Cracking the CAT with confidence

The latest version of the CAT comprises the following two sections: Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation, and Verbal Ability and Logical Reasoning. Both sections have a sectional time limit  of 70 minutes for 30 questions. The candidate cannot move/navigate between the sections during the test.

Preparation strategy

The first aspect that the candidate needs to make sure of is his/her familiarity with the exam interface and the nature of questions. Both these aspects are discussed in detail in the book, An Introduction to CAT: Tips From An IIM Alumnus, (4th edition). The candidate needs to make sure that he/she does reasonably well in both sections.

The introduction of a sectional time limit means that the candidate cannot spend extra time on the section that he/she is strong in and neglect the others. In addition, with the sectional time limits coming into play, remember to be extremely conscious of time. There will be a countdown timer on the computer screen during the test.

The exam stresses on testing the application of fundamentals of the subject. The  candidate will continue to need to perform a few mental calculations, especially for the Data Interpretation section, and use some of the answer choices for the Quant questions. I suggest that the candidate makes sure he/she practices at least 25 Quant questions on a daily basis, along with 6-7 Data Interpretation sets.

For the Verbal Ability section, questions that test the comprehension of the author’s key messages and his/her tone will continue to be important. The candidate is advised to practice at 4-5 reading-comprehension passages daily.

The choice of questions to attempt continue to be vital. The candidate should try and avoid missing out on the ‘sitters’ (easy, straight-forward questions) that may be present in each of the two sections, nor must he/ she waste precious time on questions that are too difficult. This is especially true for the Data Interpretation section, where some complex questions are often present.

Remember: do not start solving all the sets immediately, but first glance through all the sets and take a call on which set is more structured and has lesser variables in terms of conditions. 

Choose a set to attempt based on familiarity and the number of conditions. If you have practised a particular kind of question before (such as four people living in four houses and you have to find who lives in which house, for example), then attempt it.  On the other hand, when faced with an entirely new type of question, such as a new kind of game, for example, it may be better to leave the question. The moment we have a new game, the ‘advantage’ is with the paper setter.

Similarly, look for questions with a reasonable number of specified conditions. Too few conditions means ambiguity and the candidate will have to evaluate too many possibilities. On the other hand, the presence of too many conditions or rules (say eight and above) means that too much time may be needed.

Remember also to attempt an adequate number of questions in each section, while ensuring an accuracy of close to 80 per cent. I have often found that students miss out by scoring less than what is needed in a particular section, though they clear the overall cut-off easily. Hypothetically, there could be a situation where you score 99.3 percentile overall, but fail to clear the sectional cut-off of 93.4 percentile (as an example).

Finally, try and make preparations for CAT a big part of your day at least for a short while. While watching a cricket match, mentally calculate the run rate of the batting team or the runs per over required to win, a bowler’s economy rate etc. When you fill your car with fuel, mentally calculate the amount of fuel you will get for Rs 500, for example. Play games such as Scrabble and do the daily crossword to improve your vocabulary. Make flashcards to revise formulae or word meanings and look through these while travelling to college or work, etc.

(The author has written a number of books on CAT, published by Pearson Education.)

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