Thursday, August 5, 2010

Is Vocabulary Important?

In this article, we shall discuss vocabulary. Although direct vocabulary-based questions may not make an appearance in CAT (though it definitely does in other entrance exams such as FMS, IIFT etc as discussed later) in the sense that you are usually not asked to choose the correct meaning of a difficult or less-known word or its antonym or synonym from among the options, a good vocabulary is still quite crucial for doing well in the English section.

It is important to note that CAT does test your vocabulary indirectly. Often questions have appeared in which you need to choose the correct usage of simple, every day words. Quite often, these common words have multiple meanings, depending on the context of their use, and the CAT has tested whether you understand which all possible uses a common word can be put to. An example will serve to illustrate my point.

Consider a word such as ‘book’. The most common use of the word perhaps is when we use it in the sense of referring to a textbook or story book (fiction or non-fiction). But the word ‘book’ does have other usages. For example, we can say that ‘He booked a ticket’. Similarly, you can say that a show was ‘fully booked’. Another usage is when we say “The policeman booked the errant driver for over-speeding’.

In addition to being prepared for such kind of questions, a decent vocabulary will be important to do well in the Reading Comprehension section. Your failure to understand or misinterpretation of a particular word could result in your having greater difficulty in understanding the passage as a whole and answering the questions based on it. This is especially true for phrases or aphorisms that the writer may use-very often, these short aphorisms convey a lot in a few words, something which would have otherwise taken several sentences to explain. For example, if the author of a particular passage states that “the chickens have come home to roost”, what does he mean? Similarly, he may state that a particular situation was a ‘Catch-22’ situation. Rather than explain in long sentences what the situation entailed, the usage of the single phrase ‘a Catch-22 situation’, conveys a lot to a reader who knows the meaning of the phrase. Incidentally, this phrase was the title of a famous novel by Joseph Heller.

Of course, the answer options may contain some words which test your Vocabulary to some extent. This is particularly true when you are asked to choose the ‘tone of the passage’. And you shall be in a real soup if you do not know the meaning of words in the answer option!

Non-CAT exams

As mentioned before, the type of questions that you are given in the FMS, IIFT etc entrance tests are a little different. These entrance tests do contain direct Vocabulary questions. The FMS entrance exam, in particular, is known to bowl students over with some really esoteric words, which are not even used all that often in daily conversation! (don’t worry, there will be only a few such words, if any).

Hence, Vocabulary is something that you will need to work on during your preparation. As mentioned, doing well in Reading Comprehension does call for a decent Vocabulary. Plus, some entrance tests do test your Vocabulary directly by asking you the meaning of a particular word, its synonym or antonym etc.

How To Build Your Vocabulary

Now let us come to the crucial aspect of how you could build your Vocabulary. What is the best way?

In my opinion, in order to truly be good in Vocabulary (and also, not forget the meaning of a word just a few hours after you have learnt it), you cannot just mug up the meaning of words-after all, how many word-meanings can you just learn by rote? So what then is the best way?

The best strategy is to understand the ‘roots’ or the origin of certain words. From what ‘main root’ has a particular word been derived? If you approach Vocabulary is a systematic manner, you can rapidly improve on it.

Let’s understand this ‘root-based’ approach. Consider a word such as ‘demographics’. What does it mean? If you plan to mug up the meaning, it isn’t a good idea! Instead, look at its root: the root is ‘dem’ in this case.

What does ‘dem’ mean?

This root, from Greek, means ‘people’. We all know that India is a democracy. So it should be easy to remember the root ‘dem’ and people (democracy means ‘a Government of and for the people’.

Now ‘demographics’ refers to a population study, or the study of the various characteristics of the people that comprise the population.

• A related word is ‘Demographist’ : it refers to a person who studies demography

• Let’s take another word with the root ‘dem’: ‘demagogue’. You may have heard it a few times-what does it mean? It has the same root, so it must refer to people. You can check it out in any dictionary.

• Similarly, consider the word ‘demogenics’. It means ‘relating to a society based on citizenship’

• Have a look at these two words: ‘Demophile’ and ‘Demophobe’. While the former means ‘A friend of the people’, the latter refers to a person who has an aversion to people (the root ‘philo’ means to have an affinity for/ to love, while the root ‘phobe’ has the opposite meaning).

Hence you can see that knowing the meaning of the root of a particular word helps a lot-not only in understanding the meaning of that particular word, but also the meaning of words with the same root. If you now come across any word with the root ‘dem’, you shall know it has something to do with people.


Sidharth Balakrishna, an alumnus of IIM Calcutta, is an MBA preparation expert and has been involved in MBA coaching for almost six years. He has also held seminars across the country and can be contacted at:

Link to his book:

Friday, July 23, 2010

A three-month strategy for the CAT 2010

'With all the announcements and planning for a successful CAT 2010, it seems the count down has already begun. With almost four months to go, you really need to plan your preparation strategy and execute it accordingly...'

Read more

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book review on MBA Universe

'All the CAT 2010 aspirants, who are worried about taking the computer based test, the answer to your worries is here. Sidharth Balakrishna, author, CAT expert and IIM Calcutta alumnus has updated his book, An Introduction to the CAT: Tips from an IIM alumnus...'

Read the full review here

Friday, July 2, 2010

An Introduction to the CAT: Tips from an IIM Alumnus, the second edition

 The first edition was received very well. Thank you all for the suppport and hope that the book met your needs.
We have now launched the second edition of the book. So, what's new in this edition?

New chapters in this edition cover preparation for other exams such as FMS, XAT etc. This edition also contains practical tips on how to choose an MBA institute, whether you need to join a coaching institute etc.

Grab your copy of the book and let us know what you think about it by writing to

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

MBA Universe Interview with Sidharth Balakrishna, author of 'An Introduction to CAT: Tips from an IIM Alumnus

 What are the five points that every MBA aspirant should follow while attempting the CAT exam paper? What should a CAT aspirant  do a day before the exam?

Read the author's take on it

Monday, October 19, 2009

CAT 2009 : Test Duration and Pattern

According to the notification on the CAT 2009 website, the duration of the online test will be 2 hours and 15 minutes instead of 2 hours and 30 minutes. While there has been a 15 minute reduction in the test duration, the number of questions will also reduce by 25-30% ( test takers will be asked 60-70 questions this year).

What are your thoughts about this new format? Does this anouncement raise more questions than answers? Let us know by writing to

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Introduction to CAT: Tips from an IIM Alumnus: The Book, The Online Tests and The Blog

The Common Admission Test, or CAT as it is more commonly known, is arguably the country's most unpredictable and popular exam. The pattern of questions keeps changing almost every year and the number of test takers rise steadily every time ( A record 2.3 lakhs students took the exam in 2008). So, as the number of test takers rise exponentially, the competetion becomes stiffer and a focussed and intelligent practice strategy becomes the need of the hour.
The Book : An Introduction to CAT: Tips from an IIM Alumnus by Sidharth Balakrishna adresses this need by providing a comprehensive preparation strategy that will guide a student through each and every stage of the management entrance exams. The book provides extensive practice drills along with tips and guidelines for the case studies, group discussion and the interview.
To know more about the book and to get your own copy of it visit the Pearson website

The Online Tests: You get an access code free with the book that will help you register for the three online full length mock tests ( Remember, the CAT is now online?). You can use your access code to also register for a simulated test that will be available on between the 11th to the 14th of November. This will give you a feel of the real examination and our quantitaive analysis of your performance will help you form an idea of where you stand vis-a-vis your fellow competitors.

The Blog : We realise that just a series of practice tests are not enough for your preparation. You might have questions, you might have thoughts you  would like to share, or you may have some feedback regarding our product. We would like to hear all. Email your thoughts to
You can also get some invaluable tips from the author and get some detailed analysis of the online tests from time to time on this blog. Keep visiting this space for updates.

Happy Studying!