CAT Strat
Comments 9

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 few SimCATs are done and handling these initial results, which can seem pretty rough, is not easy. 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 a 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?

On average, scores correspond percentiles as below (the range takes into account the variability in difficulty levels)

  • 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. MEET says

    Sir if possible please make a blog or video on how to give mock as in
    Before 1 day itself i start panicking about what I’ll do in mock and how should be our attitude before 1 hour of Mock and please make a blog on how to spend time in mock like what shall be our first 5 mins look like in each 3 section
    Please guide


  2. aarav says

    Hi T , my score have nearly stagnated I am a retaker and I have been getting more than 97 percentile in previous simcats but i feel that now there is not much improvement in scores. How should I prepare my strategy now for the three sections to increase scores slowly in the range of 99+.


  3. Prashil Mehta says

    Hello Sir, I have been constantly facing problems between CAT or Canada as Quant/DI-LR are not getting up on my nerves.Please help me out here


    • Hi Prashil,

      I cannot do much else apart from putting up posts to help people reach higher scores. The last two have been for QA, and similar ones will follow for the other two sections as well.

      Give it some two more months and then decide if you would rather choose Canada.

      All the best!


  4. mpk garg says

    sir can we know your mail id if we want to ask some specific queries..


  5. samridhi says

    hello sir ,
    i currently score constantly at 80 percentile approx
    with QA and VA in range of 85-90 percentile
    and DILR at 50-60 percentile

    i am working on DILR Such that ill be able to solve reach 90 percentile ( as i am mostly able to solve 2/3 sets but in my practice i can now solve 4 sets)
    if i start scoring 90 in all three sections what would be overall percentile boost ?
    Also do you think my progress is slow considering CAT timeline


    • Hi Samriddhi,

      All you need to first reach is 3 sets fully right, that itself will out you at 90 percentile in DI-LR and give your percentile a huge boost.

      For now, your progress is fine with respect to the test date.

      By September end if you reach 4 sets, your job is done since 4 sets or 48 marks in DI-Lr will mean a 99 percentile.

      All the best!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.