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
Of course, in his attempts at field investigation, the historian is at the disadvantage that the countryside has changed in many respects since the period which he is studying. He is not permitted to use H.G. Wells’s time machine, to enable him to see it as it actually was. Inevitably he is concerned in the main, if not exclusively, with literary and other materials, which have survived from that stretch of the past which interests him.
Old maps may be plans of cities, charts of sea coasts and estuaries, cartularies of landed estates, or topographic delineations of land areas. These clearly engage the interest of historians and geographers alike, and they call for a combination of the methods and viewpoints of each. Maps can be conceived of and considered in several quite different ways, being properly regarded, and so assessed, as works of art—at best as objects of color, skill, form, and beauty. They may alternatively be regarded purely for their cartographic aesthetic.
The main queries which then arise are the following: how is it that the map-maker has carried out his task and with skill of what echelon and with what degree of success has he done so? Such an inquiry falls to the specialist field of historical cartography. An antiquarian map may also be approached in a means akin to that of the student who conceives it as a font contemporaneous with the time of its production. Thus, the historical cartographer may seek to bring grist to his mill and to consider the map’s reliability as a satisfactory source of empirical evidence . By such means also the regional historian, in his search for essentials about such past matters as the availability of roads, the extent of enclosed farmland, or the number and location of mines and quarries, is no less an interested party.
The value of old maps as documents useful for historicity depends necessarily on to what degree they depict, and on how accurately. For virtually all periods of pre-modern history some maps have survived to serve as historiography, depicting, however imperfectly, certain features of past geography. The work of Claudius Ptolemy—who lived in the 2nd century A.D.—for centuries provided the basis for maps of the known world and its major regions. Although many were drawn on the scientific basis which he provided, they nevertheless embodied many errors—of location, distance, and the shape of areas of land and sea.
The medieval portolan charts of the Mediterranean Sea and the later charts which provided sailing directions, produced in Holland, were accurate enough to be useful in practical navigation. Plans of important cities of Europe, so well drawn as to yield evidence of their earlier form and extent, are notably offered in Braun and Hogenberg’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum, published at Cologne and, in England, in John Speed’s plans of cities. Similarly, John Ogilby’s Britannia, Volume the First, appearing in 1675, gives detailed information of England's road system as it existed nearly three centuries ago. However, few of the early maps approach modern standards, which require accurate representation of distances and of heights above mean sea-level and the use of carefully distinguished symbols. This is because it was not until the 18th century that cartography, as an exact science, was born.
Question: According to the passage, which of the following statements is/are NOT true?
[A] Most maps produced before the 18th century are not as accurate as maps produced after the 18th century.
[B] The maps of Claudius Ptolemy were not used as a model by later map-makers.
[C] Historians have generally been uninterested in using maps as a tool to learn about the past.
[A] II only
[B] III only
[C] I and II
[D] II and III
Don’t start with RN I to answer this question! It appears in only one choice and so isn’t a time-effective starting point. RN II appears in three choices, so start there. RN II directly contradicts the author’s point in 4 that Ptolemy’s maps served as templates for other maps for centuries. Eliminate (B). RN III contradicts the main point of the passage: historians are interested in maps as historical tools. Since RNs II and III are both untrue, only choice (D) is possible. Though there’s no need to check RN I, it can be verified as true by looking at the main point of the last paragraph.
(A): Opposite. As described above.
(B): Opposite. As above.
(C): Opposite. As above.
Pay close attention to “NOT” in questions. It would be easy to thoughtlessly eliminate choices as not true in this question when in fact the untrue ones are the ones you’re looking for!
Question: In the context of the passage, the phrase "however imperfectly" (line 39) refers to:
[A] the inability of contemporary historians to interpret Claudius Ptolemy’s maps.
[B] the inaccuracies present in most maps produced before the 18th century.
[C] the lack of artistic skill displayed by mapmakers in the modern period.
[D] the failure of pre-modern mapmakers to produce sea navigation charts.
Review the phrase in 4, going back to your map to get the gist of the passage. The author argues that maps provide some information on geography, even if it’s not terribly accurate information. (B) summarizes this, adding the pre-18th century timeframe for good measure (mentioned in the last paragraph).
(A): Distortion. Though Ptolemy’s maps were inaccurate, there’s nothing to indicate that they can’t be interpreted by historians. If they couldn’t be, how could historians know that the maps were inaccurate?
(C): Out of Scope. The author is discussing pre-modern maps, and in any case, there’s no indication that modern maps lack artistic skill.
(D): Out of Scope. The author never states that they failed to do this, and in fact in the next paragraph argues that some pre-modern maps did provide accurate sea charts.
Question: With which of the following statements would the author be most likely to agree?
[A] Old maps provide important information about the past, even if they are somewhat misleading.
[B] Modern maps, in general, are more accurate than maps produced in the 18th century.
[C] The maps in Braun and Hogenberg’s book have no historical value because of their errors.
[D] Claudius Ptolemy’s maps were the most accurate ever made prior to the birth of modern cartography.
There’s not much to go on in the passage by way of opinion, but even a simple prediction can yield fast results. What is the author’s main point? Old maps have historical value. Scanning the answer choices with even this broad prediction immediately turns up (A), which states much the same thing.
(B): Opposite. This contradicts the point made in the last line: that in the 18th Century, modern, accurate map-making was born. (Per my comment in the question itself, although modern map making was born in the 18th century, it has surely developed and improved since).
(C): Opposite. The author argues that even maps with errors can offer historical value, but uses these particular maps in 4 as an example of maps with especially few errors.
(D): Out of Scope. The author never makes this claim, nor does it make sense, since presumably the maps that used Ptolemy as their base added more accurate data: otherwise, there would be no need to make a new map.
Question: According to the passage, all of the following would be considered maps EXCEPT:
[A] a drawing of Mediterranean sea lanes in the 2nd century B.C.
[B] B. a drawing of Rome’s city streets in the 4th century B.C.
[C] a drawing of Northern hemisphere star constellations in the 5th century A.D.
[D] a drawing of Scottish farm boundaries in the 10th century A.D.
The “according to the passage” opening tips you off that this is a detail question, and consequently, that we’re only looking for types of maps supported by examples in the passage. While three of the maps deal with geographic features similar to those the author touches on in the passage, a star chart wouldn’t have anything to do with the author’s idea of maps as something representing terrestrial features.
(A): Opposite. The author describes sea chart maps in 5.
(B): Opposite. The author describes street maps in 5 also.
(D): Opposite. The author discusses hypothetical maps that describe “the extent of enclosed farmland” in 2.
Question: For which of the following statements does the passage provide some evidence or explanation?
[A] Ancient mapmakers were not good artists.
[B] Maps can be judged on several different criteria.
[C] Map-making was an exact science before Ogilby produced his maps.
[D] Eastern Europeans were the first to draw precise maps.
Keep the author’s main idea in mind: old maps are historically useful. Scanning the answer choices for a claim supported by evidence turns up only one claim that’s even mentioned at all! Choice (B). Since the other choices aren’t authorial claims, there’s no need to evaluate whether (B) is supported by evidence. However, 2 is devoted to supporting this claim.
(A): Opposite. The author makes the opposite point in 2.
(C): Opposite. The author argues in the last paragraph that map-making didn’t become an exact science until the 18th century, and says in the immediately preceding paragraph that Ogilby’s maps came out in the 17th century.
(D): Out of Scope. Eastern Europeans aren’t mentioned anywhere in the passage, and so can be safely eliminated as a possible right answer.
Question: Suppose that an accurate, medieval map of the French countryside is found in a Paris library. What impact would this discovery have on the author’s opinion about the accuracy of old maps?
[A] It could be cited in support of the author’s opinion.
[B] It could be cited as contradicting the author’s opinion.
[C] It could not be considered relevant to the author’s opinion.
[D] It could be cited in support of the author’s opinion only if it was produced by a master mapmaker.
What does the author argue about the accuracy of medieval maps? Most were inaccurate, but a few, he argues, were in fact accurate. The discovery of an accurate medieval map would therefore support the part of the argument that says that a few maps were accurate during this time period.
(B): Opposite. As described above: since the author argues that some medieval maps were accurate, the discovery of one wouldn’t weaken the argument.
(C): Opposite. The author discusses the accuracy of maps at length, so the new situation must have some impact on this argument.
(D): Out of Scope. There’s no reason to thing that the maker of the map would affect the author’s argument more than the map itself.