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


In public Greek life, a man had to make his way at every step through the immediate persuasion of the spoken word. Whether it be addressing an assembly, a law-court or a more restricted body, his oratory would be a public affair rather than under the purview of a quiet committee, without the support of circulated commentary, and with no backcloth of daily reportage to make his own or others’ views familiar to his hearers. The oratory's immediate effect was all-important; it would be naive to expect that mere reasonableness or an inherently good case would equate to a satisfactory appeal. Therefore, it was early realized that persuasion was an art, up to a point teachable, and a variety of specific pedagogy was well established in the second half of the fifth century. When the sophists claimed to teach their pupils how to succeed in public life, rhetoric was a large part of what they meant, though, to do them justice, it was not the whole. The contests of Attic tragedy exhibit all the tricks of this trade, as well as the art of the poets; and the private life of the Greeks was lived so much in public that the pervasive rhetorical manner crept in here too.
Skill naturally bred mistrust. If a man of good will had need of expression advanced of mere twaddle, to learn how to expound his contention effectively, the truculent or pugnacious could be taught to dress their case in well-seeming guise. It was a standing charge against the sophists that they ‘made the worse appear the better cause,’ and it was this immoral lesson which the hero of Aristophanes’ Clouds went to learn from, of all people, Socrates. Again, the charge is often made in court that the opponent is an adroit orator and the jury must be circumspect so as not to let him delude them. From the frequency with which this crops up, it is patent that the accusation of cleverness might damage a man. In Greece, juries, of course, were familiar with the style, and would recognize the more evident artifices, but it was worth a litigant’s while to get his speech written for him by an expert. Persuasive oratory was certainly one of the pressures that would be effective in an Athenian law-court.
A more insidious danger was the inevitable desire to display this art as an art. It is not easy to define the point at which a legitimate concern with style shades off into preoccupation with manner at the expense of matter, but it is easy to perceive that many Greek writers of the fourth and later centuries passed that danger point. The most influential was Isocrates, who polished for long years his pamphlets, written in the form of speeches, and taught to many pupils the smooth and easy periods he had perfected. This was a style of only limited use in the abrupt vicissitudes of politics. Isocrates took to the written word in compensation for his inadequacy in live oratory; the tough and nervous tones of a Demosthenes were far removed from his, though they, too, were based on study and practice. The exaltation of virtuosity did palpable harm. This was not due mainly to the influence of Isocrates: public display was normal and inevitable for a world which talked and listened far more than it read. The balance was always delicate, between style as a vehicle and style as an end in itself.
We must not try to pinpoint a specific moment when it, once and for all, tipped over; but certainly, as time went on, virtuosity weighed heavier. While Greek freedom lasted, and it mattered what course of action a Greek city decided to take, rhetoric was a necessary preparation for public life, whatever its side effects. When the study became, in the gloomiest sense of the word, academic, only the side effects remained, and they were not such as to encourage depth of thought. It had been a source of strength for Greek civilization that its problems, of all kinds, were thrashed out very much in public. The shallowness which the study of rhetoric might (not must) encourage was the corresponding weakness.

Question: If the author of the passage traveled to a political convention and saw various candidates speak he would most likely have the highest regard for an orator who:
[A] roused his hearers to immediate and decisive action.
[B] understood that rhetoric serves an aesthetic as well as a practical purpose.
[C] relied on facts and reason rather than on rhetorical devices in making his case.
[D] passed on the techniques he had perfected to many students.
Option (C)

What is the author’s main argument about oratory? It was necessary for the Greeks, but became a "weakness" when they focused too much on making it artistic (s 3 and 4). Therefore the author would admire an orator who didn't sacrifice the facts and reason to too much rhetoric. (C) keeps the good parts of rhetoric while leaving out the artistic flourishes the author dislikes.
Wrong answers:
(A): Opposite. The author states in 1 that “the immediate effect was all-important” and that this was achieved by focusing on the artistic aspects of rhetoric, which the author considers "shallow."
(B): Opposite. The author uses 3 to attack the overemphasis on the artistic (aesthetic) side.
(D): Opposite. This also emphasizes technique and style over the speech itself.

Question: Historians agree that those seeking public office in modern America make far fewer speeches in the course of their campaign than those seeking a public position in ancient Greece did. The author would most likely explain this by pointing out that:
[A] speeches are now only of limited use in the abrupt vicissitudes of politics.
[B] modern politicians need not rely exclusively on speeches to make themselves known.
[C] modern audiences are easier to persuade through rhetoric than were the Greek audiences.
[D] modern politicians do not make a study of rhetoric as did the Greeks.
Option (B)

An application question. What would the author consider a main difference between ancient Greece and modern America? The opening lines mention that a Greek citizen had to rely on the spoken rather than the written word, and had "no backcloth of daily reportage to make his own or others’ views familiar to his hearers" as modern culture has. Therefore fewer speeches are needed nowadays, as (B) states.
Wrong answers:
(A): Faulty Use of Detail. This answer choice tries to trick you with a familiar phrase. The author uses it in 3, but only to speak of Isocrates, not about speeches in general. When phrases sound familiar, look for them in context to see if they apply.
(C): Out of Scope. There’s no discussion of modern audiences in the passage and if this was the case, politicians would probably focus on rhetoric to increase persuasion.
(D): Out of Scope. There’s no indication in the passage that this is true either.

Question: The passage suggests that there were times when being particularly adept at rhetoric was NOT to a Greek’s advantage because:
[A] success in public life naturally bred considerable jealousy in rivals.
[B] public figures forfeited their right to a private life.
[C] listeners were wary of being misled by skillful language.
[D] verbosity was a character trait not held in high regard among the Greeks.
Option (C)

What does the author describe as the disadvantages of skilled rhetoric? In general, he argues that it relied too much on art, but for individuals (the scope of this question) the author argues in 2 that the Greeks were wary of anyone who was too skilled. Choice (C) paraphrases this.
Wrong answers:
(A): Out of Scope. There’s nothing in the passage dealing with jealousy.
(B): Opposite. The author in fact says that private figures had to lead public lives. Either way, however, it’s not relevant to the disadvantages of rhetoric.
(D): Out of Scope. The author never discusses the merits of many words vs few.

Question: Even though the author states that “persuasive oratory was certainly one of the pressures that would be effective in an Athenian law-court,” (lines 38-39) which of the following claims would most weaken the author’s assertion that “the accusation of cleverness might damage a man” (lines 32-33) in Greek court?
[A] Greek juries frowned on personal attacks on an opponent’s methods.
[B] Alerting the jury to the possibility of deceit caused them to doubt what they subsequently heard.
[C] Those accused of cleverness usually counterattacked with a similar accusation.
[D] Greek citizens naturally expected some speakers to use rhetorical tricks.
Option (A)

Hit the original lines to refresh your understanding on why accusing someone of cleverness might damage them. The right answer choice should provide evidence that would counterbalance the damage somehow, presumably by either making the victim of the attack look better or the one making the attack look worse. Choice (A) does just the latter, and if true, would potentially nullify the damage of the accusation.
Wrong answers:
(B): Opposite. This is exactly the effect than an accuser would intend. If this is true, the author’s argument is strengthened.
(C): Out of Scope. Even if a counter-attack were made, there’s no reason this would minimize the damage of the first accusation.
(D): Faulty Use of Detail. A potentially tricky answer to eliminate. If the Greeks expected rhetorical tricks, then the accusation of cleverness wouldn’t have as strong an effect. However, the author says explicitly in 2 that juries did expect tricks. (D) does nothing beyond what’s in the passage already to weaken the author’s argument.

Question: Implicit in the statement that the exaltation of virtuosity was not due mainly to Isocrates because public display was normal in a world that talked far more than it read is the assumption that:
[A] Isocrates was actually concerned as much with the content of his speeches as with their style.
[B] excessive concern with style is bound to arise in a world dominated by public display.
[C] the Greeks were guilty of exalting virtuosity in their public art and architecture as well.
[D] Isocrates was less influential than previous historians estimated.
Option (B)

Make sure that you untangle tough questions, paraphrasing what’s being asked, before trying to answer them. What paragraph is being discussed? 3, the argument that the art of rhetoric became too important. The question stem just says that this happened because the culture was concerned with public display. Assumptions bridge gaps in reasoning. Here, it would connect art and public display. Only (B) and (C) deal with both of these concepts. If (B) is true, we have a valid explanation for why art became so important in this particular culture. If it’s not true, there’s no reason why they should be connected, and the author’s argument falls apart. (B) has to be a valid assumption.
Wrong answers:
(A): Opposite. We’re concerned less with Isocrates than with the Greek public, and also the choice says exactly the opposite of what we know about Isocrates from the passage anyhow.
(C): Distortion. While it’s got all the right keywords, the choice uses art in a completely different context, talking about physical works of art rather than the style of art.
(D): Out of Scope. This might explain why Isocrates wasn’t influential, but does nothing to explain the bigger half of the question: why was the culture so influential in the tendency to focus on style?

Question: In the context of the passage, the term side effects (line 65) refers primarily to:
[A] an understanding of the importance of public debate to maintaining freedom.
[B] a misplaced emphasis on rhetorical style as opposed to substance.
[C] a tendency to ignore the potential of the written word.
[D] the exclusion from leadership of those not proficient in oratory.
Option (B)

Go back and read the phrase in its context. What negative side effects of rhetoric does the author mention? Only one, and it’s been hit on question after question: the tendency to focus on the art of rhetoric rather than the fundamentals. (B) paraphrases this.
Wrong answers:
(A): Out of Scope. The author doesn’t discuss this.
(C): Opposite. The author never claims that the Greeks ignored the written word.
(D): Opposite. This is never mentioned either.

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