CAT Strat
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CAT 2019: Setting the right targets on your way to a 99 percentile

A few years back, I attended the Chennai convocation function for aspirants who cleared the Company Secretary (CS) exam (a relative of mine had 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 recount 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 – 119, 130
  • 95 percentile – 94, 102
  • 90 percentile – 80, 85
  • 80 percentile – 64, 67
  • 70 percentile – 52, 54

Since these are the first two SimCATs, scores are still on the lower side. As we go deeper into the season the scores will go up. What can be a reliable benchmark or rather how do scores usually average out?

  • 99 and above percentile – Above 150
  • 95-99 percentile – 135-150
  • 90-95 percentile – 120-135
  • 80-90 percentile – 95-120
  • 70-80 percentile – 65-95

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 do 25 marks in a section mean?

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

So, on average to get to the 75th 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 sometime 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 and it was more likely to be true of the more talented players. Aravinda D’Silva had more than one shot that he could play to a 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 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 a 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. Ranjith G says

    Sir, i was under pressure in DI section. so i was not able to solve furher. i ended up attending only 2 questions but luckily with 100 percent accuracy. i got struck in the half way under pressure.


  2. Nikita says

    Hi sir, thank you for sharing this awesome post. But sir I just started my preparations for CAT 2019. Can you tell me is it possible to get around 99 percentile with just around 5 months preparation this year? I am in 70 percentile range at this moment.


    • Hi Nikita,

      Unless I know what your core level is it will not be possible to tell you if 5 months is enough.

      You need to take about 25-30 mocks, which is possible.

      How quickly you will be able to improve depends upon whether you just need fine-tuning and revision or prep from scratch.

      The answer to this question is time sufficient, should not determine the way to prep. Those who give their best shot in their first attempt, stand to maximise their chances of getting in, whether in the first or in the second attempt.

      So just prep.

      All the best!


  3. Mohd Mudassir Ansari says

    Hello Sir, I am in the middle of my preparation for CAT. I have solved around 200 RCs till date and am about to conclude my Quant basics. Irrespective of my efforts, my SIMCAT score is way below expectations. Last time i scored just 48. After my SMCAT, resolve my RCs without considering help from solutions and i end up scoring 50+ in Verbal section alone.
    What is the solution to my problem. Please help.
    Waiting for your precious response.
    Thank you,
    Have a beautiful day.


    • Hi Mohammed,

      Firstly, more than solving 200 RCs, you need to check how you approach RCs, solving 200 using the wrong methods might not yield anything.

      Also, there are 10 non-RC questions offering 30 marks, what is your strategy to solve each one of them and how many are you scoring out of 30.

      The first thing I would suggest for you specifically is to start with non-RC questions and solve them using the methods outlined in this post —

      If you read the posts but solve them using your own methods — gut-feel in the case of most students — then you will not see results.

      For RCs, you need to go through the RC posts on this page and execute the methods —

      Many students write to me about solving at home without seeing the solutions and scoring well, and this applies to all sections.

      This is not valid evidence to think that you have the ability but succumb to test pressure since you are reading the text or problem for the second or third time and begin to really understand the nuances of the text or problem. During the test, you only see a few aspects, but when you read it again you note the other aspects that you did not earlier, and hence get it right.

      If you are scoring 50-plus on Take-Home SimCATs when you take them for the first time and only 10 on SimCATs then it might be a case of nerves, for which I can assure you no one has a cure, you have to enjoy taking tests the way to you play a game.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


      • I would like start by thanking you wholeheartedly. I couldn’t see my mistakes until i looked through your eyes. I admit that gut feeling is one of the major reason behind my wrong attempts in verbal section. I would refrain myself from indulging into such mistakes and work on my non-RC questions for a better score. I would update you on my scores. Thank you sir. Have a beautiful day.


  4. Hello Sir,
    I got a score 120 i.e. 99 percentile but was extremely disappointed with the score. I can’t seem to cross the threshold of 140 and the sectional scores keep varying from test to test. What is the right mindset and method to move forward from here as there is all four months to go for cat!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sanat Panda says

    Hi Sir, my score in QA and DI LR is pretty good. In VARC unfortunately, i score around 30-35. The major problem is my reading speed. I am unable to give enough time to the VA section in the test and also RCs are affected because of my reading speed. Is it possible to achieve a score of above 55 in VARC in CAT 2019. How do I improve my reading speed


  6. Raghav says

    sir my verbal ability is good but my DILR and Quant section are bad i got 5 in DILR and -3 In Quant in the recent Simcat. i Joined IMS a month ago and im feeling demotivated now what should i do to improve my score


    • Hi Raghav,

      I will be lying if I say that have a plan that can be conveyed through a comment and that at the same time can take you from your current scores to a respectable one.

      You have to sit with the mentor at your IMS centre and chalk out a prep plan, you can speak to the Chief Mentor of your centre with my reference.

      Hope this clarifies,

      All the best!


  7. arka guha says

    Hello Sir,
    I have given 9 simcats (take home+center)bt i am not able to score over 65.
    – 8-10 questions right out of 14-15 attempts in VARC.
    -Two sets correct in LRDI.
    -Only 5-6 questions in QA out of 8-9attempts.
    What is a good strategy in QA for me & what should be my target for next 2-3simcats?


  8. Prakash pandey says

    Sir please help me..m not getting that kick that start which I desperately needed as time is kicking out so fast va and rc is good.. but m totally stuck in QA I’m not able to solve my maths is week. Help me out in preparation sir…m not able to get tht start


    • Hi Prakash,

      You know that to help someone who is weak in Quant through a reply to a comment is impossible.

      You will find all the posts that I wrote to help people improve their QA scores here —

      Beyond that only your mentor at whichever centre you are preparing can help you.

      If you are an IMS classroom student then contact the Chief Mentor at your centre with my reference and ask for a few additional 1-1 sessions to help you plan your QA prep.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  9. Hi Sir
    I have taken 6 simcats till now and scoring around 100 to 110. Scores in VA are consistent usually around 38 to 44, in quant i have improvement in marks in subsequent simcats and got from 27 to 40 in last two. My main problem area is lrdi where i have not been able to form a strategy and have scored variable scores. in one simcat i got a score of 50 and then in next one i got 16. Also I would like to increase my VA score considerably to a 60+. What advice would you give in this regard and strategies I should follow.


  10. Rohit Magdum says

    Hello Sir, I loved it. Please make a similar motivating post for CAT 2020 students, we are facing consistency problem in this lockdown period. I also request you to do some posts on selection of questions…


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