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Tips for the CAT
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Tips for the CAT - July 19th, 2007

Tips for the CAT

Finally we are at the crucial junction with barely a few days left for the CAT. Gautam Puri, MD, Career Launcher India Limited Asia's largest education corporate tells you to keep your cool and to concentrate on your strengths.

With CAT only one month away, you hardly have time to touch upon a new topic. In the next few days, just revise the fundamentals. Also, the basic process of revision should not be one where you check yourself on whether you remember the solution to questions or not. While revising now, see if there is a better way of doing a question. At this stage, your study hours should be down to a minimum of (3-4 hours a day) and all that you do should be towards keeping that thinking clear and concentration to an optimum.

Age of experimentation? There should be no fiddling with the strategy at this stage. Experimentation should be over by now. As long as you know that the strategy you are using is giving you rewards, don't change it… For example, you would know if your best bet is to scan a passage and then move onto to the questions, while another person could be more at ease scanning questions before going onto the passage. So just adhere to your own USP.

Taking the test: Test-taking is the more important part now. Take two or at the most three tests a week. Test-taking should be followed by an analysis of the complete paper. Analyse what mistakes you have committed and how you will rectify them. The next stage should be the eradication of that error in terms of understanding the topic or improving time management. The mistake that is commonly committed is that we take a test as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end. Remember, CAT is not about last minute cramming and revising. It's about being alive, here and now.

Gauge yourself: The most objective analysis of your performance is to judge your performance with respect to that of other students. There cannot be any method more objective than that. The second step is to go by the benchmarks you are expected to get in that test. Ideally, if you retain your old scores even if the test is getting tougher, it means that you are improving. At this stage, improvement can come not by knowing new things but by fine-tuning what you already know.

Finishing touches: Do away with your urge to cover the complete syllabus instead of revising or analysing the test. Besides spending time on why some answers went wrong, also concentrate on why some answers were correct or whether there is any better way of doing the question. Furthermore, in any well-planned CAT paper, you will not be able to complete the whole section or paper. So go through the questions that you did not attempt and see if you made a mistake by leaving out those and attempting the ones you did. Also remember than in every paper, there will be both difficult and easy questions, and a paucity of time. For every correct answer you get one mark. Now since you get the same amount of marks for each correct answer, you should attempt those questions that take the minimum amount of time. This is where the concept of revision comes in. With regular revision, the student gets better and better at questions he or she is comfortable at and is able to do them in a short-span of time.

For D-Day: One of the biggest pitfalls is that students always search for short-cuts, asking 'which is the easiest way out and which are the easiest questions?' There are two issues. The first is the tremendous urge to skip questions. Students don't concentrate and want to skip questions because of the pressures of time. But things get better if you follow a couple of golden rules. If you want to identify the questions to attend, it is imperative that you read all the questions.

Prioritise: Start with the shorter questions. The advantage with short questions is not that they are easier, but that it will take you less time to identify whether you can do them or not. The short questions are not one-liners or two-liners. So read all the questions and quickly decide which ones to attempt.

Be decisive: Decide in two readings and not in three readings, as most students do. It will take not more than 15 seconds, at a very leisurely pace, to read a question. But if you read the question faster, you would have saved a few seconds. These can then be spent on understanding the question. While reading the question, your attitude should be, 'let me give everything I have.' This is full concentration. The other good method is to attempt questions that you are comfortable with. The second issue is about the maximum marks per page. Ask yourself, "If there are five sheets, can I get three marks in every sheet?" If the maths paper is covered in five sheets, it forces you to remember that you have to get so many marks on each sheet and not get stuck on the first sheet. Realise that you need to move on.

Here and now: This is also the time when students have to appear for other MBA entrance exams. For IRMA, IMT, XLRI, FMS, IIFT, the one section where you need to work is general awareness and business aptitude. Good reading habits help. But right now, focus on CAT till November 20 and nothing else. In the last month, people are under a lot of tension. Reading the newspapers will not only give you that daily dose of news, but also help you relax.

One by one: Let's talk about individual sections. Most of the quantitative aptitude (QA) and data interpretation questions (DI) have to do with fundamentals. If your basic fundamentals are clear you will immediately understand the question. And out of a set of five questions, at least three are bound to be easy. Learn the art of skipping questions in DI. The misconception is that you have to solve the whole set before you move on to the next set. Working on DI will pay richer dividends at this point of time. The strategy should be to get the minimum required scores and then move on to the next section, if you are not comfortable in RC. Those weak in maths should focus on arithmetic and algebra to get their minimum scores. While problems start with algebra, the advantage with arithmetic is that most of the questions in maths can be solved with the fundamentals of arithmetic. If you can tackle arithmetic, you can also tackle data interpretation. A set of DI would have five to six questions amongst which there will be two questions that are very easy and one question that is difficult.

Risk taking: If you do the question correctly, you get one mark. If you do it wrong, you get a penalty. But no one really knows what the negative marking is. But broadly speaking it's going to be 1/4th of a mark. Since you don't lose a mark if you leave the question, one should avoid really wild guesses. Which brings us to a controversial area: What should you do when you know that the two choices are wrong and that the correct answer is among the other two? You could mark one of the two as the answer. But if you do not have the appetite to take that small risk, leave it. But also remember that intelligent guessing is a part of the game. As long as it is an educated and intelligent guess, it will benefit you.

Expect surprises: The surprise is more in terms of format than spirit. They will change the structure somehow. One question that appeared in Quant [QA] might appear in DI next year.

Ease up: Learn to relax. Many a time, very high potential students have not made it to the IIMs because they could not handle the pressure. So unwind, go for movies, do things that help you relax, go for walks, meditate… Do all that it takes to stay clear-headed. Get back to those tougher sections after CAT, when you are ready for yet another lap for other management schools. People who stick it out, hang in there and continue to peg away will make it.

- Gautam Puri is MD of Career Launcher (I) Ltd. and an alumnus of IIM, Bangalore.

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