in keeping with the tradition of medieval religious art.

(C): Opposite. The author argues the opposite about both of these works of art.

Question: According to the author, the Decameron “daringly reverses the standard form of morality” presented in contemporary writing and art. Given that opinion, which of the following conclusions must be true?
[A] The Decameron was one signal of a new era of humanism.
[B] The Decameron was a robust, entertaining literary work.
[C] The Decameron was preceded by didactic, religious themes in medieval literature.
[D] The Decameron was not followed in suit by other works of secular humanism.
Option (C)

If the Decameron daringly reverses morality in art, and if the morality described in the book is described as relatively unrestrictive, what can be inferred? That morality was portrayed more restrictively in art before. (C) rewards the careful reasoning.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. While this might be true, it doesn’t tie into the reversal of morality mentioned.

(B): Out of Scope. As above.

(D): Out of Scope. As above.

Question: The contrast of Boccaccio’s heroines to Victorian girls is noted in paragraph 2 to support all of the following conclusions EXCEPT:
[A] an age of liberalism of thought and action went into decline with the Victorian era.
[B] society advances in a logical progression from century to century.
[C] Boccaccio’s heroines display a seemingly anachronistic amount of courage and practicality.
[D] the Decameron’s sophisticated interaction between the sexes foreshadowed that of Shakespeare’s plays.
Option (B)

Go back to the passage to review the author’s point in using the Victorian example. The overall idea is that the Victorian era marked a regression to morals more restrictive than the ones that Boccaccio describes. All the choices support this except for (B), which directly contradicts the author’s point in 2 that society doesn’t necessarily progress.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Opposite. This is suggested by the author’s description of more restrictive morality in 2.

(C): Opposite. This reinforces the idea that Boccaccio’s characters were unusual for their time, a point reinforced by the reference to the morals of the Victorian era.

(D): Opposite. The author mentions this in 2 as a contrast to Victorian habits and morals.

Question: Suppose that the author claimed that the Decameron was more structurally similar to Canterbury Tales than to Dante’s Divine Comedy. If true, this assertion would most likely be used in the passage to:
[A] draw a more detailed correlation between both stories as examples of a new humanism.
[B] reinforce the notion of the Decameron as a sophisticated work atypical of Boccaccio’s oeuvre.
[C] more fully describe the Decameron as a prototype of Italian humanist literature.
[D] approach an argument that also links both stories through verse form and rhyming scheme.
Option (A)

An incorporation question. How would the author use the idea that Boccaccio’s book is more similar to the Canterbury Tales than Dante’s book? Go back to 4, where the books are mentioned. The author already considers the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales similar, and would use further similarity to reinforce the point that they were reflective of a new style of writing and society. (A) matches up with this prediction.

Wrong Answers:

(B): Opposite. The author argues in s 2 and 3 that the Decameron is less sophisticated than Boccaccio’s other works.

(C): Out of Scope. This might be true, but there would be no reason that the author would use a similarity to The Canterbury Tales to advance this point.

(D): Out of Scope. The author isn’t as concerned with the style as with its implications, which this answer choice doesn’t discuss.

Question: Some disagree with the author’s opinion of the Decameron. Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the author's opinion?
[A] Boccaccio felt that the Decameron was his best work.
[B] It was not until the eighteenth century that the Decameron became widely read.
[C] Boccaccio intended the Decameron to be read ironically.
[D] Additional chapters that spell the death of several lead characters have recently been discovered.
Option (C)

Predict the author’s main point about the book before searching for a weakener. The author argues that Boccaccio’s book was an unusually realistic representation of society. If (C) is true, the argument that the Decameron is realistic would be turned on its ear: a book meant to be read ironically would not be realistic. Further, if the book were meant to be ironic, it would have a didactic purpose, which the author specifically argues against.

Wrong Answers:

(A): Out of Scope. Even if this is true, which would weaken the author’s point about Boccaccio’s opinions, it doesn’t undercut the author’s main point.

(B): Out of Scope. The reading of the book is less important than what the book actually says, and thus this would have no effect on the author’s argument.

(D): Opposite. This would strengthen the author’s argument that the book realistically deals with death.

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