The key to performing well on the passages is not the particular reading technique you use (so long as it's neither speed reading nor pre-reading the questions). Rather the key is to become completely familiar with the question types—always less than 6/7 and most of the time its ¾ --so that you can anticipate the questions that might be asked as you read the passage and answer those that are asked more quickly and efficiently. As you become familiar with the questions types, you will gain an intuitive sense for the places from which questions are likely to be drawn. This will give you the same advantage as that claimed by the "pre-reading-the-questions" technique, without the confusion and waste of time. Note, the order in which the questions are asked roughly corresponds to the order in which the main issues are presented in the passage. Early questions should correspond to information given early in the passage, and so on.

The following passage and accompanying questions illustrate the question types.

There are two major systems of criminal procedure in the modern world--the adversarial and the inquisitorial. The former is associated with common law tradition and the latter with civil law tradition. Both systems were historically preceded by the system of private vengeance in which the victim of a crime fashioned his own remedy and administered it privately, either personally or through an agent. The vengeance system was a system of self-help, the essence of which was captured in the slogan "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." The modern adversarial system is only one historical step removed from the private vengeance system and still retains some of its characteristic features. Thus, for example, even though the right to institute criminal action has now been extended to all members of society and even though the police department has taken over the pretrial investigative functions on behalf of the prosecution, the adversarial system still leaves the defendant to conduct his own pretrial investigation. The trial is still viewed as a duel between two adversaries, refereed by a judge who, at the beginning of the trial has no knowledge of the investigative background of the case. In the final analysis the adversarial system of criminal procedure symbolizes and regularizes the punitive combat.

By contrast, the inquisitorial system begins historically where the adversarial system stopped its development. It is two historical steps removed from the system of private vengeance. Therefore, from the standpoint of legal anthropology, it is historically superior to the adversarial system. Under the inquisitorial system the public investigator has the duty to investigate not just on behalf of the prosecutor but also on behalf of the defendant. Additionally, the public prosecutor has the duty to present to the court not only evidence that may lead to the conviction of the defendant but also evidence that may lead to his exoneration. This system mandates that both parties permit full pretrial discovery of the evidence in their possession. Finally, in an effort to make the trial less like a duel between two adversaries, the inquisitorial system mandates that the judge take an active part in the conduct of the trial, with a role that is both directive and protective.

Fact-finding is at the heart of the inquisitorial system. This system operates on the philosophical premise that in a criminal case the crucial factor is not the legal rule but the facts of the case and that the goal of the entire procedure is to experimentally recreate for the court the commission of the alleged crime.


The main idea is usually stated in the last--occasionally the first--sentence of the first paragraph. If it's not there, it will probably be the last sentence of the entire passage.

Because main idea questions are relatively easy, the CAT writers try to obscure the correct answer by surrounding it with close answer-choices ("detractors") that either overstate or understate the author's main point. Answer-choices that stress specifics tend to understate the main idea; choices that go beyond the scope of the passage tend to overstate the main idea.

The answer to a main idea question will summarize the author's argument, yet be neither too specific nor too broad.

Example: (Refer to the first passage.)

The primary purpose of the passage is to

(A) Explain why the inquisitorial system is the best system of criminal justice
(B) explain how the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems of criminal justice both evolved from the system of private vengeance
(C) show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice can both complement and hinder each other's development
(D) show how the adversarial and inquisitorial systems of criminal justice are being combined into a new and better system
(E) analyze two systems of criminal justice and deduce which one is better

The answer to a main idea question will summarize the passage without going beyond it. (A) Violates these criteria by overstating the scope of the passage. The comparison in the passage is between two specific systems, not between all systems. (A) Would be a good answer if "best" were replaced with "better." Beware of extreme words. (B) Violates the criteria by understating the scope of the passage. Although the evolution of both the adversarial and the inquisitorial systems is discussed in the passage, it is done to show why one is superior to the other. As to (C) and (D), both can be quickly dismissed since neither is mentioned in the passage. Finally, the passage does two things: it presents two systems of criminal justice and shows why one is better than the other. (E) aptly summarizes this, so it is the best answer.

Description Questions

Description questions, as with main idea questions, refer to a point made by the author. However, description questions refer to a minor point or to incidental information, not to the author's main point.

The answer to a description question must refer directly to a statement in the passage, not to something implied by it. However, the correct answer will paraphrase a statement in the passage, not give an exact quote. In fact, exact quotes ("Same language" traps) are often used to bait wrong answers.

Caution: When answering a description question, you must find the point in the passage from which the question is drawn. Don't rely on memory--too many obfuscating tactics are used with these questions.

Not only must the correct answer refer directly to a statement in the passage, it must refer to the relevant statement. The correct answer will be surrounded by wrong choices which refer directly to the passage but don't address the question. These choices can be tempting because they tend to be quite close to the actual answer.

Once you spot the sentence to which the question refers, you still must read a few sentences before and after it, to put the question in context. If a question refers to line 20, the information needed to answer it can occur anywhere from line 15 to 25. Even if you have spotted the answer in line 20, you should still read a couple more lines to make certain you have the proper perspective.

Example: (Refer to the first passage.)

According to the passage, the inquisitorial system differs from the adversarial system in that

(A) it does not make the defendant solely responsible for gathering evidence for his case
(B) it does not require the police department to work on behalf of the prosecution
(C) it does not allow the victim the satisfaction of private vengeance
(D) it requires the prosecution to drop a weak case
(E) a defendant who is innocent would prefer to be tried under the inquisitorial system

This is a description question, so the information needed to answer it must be stated in the passage--though not in the same language as in the answer. The needed information is contained in the fourth sentence of Paragraph 3, which states that the public prosecutor has to investigate on behalf of both society and the defendant. Thus, the defendant is not solely responsible for investigating his case. Furthermore, the paragraph's opening implies that this feature is not found in the adversarial system. This illustrates why you must determine the context of the situation before you can safely answer the question. The answer is (A).

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