Reading Comprehension - History/Geography


Reading comprehension has always been considered to be one of the most important sections of the CAT exam. It is one of the key areas of CAT Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension (VARC) section. These RCs consist of 2-3 paragraphs with a word limit of 500-900 words depending upon the management entrance exam. 4 to 5 questions will be given at the end based on the passage and candidate needs to solve them based on how they understand the passage. There are different genres in RCs, such as science, history, geography, current affairs, economics, humanities, etc. In this section, we focus on RCs based on History/Geography.

Importance Of Reading Comprehension

Every single entrance exam related to management has a Reading Comprehension section, be it CAT, GMAT, XAT, NMAT, CET or SNAP. And these RC based questions usually constitute 24% of the total marks – which is almost one-fourth of the entire paper. For example, in CAT, there are 24 questions of RCs out of 34 questions in VARC i.e. having 70% weightage. Although the level of difficulty of the passages and the questions thereof vary from one exam to another – RC importance to a candidates’ overall performance in any management exam cannot be underestimated. Hence, the aspirants need to prepare well for this section as it takes time and constant practice to develop speed reading, understanding the context, and then correctly answer RC questions. 

Let’s see some more details in the table given below:


ExamYearNo. of RCsNo. of Rc
based RCs
No. of Questions in
based RCs
Level of
CAT2019 Slot 1524215Moderate
CAT2019 Slot 252428Difficult
CAT2018 Slot 152414Moderate
CAT2018 Slot 252400
CAT2017 Slot 152400
CAT2017 Slot 252413Moderate

List of Concepts

There are no specific concepts or written rules to answer the questions correctly for an RC passage. The most important skill is the candidates’ reading speed and understanding of the content. But still, we can use different strategies while practising and check which one works.

  • Active Reading: Reading with concentration helps the reader engage with the content and understand it better
  • Speed of reading: We all read at our own pace. But in competitive exams, time is one of the factors we need to beat. Reading more will eventually help in increasing your reading speed
  • Skimming: This is a reading technique that can be very useful if used correctly. In the first read, it is usually advisable to skim through the passage, especially the numbers mentioned
  • Elimination method: Once you are done reading the passage, it’s time to deal with the questions. The questions can have 4 or 5 options depending upon the exam. You can eliminate options if those are too narrow, too broad, factually incorrect (as per the passage), or are not at all related to the idea of the passage


Passages on History/Geography usually have a wide array of topics ranging from talking about ancient kings and certain anecdotes from the past to talking about certain region and how it has evolved geographically over some time. But sorts of questions have been asked in Slot 1 & 2 of CAT 2019. The Reading Comprehensions from the History/Geography topics mentioned above in CAT question paper are usually filled with either facts or numbers or sometimes, both.

It is always advisable to skim through the passage in the first chance to understand the basic story-line of the passage. One might skip the data and values given in this chance. The next reading, when one is comfortable with the passage length and basic idea, should be the in-depth one. 

Reading the questions before reading the passage will help the student to find the correct answers quickly and efficiently.


Questions from Previous Year Papers

CAT 2019 Slot 1

In the past, credit for telling the tale of Aladdin has often gone to Antoine Galland . . . the first European translator of . . . Arabian Nights [which] started as a series of translations of an incomplete manuscript of a medieval Arabic story collection. . . But, though those tales were of medieval origin, Aladdin may be a more recent invention. Scholars have not found a manuscript of the story that predates the version published in 1712 by Galland, who wrote in his diary that he first heard the tale from a Syrian storyteller from Aleppo named Hanna Diyab . . . Despite the fantastical elements of the story, scholars now think the main character may actually be based on a real person’s real experiences……. Though Galland never credited Diyab in his published translations of the Arabian Nights stories, Diyab wrote something of his own: a travelogue penned in the mid-18th century. In it, he recalls telling Galland the story of Aladdin [and] describes his own hard-knocks upbringing and the way he marveled at the extravagance of Versailles. The descriptions he uses were very similar to the descriptions of the lavish palace that ended up in Galland’s version of the Aladdin story. [Therefore, author Paulo Lemos] Horta believes that “Aladdin might be the young Arab Maronite from Aleppo, marveling at the jewels and riches of Versailles.” . . . For 300 years, scholars thought that the rags-to-riches story of Aladdin might have been inspired by the plots of French fairy tales that came out around the same time, or that the story was invented in that 18th century period as a byproduct of French Orientalism, a fascination with stereotypical exotic Middle Eastern luxuries that was prevalent then. The idea that Diyab might have based it on his own life — the experiences of a Middle Eastern man encountering the French, not vice-versa — flips the script. [According to Horta,] “Diyab was ideally placed to embody the overlapping world of East and West, blending the storytelling traditions of his homeland with his youthful observations of the wonder of 18th-century France.” . . . To the scholars who study the tale, its narrative drama isn’t the only reason storytellers keep finding reason to return to Aladdin. It reflects not only “a history of the French and the Middle East, but also [a story about] Middle Easterners coming to Paris and that speaks to our world today,” as Horta puts it. “The day Diyab told the story of Aladdin to Galland, there were riots due to food shortages during the winter and spring of 1708 to 1709, and Diyab was sensitive to those people in a way that Galland is not. When you read this diary, you see this solidarity among the Arabs who were in Paris at the time. ….. There is little in the writings of Galland that would suggest that he was capable of developing a character like Aladdin with sympathy, but Diyab’s memoir reveals a narrator adept at capturing the distinctive psychology of a young protagonist, as well as recognizing the kinds of injustices and opportunities that can transform the path of any youthful adventurer.

Q.1.Which of the following does not contribute to the passage’s claim about the authorship

of Aladdin?

1. The story-line of many French fairy tales of the 18th century

2. The depiction of the affluence of Versailles in Diyab’s travelogue

3. The narrative sensibility of Diyab’s travelogue.

4. Galland’s acknowledgement of Diyab in his diary.


Answer: Option 1


Answer Explanation: Antoine Galland claimed in his diary that he heard about the tale of Aladdin from Diyab. He is also the first European to translate the tale of Aladdin. However, Scholars feel that the tale of Aladdin is probably the tale of Diyab himself marvelling at the riches of the Versailles. Thus, the passage’s claim about the authorship of Aladdin is supported by options 2, 3, and 4. Therefore, option 1 becomes the only choice by the law of elimination.


Q.2.The author of the passage is most likely to agree with which of the following

explanations for the origins of the story of Aladdin?

1. Galland derived the story of Aladdin from Diyab’s travelogue in which he recounts his fascination with the wealth of Versailles.

2. Galland received the story of Aladdin from Diyab who, in turn, found it in an incomplete medieval manuscript.

3. Basing it on his own life experiences, Diyab transmitted the story of Aladdin to Galland who included it in Arabian Nights.

4. The story of Aladdin has its origins in an undiscovered, incomplete manuscript of a medieval Arabic collection of stories.


Answer: Option 3

Answer Explanation: If we read paragraph 1 carefully, it states that Galland received the story of Aladdin from Diyab. At the same time, we can notice in paragraph 3 that modern scholars think that Diyab based the story of Aladdin on his own life experiences. Option 3 states this assertion and is the correct answer.


Q.3.Which of the following is the primary reason for why storytellers are still fascinated by

the story of Aladdin?

1. The traveller’s experience that inspired the tale of Aladdin resonates even today.

2. The archetype of the rags-to-riches story of Aladdin makes it popular even today

3. The tale of Aladdin documents the history of Europe and Middle East.

4. The story of Aladdin is evidence of the eighteenth-century French Orientalist attitude.


Answer: Option 3

Answer Explanation: Eliminate option 2 because, although Aladdin is a rags-to-riches story, that is not the reason for its fascination. Eliminate option 3 because that is also not true for the fascination for the story of Aladdin. Eliminate option 4 too because that is also not true for the story’s current popularity. Option 1 is the most likely because of the sense of adventure that Aladdin’s story talks about still resonates with people even today. Hence, the correct answer is option 1.


Q.4.All of the following serve as evidence for the character of Aladdin being based on Hanna


1. Diyab’s humble origins and class struggles, as recounted in his travelogue

2. Diyab’s description of the wealth of Versailles in his travelogue

3. Diyab’s cosmopolitanism and cross-cultural experience

4. Diyab’s narration of the original story to Galland.


Answer: Option 4

Answer explanation: If you refer to paragraph 3, you will see that the story of Aladdin was a rags-to-riches story. Option 1 is correct factually, so eliminate it. The following extract from paragraph 2 – “Diyab wrote something of his own: a travelogue penned in the mid-18th century. In it, he recalls telling Galland the story of Aladdin [and] describes his hard-knocks upbringing and the way he marvelled at the extravagance of Versailles” – is enough evidence to show that the character of Aladdin was based on Hanna Diyab. Option 2 is also correct, hence eliminate it. In paragraph 3, Diyab’s cross-cultural experience is also mentioned and said to be similar to Aladdin’s. Option 3 is also correct, hence eliminate it Just because Diyab narrated the story of Aladdin to Galland does not mean that the character of Aladdin was based on Diyab himself. Option 4 does not fully serve as evidence. Hence, option 4 is correct.


Q.5. Which of the following, if true, would invalidate the inversion that the phrase “flips the script” refers to?

1. The French fairy tales of the eighteenth century did not have rags-to-riches plot lines like that of the tale of Aladdin

2. Diyab’s travelogue described the affluence of the French city of Bordeaux, instead of Versailles.

3. The description of opulence in Hanna Diyab’s and Antoine Galland’s narratives bore no

resemblance to each other

4. Galland acknowledged in the published translations of Arabian Nights that he heard the story of Aladdin from Diyab


Answer: Option 3

Answer explanation: Diyab’s descriptions of Versailles match the description of the Middle Eastern palace in Aladdin’s story. Galland simply takes up Diyab’s description of a French palace and uses this description on an exotic Middle Eastern palace in the story of Aladdin. That the opulence described is not one witnessed by a French adventurer encountering the exotic Middle East but that of a Middle Eastern observer encountering the wonder of 18th century France is what ‘flips the script’ (reverses the situation) according to the passage. If the descriptions did not match, there is no question of the script being flipped. So, option 3, if true, would invalidate the idea that Galland’s story reverses the point of view of the narrative.


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How to deal with the topic preparation

Level 1

  • The basic step towards mastering RC is reading. Read as much as you can. You can start by reading something that you are interested in. It can be a newspaper, novel, non-fiction, magazine, etc.
  • After reading, start forming a summary of it and try understanding the idea behind what you have read
  • Make a habit of reading and summarizing 1-2 RC passages a day. The more you read, your ability to skim through unimportant or lengthy descriptions will increase and you will concentrate more and more on the facts relevant to answering the questions

Level 2:

  • Once you have developed a reading habit, start reading topics specific to the ones that could be asked in the CAT paper
  • Reading the editorials of the newspapers can help the student to familiarize with the concepts on which the passages could be based
  • Students should also time themselves to check how many words they can read per minute. A score of 300 words per minute is good but understanding while reading is also of prime importance and should not be neglected

Level 3:

  • Once the students cross above two levels, they are ready to solve the CAT question papers from the previous years
  • Also, it is very important to solve different types of passages i.e. around different topics. Some passages would be of moderate difficulty and others might be extremely difficult. Hence, the more a student practices, the more will be his chances of scoring high
  • Try using the elimination strategy as explained in the question above to go around the question and solve it effectively