The response to the first SIMCAT was great and it was nice to see so many students jump into the fray from the word go. But the plunge as most of you would know is similar to jumping off a diving board for the first time — the moment of impact, the bewilderment when you are under the water, and most importantly the desperation towards the end to somehow get back to the ground again. (I have never jumped off a diving board but was once caught under the waves on the beach when I was quite little, thankfully my dad managed to rescue me).
Just like you would not bother too much about the score given to your first ever dive, do not think too much about the score you got. This is neither an engineering exam nor a blood test. So what is it and how should you evaluate your performance?
The four cornerstones of aptitude testing
The four cornerstones of aptitude testing are concepts, application, test-taking strategy and mental toughness.
On a scale of 100, the weightage given to each of these depends on the pattern of the test but on average they would be 25%, 30%, 30% and 15% respectively.
Concepts, Application and Mental Toughness need no defining but what most test-takers do not understand is the key role by test-taking strategy that has two parts
- Question Selection
- Time Allocation
Choosing the right question
Question Selection becomes very important on a test where you do not need to answer a question before you move ahead and you can navigate to and fro between questions.
On the GMAT, for example, you HAVE TO MARK an answer before you go ahead and you cannot return to that question again so there is no question of choosing or leaving a question.
On the CAT and the GRE, you do not have any such compulsion. So your task is to identify and solve the easiest questions or sets first, mark the medium-level questions later and never attempt the really tough questions.
How many of you chose questions wisely in the first SimCAT?
- did you answer questions in serial order as they appeared?
- did find that you ended up wasting time on tough DI or LR sets only to find out too late or after the test that there were easier questions or sets?
- did you have unread questions at the end of each section?
If your answer to any of these questions is YES, it means that this first SimCAT is simply an eye-opener for you with respect to your test-taking strategy.
Can you develop this ability to identify the right question to do immediately, mark the right question for later and leave the tough question by the next SimCAT? The answer obviously is NO. You will develop that skill only after solving quite a few SimCATs. Also, we will dedicate an entire 3-hour session to it later in the season.
The CAT has always been doing flip-flops on the question of where it stands with respect to time-allocation. Over the last decade, they have alternated between having sectional time-limits and having no sectional time-limits.
I for one am not in favor of sectional time-limits since it allocating time plays a crucial part in evaluating a candidate’s ability to strategize — use the resources at his/her disposal (relative skills on various sections) to maximize the outcome — clearing sectional as well as overall cut-offs.
When you have to divide your time properly, choose the right questions and solve them correctly, you have to play three roles those of CEO, Manager and Worker respectively.
With sectional time-limits you end up playing only the latter two roles — Manager and Worker. Most you by now would have realised that for the better part of SimCAT 1 you were doing only one role — Worker.
We do not know what changes this year’s CAT will ring in but if they remove sectional time-limits things will surely get infinitely more interesting (or tough depending on the way you view it).
How many of you let your performance on the second section affect your performance on the third section? I am sure quite a few would have. This is where the fourth stone — mental toughness — comes in.
Of the four cornerstones, most of you will be still in the work-in-progress stage on first two — concepts and application. The other two stones you will lay by taking as many SimCATs as possible.
You are not going to see your best scores till September
Those of you who haven’t prepared for an entrance test that is taken by so many people, might be tempted to view your SimCAT 1 like you view engineering exam. If not in the mains, then definitely in the supplementary! Once I finish the concepts I will start scoring well. Yes, your scores will go up but so will the scores of others!
So accept the reality that you will take time to develop expertise in all four areas — concepts, application, test-taking, and mental toughness.
In all probability you will not see your best scores before September.
Who are those people scoring 170s and above!
I am sure you would have seen that the scores and percentiles of toppers will be in a different range and obviously that will set you wondering if they are from a different planet.
Well, most of them will be test-takers who gave a serious shot last year but could not make it for some reason.
There will also be a handful of people from a different planet such as a student of mine last year who scored a 180 in his first SimCAT after attending classes only for a week and having never prepared or appeared for the CAT before!
But not everyone needs to be like that. Many greats have made modest starts. Some food for thought:
- Number of matches SRT played before first ODI century — 78
- Number of years it took Djokovic to win his 1st Major – 5
When you are taking a SimCAT you are competing against the most serious aspirants among the approximately 2,00,000 people who register for the CAT, so you really need to be on the top of your game to hit the higher percentile ranges.
How to analyse a SimCAT
Back in the day when I was preparing for the CAT, I spent as many hours if not more hours analyzing a SimCAT as I spent taking it. So the first half was spent taking the test, the second analysing it and only then would I go to the beach to meet friends (that is what I would do every day in the evening in the small beach-town where I grew up —Vizag).
What are the things that constitute a great analysis?
What is the best score you could have got?
Irrespective of what you current level is you should look at
- the mistakes you should have avoided
- the questions you should have avoided
- the questions should have solved
to arrive that the best score you could have got. You need to get that number after every test to know what you are capable of, what was within your reach.
What are the things on which you succeeded but you could have succeeded better?
You should look at the questions you solved correctly and see if you could have done them faster.
- could you have cut down on solving that DI or LR set if you had spent more time at the beginning trying to understand the set?
- could you have solved some questions/problems faster by not writing so much, by approximating or looking for an alternate approach?
Use this to make a list of the process improvements you can make in the next SimCAT.
Solve all the unsolved questions in the SimCAT
Yes, I know you have not yet touched that Geometry book yet but your learning need not be linear. Use every unsolved question to learn concepts from topics you have not yet covered. So if there is a trapezium problem then you can at least learn the formula for the area of a trapezium by learning to solve that problem.
People keep asking for tough problems, especially tough DI and LR sets. The SimCATs will always have the best sets. So spend enough time trying to solve them on your own before looking at the solutions.
If you consistently do these things over the next few months after each and every SimCAT, be it a take-home one or a proctored one you will start seeing results.
If you stick to only solving the books and not doing this part of the job then you are really not preparing for the CAT but for a college exam.
Developing a skill takes more time than learning a concept
As I have mentioned many a times before, cracking the CAT is a skill and it will take time to develop. But the reason I keep repeating this is that one needs to view the whole process with the right mindset.
So think of the first SimCAT as the first time you took a car out after learning how to drive a car in the driving school — one will be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task and the pressure of driving in real-time traffic. But by repeatedly taking out the car all by oneself, one learns, one will bang the car, make a dent in it, but one will get better for sure.
All you have to do is take as many SimCATs as possible, spend enough time analysing the tests you take and stay patient, the results will show.
In case some of you haven’t enrolled for the SimCATs – you can do so here.
All the best for the next SimCAT!