Five steps to crack Quant

CAT 2010

Five steps to crack Quant

CAT 2010 is approaching quick and fast. Each one of you must be asking yourselves: what must I do now? This article deals with the Quantitative section of the test. One of the common reactions to CAT 2009 was that Quant was a fairly easy paper. True. There was definitely a  higher focus on “aptitude” than “knowledge”.

Here are a few tips to help you build and polish your Quant skills.

* Know what you need to know:  There is no clear syllabus for CAT. So, the only way out is to solve previous CAT papers. Such an exercise gives you a fair idea of the scope of the test. CAT is often described as one of the toughest entrance tests in the country. It definitely is.

Time pressure and the mix of tough and easy questions make it a challenging test.  The fine balance between the three sections gives the test its formidable reputation.

No amount of preparation is complete without solving  past question papers. These papers are available in the public domain. If you have already gone through some amount of preparation for the test, this is the right time to spend on solving question papers.

If you are just starting your preparation, there is no better way to start than to work on previous CAT papers.

Pay attention to the following:

a) Scope and depth of the questions across topics.
b) Frequency of topics: There are some concepts that appear very often. You must be fairly good at these topics.
c) Evolution of questions: Understand how a concept evolves into a variety of problems over time.

This exercise is sure to give you a very good return on the investment of your time. You will also learn to utilise your time more efficiently.

* Topic-wise thresholds: The areas of focus in the previous CAT papers serve as a useful guide to the important topics. One of the key attributes of quant champions is their ability to quickly map a new problem to an older one. This comes from practice. You must have seen a fairly good variety of problems to be able to do this.

As a teacher I have seen a lot of good students get frustrated. The reason is obvious: being good can never substitute for minimum practice unless you have extraordinary skill.

If you can practice the earlier CAT papers as a ‘topic’ exercise, then that would be an excellent start.

Ask your mentor to suggest the “must do” questions from the study material, and ensure that you work on them.

For example, if you look at Geometry in CAT, the biggest chunk would be from Triangles and Circles. If I may go one step further, the concepts of similarity and congruency is often repeated.

To ensure that you are prepared for this topic, you must go back to your study material and pick all the questions in this topic and revise/review them.

Study a topic at a stretch. The connections that you build will be strong and they will last long.

* Taking tests: Some aspirants keep on taking one mock test after another and get dejected when they see the results. Remember, you are no Tendulkar to be able to walk into a test match and perform well. Anyway, he does not do that either!

Even after 20 years of cricket, he does not skip his sessions at the nets.  Mock tests must be supported by regular testing at home or your performance will not improve.  Time your tests. Start with ‘topic’ tests. Set deadlines. Then move to ‘section’ tests. This process must continue along with the 135-minute tests.

* Test analysis: When you look at Quant questions, make sure you do the following things:

a) Identify your mistake in reading the question: It is possible that the solution provided also tells you why other choices are incorrect, and what mistakes could lead to the other choices.

b) Ask yourself if there is a way of solving the problem through choices. Many questions do. That is why they are part of an MCQ paper.

c) Seek out alternative methods.

d) Try and solve all the questions. When you analyse  a question, identify the reasons for arriving at the other choices. That is the learning that you can derive from analysis of any section.

It’s not surprising then that analysis of the Quant section itself could take two hours, if done diligently!

* Tougher is not always better: This is the season of mock tests. There is much excitement among aspirants when they ace these tests. They tend to make comparisons on which test was tougher. Tougher questions do not necessarily make a better paper.

You must look at old CAT papers to believe what I am saying. If you want to use your time efficiently, stay away from very tough questions.  It is useful to know that there are usually two hurdles in the test — one, the principle; the second, the operation. If questions go beyond these two steps of thinking or if they involve very complicated thinking, they are unlikely to be CAT questions!

The writer is Academic Director of Career Launcher.

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