I never thought I will be doing a timing strategy post since the CAT has gone with fixed sectional time-limits for a long time now. But a reader asked for one for the XAT and thought it might not be a bad idea to do a short post on the same.
I have always preferred a test without sectional time-limits since it tests a crucial quality required for management — optimizing resources to achieve maximum return on investment. In this case, the resources are your own skills and the investment is your time.
So how does one go about using the 165 minutes on the XAT?
Breaking 165 into smaller blocks
The first thing that you have to do is ensure that you clear all sectional cut-offs. This can be tougher than it seems on tests without sectional time-limits since you can get stuck on your favourite section!
The catch hence is to maximize your areas/sections of strength while clearing the cut-off(s) on your weaker section(s).
The best way to do this is by keeping a buffer that allows you to take stock and play the paper on its merit.
I’d say you should allot 45-45-45 for VA-LR, DM-AR, and QA-DI.
Use the fixed blocks to clear the cut-offs by a bit
Your first task is to clear the sectional cut-offs. Use the 45 minutes per section to solve 13-16 questions in each of the 3 sections by choosing and leaving correctly.
This is not a tough ask since you have more than 2 minutes per question.
What will result in this plan failing is if you end up solving each and every question without leaving some for later and leaving some altogether.
What order should I attempt in?
Should you attempt your section strength first or your Achilles’ heel first?
Should it matter which section you attempt first?
You can start with your strength first so that you can get as many marks in your bag.
But someone else might say, that one should start with DM or VA first since it involves a lot of reading and you will get progressively tired as the test moves ahead.
I feel that if you have don’t have the stamina to perform for 180 minutes then no strategy can help you.
I’d say whatever happens don’t start with DM (unless you feel DM is your strength and if you feel you so then something is seriously wrong!)
The reason I say this is that the DM section can spring maximum uncertainty and you are better off dealing with it once you have cleared the cut-offs of the other two.
Those who are equally good at QA and VA-RC start with QA since the heavy reading required in XAT Verbal can catch you out cold right at the beginning. For example, on the GMAT I would choose to start with QA since it will be a good warm-up before VA-RC. Processing absolutely brand new text before the brain is warmed up will be tougher than processing relatively familiar short text.
Do not break the time-block under any circumstance
When I took the CAT the second time, it was a 120 minute-150 question test. My VA was very strong and I could solve 50 questions in 40 minutes flat. The challenge (back then) was to clear the cut-off in QA.
I could have solved all 50 VA in 40 and then moved on to the other two sections but I decided otherwise.
I stopped the VA section after 30 minutes, I would have solved around 35 questions — good enough to have cleared the cut-off.
I then did the QA and DI-LR sections, ensuring that I solved enough questions to clear the cut-off. In the end, I had some time left and I came back to polish off the remaining VA questions.
I attempted about 100 questions in all if I remember correctly, about 45 in VA and the rest equally split between QA and DI-LR.
If I had spent an extra 10 minutes on VA, I would not have gone into the other two sections knowing that I have time on my side even if the section got tough.
So whatever happens ensure that you stick to the time-block and don’t exceed it.
How to use the buffer time
How you use the buffer time can determine whether you end up getting an XL call or not.
What are situations you can find yourself at the end of 135 minutes.
You are confident of clearing all the cut-offs
If the paper goes according to plan and you are confident of clearing all cut-offs then go back to your strong area to increase your overall score.
When you go back to your favorite section, ensure that you are not engaging with the really tough questions and getting stuck on them.
On average you should have about 9-12 questions left at this point and you spend about 10-15 minutes knocking off all the moderate ones.
You do not want to be caught in the middle of a passage in the last 10 minutes and hence do not leave the DM or VA section for the last 10 minutes of the buffer time.
Your last 10 minutes should be QA-DI.
One or two sections do not go well
If, say one or two sections have not gone well at the end of 145 minutes, and you are doubtful about them attack them first in the buffer zone.
So do enough to clear the cut-off by eking out whatever you can and move on to the other section.
If two out of three sections go badly then it will mean that you will give very little time to the one that went well.
The buffer time-block is for you to ensure that you clear any sectional cut-offs if you haven’t done that already or focus on clearing the overall cut-off.
So your 165 minutes should essentially be:
- First 45 – QA-DI or VA-LR
- Second 45 – QA-DI or VA-LR
- Third 45 – Decision Making
- First Buffer – VA-LR or DM
- Second Buffer – VA-LR or DM
- Last Buffer – QA-DI
It goes without saying that it is not mandatory that you have three buffer blocks, it depends on how the paper is and how you have performed.
Also, it is important to mark out questions to return to in your buffer-time — the ones that can be solved but will take about 3-4 minutes.
With sectional time-limits it is like batting in the first innings just go out and make as many as you can, without sectional time-limits, it is similar to planning a successful chase.