## Sunday, September 28, 2008

### Jumbled Paragraphs (Parajumbles)- A Primer

Every MBA aspirant starting his preparation for CAT 2007 will stumble into parajumbles, or jumbled paragraphs as they’re formally known, sooner or later. The instructions will read “Choose the most logical order of sentences from among the given choices to construct a coherent paragraph”. Given below would be 4 or 5 perplexing sentences which he would need to sort and arrange like a jigsaw puzzle. Sounds fun? It is. If one knows how to go about it, that is. Solving jumbled paragraphs is a science. It is so much of a science that you can obtain an accuracy of 100% even if you are not a good reader. I have always maintained an accuracy of more than 90% in parajumbles. Yesterday, while thinking about writing this article, I attempted jumbled paragraphs of CAT 2001 (to check if I was still in shape) and got 5 out 5 correct. Although in later years the level of difficulty has become a notch higher, the technique for solving parajumbles remains the same. And it always pays to start small with simple questions. In this article, I will cover all the basic techniques there are to solve jumbled paragraphs.

For me, cracking the parajumbles revolves around one basic technique:

Suppose you establish the link ‘BA’. The given options are (a) DABC (b) ACDB (c) CBAD (d) DBAC. Now you are left with option (c) and (d) to examine. You read the sentences in the order given by these two options and use your methods again to determine which one is correct.

Is establishing links between two sentences easy?

Not Always. However, easy or not, you can certainly establish links between two or more sentences with the help of some friends found in the sentences. These friends are:

TRANSITION WORDS:

Transition words make the shift from one idea to another very smooth. They organize and connect the sentences logically. Observing the transition words found in a sentence can often give you a clue about the sentence that will come before/after that particular sentence. Given below are some commonly used transition words:

also, again, as well as, besides, furthermore, in addition, likewise, moreover, similarly, consequently, hence, otherwise, subsequently, therefore, thus, as a rule, generally, for instance, for example, for one thing, above all, aside from, barring, besides, in other words, in short, instead, likewise, on one hand, on the other hand, rather, similarly, yet, but, however, still, nevertheless, first of all, to begin with, at the same time, for now, for the time being, in time, later on, meanwhile, next, then, soon, the meantime, later, while, earlier, simultaneously, afterward, in conclusion, with this in mind, after all, all in all, to sum up.

So how does knowledge of transition words helps us in parajumbles? Try out this CAT question:

(CAT 2001)
A. But in the industrial era destroying the enemy’s productive capacity means bombing the factories which are located in the cities.
B. So in the agrarian era, if you need to destroy the enemy’s productive capacity, what you want to do is bum his fields, or if you’re really vicious, salt them.
C. Now in the information era, destroying the enemy’s productive capacity means destroying the information infrastructure.
D. How do you do battle with your enemy?
E. The idea is to destroy the enemy’s productive capacity, and depending upon the economic foundation, that productive capacity is different in each case.

F. With regard to defence, the purpose of the military is to defend the nation and be prepared to do battle with its enemy.

1. FDEBAC 2. FCABED 3. DEBACF 4. DFEBAC

Answer: Look at the transition word ‘but’ in the first sentence. It signifies that the sentence is expressing an idea contrary to an idea expressed in some previous sentence. Now we need to find that previous sentence. If we further look at the beginning of the first sentence, it says ‘but in the industrial era...’ which suggests that the contrariness is with respect to eras. Looking further, we see that sentence B and C are also starting with statement about eras. But the transition word at the start of C is ‘now’ which expresses present era and hence it cannot chronologically come before any other past era. That is, if information era is the present era, talk about any other era will come before this. So sentence B is the correct sentence to come before the first sentence. Likewise, sentence C is the correct sentence to come after the first sentence (sentence C is continuing the idea). Therefore, we have the link BAC.

We see that option 1, 3 and 4 all have the link BAC. Furthermore, all the three options have the link EBAC. Therefore, we only need to arrange D and F. The sentence F states that ‘The purpose is….to battle with the enemy’ and D questions ‘how do you battle with the enemy?’ Therefore, D will come after F.

Hence FDEBAC is the correct arrangement.

PERSONAL PRONOUNS:

Personal pronouns are he, she, it, him, her, they, you, your etc. Remember that personal pronouns always refer to a person, place or thing etc. Therefore, if a sentence contains a personal pronoun without mentioning the person, place or object it is referring to, the person, place or object must have come in the previous sentence. Often, this is a good lead to identify a link. Solve this CAT question:

(CAT 2001)
A. Although there are large regional variations, it is not infrequent to find a large number of people sitting here and there and doing nothing.
B. Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment.
C. While working, one is struck by the slow and clumsy actions and reactions, indifferent attitudes, procedure rather than outcome orientation, and the lack of consideration for others.
D. Even those who are employed often come late to the office and leave early unless they are forced to be punctual.
E. Work is not intrinsically valued in
India.
F. Quite often people visit ailing friends and relatives or go out of their way to help them in their personal matters even during office hours.

Answer: Look at the personal pronoun ‘they’ in sentence B: Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment. This they must be referring to some people. The reference to some people only comes in sentences A, D, and F. Therefore, one of the sentences will come before sentence B. Let’s see the link AB, DB, and FB;

Link AB- Although there are large regional variations, it is not infrequent to find a large number of people sitting here and there and doing nothing. Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment.

Link DB- Even those who are employed often come late to the office and leave early unless they are forced to be punctual. Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment.

Link FB- Quite often people visit ailing friends and relatives or go out of their way to help them in their personal matters even during office hours. Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment.

Which of these links makes sense? Only link DB seems coherent. Now, we examine the options with link DB. We see that options 1 and 3 have link DB in them. Also, both the options have link ADBF. Therefore, ADBF is a link. Now we only need to place sentences E and C. We can do that by reading the sentences in the order given in options 1 and 3.

Option 1: Link ECADBF- Work is not intrinsically valued in India. While working, one is struck by the slow and clumsy actions and reactions, indifferent attitudes, procedure rather than outcome orientation, and the lack of consideration for others. Although there are large regional variations, it is not infrequent to find a large number of people sitting here and there and doing nothing. Even those who are employed often come late to the office and leave early unless they are forced to be punctual. Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment. Quite often people visit ailing friends and relatives or go out of their way to help them in their personal matters even during office hours.

Option 3: Link EADBFC- Work is not intrinsically valued in India. Although there are large regional variations, it is not infrequent to find a large number of people sitting here and there and doing nothing. Even those who are employed often come late to the office and leave early unless they are forced to be punctual. Once in office, they receive friends and relatives who feel free to call any time without prior appointment. Quite often people visit ailing friends and relatives or go out of their way to help them in their personal matters even during office hours. While working, one is struck by the slow and clumsy actions and reactions, indifferent attitudes, procedure rather than outcome orientation, and the lack of consideration for others.

Both the options seem plausible. We have to determine which one of the links EC and EA is better. Here is the thumb rule when trying to determine plausibility of a link

In link EC, sentence E is talking about work not being valued whereas sentence C is talking about people being clumsy, indifferent, inconsiderate etc. Sentence C is NOT talking about value of work. It is talking about people’s behaviour. Therefore, EC cannot be a logical flow.

In link EA, sentence E is talking about work not being valued and sentence A is talking about people sitting idle. This certainly says that people do not value work. Therefore, EA is the correct link. Hence, option 3 is correct.

Here is another CAT question that seems tough but can be solved in a matter of seconds. See if you can do it:

(CAT 2001)
A. Passivity is not, of course, universal.
B. In areas where there are no lords or laws, or in frontier zones where all men go armed, the attitude of the peasantry may well be different.
C. So indeed it may be on the fringe of the un-submissive.
D. However, for most of the soil-bound peasants the problem is not whether to be normally passive or active, but when to pass from one state to another.
E. This depends on an assessment of the political situation.

1. BEDAC 2. CDABE 3. EDBAC 4. ABCDE

Answer: It cannot get easier than this. Look at the personal pronoun ‘it’ in sentence C: So indeed it may be on the fringe of the un-submissive. What is ‘it’ here referring to? And it says that “it may be…un-submissive.” What can be un-submissive? It cannot be ‘political situation’ (sentence E), ‘passivity’ (sentence A), or ‘problem’ (sentence D). Only ‘attitude’ (sentence B) can be un-submissive. Therefore, BC is a link. The link BC is only present in option 4 and we need not look any further.

DEMONSTRATIVE PRONOUNS:

The demonstrative pronouns are "this," "that," "these," and "those." "This" and "that" are used to refer to singular nouns or noun phrases and "these" and "those" are used to refer to plural nouns and noun phrases. Whenever a sentence contains a demonstrative pronoun without mentioning the noun or the noun phrase, it means that the previous sentence must be mentioning that noun or noun phrase. Finding that noun or noun phrase helps us connect two sentences. Here’s another CAT question for you to crack:

(CAT 2001)
A. Michael Hofman, a poet and translator, accepts this sorry fact without approval or complaint.
B. But thanklessness and impossibility do not daunt him.
C. He acknowledges too – in fact he returns to the point often – that best translators of poetry always fail at some level.
D. Hofman feels passionately about his work, and this is clear from his writings.
E. In terms of the gap between worth and rewards, translators come somewhere near nurses and street-cleaners.

1. EACDB 2. ADEBC 3. EACBD 4. DCEAB

Answer: Again an easy one. Notice the demonstrative pronoun ‘this’ in sentence A: Michael Hofman, a poet and translator, accepts this sorry fact without approval or complaint. Also note that sentence A is introducing Michael Hofman (Michael Hofman, a poet and translator,…) and will thereby come before every sentence containing the personal pronoun he or him. So which sorry fact is sentence A referring to? It can only be the fact found in sentence E. Also, other sentences contain ‘he’ or ‘him’. Therefore, EA is a link. Link EA is contained in option 1, 3 and 4. But in 4, sentence D is coming before sentence A, and this cannot happen because sentence A should be before any other sentence referring to Hofman as sentence A is introducing Hofman. Therefore, we are left with options 1 and 3. The difference between options 1 and 3 is the order of sentence D and B. Let’s examine the link DB:

Option 1: Link DB- Hofman feels passionately about his work, and this is clear from his writings. But thanklessness and impossibility do not daunt him.

Does this sound like a plausible flow? Certainly NOT. Therefore, link DB is incorrect and the correct answer is option 3.

COMBINING IT ALL WITH LOGIC:

Sometimes using logic to decide the order of sentences can yield high dividends. In the previous example, we had used logic to determine that sentence A would come before any other sentence referring Hofman. Keep your eyes open for clues such as these. Here’s is the last CAT question that I cracked, using logic; see if you can do the same:

(CAT 2001)
A. The situations in which violence occurs and the nature of that violence tends to be clearly defined at least in theory, as in the proverbial Irishman’s question: ‘Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?’
B. So the actual risk to outsiders, though no doubt higher than our societies, is calculable.
C. Probably the only uncontrolled applications of force are those of social superiors to social inferiors and even here there are probably some rules.
D. However binding the obligation to kill, members of feuding families engaged in mutual massacre will be genuinely appalled if by some mischance a bystander or outsider is killed.

1. DABC 2. ACDB 3. CBAD 4. DBAC

Answer: The clue to this question came to me from the word ‘calculable’ in sentence B: So the actual risk to outsiders, though no doubt higher than our societies, is calculable. How does something become ‘calculable’? Then I noticed sentence A and the phrase ‘clearly defined in theory…’ Something becomes calculable when it is clearly defined in theory. No other sentence could give answers to ‘calculable’. Therefore, the link AB was clearly marked. The link AB was present in option 1 only. Easy, no?

Notice that I have been going to the option again and again to eliminate one or two options. Form this habit sedulously. It will pay you rich dividends.