CAT 2017: Setting the right targets on your way to a 99 percentile

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CAT / CAT Strat / Motivation

Last year, I attended the Chennai convocation function for aspirants who cleared the Company Secretary (CS) exam (a relative of mine cleared the exam). The Chief Guest was Padmishri awardee T.N.Manoharan, who is a pre-eminent figure in the Banking and Accounting sector in the country with his book being a must-read for all CA aspirants. He was part of the government-appointed team that cleaned up the Satyam mess and paved the way for the transition to Tech Mahindra. His keynote address was leavened with wisdom and had too many punchlines for me to re-count here but one of the things he said is spot on when it comes to the way we should deal with success and failure. He said…

celebrate success with all your heart but do not let it get to your head and do not let failure enter and break your heart, use your head to find out the causes and deal with it

The first two SimCATs are done and I am regularly meeting students to help them navigate their prep, especially the mental aspect of handling these initial results, which can seem pretty rough. Aspirants usually start off full-steam, thinking 99 percentile — IIM-A — and then when faced with these initial disappointments tend to lose heart and start going through a phase of self-doubt.

This post is about how you should use your head to deal with phase.

Setting the right attempt, accuracy and score targets

In my previous post I had mentioned that you would need to be patient and wait till around the end of September to you see your best scores and percentiles. But how do you set mini-targets till then to ensure that by the time you are about a month away from CAT, you are performing at your peak?

The devil as they say is always in the details. Let us look at the overall scores at different percentile levels for SimCATs 1 and 2.

  • 99 percentile – 163, 150
  • 95 percentile – 135, 124
  • 90 percentile – 116, 110
  • 80 percentile – 93, 80
  • 70 percentile – 77, 74

Those of you who have a percentile below 70 and are feeling bad about same, try viewing what 70 percentile means from a different lens.

On average around 75 marks should fetch you 75 percentile and ideally these 75 marks should get spread equally across the three sections.

What does 25 marks in a section mean?

  • Approximately 12-13 attempts with 9-10 questions correct.

So, on average to get a 70 percentile you will be leaving more questions than you will be attempting or in other words you will be attempting very judiciously.

A reasonably reliable estimate of how many questions you should be attempting in each section on the SimCATs to scale different percentile levels is given in the table below.

  • 80 percentile – 10/13
  • 85 percentile – 13/16
  • 90 percentile – 16/20
  • 95 percentile – 18/22
  • 99 percentile – 20/25

If you speak to previous years’ CAT-takers they might say that these numbers are on the slightly lower side but SimCATs have always been tougher than the actual CAT. If the actual CAT is easier your attempts and accuracy have to naturally go up.

Setting the right percentile targets over the next three months

I know that the readers of this blog will be a varied lot — from re-takers who are already at a 95 percentile to first-timers who fared poorly in their initial SimCATs. The percentile targets I am going to suggest are strictly for those who are currently at or below 80 percentile irrespective of whether they are re-takers or not. Given below are the percentiles you should target to reach in the coming months. Please note that you need to touch these percentiles some time during these months, not necessarily at the beginning or the end.

  • 85 percentile – July
  • 90 percentile – August
  • 95 percentile – September

So in these initial SimCATs you should set modest milestones to start with in terms of attempts accuracy and percentiles and slowly work your way up the ladder.

One rule of thumb can be to aim at increasing your percentile by 3-5 points every month from now on.

Learn to leave the right balls before you are ready to despatch every ball to the fence

One of the big psychological barriers when it comes to test-taking is not very different from what batsmen face when they come to the crease — the eagerness to get off the mark.

So right from the start of a section, test-takers are always desperate to somehow score and get some marks under the belt. Given this desperation what do they do?

Like batsmen who tend to play at every ball, test-takers tend to attempt every question. What happens when batsmen tend to do that at the beginning of an innings, they tend to get out caught in the slips, usually playing away from their body.

So like it is in cricket, the key in test-taking is also shot selection or rather choosing which questions to take a shot at. I know this is easier said than done.

Protect your time spent, the way you are supposed to protect your wicket

In cricket they say that the best batsmen place a premium on their wicket. If you remember the big problem with Rohit Sharma at the beginning of this career was his inconsistency and most of it was because of the manner of his dismissals. He would more or less gift his wicket away. This was true of many great players at the beginning of their careers, it was more likely to be the of the more talented players. Aravinda D’Silva had more than one shot that he could play to particular ball! This meant that in the early stages of his career he would throw his wicket away to a wrong choice of shot. The Aravinda who destroyed India in the 1996 semi-final was a fully in control of his shot-selection.

As test-takers what you need to learn to do is to place a premium on your time. When you attempt a question you should be getting three marks for it more than 8 out of 10 times, the rest of the questions should be left alone. Most of the time you will find that a lot of your time was spent on questions that gave you no return.

Now , later or never

When you read question or a set, you should be wearing the CEO hat and take a decision — should I do this question NOW, LATER or NEVER!

Given the amount of practice all of you would have so far, this choice is not going to be an easy one.

The more questions you have solved, the better your ability will be to gauge the level of a question and classify it for NOW, LATER or NEVER.

This is most true in the case of the DI-LR. In the case of the Verbal section people attempt as many questions as they can based on their reading speed — if they have read a question, they take a shot at it.

In the case of Quant depending on whether they have covered that concept and also the length of the question, test-takers make a choice whether to solve or leave. Those who have covered all questions on the Quant and are good at it, face a different problem — every question will seem solvable.

In the next three posts I will take up each section and outline a question selection strategy for the same based on the old SimCATs.

In the meantime set the right targets and approach your 180 minutes in a way that you reach those targets.



  1. Swati says

    This was really inspiring n motivating n specially with examples of cricket it turned out to be more interesting to read as i am a crazy cricket fan


    • Hi Swati,

      Glad you liked it. I have to admit that the by default when writing I incorrectly and subconsciously view the cricket fan to be a man, so when I read you are crazy cricket fan it came as a bit of a surprise before it struck me that it is perfectly natural.

      Anyways there is a lot of cricket in what I write coz that is the one language loved and spoken across most of the country.

      All the best!


  2. Shayan says

    Hi Tony,
    First of all let me thank you for the amazing articles/ answers you have put up on Quora pertaining to CAT preparation. They have become an integral part of my CAT preparation. Please continue coming up with such amazing write-ups to inspire aspirants like me.
    Now, coming to my problem, I have signed up with 2 test series, AIMCAT (Time) and SIMCAT. I have given 9 AIMCATS with scores ranging from 95.5 %ile to 98.5%ile aith an average of 97.8%ile. However I am not able to score in Simcats. My scores in SIMCAT 3,4,5,6 have varied between 85 to 95 %ile. This is very unsettling. Could you please suggest ways to improve upon this? How should I strategize from here on to ensure 99%ile + in CAT 2017?


    • Hi Sayan,

      Glad you found the posts useful.

      Your question is a bit tricky. I would like you to first analyse whether you are choosing the right questions to solve in the SimCATs.

      It can be that since you have taken more AIMCATs you are able to make the right question choices or may be the questions are falling in your comfort zone.

      If you are able to execute the A-B-C approach I have outlined in the how to increase your percentile posts, you will find that your percentiles will go up.

      Please attend the Last Mile To CAT Workshop that will be held across our major centres in India over the course of the next 4-5 weeks, which should help you bridge the gap.

      All the best!


  3. Hello Tony,
    A really great and inspiring read indeed. My SimCAT percentiles this year have been:
    Sim CAT1 – 85%ile
    Sim CAT2- 95%ile
    SimCAT3- 94.78%ile
    Sim CAT5- 97.78%ile
    Sim CAT 6 – 99.17%ile
    Sim CAT 7 – 98.04%ile

    My verbal and QA scores have been more or less decent ( above 97%ile) in the last three SimCATs but my DILR has been varying from good ( 99.4%ile in SimCAT7 to very poor 70%ile in SimCAT2)
    How to go about achieving my desired target ( upwards of 99.5%ile) ?


    • Hi Debopam,

      Glad you liked the post.

      Your scores show a nice upward trend.

      I think in DI-LR, the inconsistency has to do with the set selection and also limitations in terms of handling a variety of sets.

      You should go through the How to improve your DI-LR posts, three of them, that cover this issue. You should be able to find your answers there.

      All the best!



    • Hi Debopam,

      Glad you found the posts useful.

      Good job with the steady upward curve in percentiles.

      The inconsistency in DI-LR percentiles is either due to your inability to consistently choose the right sets or due to a limitation in the variety of sets you can attempt – you might as of now be okay only with a few types of sets.

      I would suggest 2 things – one go through the – How to increase you DI-LR percentile – posts on the blog and do all the unattempted sets from the SimCATs so far.

      These two things should suffice to fix the issue and get the CAT 500 book to solve tough sets.

      All the best!



    • shivani says

      i like our scores ,how did ou manage to get such a good percentiles. i am not able to get 50 percentile even. i want to know how much questions do you attempt and how much questions you get right? what do ou think while doing questions in english maths and LR DI? coz i usually get confuse and get low score… please do reply


  4. veer says

    Hi sir, I have written the first three SIMCATs. Now that SIMCAT 8 is approaching, should i go about giving the SIMCATs in the consecutive order or should i attempt SIMCAT 8 ? Does that make any difference?


  5. Pingback: Last Mile to CAT 2017 | IMS VKpedia

  6. shivi says

    sir i am not able to get 35 percentile in simcats, i freak out while doing questions and i alwayys get jumble para and odd one out wrong. i am working quite hard but not improvement yet. i m worried what will happen in november !


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