Unlike international tests like the GMAT or the GRE, the CAT is not a standardized test, there can be — new question types, fluctuation in difficulty levels, more questions than expected from a particular area. Given this, it is imperative that you go into the test with a few pointers both to manage the uncertainty as well as to ensure that you optimise your performance during 180 minutes.
1. Be prepared for a fight, for a real TEST of your abilities
Do not go in expecting to have a good time. If it is a TEST, you will not have a good time. If it is an easy paper it means most people are killing it.
2. If it is tough for you it is tough for everyone else
A lot of students have asked me — how will I know whether others are finding it tough as well?
On test day your ability is not going to change dramatically. Neither are you going to solve questions that have always been out of your league and you are not going to miss straightforward questions.
So if you are looking at the questions and find that there are fewer questions than usual that you find solvable then it means that is a tough test. The usual solvable number changes from student to student. On Quant for one person it can be 25 for another it can be 20 and for yet another, it can 15.
If the test is tough, this number will come down for everyone. It goes without saying that the reverse occurs if the test is easy.
In both cases the task is the same, squeeze out every run you can from that pitch.
3. Remember, unfamiliar does not mean unsolvable!
How many times have you left a DI Set just because it is unfamiliar looking only to discover later that it was actually quite simple? I am sure quite often.
We are wired to be wary of the unfamiliar, it helps us survive. But on aptitude tests this can be your undoing. Very often DI Sets where the representation is not a regular one or LR sets which do not seem to be the standard arrangement types might not be difficult to solve once you invest 3-4 minutes trying to understand what they mean.
In fact, the converse is also true, familiar looking sets can lull you into investing time into solving them only to realize much later that they should have been left alone.
4. No Question Is Worth More Than 3 Minutes
Do not throw good money after bad money. Do not restart solving a question after you have already spent 4 minutes on it. You might think you can get 3 marks if you spend another 3 minutes but there are always plenty more fish in the sea, especially easier ones. Remember all those SimCAT questions you discovered you could easily solve only after you went home.
If I can’t solve a Numbers question who will? Do Not Let Your Favourite area or topic Jeopardise Your Test
No question, not even ones from your favorite areas, are worth it.
5. Time-Limits Are Sacrosanct, Do Not Exceed Them
The most precious thing on an aptitude test is time. So if you have set some basic time-limits for yourself, VA-RC 20-40 or DI-LR 30-30 then you should stick to them. Even an extra 5 minutes here and there can jeopardise your sectional cut-offs and hamper your chances of getting a call.
For example, I would rather do two/three solvable LR Sets in 15-20 minutes and leave the seemingly tougher one after trying for 3-5 minutes rather than spend 35-40 mins trying to solve all the LRs. Always exit when your prescribed time-limit for an area is done. There might easy DI sets waiting for you!
IIMs take sectional cut-offs very seriously, right down to the decimal. Remember it is a computer that will generate the list of candidates to be sent the first call based on the input parameters and not people sitting and evaluating your application qualitatively. So a 79.9 instead of 80 on a section will mean that you will not get the first call.
If you feel you need to give 10 minutes more to an area, do that later not immediately. We have discussed how you need to allocate your time in this post.
6. Skip questions within a set in DI and LR
Within a particular DI or LR set (more DI than LR), there will be one question which might end-up being time-consuming. This can be the first one or the second one. So first estimate the number of steps involved in solving a question or the precision of calculation required (close options), if both are high then quickly move on to the next question. In many cases, it does turn out that solving two questions of a set in 4 minutes is a much better option than getting stuck for 10-15 minutes with 3-4 questions.
7. The last 15 minutes of every section are most crucial
As the clock winds down on a section we start moving frantically from question to question. This period is usually the make or break period. We usually get greedy and frantically switch between questions hoping to make some quick marks!
How many questions can you realistically solve in 15 minutes if you have already solved the easy and medium questions? Not more than 5 questions.
So stop taking random shots at all unsolved questions.
VA-RC: If you have marked questions for later, go to those questions first and decide what to do. Once you are through with them, attempt other questions. If you have 2 RCs left, then realistically you can solve one properly. So choose that one and give it a good shot.
DI-LR: If there are eight sets of 4 questions each and you have solved 4 of them in the 45 minutes, you will have 4 of them left with 15 minutes to go.
Even if you want to pick out as many easy and medium questions from the remaining sets how many sets can you attempt?
Can you expect a set to yield itself to you without any brain-work? To quote a line from 3 Idiots, no set is going to say — Tohfa Kabool Karo Jahanpana
So if you had classified the sets as per their difficulty level, it is best to choose the two easiest sets to solve among the ones left and leave two sets instead of spending 5 minutes on each set.
QA: The MARK button is most important for this section. The last 15 minutes are going to be last 15 minutes of the test and hence a greater chance of becoming frantic.
If you had used the MARK button to single out questions that you feel you can do but will have taken time in the first round, your last 15 minutes will end up being productive. Almost everything that we discussed above applies most to this section.
Remember, in the slog overs, the batsmen who walk around the crease a lot just to scare the bowler are rarely successful. It is guys who keep their head still and execute who succeed.
8. Do not let your performance on one section jeopardize your performance on another section
Okay so one section, VA-RC or DI-LR did not go as per the plan. Does that mean you decide this test is over?
You are not the best judge of how well or how badly you have done. Let us say you performed below par in DI-LR and this means that from a potential 95 percentile you will come down to 90 percentile. This is possible only if you perform up to par in QA! If you take a negative mindset into QA, instead of a 90 you might end up with an 85 percentile! You know how bad that can be.
We have seen this too many times over the years.
I usually do not quote Sehwag as an example to be followed but in this case, you should follow the Sehwag model — he is least bothered about the previous ball, he always plays every ball afresh with a carefree attitude (carefree does not mean careless)
Do not let your performance in the previous section or question affect you, every ball is a new ball, every question is a new question, every section is a new section
9. Do not give up!
At no point in the test should you throw in the towel. Absolutely no way, if you are going to do that do not go to the test! Stay home instead and binge watch your favourite series.
Till the last second runs out, fight!
10.Take Only Your Brains To The Test, Leave Your Feelings Outside The Lab Along With Your Other Belongings
Your performance on aptitude tests is dependent on how well your brain processes the information in front of you. So if you let all the myriad things around the test — if I do not get it this time I can’t imagine myself continuing in this job, if I do not get it this time my parents will get me married off and so on and so forth — affect your ability to process the information in the question, execute your timing strategies and will result in you not performing to the best of your abilities.
I know this might seem to be easier said that done but people truly have bigger problems — not knowing where their next meal is going to come from, not having money to pay their children’s fees, being there with a loved one fighting cancer and worse — none of your problems are really bigger than these.
So do not let your emotions get the better of your abilities. So take only your mind to the test, leave your feelings along with your other belongings outside the lab.
So here is wishing all of my students, IMS students across the country and all the readers of this blog, all the very best for your CAT. Whatever the paper make sure like the cat, you land on your feet!
Go forth and maximize your score!