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
By regarding the expanding universe as a motion picture, you can easily imagine “running the film backward.” If you do so, you find the universe getting smaller and smaller, and eventually you come to the moment when its whole mass is crammed into an infinitely dense point. Before that time it didn’t exist, or at least it didn’t exist in its present form.
Though there is some controversy about its exact age, most cosmologists would be inclined to agree that the universe has existed for about ten to twenty billion years. For scale, this can be compared to the four-and-a-half-billion-year age of the solar system, the time since the disappearance of the dinosaurs (sixty-five million years), and the age of the human race (about three million years).
The event that marked the beginning of the universe was christened the Big Bang; the term has now entered the vernacular of our culture. Originally the name referred only to the single initiating event; now, however, astronomers have come to use it to mean the entire developmental process of the birth and expansion of the cosmos.
The simple statement that the universe had a beginning in time is by now so obvious to astrophysicists that few give it a second thought. Yet it is a statement that has profound implications. Most civilizations embrace one of two opposite concepts of time. Linear time has a beginning, a duration, and an end; cyclical time, as its name suggests, continues around and around forever. In a universe that functions through cyclical time, the question of creation never arises; the universe always was and always will be. The minute you switch to linear time you immediately confront the vexing question not only of creation, but also of the Creator. Although there is no logical reason for the assumption, many people believe that if something comes into existence, it must do so in response to the actions of some rational being. Because of that belief, astronomers, even though they resist becoming involved in theological discussion, find themselves in one when they posit the Big Bang universe. It puts them squarely in the middle of an age-old debate.
One common misconception about the Big Bang that should be disposed of immediately is the notion that the universal expansion is analogous to the explosion of an artillery shell. The galaxies are not like bits of shrapnel speeding away from a central explosion . The raisin-in-dough analogy is a more satisfactory way to think about the whole process.
Question: Consider the author's main point in the passage. For which of the following statements does the passage provide some evidence or explanation?
[A] The Big Bang proves that God exists.
[B] The universe will eventually be destroyed.
[C] The universe continues to expand in size.
[D] Linear time is more accurate than cyclical time.
Review the author’s main points before scanning the answer choices. While three of the answer choices misrepresent what the author says,
(C) is a claim made in 1 that is supported by the following paragraphs.
(A): Distortion. The author argues in 4 that the Big Bang leads to the question of whether God exists, but doesn't draw a conclusion (and states that the belief in a Creator isn’t necessarily a “logical assumption”).
(B): Out of Scope. The author doesn’t take a stand on whether the universe will be destroyed or not.
(D): Distortion. While the author discusses the possibility of cyclical time, he doesn’t argue that this is the more accurate representation of time.
Question: There are many debates implicit in the author's statements. In the context of the passage, the phrase "age-old debate" (line 39) refers to:
[A] the question of whether “the Creator” created the universe.
[B] the controversy over linear versus cyclical time.
[C] the debate over the disappearance of the dinosaurs.
[D] the disagreement over the movement of galaxies
What is the “age-old debate” discussed at the end of 4? Read the previous lines for clues: astronomers are involved in a “theological discussion” which involves the idea of a Creator. (A) summarizes this point in 4.
(B): Out of Scope. The author notes that the problem of a Creator only arises when linear time is considered, and the phrase ties into the question of a Creator. Therefore, a debate between the two times is outside the scope.
(C): Out of Scope. The disappearance of the dinosaurs is mentioned in 2 in a discussion of time frames, not the debate referred to in the phrase.
(D): Out of Scope. The author doesn’t mention any debate about the movement of galaxies.
Question: Which of the following would most strengthen opponents’ arguments against the passage’s claim about the movement of galaxies?
[A] The discovery that galaxies are made up of different materials than the rest of the universe
[B] The discovery that the universe is growing faster in some directions than in others
[C] The discovery that galaxies frequently collide with each other, even though the universe is constantly growing larger
[D] The discovery that galaxies have continued to move, even though the universe has not increased in size for the past 5 billion years
What does the author argue about the movement of galaxies? Review 5: galaxies are moving because space is expanding, not simply because the galaxies are moving apart. (D) weakens this contention on both counts: galaxies are moving, but the universe is staying still.
(A): Out of Scope. This doesn’t impact the author’s argument about the mechanism of movement.
(B): Out of Scope. While this answer choice deals with movement, it doesn’t weaken the author’s points about how the universe is expanding.
(C): Out of Scope. Even though initially it might seem that colliding galaxies would contradict the idea of an expanding universe, the choice states that the universe is growing larger, which would support the author’s argument. Imagining the universe using the raisin-in-dough analogy that the author mentions makes it easy to see that everything could be expanding even if the occasional raisins collided.
Question: Suppose that the solar system was actually found to be about twenty-five billion years old. What impact would this information have on current thinking about the universe’s age?
[A] It would support that thinking.
[B] It would undermine that thinking.
[C] It would neither support nor undermine that thinking.
[D] It would support that thinking only if the universe has expanded over time.
Go back to 2, where the author discusses the solar system's and the universe’s age. The author argues that most cosmologists approximate an age of ten to twenty billion years for the universe. If the solar system were twenty-five billion years old, this would severely undermine hypotheses about the universe’s age, since the universe must be older than the solar system. (B) matches up with this line of reasoning.
(A): Opposite. As explained above: a solar system older than the predicted age of the universe would weaken prevailing ideas about the universe’s age.
(C): Opposite. As above.
(D): Opposite. As above. Don’t get caught up in the qualification; it wouldn’t support the current theories about the universe’s age under any conceivable circumstances since a solar system older than the universe defies common sense.
Question: According to the passage, which of the following statements is NOT true?
[A] Many people believe that a rational impetus created the universe.
[B] The solar system was created immediately after the Big Bang.
[C] The universe is larger today than it was in the past.
[D] Different societies measure time differently.
Review the gist of the passage and keep the author’s main points in mind while evaluating the choices. Three of the choices match points the author makes, but (B) directly contradicts the time frames mentioned in 2, which indicate that the solar system is much younger than the universe itself. Note that your research for question 4 helps you here.
(A): Opposite. This is stated in 4.
(C): Opposite. This is just another way of saying that the universe is expanding.
(D): Opposite. This is a main point of the first part of 4.
Question: The author’s comparison of the universe to a motion picture serves to:
[A] illustrate that the universe has operated according to linear time.
[B] demonstrate that the universe is actually older than most astronomers believe.
[C] show that galaxies were formed about five billion years ago.
[D] prove that the universe was created by a rational being.
Go back to the comparison to a motion picture described in 1. What is the author’s purpose in the first paragraph? To argue that the universe had a beginning in time. The comparison is used to reinforce this point: (A) reflects this.
(B): Out of Scope. The author never makes this argument.
(C): Out of Scope. This point isn’t made either.
(D): Out of Scope. The author doesn’t argue that this must be true, but rather that it’s a point of debate.
Examples within a paragraph are generally used to reinforce the paragraph’s main point: Review your map in evaluation questions to quickly gauge the purpose of an example.
Question: A newly discovered society that is based on cyclical time has a myth about the origin of the universe. What effect would this finding have on the author’s opinion about societies that are based on cyclical time?
[A] It is not relevant to the author’s opinion.
[B] It would support the author’s opinion.
[C] It would contradict the author’s opinion.
[D] It would support the author’s opinion only if it was shown that this society had no understanding of linear tim
An incorporation question. The new society has cyclical time, and also has a myth about the universe’s origin. How does this affect the author’s argument? It directly contradicts the author’s contention in the last paragraph that in cyclical time, “the question of creation never arises...” (C) rewards the careful reasoning with quick points.
(A): Opposite. It touches directly on the author’s points, as described above.
(B): Opposite. As above.
(D): Opposite. As above. Remember not to get distracted by qualifiers; if it contradicts the author’s argument, support with qualification will be just as opposite as support.