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How Many Questions Should I Attempt In CAT?

This is possibly the most frequently asked question among CAT FAQs. Whether the year be 2005, 2009 or 2015 this question has always been THE ONE question to answer and perhaps rightly so.

The simplest answer to this question, as I have always told my students, is — as many as you can. It might seem deceptively simple and quick-witted but at the core of it, is that not the task? But since test-takers are at different abilities you might ask – what is a good “as many as I can that will fetch me a 99 percentile on CAT 2015?


[title text=”What a 99 percentile meant on the past CATs”]

CAT 2014 was possibly the easiest CAT ever — getting a 99 meant correctly answering more than 30 questions in each of the two sections. The extent to which the test was easy is reflected in the fact that there were sixteen 100 percentilers last time!

In contrast, CAT 2013 was the toughest of the computer-based CATs so far — answering approximately 16 questions correctly in each section resulted in one of our students getting a percentile of 99.89

On CAT 2011 & 2012 — correctly answering around 17-18 questions in QA-DI and around 21-22 in VA-LR, a total of 40 questions correct guaranteed a percentile well in excess of 99.

Based on my own experiences with the CAT (11 times and counting) and those of others ,we can safely say that on average attempting 55-60 percent of the questions correctly, or a net score that is equal to 55-60 percent of the total score, will get you a percentile in excess of 99. This is something that even our students taking the SimCAT will attest to.

The above 99 percent category is like a 100 metres dash at the Olympics, there will be a Bolt who is way ahead of even his fellow 100 percentilers but barely few questions will separate the rest. So we can say that a 60-65 net percent score will ensure a percentile higher than 99.50.


[title text=”What it might mean on CAT 2015″]

So on CAT 2015 what will be the magic number? A net score of above 150 will ensure a 99 plus percentile. Let us see how this is possible using the data from this year’s SimCATs.

The pattern changed from 2 to 3 sections from SimCAT 5 onwards — a very strong reason why scores dropped on that test. But after that scores quickly returned to normal levels — a score in the 140s consistently fetching a 99 percentile.

Why do scores consistently bunch around this level?

  • On a test of moderate difficulty the best possible number of attempts per section in 60 minutes will be around the 20-22 mark
  • If we take an accuracy of 80-85 percent as the benchmark then the net score will hover in the 135-145 range
  • So just to give a bit of a buffer we can predict that 150 plus will guarantee a 99 percentile on most tests and 120 plus will guarantee a 95 percentile.


CAT Scores and Percentiles 2015


[title text=”There is no magic number, so do not go in with a number in mind!”]

Ask yourself this simple question, what happens if CAT 2015 is easier than the previous CATs —CAN YOU attempt 55-60 questions correctly and hope to get a great percentile? What happens if it’s tougher than what we have seen in the last 5 years — WILL YOU BE ABLE to answer 55-60 questions correctly in 180 minutes? In both cases, the answer is NO.

In 2013, a student of ours who was re-taking the CAT finished the QA-DI section only to find that he could attempt fewer questions that he did in CAT 2012. He concluded that he had performed poorly and with that mindset under-perform in the VA-LR section.

When the results came out he found that he had scored only slightly lower than the did in the previous year —the high 98s in 2013 as opposed to the early 99s in 2012— and felt that he could have gotten a much better percentile than he got in 2012, if only he had kept his head together after the Quant section (he is currently in a premier b-school, so all’s well that ends well).

The same is borne out in the SimCAT data as well if we look at the data for SimCAT 8. It was the easiest SimCAT till date and hence students scored about 20-25 marks more across percentile ranges

Such a test is the best indicator of what can wrong if you go in with a number in mind.

You start Quant and after 30 minutes have solved about 10 questions and are pretty happy since you were able to answer more questions and everything is under control. You do not really push the pedal and end the section having solved about 20 questions and pleased with your performance. Only when you get see your percentile will you realize that it was not good enough.

Once you look at the SimCAT 9 percentiles you will see that it is exact opposite of SimCAT 8.

This is a very important thing to remember. So, unless you are like a colleague of mine who always has time to attempt all questions irrespective of the number of questions, there is no precise number of attempts.

There will always be a give & take of 5-7 questions here and there depending on the degree of difficulty of the paper. So you cannot go in with a fixed number.


[title text=”So how many questions should I attempt in CAT 2015?”]

The best way to look most things involving test-prep is from a cricket perspective. How many runs should get when you are going out to bat first?

As many as you can.

 If the pitch is easy then 300 might not be enough and if the pitch is tough a 200 might suffice (we are talking ODIs here).

If it is easy for you, it is easy for everyone else as well; if you are having a hard time, every else is as well.

What is important is that under all conditions you MAXIMIZE.

We will deal with this topic in a forthcoming post – how does one maximize under all conditions.

Till then, keep the faith, keep prepping, keep testing.

All the Best.

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