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How to manage your 180 minutes

We have reached the last stretch now. We have done enough concepts, practice & strategy. We have now crossed an invisible frontier, we have moved from the general to the specific, from what is outside of you to what is inside of you, to that space between your ears.

Those who have taken the CAT before will attest that how well you manage your 180 minutes, how well you react to tough set or a section, how well you are able to execute Plan A or switch to Plan B, everything, depends on how well you manage the space between your ears.

So let’s take it section by section, let’s look at each of the 60 minutes, let’s look at what you need to do right, what you need to watch out for and most importantly what can go wrong.

Managing 60 minutes of Verbal Ability

The Goal — To Maximize Accuracy

Whether one is good or bad at Verbal Ability, the single-point agenda for this section has to be to maximize accuracy — the specifics of which are discussed in two detailed posts earlier.

The first thing you should decide before starting the test is which area you will start with RC or VA. I am sure most of you would have that decided by now.

What can go wrong?

Hi, I am a new question type!

The Verbal section of the CAT has always been the one that has most regularly thrown up some variety. Every two years or so they have thrown in a new question type; the last new type being the incorrect sentence in context.

So do not be surprised if you encounter a new question type right at the beginning of the test.

Firstly, do not panic — new need not mean difficult. Like it is the case with existing question types, if there are 3-5 questions, 1-2 will be easy 1-2 medium and 1-2 tough.

Secondly, do not be in a hurry to quickly read the directions and greedily read the question and options. Take time to read the directions, understand the question type before you jump into solving the question!

Thirdly, if you are not able to get your head around the first question do not skip the whole set thinking I will deal with this later, remember that there will be do-able questions.

Who chose these RC Passages?
For most test-takers, success on RCs is directly linked to their comfort level with the content of the RCs.

But what if 3 out of 4 passages are on topics that are not to your liking?


  • panic
  • react negatively
  • attempt questions half-heartedly or worse
  • decide to somehow solve all VA questions!

Doing this would mean self-sabotaging the 60 minutes of your Verbal section. Instead,

  • steel yourself to the reality that it is going to be testing time
  • take your concentration levels up a notch
  • follow the process for RC that we discussed in the previous posts or what works for you
  • attempt judiciously, let go or mark for later the questions on which you cannot break the deadlock between two options

Go into the CAT, expecting this to happen. As they say, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Five minutes of madness at the end of the section
You do what you can and reach the end of the Verbal section. You take a look at the number of attempts and see that you have attempted 15 questions.

What do you do? Decide to take things into your hands (in this case the mouse) and go mark, mark, mark!

Nothing could be more counter-productive. This is equivalent to committing hara-kiri. You are setting yourself up for disaster — a poor sectional percentile.

If you have answered the 15 questions properly, eliminating the options as per the process discussed in the previous posts and left out questions you were unsure of then there is no need to worry. The deduction is not that you have not done well but that the paper is tough.

A way to handle this would be to start with 50 minutes, divide it between RC and VA and have a 10-minute buffer at the end.

So if you find that you have not managed to attempt enough then use that to attempt a few questions not blindly mark options.

Your goal for this section is to maximize accuracy and the steps we have discussed are geared towards achieving the same.

Practice Tip: Solve old CAT passages that you would otherwise not touch because of their content.

Managing 60 minutes of DL & LR

The Goal — To solve easy & medium sets of both DI & LR

I have always maintained that CAT is primarily a test that rewards test-takers with all-around ability.

Test-takers with weaknesses in one of the 5 areas — VA, RC, DI, LR & QA — are always at the mercy of the paper with their performance hinging on encountering a paper that plays to their strengths. But are you not leaving your future to chance?

What can go wrong?

Killer LR — Where did my time go?
On average, most test-takers are comfortable with LR rather than DI, which is not a surprise since expertise on the former is an innate skill while on the latter it is an acquired skill.

This results in test-takers banking on solving at least 3 LR sets to see them through the cut-off for this section. They are willing to solve one DI set.

What if this is not possible to execute?

You get two do-able LRs that can be finished in 10 minutes each and two toughies. You have spent 20 minutes and solved two LRs.

Most would see this as good place to be in and then proceed to the next LR. But should you be attempting that LR in the first place? If you are good at LR you should recognize (based on the number of conditions and the nature of the information) that the set is better left alone!

In many cases those who are relying excessively on LR would enter that set and since solving only 2 sets is unacceptable to them they end up losing about 20 minutes on that one set.

What follows after that is predictable — try the last set for 5 minutes, desperately try every DI for 5 minutes and end the section in a panic mode.

This is not an unrealistic scenario. It has happened often enough for you to be wary of the script taking this turn.

  • You are not going to put all your eggs in one basket.
  • You are not going to waste a year of your life over one LR set.
  • Even if you are Vishwanathan Anand’s cousin, if a set needs to be left, it needs to be left!

Do not spend more than 30 minutes on LR until you have solved all the easy & medium DI sets.

What are the odds of a killer LR?

The IIMs have made their intention of getting more diversity in terms of educational background loud & clear. This year they have given a scientific calculator as well.

So after all of this, they are not going to make the DI crazily tough.

If anything they will make DI solvable and LR tough since they are not looking for diversity sans logical skills!

The DI-LR section is going to be the most crucial section on CAT.

How this goes is going to determine how you approach the Quant section. In terms of mental energy you will be a bit tired to say the least, if you are psychologically down as well then it is game, set and match before the Quant section begins.

So please ensure that you are prepared for the worst.

Practice Tip: Solve tough DI sets and watch the DI videos on CAT-holics if you have not already.

Managing 60 minutes of Quantitative Ability

The Goal — To Choose The Right Questions

Your big challenge will be to execute a great Quant section after of 2 hours of solving and maybe 5 hours since you left home.

For the same reasons that I expect the DI to not be that tough, I expect the Quant section to be of medium difficulty as well.

But how do you ensure that you maximize your performance in this section?

What can go wrong?

Unlike the 60 minutes of VA-RC and DI-LR, during which you will be operating in chunks of 30 minutes each, the 60 minutes of QA will be an uninterrupted stretch of 60 minutes.

Given the fatigue, it can happen that you let the section drift — you start well for about 15 minutes, drift for 20-30 minutes and then switch back on towards the end.

This is very much possible and you need to have a way to counter this.

What is the best thing to do?

Divide your Quant into two sets of 30 minutes each.

You will be tired so the best thing to do is to knock off the easiest questions first without spending too much energy in the first 30 minutes.

During this period do not get into questions which you know will take time — solving time not reading time! If there is an 8-liner Arithmetic question, read it, it might turn out be a sitter.

Use the MARK button judiciously to single out questions for the second round so that you can return to the questions you are most likely to crack. If you MARK every question for later, it will defeat the purpose. In the second 30-minutes come back to the MARKED questions

If it is an easy paper this 30-30 split will not work since many questions will have to be solved on the spot and you will exceed the first 30 minutes. But that as you realize is a better problem to have!

Throughout the section just keep urging yourself to

  • keep moving
  • not get stuck
  • pluck the lowest hanging fruits first

Practice Tip: Solve section tests with this strategy.

Having a good second serve is as important as having good first serve

The objective of this whole post was to make you aware of the all the speed-breakers and panic-inducers on the 180-minute stretch that is the CAT.

As prospective leaders/managers, one of the biggest qualities you will need to display over your career is the ability to soak up the pressure and face up to adversity. Having a great plan B is sometimes (not always) as important as having a great plan A.

So do not go into the test expecting a particular kind of paper and panic upon not finding it. That would be relying on hope and not on ability.

Go in expecting a few twists and turns and be prepared to navigate the same, visualize yourself doing the same.

The next post will be about that — the power of visualization.

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