In the previous two posts, we discussed the mindset and the tools that you would need for a successful retake. In this post, we will take a look at the specific things you need to do for each section and area.
VERBAL Ability — Throw your prep net as wide as possible
Of all the things that make the CAT tough, it is the nature of the VERBAL Ability section that poses the biggest challenge. At some level, the way the CAT has tested VERBAL Ability over the years seems to filter out people whose VERBAL Ability is as much a function of their general proficiency with the English language and reading per se as much as it is a function of the amount of practice they have put in.
So in effect assured success on the VERBAL Ability will be a function of your natural ability with the language and your practice equipping you with the following knowledge & skills
- an above average reading speed of 250-300 WPM
- a wide enough vocabulary of around 1500-2000 words
- ability to apply Grammar rules pertaining to written English
- logical reasoning in a verbal context
While the CAT itself might not test all the above skills — Grammar questions, for example, did not feature in the last two editions of the CAT — between the other tests, XAT, IIFT, NMAT & SNAP, all of the skills above will get tested.
So the first thing when it comes to a CAT retake is to approach the prep with an attitude towards developing all the skill sets rather than a narrow focus to somehow clear the cut-off. The latter will only make your retake a matter of chance rather than a matter of competence.
So how do you develop each of these skills?
Reading Speed & Comprehension
The first thing to grasp is that reading speed is a skill, just as driving a car is or playing a sport is; like them, it is a function of a certain natural predisposition and a lot of time spent practising.
While you can learn to drive a car in a short span of time, you will need to put in a lot of miles of driving under various conditions before you can drive at high speeds with a lot of control; the same applies to Reading Comprehension.
So there is no other way to master Reading Comprehension than by practising a lot. What do I mean by a lot of practice?
You should finish the entire RC material of at the least one of the test-prep players’ study material. Once you are through with this you should practice the RCs from the GMAT Official Guide (soft copies of which you can find online); this is just practice.
Apart from this, you need to dedicate some time every day for general reading that is geared not only towards increasing your reading speed and vocabulary but also your general knowledge required to clear the WAT-PI rounds. What qualifies as general reading and what are the kind of books you should read will be dealt with a follow-up post.
The width and depth of your vocabulary can be a very good indicator of the width and depth of your knowledge. One of the strengths of good communicators is their ability to find the right words for the situation, in other words, their articulation skills.
Very often I have found that despite knowing words, students need not always know the usual context in which the words are used. Take for instance the word “mediocre”. While the dictionary meaning is average, it is usually used with a negative connotation. I have found many students using the word “mediocre” not with a negative connotation but with a neutral connotation, almost interchangeably with the word “medium”.
This more than provides an explanation as to why many students find questions around style, tone & attitude of the author tough to handle.
The only way to learn words is to read them as part of a text and understand them in context. If someone is writing an editorial about the current government and calls its performance “mediocre”, it means that he/she feels that it is below par or underwhelming. By reading the entire article you will be able to grasp this.
So what do you need to do develop a good vocabulary — read extensively and check meanings of unknown words as and when they appear. As mentioned earlier I will do a separate post on what is the requisite reading that you should be doing.
I finished two books during my CAT prep despite having a good vocabulary — Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis and All About Words by Morris Rosenbaum & Maxwell Nurnberg, the second one is at a slightly advanced level than the first. So it goes without saying that doing these books will not hurt you in the least. If you have a poor memory, just keep re-doing the books.
Grammar questions are probably the least important in terms of weightage but knowledge of the rules of Grammar is something that will always come in handy when it comes to communication in a professional setting be it spoken or written. The only professionals from the sub-continent who can carry off poor English are cricketers from our neighbouring country :-)! Just today I came across a headline caption on the signup page of a new startup by IIM Alumni — You are just one step away from being a Expert! (the exclamation was not added by me!).
So finish the Grammar books from the Study Material you have and then practice Sentence Correction questions from the GMAT Official Guide.
For those of you who are reasonably good with the basic Grammar rules but want to avoid inadvertent errors and improve your written English, Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss will prove to be a humorously useful resource as will The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.& E.B.White
A lot of your ability on Verbal Reasoning will depend on how much you move from choosing options based on gut-feel to rejecting options based on logic.
The best resources will again be the entire material offered as part of the classroom program of established players. In addition, Critical Reasoning questions from the GMAT OG will be a good supplement in terms of quantum of practice.
For those with good VERBAL Ability there is just one suggestion — start reading at a slightly faster speed than you do currently do even if it is uncomfortable, it will soon become your normal speed (not very different from working out).
DI & LR — Practice, Practice & more qualitative practice!
Like RC, DI-LR, which along with RC constituted more than half the paper in CAT 2017, is a section/area that tests a skill rather than knowledge and hence demands a lot of practice.
What is important though is that you not only solve enough sets but also evaluate the way you solved to weed out
- unnecessary calculations
- double solving and
- false starts
One of the ways of improving your ability on DI-LR is to solve good quality sets from
- previous years’ Papers
- books such as CAT 500 and
- puzzles from [www.cat100percentile.com]
The thing with DI-LR is that all of us will be reasonably good at solving the standard question-types. The problem arises when the level is amped up a bit like it was on CAT 2017. What you need to do is to ensure that you genuinely understand the kind of logic that is tested on tougher sets.
All IMS classroom students will do well just to solve all LR sets from all the class sheets and workshops to get a good idea of the width of DI-LR tested. I am sure that there will be quite a few sets that you would not have been able to crack in class and will find difficult to crack even now (despite having listened to the explanation).
The reason for this is that such sets require you to go beyond your default LR settings and you have not yet grasped the difference between such sets and the regular LR sets.
Thumb rule for DI-LR practice at least one set each per day apart from solving a Sudoku puzzle a day.
If you really want to build your ability from scratch then the best sets for practice will be from the Analytical Section of the ETS GRE Big Book Full Edition, it is an old collection of 27 Tests with each test also having two sections of Analytical Reasoning (the book is no longer even available for sale, you can only download it from the internet, download the version which is around 1000 pages).
QUANTITATIVE Ability — What you dislike weakens you
As I discussed in the first post, what stands between your current QA percentile and a great QA percentile are the areas you do not like and hence have not solved too many questions from.
For those whose QA is weak, start from the area you hate the most, use proper study material that lists out concepts in detail(not just formulas) and solve enough practice questions to be able to solve questions fast.
For those whose QA is above average, there is no better resource than http://www.cat100percentile.com. Again, start from your weakest area and go through all the posts starting from the first one.
One of the things to keep in mind while learning from the cat100percentile site is that many a times you will think you have understood a concept, especially ones which are really new to you, but if you try to recollect it the next day you might draw a blank, this is most true in the case of slightly advanced concepts such as partitioning.
So always make it a point to revise what you have learnt the previous session. The idea is to ensure that you have genuinely understood whatever is posted.
Follow up your learning of the concepts from cat100percentile with practice from either the IMS Study Material and online practice drills in case you have not finished them or from any other material from an established source.
Creating an effective practice schedule
Your practice schedule should be aimed at developing competency across all areas and clearing the cut-offs for all three sections.
You should divide your whole prep into two phases:
- March – June: Focus on learning and competence building
- July – November: Focus on speed and test-taking skills
The table below provides an indicative way to schedule your daily practice sessions until June.
Depending upon the time you have you can solve 1-set each of DI-LR-RC or 2-sets each or 3-sets each.
Setting the right goals for a retake
What you want to do on a retake is to take your percentile to the next level. For this, your ability needs to go to the next level. This means that you cannot afford to keep your learning needs very narrow.
For example, if a team really wants to move up the cricket rankings in ODIs or T20Is then it should look at all aspects of its game, right down to how good they are in the field. One of the reasons SA make it to the finals most tournaments is because they have always been an exceptional fielding unit.
All the books and all the methods outlined above are not new. Those who execute it will see a quantum jump in their competence across areas those who do not will end up leaving things to fate to throw them a paper conducive to their strengths.
You need to peak at the right time
This is something that is very often talked about in sport — peaking at the right time.
Those who watch sport regularly know that no individual or team performance is at the same level all the time. Within a tournament, we see that a team can start slowly but then manages to hit the peak form at the right time — Australia in the 2000 World Cup. Within a season, as is the case with leagues across sports, teams peak at different times — with Arsenal always peaking at the wrong time! Even across a career, a sportsman will have a purple patch where he/she can put no foot wrong — Djokovic in 2015 years or Virat last year.
What you need to do ensure is that you peak at the right time for CAT — September.
What usually happens on a retake is
- you start off full-steam in the March-July period and somehow lose energy or burnout as you get closer to the test
- you decide to go underground till June-July and then straightaway try to go into an intense prep mode
Both are deeply flawed methods. While your practice should start from March and go all the way through to January for XAT, the intensity and focus should vary across the months.
Till June: Be in LEARNING mode
From the March-June period, you need to only be in the learning mode. You do not need to be pumped up and thinking things like this time I’ll won’t just crack the test but smash it to smithereens! You just need to ensure you are being regular in your prep and enjoy the learning process. This should be a happy phase with very little anxiety. Think about this phase as net practice — one is working on learning to get better.
My friend once saw Virat practice in the nets in Australia — 30 mins of just playing bouncers!
July-November: Be in TESTING mode
Right from the first test onwards you need to be in game mode. This means that you need to be kicking yourself over silly mistakes, working to cut down on the wrong choice of questions and focussing on improving test performance. This will only be possible if you have already covered the learning needs before July. You can’t be learning basics and maximising test performance at the same time!
One size might not fit all
The prep schedule outlined above need not suit all aspirants since each one of you will have a different daily schedule depending on your work or your college load. So you would have to tailor or modify the plan to suit your needs. But what is most important that you make a plan and stick to it.
What matters more than frequency is regularity. No matter how hectic your day what is the barest minimum that you can eke out — can you ensure that you at least read the newspaper before turning in to bed on a really crazy work day?
If your weekdays are variable but your weekends are predictable then can you ensure that you make a weekend plan and stick to it?
Most often we have a clear long-term plan, in this case cracking the CAT come November, but whenever something else comes up in the shorter-term — a weekend with a friend visiting from out of town, a new movie or a new TV series that is supposed to insanely good — we end up accepting it. So in effect, short-term decisions end up jeopardising long-term goals! So you have to say no to a few things, give up a few things (besides deciding to grow a beard till the test).
Whatever you plan you draw up, stick to it. Do not be like the guy who draws up a will but refuses to die!
Feel free to post any queries or help you might need in coming up with a prep plan.