It is a different world altogether when one moves from a CBT with sectional time-limits such as the CAT to a PBT with no sectional time-limits such as the XAT. While on the face of it both with test concepts (not necessarily the same) at a fundamental level they end up testing something very different.
A test of competence versus a test of strategy
A test with sectional time-limits is primarily a test of competence — how many questions can you answer in 60 minutes? It does not matter if can you solve the section under the given time-limit or if given 10 minutes more you can clear the cut-offs.
The moment it becomes a PBT test-takers have to perform more like managers — maximise the return they get from their resources. Many test-takers prefer sectional time-limits since they feel the stress of time and resource management goes out of the window. But the really good ones would know that a PBT with no sectional time-limits gives them more control of the test.
For example, on the CAT this year I could finish the Verbal Ability section in 45 minutes at a leisurely pace and was twiddling my thumbs, re-checking my answers. If the same paper was given without sectional time-limits I would have pushed the pedal on Verbal, solved one more set on DI-LR and another 5 questions on Quant. I am sure many of you would have also gladly taken 5 mins each from Verbal and Quant and given it to DI-LR to ensure that you clear the cut-off.
What You Need To Manage — Not Just Time But Also Unpredictability
What is biggest apprehension that most test-takers have as they await the CAT 2015 results? Have I done enough to clear the DI-LR cut-off?
So what you know by now is that the test can throw up a few surprises in terms of level of difficulty that you need to handle and ensure that you do well enough to clear all sectional cut-offs.
The XAT, especially the Verbal section of the test, has always thrown up novel question types. Also Decision Making can be unpredictable as there are only broad patterns into which the cases fall.
Your first goal on a PBT is to ensure that you clear all the sectional cut-offs.
You should allocate your time in such a way that you have the flexibility to deal with any unpredictability and not let it jeopardise your ability to clear the sectional cut-offs.
Small Is Efficient
We always do well when we have limited resources because we then maximise every penny. And on the XAT, as on any other test, the most important resource is time.
So does it make sense to divide your 170 minutes into three big blocks, one for each section? Most test-takers would be looking at a 50-50-70 division for each of the three sections VA-RC, DM and QA-DI respectively.
I don’t think it is a great idea to go with one block of time for each section. It is better to break down your test into smaller time units and build in scope for flexibility into system.
How To Divide Your 170 Minutes on XAT 2016
I would suggest the a division 45 minutes for each section and a buffer of 35 minutes — 45-45-45-35
What does such a division ensure?
Ensures That You Clear Sectional Cut-Offs
To ensure that you clear the sectional cut-offs for each section you should aim to score at least 12 marks on marks. This would mean an attempt of around 15-16 questions in each section with high accuracy.
So your task in the first 45 minutes is to pick out the easiest 15-16 questions so that you clear the sectional cut-offs. Use the A-B-C before solving any question — Now, Later or Never.
Remember the paper can be easy, so do not stop the moment you reach 15 questions; maximise the number of questions you can solve in 45 minutes.
Incase you find that you have not done enough to clear the cut-offs you know that you can come back and do a few more since you have budgeted some buffer-time.
Ensures That You Do Not Miss Out On Easy Questions
How many times have you gone back home and analysed a SimCAT only to find that there was an easy set or question that you could have done but did not since you did not really read it. This division ensures that you take a look at all areas and pick out easy questions from them.
Ensures That You Can Gauge the Difficulty Level of Each Area
If you use this strategy in all your SimXATs, come test-day you will be able to gauge the difficulty level of the section-based on the number of attempts at the end of the defined time-limit.
Ensures Timely & Better Performance Tracking
It is quite common for test-takers to realise towards the end of a test that their performance on a section was below par. This is not because they performed poorly towards the end of the test but because they did not keep track of the deficits that were building up during the course of the test.
By measuring yourself over smaller time slots with specific targets, you will be able to clearly know how your test is progressing and formulate your strategy in stages depending on your performance in the previous time-slot.
Why The Buffer
Firstly, the buffer is to help you deal with test-day uncertainty. Anything can happen on test-day, for some reason an LR Set you might have otherwise done might pose a stubborn problem, something that you would have faced on the CAT.
Quant might throw up more questions that usual from your least favourite area, Geometry or P & C. How do you deal with this? Can you allow these minor setbacks to jeopardise your entire test?
If you have ensured that in the regular time of 135 minutes you have done enough to clear sectional cut-offs, then the buffer will help you really make a run for the overall cutoff.
A score of 40+ on the XAT usually nets you a percentile in excess of 99 and a call from XLRI. This year the number might be slightly higher because of the extra 30 minutes.
An overall score of 45+ should thus get you into the 99 percentile range.
Suppose you have ensured that you will score at least 12 in each of the 3 sections then you know that in the last 35 minutes you need get another 9-10 questions from all B category questions left unsolved.
Since you would have gone through all three sections you would have a clear idea as to where you can get those marks from.
Incase your performance is lopsided — you do well in 2 sections but not on the third one — you can use the buffer time first to ensure that you clear the cut-off in the section that did not go well and then to go after the overall cut-off.
It is that safety net at the end of 135 minutes that helps you ensure that to you clear sectional and overall cut-offs despite any setbacks during the 140 minutes.
You can customise the plan by changing the time-limits here and there by 5-10 minutes but you should not let your buffer time go below 20 minutes. More importantly you should stick to the plan.
What order should you attempt the questions in?
As long as you stick to the time-limits any order should suffice. But this works best when you have almost equal ability on all three sections.
But if your ability across the three sections is varied then one of the two orders below is advisable:
- Strongest – Weakest – Average
- Weakest – Strongest – Average
What is crucial is that you do not end up spending more time on your strongest section and thus end up not having enough time to clear the cut-offs on the other sections.
The year I cleared the CAT, we had 150 questions, 120 minutes with 50 questions from same three sections as there were in CAT 2015.
I started with Verbal, my strongest section and stopped at the end of 30 minutes having solved around 30 questions. I then ensured that I spent enough time to clear the QA and DI-LR cut-offs. If I spent another 10 minutes on Verbal I could have solved another 10-15 questions but at that point I had cleared the first hurdle — clearing the sectional-cutoff.
In the end I had another 5-10 minutes left and I came around and knocked off the easy VA questions that remained (I did the RCs in the first round).
Fine tune this strategy on the SimXATs
Take the 7 SimXATs with the same focus that you would have on test-day. Execute the timing strategy till you get a proper hang of; it will not fall into place with one Sim.
Do browse through the SimXATs to just check out XAT questions. To do that look a previous years’ XAT papers. If you don’t take the SimXAT seriously, you are not serious about taking the XAT.
As discussed keep benchmarks of 12 of sectional scores and 45 for overall score to measure your performance.
I will do two more posts one on DM and one on things to watch out for on XAT-day.
And yeah, do not bother about the -.05 for every unanswered question beyond the 13 questions you can leave. You need to skip 33 questions to earn a negative of -1 ,making it inconsequential. So take the test as if this rule does not exist.
It is almost as if they cannot rest till they tweak something or the other!