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Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

As a topic, Algebra has time and again proven to be a matter of discomfort for many of our students. In
this article we would be looking back at some of the questions in CAT from 1998 to 2006 that best capture
the essence of this topic.
Let me begin by breaking a myth that in CAT the Algebra questions are tough. I admit there were some
difficult questions, no doubt, but, in general, the questions that are posed to test your fundamental
knowledge in Algebra. You must have heard this bit from your teachers ad nauseam, but it is a proven

Let us rewind to the exam for the years 1998 to 2000.

CAT ’98:
Those were the days when CAT was focused heavily on Arithmetic. In fact, this was the last CAT I
remember which had more of Arithmetic than any other topic. The only noteworthy thing that one could
find in Algebra was a question on a “user defined” function.
User defined functions are not purely algebraic in nature. For example, a # b can be defined as a^b if
both a and b are positive, else = 0. It can take any form based on how we define them. Hence, these are
not standard algebraic functions.
Similar questions were found in a couple of CATs in the early ’90s. To crack such questions, what one
needed was not solid concepts, but merely an attitude of not getting intimidated by the “symbolic
language” which you are likely to find in most algebra questions.

CAT ’99:
It picked up the baton from the previous CAT. We witnessed a significant increase in the share of Algebra
in the paper. The big shift in this CAT was the predominance of Set based questions in Quant (each set
had from two to three questions) — quite a rude shock to the test takers.
There were questions based on the following concepts / expectations:
1) Finding positive integer solutions for an equation
2) Application of Binomial theorem. You were expected to
a) Identify the coefficients of (x +y) ^ n; when x, y are equal to 1.
b) How the first half of the coefficients is same as the second half, when n is odd

This question was disguised as a permutation combination problem.

Surprisingly, post this CAT, not a single question has been asked on
finding the nature of coefficients in a Binomial expansion.
3) Solving simple linear equation with a single variable, involving modulus. If you follow the trend in CAT,
you will find that these questions will gradually gain in prominence in subsequent CATs with the
expectations from the examiner getting a little higher than just knowing the definition.
4) Algebraic language to represent HCF of a set on numbers: h(a,b) is a function that is equal to
HCF(a,b)…If there are “n” numbers, how many times we have to operate on ‘h’ in order to find the HCF
of all the numbers.
This was nothing but a semantic puzzle, if one knew, to begin with, how to find the HCF of ‘n’ numbers.

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

5) This was the first CAT in which 4 graphs needed to be identified. If one were aware of how odd and
even functions look as graphs, these would have been the 4 easiest questions of CAT’99. Even for those
who were not so comfortable with functions, all it required was checking with the coordinates and
identifying which of the choices fit in for the graphs — a not so smart way of solving the question, but,
nevertheless, good enough to get the answers.

6) Composite functions: This is the first time we saw composite functions

appearing in CAT. There were 3 questions based on this set: Given
F(x,y)…find F(F(F(x,y)))….and so on. It was scary from far, but quite
harmless when you attempted it.
7) User defined functions: There were 2 questions based on a set of instructions that are given out to a
robot moving on the graph sheet. This was actually a logic question in the guise of Algebra.
Those who had left out functions while preparing for CAT were hit the hardest. The lesson to be learnt is:
take a close look at the earlier CATs. They hold a lot of clues to the trends in the subsequent CATs.

CAT 2000
This year was marked by a quantum leap in the difficulty of the test. Maybe this was a function of the rise
in the number of CAT takers — an increase of almost 60%, mainly due to the dotcom bust.
The concepts that were checked in this year’s CAT paper were:
1) Given x and y coordinates for a set of points, is it possible to guess the graph?
For people who did not know the ‘difference method’ this was a bouncer. This concept was unique to CAT
2000. Neither had it appeared earlier, nor after.
2) There were 4 questions based on series
a) If ‘An’ indicates the nth term of the series…A1 was given, A(n+1) was given in terms of An . It was
required to find A100. Questions of this type have been repeated often in CAT. One could have easily
solved this question using the given options. There were enough cues in the choices.
b) A series was given, having n terms. You were asked to find the sum of these terms. In fact, the series
was such that every one of the terms was getting further split into 2 terms…and when all these terms
were added, the entire summation collapsed to just a couple of terms. This type of question has
reappeared in subsequent CATs. What was being tested here is the ability of the aspirant to split any term
further into two terms.
c) Property-based question: to prove that the middle term of an AP is also the average of the terms of the
3) Functions:
a) User defined functions: @(A,B) = avg (A,B)….there were 3 such definitions and 2 questions based on
these definitions. Those who were conversant with previous CAT papers found these questions to be a
breeze. In many such questions, one is tested on the number properties, too, as well as a little bit of
logical thinking.
Another set of 3 questions were based on a similar thought, where 6 functions were defined .
Eg: f(x,y,z) = min ( max(x,y), max (y,z), max(x,z)) g(x,y,z) = max(min(x,y), min(y,z), min(x,z))…….
All of these could have been simplified by using the properties of numbers and a little bit of Arithmetic.

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

b) Algebraic Functions: For different domains of x,y; f(x,y) and

g(x,y) were defined . Again it was a mix of algebra and number
theory. The questions were not tough, but involved an
understanding of the symbolic language of Algebra. There
were 2 questions based on this data.
c) Graphs of functions: 3 questions were asked based on a graph. For each of these questions, one had to
identify whether the graph satisfied the condition.

F(x) = 3 F (-x) or
F(x) = - F(-x) or
F(x) = F(-x) or
F(x) = 2 F(-x) if x >=0
It was not a tough ask, if one had a look at the graphs of the previous CATs. It could have been solved
using points listed on the graph, as well.
d) Recursive functions: The challenge in the 3 questions on this topic was to identify patterns that
satisfied the question.
In the first set of 2 questions…F(x) was defined for non negative and negative values of x separately. Fn(x)
= Fn-1(F(x)) other words a composite function of F(x) was defined.
You were asked to solve two questions based on a series of composite functions. It was simple if someone
listed down the first few terms and noticed the pattern.

The other question was where

F(0,y) = y+1 ; f(x+1,0) = f(x,1) ; f(x+1,y+1) =
f(x,f(x+1,y))…asked to find f(1,2)…a little bit of number play
was expected in this question.

4) Solving equations / drawing the graphs:

Two of these questions involved modulus functions:

In the first question, the equations x^2 + y^2 = 1 and |x-y|=0.2 were
given and one was asked to find the max value of |x| + |y|
The second question involved finding the area enclosed by 3 modulus
graphs |x+y| = 1; |x| = 1 and |y| = 1
The third question was a cubic equation with 3 real roots. The test taker was asked to find the values that
some of the coefficients cannot have. At the outset it looked like a tough problem. But with taking one of
the values of the coefficients, it could easily have been split into two factors, one linear and one
quadratic. And the quadratic graph, in that case, had imaginary solutions.
5) The other question was given as a series of functions

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

F(1) < F(2),….<F(n) ; g (1) < g(2) < g(3)…..<g(n). It was given that F and g
together map all the positive integers. And g(n) = f(f(n) ) + 1. One was
asked to find g(1). Conceptually, this was one of the more abstract
questions in the paper.
This CAT expected you to know — from basics of functions, identifying graphs, working with recursive and
composite functions, solving equations involving modulus functions to graphs. It seemed a logical move
from CAT ’99. There were no points in guessing that CAT Algebra was gradually shifting to a test of
knowledge, none of which was, however, beyond what you studied till Class X, apart from the language in
the questions on functions.

The very fact that the Algebra portion in CAT has undergone a slight transformation over the past seven
years has led to one of the oft-repeated question: “Is CAT still a Class X game?” Maybe there is some truth
behind this concern, especially since the importance of Arithmetic in CAT has reduced over the years.
In continuation of my last article, let us now take a look at CAT from 2001 to 2003 to understand the
changing trend.

CAT 2001:
This particular paper placed a lot of premium on Algebra. There were two questions based on simple
linear inequalities; one on forming equations given a set of 4 conditions; and the other was a set of 2
equations from which a third equation had to be formed. This question gauged your ability to identify the
numbers, with which the two equations needed to be multiplied so that the resultant combination led to
the third equation.
There was one question on quadratic equations—sum of and product of roots linking to the coefficients of
the quadratic equation.
Two questions were asked on the concept of AM greater than or equal to GM. Questions of this type were
to appear in a few later CATs as well. Both the questions were quite simple. All one needed to do was
take all the variables as equal.
There were three questions based on some user-defined function, with averages combined into it. No
prior algebraic knowledge was needed to solve these. One just had to interpret the data and know the
concept of averages.
One question was asked on Arithmetic progression, which had a combination of numbers. The question
went like this: “A student added some consecutive natural numbers from 1 , but one number was added
twice. He got a sum of 1000. Which number was added twice?” Questions like these had appeared in
earlier CATs in different avatars.
On the whole, it was a simple paper on the Algebra front.

CAT 2002:
Probably the toughest CAT when it comes to Algebra. The sheer number of concepts that were checked
and new types of questions that were introduced made the paper Algebra heavy.
There were two questions on Data Sufficiency: one on inequalities and the other on modulus. Both were
easy to solve.

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

The toughest question in Algebra in the 2002 paper, which had earlier appeared in the Joint Entrance
Examination was: “x+y+z=5 and xy+yz+xz=3. What is the largest value that x can take?” To solve this
question, one needed some algebraic manipulation and application of AM > or = GM concept. I personally
feel that there has hardly ever been a tougher question asked in CAT on Algebra.
One more question was based on the application of AM > or =GM concept. It appeared in the form of a
packaging problem on how many Samosas to pack vis-à-vis maximization of revenues for Davji Shops.
The concept of Series was checked in three questions. The first was an AP-GP series:
2+5x+9x^2+14x^3…where |x| < 1. One needed to know the method to solve such questions. A similar
question reappeared in a subsequent CAT.
In the second question, the nth term of a series was given and one asked to guess the general nature of
the odd and even terms, whether +ve or –ve. All one needed to do was list the first 5 to 6 terms and
notice the pattern.
The third was a repetition of a concept from the previous CAT. “A student was asked to add a first few
natural numbers …missed one number… the sum came to be 575…which number did he miss?” The concept
of the sum of an A.P could have been used to solve this question.
There were two questions based on identities, the first was: x^2+5y^2+z^2 =2y(2x+z). To answer this
question, one needed to know how to rewrite the identity as sum of 3 squares.
The other question asked one to find out the number by which 7^6n – 6^6n is divisible. If you knew how to
factorize a^n – b^n when n is even or odd, it was a sitter. Some others solved the question by putting n
Functions and graphs were not really predominant in this CAT. There were only two questions on the
former. In the first, a logarithmic function, one just needed to know properties of logs, or simply by
putting x= a and y=b, one could have cracked the question.
The second one was tricky. Two functions were defined as L(x,y) = [x] +[y] +[xy] and R(x,y) = [2x] +[2y].
One had to find whether L(x,y) could be > or = or < than R(x,y). This was the first time that the Greatest
Integer function was introduced in Algebra. One needed to know the number properties of such functions.
It was a conceptually tough question for those not comfortable with Algebra. We have not seen GIF in
subsequent CATs.
A simple question was asked on quadratic properties. One had to find the number of real roots for an
expression (A/x) + (B/ x -1) = 1. It needed rewriting the expression and applying standard fundamental
concepts of quadratics. However, the form of the expression stumped quite a few.
One question that many people answered in spite of not knowing how to solve but just by applying the
Pythagorean triplets was the one which said u^m + v^m = w^m…where u,v,w,m are all integers. There
were choices relating m and the max / min of u,v,w. If one were to attempt, proving the relationship it
would have needed significant amount of expertise. But CAT was checking out if you could relate it to the
Pythagorean triplets.
Algebraic manipulation was required for the question where pqr=1 was to be used in simplifying an
expression having 3 terms given in terms of p, q and r. It needed a bit of smart work to do it the straight
way. Else one could have put p=q=r=1 and arrived at the answer right away!
Overall, the number of questions and variety of concepts made this a tough Algebra section. Nevertheless
it was always possible even in such a CAT to apply fundamentals to make tough questions simpler. In fact,
that is exactly what CAT is expecting you to work on.

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

CAT 2003:
The year when the CAT paper got leaked. The retest, however, proved to be less conceptual in nature.
The graphs resurfaced, appearing in 3 questions. In each of these, the number of points of intersection of
two curves needed to be found. In one question, one had to figure that out between y=2^x and y=x+1 and
in the other, between y=1/x and y= logx. Those who knew how the graphs looked could guess correctly.
Others were lucky enough to realize that at x=0 and x=1, in the first two graphs the y coordinate was the
same. In the third one, cubic and one quadratic were given with the task of finding the common roots.
One just needed to find the points of intersection (which was very easy, given the nature of the equation,
the trademark of CAT questions) and check whether they were the roots, too.
There was one question which could have been solved very easily using graphs, the one on min of the
function max(5-x,x+2). This concept reappeared in CAT after a gap of nine years.
There were questions on similar lines in which one was asked to find the maximum or minimum values of
the square of 4 integers, whose sum was of the form 4K+1. It could also have been categorized as a
‘numbers’ question, but the knowledge that if you are close to the mean, the sum of the squares would
be the least would have made this a simple question.
There was one question based on a set of three linear equations with three variables. One had to find the
condition for which they had at least one solution. Just plugging the choices and checking the answers
would have done the trick.
There were three questions on Arithmetic progression. In the first, one needed to know how to write the
nth term in terms of “a” and “d”. The smart way of approaching was to apply the concept that the
middle term is also the average of all the terms. In the second, one had to find which term would be just
short of a sum of 288 when the series 1+2+3…is written. The third question was a further application—one
needed to know that the first and the last terms were same as the second and the second last, and so on.
The other question on series was on AP and GP: “n questions in a paper…the number of students getting
more than j mistakes was 2^(n-j)…there were 4095 mistakes in all…find the number of students. Now,
4095 is close to 4096, which is 2^12. One needed to look at the choice of numbers. Those who checked
with n = 3 got the answer. An example how in some cases mathematical induction works.
There was one question on modulus, which was a little difficult for quite a few people. This particular
concept appeared for the first time in CAT—min value of |x-a| + |b-x|+ |x-c|…
There was one quadratic given in terms of some unknown coefficients and one was asked to find what
could be the minimum value of the square of the roots. The coefficients were such that one just had to
express the sum of the squares of the roots in terms of the sum and the product of the roots. Then, the
solution would have been obvious…
The last was a question based on the fact that if x is +ve x + 1/x is not less than 2. This had to be applied
to a given expression.
This CAT had quite a few questions on Algebra. The paper was just a shade lesser than the previous year’s
CAT, in terms of the width of concepts covered, nevertheless the new concepts that came into picture
were points of intersections of curves, minimum values in Modulus expressions.
In a nutshell, the retest was a lot better!

CAT 2003 (retest): A milder version of the leaked CAT paper. It was apparent that that paper had been
set in a hurry. A lot of concepts from earlier CATs were repeated. While Algebra was given a lot less

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

importance, there were a lot of questions on Geometry — possibly a deliberate attempt to veer students
off the track.

The concepts that were checked in this CAT were:

Logarithms: There were 3 questions, all of which required the application of some fundamental
logarithmic properties. The first question was based on the solution for x in an equation with logs. The
second was a geometric series embedded into logs, while the third was a simple logarithmic equation with
two variables, in which one was asked to express one equation in terms of the other.

Quadratic Equations: A general form of a quadratic equation was given as ax^2 + bx + 1= 0. It was
required to find how many sets of (a,b) can be selected from (1,2,3,4) so that the quadratic has real
roots. A fairly simple and straightforward question.

Equations: The question posed was on the number of integral solutions for 5x+19y = 64, for some
conditions of x and y. This concept reappeared, almost verbatim after a period of almost five years.

Series: Arithmetic and geometric series did an encore. So also did a question based on the AM > or = GM
concept, albeit in a different format: y-x = z-y and xyz = 4; one had to find the minimum value for y.
Another question where the above concept was applied was to find the maximum volume of a cuboid that
is formed after snipping squares from the edges of a rectangular sheet. This concept was repeated in CAT
after almost a decade.

Common roots: There were 2 cubic equations, the coefficients of the term with degree 3 was same. One
was asked to find the number of common roots. This question was similar to one of the questions in the
leaked CAT paper.

Range of x: Two questions were asked on the expression for x and one was asked to find the range of
values x can take. One of the questions was confusing as the expression looked complicated, while the
other was a simple inequality 1 – 1/n < x <= 3 + 1/n. To crack these questions, one needed to have clarity
in concepts on number systems.

There was one inequality involving modulus: |b| >or = 1 and x = -|a|b. Based on this, one had to choose
the correct option.

And to complete the paper, there were three questions based on some functional operators…The
representation was given in a table format (that was the only new part). All three were absolute sitters.

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

The definitions for composite operators were also given, for example, x*y was given in a table; x^2 =
x*x…. and so on

Overall, it was a simpler paper as compared to its leaked counterpart.

CAT 2004
Series: The question on this topic went like this: “Sum of 11 terms = sum of the 19 terms of an AP. What
is the sum of 30 terms? One could have easily solved it, based on the simple concept of writing the terms
in terms of ‘a’ and ‘d’. A smarter way was to apply the concept that the average of middle terms of an AP
equals the average of all the terms.

A sequence was given in the form a1 = 81.33, a2 =-19 and a(i) = a(i-1) –a(i-2). One was asked to figure out
the sum to 6002 terms. It was obvious from the question that the answer would be a small number. An
easy way to reach the solution was to write down the first few terms, so that the pattern becomes

Quadratic/Cubic Expression: One of the questions was f(x) = x^3 -4x+p; f(0) and f(1) are opposite in signs
and the p lies in a range. One were to simply understand that the product of two numbers of opposite
signs is negative! Also the check was on the student’s ability to solve quadratic inequalities. The other
one was a quadratic expression: f(x) = ax^2 – b|x|, at x=0. One was asked to find out under what
conditions of ‘a’ and ‘’b’ is f(x) is maximized or minimized.

Simplification: ‘y was defined as a fraction that had a recurring expression. One had to find the value of
y. To solve this, all one needed to do was convert it into a quadratic!

Logs reappeared in this year’s paper as well in the form of Quadratics. It was a fairly simple question.
There were 2 questions on functions: f1(x) was defined for different values of x; f2(x) , f3(x) and f4(x) in
terms of the other functions. On was asked to solve two expressions based on these definitions. Even
though the question looked complicated, it was actually very easy.

As you can see, the focus on algebra was gradually reducing in this CAT.

CAT 2005
Identities: A simple question was asked based on identities: (30^65 – 29^65) / (30^64+29^64). One had to
find the value of this expression, whether greater than or less than 1.

Sequences and series: There were two questions—one wanted us to find out what 1! + 2×2! + 3×3!
simplifies to. Once you figure out that 3×3! can also be written as 4!-3!, it becomes a simple question

Functions, Graphs, Algebra –CAT past questions

thereafter. In the other question, A1 was given, with An in terms of n and the previous term and one had
to find A100. This type of question has appeared in umpteen CATs. A simple way to solve it was to write
the first 3 to 4 terms and try to fit the choice into it.

In the question on quadratic, the value of x was asked from the equation: x= (4 + root (4 – root (4 +root
(4-……)))). A question similar to this one conceptually was asked in one of the previous CATs. Hence, it
was nothing but a standard question!

Graphs: There was a graph |x-y| + |x+y| = 4; one needed to find the area enclosed. This was very similar
to one of the questions that came in CAT six years ago.

Functions: This was a tricky one. One was given g(x+1) +g(x-1) = g(x) and was asked to find out for what
value of p, g(x+p) = g(x). If one took a look at the choices, one could have easily concluded that you
needed to write the expression, at max till g(x+6). That was the way to make it simple.

CAT 2006:
The only question in the CAT 2006 paper worth mentioning in Algebra was the graph in which the 2 axes
were x+y and x-y. One was asked to identify the same graph when drawn on the x and y plane. This
question needed the application of a concept that involves rotation of the axes. Though no in depth
knowledge was needed, it might have surprised a few because such type of question made its appearance
for the first time…Could they take this forward? Time only will tell.

On the whole when I sum up the CAT papers over the past 10 years, I can safely conclude that contrary to
popular opinion, Algebra is not necessarily gaining in importance. Yes, it is a fact that no longer do we
see the basic formulae driven problems. You need to move that one step ahead in order to solve these
questions, but those who use the “Dummy” way of solving using choices are going to find a fair bit of
Algebra questions to be simple, irrespective of the level of difficulty of CAT.

I do hope students would take a look a the past CAT papers and not believe the ‘rumours” of CAT being so
difficult…But why were the mocks tough then…I believe mocks do help in Capturing all the fundas that
one needs for CAT…and to crack it !!!