We are slowly getting closer to the business end of the CAT 2018 season. Some of you would have joined for classroom programs as early as last June, a lot of you in Jan and I am sure a few are yet to start but all of you know that you have to start your prep with all seriousness. All of you know that it is time to do more than just attend classes, meet your CAT prep mates and go back home.
So it is not a surprise that I am getting a lot of queries
– how many hours of prep should I be putting in daily to crack CAT 2018?
– what should I be doing on a daily basis to crack CAT 2018?
– how should I plan my prep for CAT 2018?
This post is going to be dedicated to all things related to a prep plan for CAT 2018.
Firstly, define what cracking CAT exactly means?
Cracking the CAT means getting calls from the IIMs and other top schools. What are the score criteria for getting calls from the premier b-schools in the country? We will deal with the other criteria in a different set of posts but let us look at what they expect in terms of CAT performance?
The first hurdle you have to clear is not the overall percentile. Your overall percentile does not matter if you do not clear the sectional cut-offs. There are aspirants who got close to a 99 percentile but still did not get any calls since they scored below 80 in one of the sections.
The first benchmark is to cross 80 percentile and above in each of the three sections VA-RC, DI-LR and QA.
You need to start your prep with this first goal in mind — clearing all sectional cutoffs.
Your prep plan should help you clear all the sectional cutoffs, not just the Quant
What was the structure/pattern of CAT 2017?
VA-RC: 34 questions | DI-LR: 32 questions | QA: 34 questions
The set-based questions — RC, DI & LR — accounted for, 24 + 32, 56 questions, or 56% of the test. Unfortunately, the same proportion is not witnessed in prep-time invested by the student.
Most students feel that
- there is nothing much to learn in DI
- LR is anyway about puzzles and logic so there is nothing much one can do in the way of prep
- RC is boring and whatever I do I always get caught between two options
- VA does not need much of practice, I am good at Jumbled paragraphs
Given this line of thought, all of their prep time goes into Quant solving
- prep material from more than one player
- Arun Sharma
- crazily tough remainder theorem problems
- consistently ignoring the one Quant area they hate
Another thing that test-takers keep saying is that once they start solving Quant they just keep going at it for a long time. What will be the outcome of such a lopsided prep plan?
An overall percentile that is not really high since the sectionals are low.
The amount of time you prep for should be aligned to the test structure and nothing else. Hence, every hour you spend on Quant should be matched with an hour of practice on the set-based questions DI-LR-RC together.
Mastering a skill takes more time than learning a concept
The reason why people keep spending so much time on Quant is that there seems to be so much knowledge to be gained when compared to DI-LR-RC, something that cannot be argued against, but DI-LR-RC is a pure skill. And like any skill, you will need time before you master it well enough to be in top 20% of the people.
Once you have learnt the basics of driving a car do you automatically become capable of driving in the most extreme of conditions. You need to drive many a mile in many conditions before you become a master driver. The same thing applies to any skill and DI-LR-RC is no different.
So the first step in your prep plan?
- Solve at the least 2-2-2 sets each of DI-LR-RC with a time-limit of
- 45 minutes in total, taking 6-8 minutes a set (on average) if you are starting with Level 1
- 55 minutes in total, taking 9-10 minutes per set (on average) if you are solving Level 2
- 65 minutes in total, taking 10-12 minutes per set (on average) if you are solving Level 3
- If on any day you have lesser time than usual do 1-1-1 set each.
- On weekends solve 3 sets each for 90 minutes
Where can I get really tough DI-LR sets for practice?
Given the difficulty of CAT 2017’s DI-LR section, a lot of aspirants are looking for a book that has tough DI-LR sets.
Certain DI-LR sets are tougher than others because they are unique. They are not based on set patterns and you need to devote a bit more time to understand them first and then to solve them. So even if you practice a lot of tough DI-LRs the time you take to solve might not come down drastically.
Rather, what you should develop is the ability to solve the Easy & Medium sets really fast. During practice, you should not be content solving Medium sets easily and then think that what you really need is tough sets.
If you are doing an Easy set comfortably in 10 minutes in cruise mode it will not suffice. You should be slicing open the set in 5 minutes flat — that is true expertise.
On test day it is this ability that will give you the extra cushion to tackle the tough set and reach a much higher percentile.
Get the technique right before you start practising
Before you set off on your practice sets, just ensure that you get the technique right for both RC and DI.
If you have not yet done the basics from the IMS BRMs (or study material of other players) for DI and LR then do that first. If you have finished them or are above 80 percentile in each section based on your previous attempt then revise technique from the following sources:
Preparing for the Quant section of CAT
If we divide the Quant topics into five areas — Numbers, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry & Modern Math — and the levels of difficulty of practice problems across these areas into Easy, Medium & Difficult, then the typical practice sequence for most test-takers would look like the figure below.
The problem with this sequence is that you are stuck for too long in one area and by the time you finish the basic of all topics, you will have finished quite a few Mocks without seeing great results.
Also, after you finish a couple of areas you would have forgotten everything you did in the first one since you did it quite a while back.
So a better sequence to prep would resemble the figure below
This ensures that you complete the basics of all topics at the earliest. This means that you will be able to solve the easiest questions from all areas from the earliest part of the SimCAT season. It will also ensure that you are not out of touch with a topic for too long.
Even on test-day, this is exactly how you should approach the Quant section — pick out the easiest questions first (irrespective of the area) since they will yield three marks in the least time and then move on to medium questions, solving difficult questions only if you have time left.
CAT rewards all-rounders, not specialists
One of the reasons why few people clear CAT on their first attempt is that they do not understand the most important rule — CAT rewards all-rounders, people who are good at all five areas QA, DI, VA, LR, RC.
But what does GOOD mean?
You will be happy starting with any of the five areas, will be able to solve Easy and Medium questions in them and side-step the difficult ones.
Given the hangover of Engineering exams, test-takers tend to play the percentages
- managing DI-LR cut-offs on Mocks by maximising LR and not really developing any DI muscle
- relying a lot on VA to counter the weakness in RC or vice-versa
- ignoring areas such as Arithmetic on Quant since it involves a lot of reading and focussing more on Numbers
The problem with this is that the test can easily catch you out in the deep.
- Last year’s LR sets were quite tough and DI would have definitely offered a much better ROTI (Return-On-Time-Invested) whereas the LR sets were time-sinks
- RC accounted for 24 questions and they were not really hard so acing the Verbal section would have meant being good at both VA and RC and not one of the two
- Quant was also pretty easy and solving more than 30 questions was not really tough provided you covered basics across areas and not ignored any area since one of two questions here and there would have made a huge difference in cut-offs
How much time do you need to practice every day to crack CAT
Instead of trying to answer this question I will try to set milestones for the prep.
- 30- June
- 100 sets each of DI, RC and LR
- Complete basics of all topics in Quant along with Level 1 or Easy questions practice (partially complete Level 1 is also fine)
- 30 questions of each VA question type
- 180 Sets each of DI, RC and LR
- Complete Level 1 and Level 2 questions across all topics
- 100 questions of each VA question type
- 31- October
- 250 Sets each of DI, RC and LR
- Finish previous CAT papers
- Complete Level 3 questions on all topics
I am not going to answer how many hours are required per day. As potential managers, you have to manage your time to reach these milestones.
The prep plan I have outlined above will ensure that your prep is balanced and you develop all-around capabilities. You can tweak it and change it as you wish but ensure that you keep the goal in mind — becoming equally good at all the five areas, good enough to ensure that you clear the sectional cut-offs irrespective of the type of paper CAT 2016 throws at you.