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Comments 33

How to improve your QA percentile – IV

While the previous three posts on Accuracy, Selection, and Speed are more than comprehensive in terms of what is needed to push your score north, I still keep getting messages from students who are unable to come to terms with QA. They say they have done concepts and enough practice as well but none of it seems to be pushing the scores up and the confidence levels are pretty low.

It was only a few years ago, that I figured out the core issue with these students when I was sitting with one — he was preparing for the GMAT and had a decent amount of work-ex and by the time I had met him he was already through with two attempts spread over two years with sub-par scores. He was willing to put in another attempt and a year more if required to get a par score.

I gave him some broad guidelines and assigned a personal mentor to him, and met with regularly, on overall prep strategy, some specific pointers, and test-taking strategies. But at the end of another year the score was the same.

I could not figure it out — the guy was very professional, super-committed (something you would have figured by now), doing reasonably well in this job, and super-positive despite everything.

It was when he came to meet me again that I threw a few questions at him, questions that I had solved in class and he had attended multiple times, and his reaction to them and the way he reacted when I told him the solution — Oh, ya, ya, ya, ya! — that I figured the core problem — he was mugging up Math!


Do you learn Math the same way you did for your X & XII exams?

This I realise is a bigger problem than what is assumed. Students whose only interaction with Math has been for their X and XII exams, who have never prepared for an aptitude test before, and took extensive tuitions for their school exams, do not even know that the Math they did then and Math they have to do now is the same but the way it is tested cannot be more different.

Those papers needed parrots, parrots who could replicate things step by step and with good handwriting.

And nothing could be more different from that than a CAT paper.

So ask yourself that question, do you mug-up concepts or do you actually understand why ax.ay = ax+y

If you do memorise and have always done so then you need to really start from scratch and it is not easy and you will definitely need to do approach it more holistically.

I suggest doing this free course by Barbara Oakley — she had a BA in literature and worked in the defence services before taking up engineering later than others — https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn

Read this book by her as well — A Mind for Numbers

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you somehow mug stuff up, get a bit lucky, and manage to get into an IIM, the first-year course will be as tough, if not tougher than CAT Math — you will be graded relative to others and the others is everybody who has cracked the CAT (the only reprieve is that time is not a constraint). A lot of the students who are unable to complete the MBA Program or finish it over a longer period — would have failed in the first-year Math subjects.


Do you know basic concepts but have no clue how advanced concepts came about?

Do you know how the formula for the number of total factors of a number — am.bn — (m+1)(n+1) — came about?

Those who know how this came about will know how to solve this question discussed in Part-II of this series:

How many factors of 1080000 are not divisible by 40?

I am sure there are many who know the formula but yet not know how to answer the question. If they happen to read the solution they wonder why it did not strike them.

It need not be that you have this issue in the whole of QA. It can be that you have this problem only in some areas — Numbers and Geometry or Geometry and Modern Math. — or only on specific topics such as P&C and Logarithms.

If you are in this bucket then you need to focus on understanding how formulas came about so that you develop the ability to solve such questions.


Do you try to memorise patterns?

The last category is test-takers who are good at Math but their approach to prep is to memorise as many different patterns and endless sub-formulas (formulas derived for an endless list of special cases) as possible.

The problem with the approach is that whenever they are faced with a problem the first instinct to try to map it to a formula or a pattern they have solved before.

It is not that there are no patterns, there are patterns and in recent years CAT has become more pattern-based than before but all that needs to happen is 8-10 problems that do not fall into a pattern but are otherwise solvable to appear in the paper and these test-takers will not be able to handle them. If a few of these problems turn up at the beginning of the section then the confidence can take a major hit.

Another issue with mugging patterns is that you need to keep a lot of your brain space free for all of these patterns and sub-formulas. Those who have exceptional storage and memory between their ears can afford to follow this approach. I prefer to have only the bare minimum of formulas and patterns in my head and go pure logic — the lower the fuel in the car the faster it can go (my approach is perfect for GMAT). I think the golden mean between the two where you now the patterns but are willing to look at a problem first up with fresh eyes is crucial.

Always visualise yourself in front a problem as a doctor faced with a patient. What does a great doctor do? Listen to you fully, ask the right questions; suggest the right tests, if required; figure out the exact problem; and suggest the least medication possible.


The all different kinds of mugging listed above are reasons behind you truly solving a problem.

If you are truly honest with yourself about this part of your prep then you will be able to make the changes necessary to achieve a good score on QA and as I mentioned before it is not just CAT QA that is on the line but also Quant in the MBA Program.

33 Comments

  1. Anil says

    Thank you so much for writing this blog sir ! I had followed the process of solving the quants section the way you had stated in the earlier blogs but still my scores weren’t improving and I realised that I had a habit of memorizing the concepts and their patterns . Thank you once again for such a nice blog . You really know what goes wrong and hence it’s always good to hear something from you.

    Like

  2. Hello sir. I also have the same problem I read the question and understand from which part it is and what could be the formulas for it, but do not understand how to start that particular question and when I see the solution same happens with me. Today I was practicing circles from learn tab only 2 to 3 questions I could understand and even seen the concept videos of it. Infact I see the concept videos beforehand practice. Even my confidence is very low but daily I boost myself and get determined every morning that today I’ll do this and that and end up the day doing nothing. Sir please suggest me something and even the SIMCATs score is very low in each section till now as many I have given.
    Regards

    Like

    • Hi Mishpreet,

      Do a simple thing. Even if it takes an hour or 3 hours or one day, take a problem from your most favourite area and solve it on your own. Do not try to look into the solutions, if necessary, watch the learn module videos again and again. When you can fully solve questions on your own at least a few of them, you will then get a hang of things.

      There is no other way out.

      All the best!

      Like

  3. Priyansh Verma says

    Hi Sir,

    I read all the four parts and found this to be so much relatable which made me to comment here as if the example of the student whom you had a discussion with resembles me in all parts of preparation for CAT 2020.
    I joined IMS in January, left my job in April with 18 months of experience and from May there has been no single day that I didn’t study for 8 hours or even more (though I started preparing when I joined but not that efficiently).
    It’s true that I have mugged up mathematics from elementary school to even college when I had to prepare for Mathematical Methods for Economics in my first year while doing economics hons. but now only 4 months in hand how should I start from scratch?
    I have completed my syllabus except for Module 2 which mainly comprises of Algebra.
    Actually, I know my problem and probably everyone is good with it i.e Arithmetic specially TSD and T&W. When I was in school I had difficulty understanding questions which we use to call as word problem which now is majorly Arithmetic. Sometimes it feels as if I am solving any LR question when I am solving arithmetic.
    Also, I know that it’s basic and any other student would keep it as to be a must solve question but whenever there is wordings and specially a bit confusing my head gets blocked as if I really want to solve this one and I get all my efforts into it, sometimes I succeed which gives a bit confidence as well. I had literally wasted hours to solve a single must solve question from this so called easy topic. {for eg. Yesterday,I completed P&L from learn and my accuracy was 89 as (33/39), though it was pretty decent job on my behalf but a question like this took me an hour to completely analyse what the question even wants from me, (Sagar sold some books to Mehul at the rate of 5 books for the cost price of four. After few days Mehul sold the same books back to Sagar at the rate of 4 books for the price he had paid for five. Find the percentage loss incurred by Sagar for the transaction)}.
    For consideration I am able to solve log, geometry, trigonometry questions but not able to do Arithmetic (which will consist majorly in QA section for sure).

    Also, if I am writing and if you are still reading this then kindly help me with DI LR as well.I have given 3 SIM CAT and could not able to solve a single set. Also, 5 sectional constituting 4 VA-RC and 1 LRDI( I was glad that here I could solve one set of the type who is saying truth or false). It was me picking up the wrong set in SIMCAT or I was just bit too slow to make the approaches.

    For Verbal, I had never been good with interpretation (If it is a bit complicated passage and questions are tricky, my head gets jammed again). Though I am reading Articles on a daily basis if not the novel, doing RC daily. Though scoring max in VARC as if I am not considering QA and DILR as twice it was negative in both the sections.

    I’ll be really glad if I could get just one single mentoring session from you sir. 🙂

    Like

    • Hi Priyansh,

      That was one long message!

      From my interaction with students, I have found that certain skills cluster together.

      And two broad skill sI have seen are Verbal Reasoning Skills and Numerical Reasoning Skills.

      The first group is really good with understanding logic expressed in words and are this good at RC, Arithmetic and DI-LR. They typically have a problem when questions largely involve symbols — questions involving n-language, functions, inequalities, numbers.

      The second group is excellent with non-Verbal logic — numbers, functions, algebra, inequalities, logs, modern math — but struggles with RC, Arithmetic, and DI-LR.

      Geometry seems to a third skill set — visual and abstract reasoning — and can be an Achilles heel for either of the groups.

      I fell into the first group at the time of CAT Prep and when I did not get through the first time (there was only 1 Arithmetic question) I sat down and figured things out.

      What I figured was this both words and symbols express logic and the goal is to parse logic, if I can parse logic through words then I can parse logic through symbols, f(x) was as scary to me as TSD is to you. But once I decided to turn the switch, based on the premise that I was not dumb then things changed.

      What you should do is the opposite develop the skill to go from words to logic.

      Even for the question that you mentioned above the key is to see if you are reading passively or trying to parse the logic. If you are reading passively it means that you expect that words should automatically convey what it means without you having to apply any force. If you read actively you know that you need to think. So if you take just the first part of the question and try to understand what it is saying and then instead of trying to convert it into an equation if you try to just say what it means in normal language.

      He sold 5 books at the cost price at 4, if the cost price of 1 book is 100 then sold the five books at 400, the cost of these 5 books is 500…

      Do not focus on converting it into an equation but only on identifying the logic. Start with watching the Learning to Learn webinar that I did on weighted averages, that will illustrate what I mean.

      Then set yourself modest goals, five Arithmetic Problems. The key is not to rush but to get control. Also, I hope you read the DI-LR post on improving your core DI-LR strength, start with the tasks I set out in that but at a modest reduced level. Once you learn to walk then you can start running.

      Even in the test set yourself the most modest goals to start with selecting and solving 1 DI-LR set and 5 QA questions. Once your is simple then you will not worry about the timer.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Priyansh Verma says

        This is where the catch is, I am exactly lagging in Verbal Reasoning skills and probably I haven’t done functions yet in my class but I am able to pick up these type of questions and sometimes even crack it as it seems easier to me.
        I’ll follow the above stated task by setting up the modest goal on a daily basis as you have mentioned.

        Thank you so much sir for your patience to read that long message and even replying taking all aspects into consideration. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. devanshi purohit says

    Hi sir,
    Thank you so much for this blog.
    But my problem is a bit different, I dont mugg up with the formulas.
    But I dont really like doing math since my childhood. My grades were something like this: Eng- 65, Science-60,social sci-86 ,guj/hindi-80 and Maths -35…
    I cant do maths for a longer time. Even if i have done some practice for my maths exams I cannot get confidence to solve it and i just leave the sum half solved .
    Can you please help me with it.
    What should i do to score good in quant ?.

    Like

    • Hi Devanshi,

      If you change the switch in your head to ask yourself — do you like thinking, it is not Math or Verbal that the CAT tests but pure logical thinking and nothing else.

      All of us view the world with a pair of sunglasses and most of it is because of the way we have been exposed to things during childhood.

      I got excited by Math only during CAT Prep. I discuss this and how to approach learning Math in this webinar, it is especially for those who have a love-hate, mostly-hate relationship with Math — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14UdqpNO3pk&t=21s

      All the best!

      Like

  5. Tharun Srivathsa says

    Hi sir!!
    Thank you for yet another insightful post.
    I also face the problem of not knowing the derivations of certain formulae. I was able to find a few proofs of geometry in my class X TB. Can you please suggest a book Or website where I can find the proofs of formulae across all the areas.

    Like

    • Hi Tharun,

      You can just google the topic — say the total number of factors of a number formulas proof and you should be able to find it.

      If you are done with Geometry then what is left is only a handful of formulas in the other areas and some of them you can derive yourself, especially every single thing in Arithmetic.

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Tharun Srivathsa says

    Hi sir!!
    Thank you for yet another insightful post.
    I also face the problem of not knowing the derivations of certain formulae. I was able to find a few proofs of geometry in my class X TB. Can you please suggest a book Or website where I can find the proofs of formulae across all the areas.

    Like

  7. Tanya says

    Hi sir, amazing blog! Thank you for this
    However, I have a query regarding my issue with maths which I am not able to understand. I have always loved maths, I have always scored more than 95 in maths throughout my school. I also had maths in 12th and scored 95/100. However, these mocks surprise me always. I am somewhere in 20-30s in QA which is the least as compared to my scores in VA-RC(35-40) and DL-LR(35-40). I love DI LR and am able to attempt 3 sets as of now. My RC was weak, however, it is improving. But I don’t understand the issue with Quant. My concepts are clear, but during the test, I just don’t seem to get the question. I tend to miss out on easy questions and waste time in the difficult ones. when I re-attempt the skipped and the wrong ones, I get them right. I practice quants daily but still, I am not able to see that improvement in my scores, kindly help Sir.
    Thank you!

    Like

    • Hi Tanya,

      The problem seems very clear to me since you are like Math. You a might be approaching the test like child entering a playground as if the 34 problems have been given for you to play with but with a certain time-limit. Nothing can be more self-defeating.

      Your job is select and do the easiest problems right away, select and leave the moderate questions for later, and completely dump the difficult or time-consuming ones.

      So your first task in the next SimCAT is to select 18 of the most questions and get 15 right, while rejecting the remaining 16 in under 15 minutes. How to do this whole thing I outlined in Part-II of this post — selection.

      Once you start executing it, you will start seeing your scores moving upwards.

      All the best!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tanya says

        Hi Sir, I tried this approach and it definitely worked. But I also realized that in the first 30 minutes, I am able to scan all the questions and do 6-8 questions, however when I come back to the ‘later’ questions, I usually get stuck there, and hence, my score is swinging in 30s. Please suggest what should be done.
        Thank you!

        Like

      • Hi Tanya.

        It means that while you are figuring out the Type A questions right, you are not really able to make a good distinction between the Bs and Cs.

        So start with marking very few for later, say 6-8 in the first round, and 6-8 for later, ignore the ones you have even slight doubt about.

        All the best!

        Like

  8. Sir, I have been preparing for this crazy and jumping Billi for more than 4 months. In Quant when I do analysis of mocks I can solve around 25 questions without looking the answers. However while giving mock it is only 12-15 that too with very poor accuracy. In VA-RC also when there is no time-limit. I can solve more questions that too with high accuracy. In DI-LR when I get just the very first click to solve the set I can solve them(Easy ones only). Would you tell me sir where am I lacking?What should be my strategy?

    Like

    • Hi Sumit,

      Your first task is not attempts but accuracy during an exam. So you have to go to Part-I of this series and learn how to fix that issue.

      Assuming you fix that issue and are able to attempt 15 questions with 80 per cent accuracy, you will reach 33 marks.

      Now the next thing to realise is that your ability to solve 25 questions post the test is mainly due to the fact that you have already devoted 60 minutes to that very same paper! a lot of people end up attributing it to test pressure because the pressure is what they feel but that only partially explains the situation.

      So during the test the main task is to not attempt questions in serial order and spend 3 minutes on every question before leaving it.

      The task is to decide to do the question — now, later, or never — in under a minute. Unless you execute this strategy you will always be running behind the test and will not feel in control. This whole process has been outlined in part -II of this post and speed in part-III.

      So go through all the posts spend time executing the plans outlined and you will start seeing results.

      All the best!

      Like

      • Sir, today I gave a mock and tried to do the same steps you told me. And when I reached the last question it was already 10 minutes left. It has happened a lot of times. I always go with this thing in my mind that today I will go through all the question in first 30 minutes and then will come back. But it doesn’t happen like this. I get stuck or what I don’t know. But by the time I reach the last question after accepting and rejecting questions there is hardly any time to do so.

        Like

      • Hi Sumit,

        I think you misunderstood the approach.

        The idea is not to scan the whole paper in the first 30 minutes without solving anything. The idea is to spend about 30 minutes, solve the easiest questions and go through the paper. So essentially we are talking about solving 6-8 questions, scoring around 20 marks, and having seen the whole paper with questions marked for later.

        So essentially, you have under a minute to read and solve/shortlist/reject a question.

        What you are doing would be to actually try every question for 1.5-2 minutes, this is what makes you end up with very little time.

        You do not put pen on paper unless it is a solve-now question.

        Hope this clarifies,

        All the best!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. pashu says

    sir a little off topic thing, so in one of your posts you had suggested to check out word power made easy (for those who want to build up their vocab)and you had also suggested one more book which is a little bit advance. what was its name ?

    Like

  10. Anand says

    Hello Sir, I loved the post.
    I am able to attend only around 18-22 question in SIMCAT quants and depending on my accuracy I get between 40-60 (though north of fifty are rare occasions). I want to be able to attend more than 25 questions, but as of now it seems insurmountable. I use your ABC approach, however, I tend to attempt B type questions too when I should just do A. Its hard for me to dissect now or later especially in arithmetic and geometry. For the rest of the topic I am able to identify later or never category. Sir please suggest how to increase my attempts for quants.
    Also, in VARC, I can easily attempt 24-25 question with decent accuracy, and was getting above 50 marks, but when i decided to increase my attempts to above 30, my RC accuracy went for a toss, from around 80% to 60%. Sir can you suggest how can I go from 25 to 30 without compromising my RC accuracy.

    Like

    • Hi Anand,

      I do not think increasing attempts without sacrificing accuracy can happen overnight.

      For QA, I have outlined how it should be done in Part-III of this post.

      As far Arithmetic and Geometry is concerned they seem to be your favourite areas. The finer aspects of A-B-C will come only with a bit more practice and these hard lessons that you learn on the way. We will be doing sessions on the same over the next three months. So that should help.

      As far as RC goes, well it completely depends on your reading speed. Unless you can read faster with comprehension there are no shortcuts to increase speed. Try reading at a faster pace than what you normally do, concentrate harder, and see if it works out if the accuracy does not fall drastically then stick to that speed.

      It is no different from increasing your average driving speed from 50 to 60, it will demand more attention.

      All the best!

      Like

  11. Akanksha says

    Hello sir !
    Its an amazing blog.
    But I have a different problem sir. I attempt any number of questions my accuracy is always around 40-50%. Last time I attempted around 15 questions and got only 6 correct . So this time I attempted only 10 but again got only 4 correct.Sir my concepts are clear also I am practicing some set of questions everyday. But still I am not able to increase my accuracy. Also I am analyzing my mocks for 3 hours at least. Please suggest me a way out . And this problem is not only with quants but also with varc. My scores are not increasing and they are constantly in the rage of 40s. Please help me.

    Like

    • Hi Akansha,

      Part -I of this series is fully dedicated to accuracy. Take a look at that.

      For VA-RC accuracy might be a case of lack of technique, that will be handled in the forthcoming posts as well the SimCAT VA-RC feedback video that I will do (SimCAT 6, 9, 12, and 15).

      All the best!

      Like

  12. akankshapathak28 says

    Hello sir!
    I loved your blog..
    I have a problem in my Quant.. and I am not able to figure the root cause of it.
    I have started my preparation early and started my aimcats in January at that time my syllabus was not completed so I used to leave those questions which I have not studied earlier and save my time there and devote it in those questions in which I am comfortable and I was able to see all 34 questions and had enough time for a second round and my score was in range of 55-65.
    From may onwards when my syllabus was almost going to complete every question seems to me like I can do it and after giving a question 2-3 minutes in some of those I realised that i should go to next question and leave it but in some still it was like I am almost there just 1 more min and I will have the answer. By all this I was just able to see 22 questions out of 34 and remaining 12 were left unseen, my score then was in 30-50 range.
    So I changed my approach and now I leave a question after 1 min if it seems like tricky, and able to see all 34 questions but still my no. of attempts and my score is in the same range.. and I am still not able to go for second round.
    I don’t know how I can improve this. please suggest a way sir.

    Like

    • Well, you have nailed the problem yourself — you are spending 1 minute trying the question and then leaving which meaning 34 minutes gone in trying.

      The approach of selection outled in Part-II of this post does not advocate trying every single problem.

      Without putting pen on paper you need to decide whether to do a question, now or later or never.

      Even if I am the best I can be at Math I will never put pen to paper straight away. I will always decide now never or later.

      The reason you were doing well earlier is that your lack of prep made you ruthless in selection. Now your prep makes you try every question for 1 minute.

      So go to Part-II of this post and execute the selection strategy.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      • akankshapathak28 says

        Hello sir!
        Sorry to disturb you again for my problem..
        I tried what you suggested but what happens with me is I start panicking after some time as I am not actually trying questions I am just marking those questions which i think I can do later and attempting only those which are the easiest. So by this after that time I automatically starts doing questions with the previous way of trying every question for a min and then leaving and due to pressure that is created till then my accuracy suffers.
        can you please help me out with this.
        Thank you!

        Like

  13. Gautam Vishnu M. says

    Hi sir.

    Read all four blogs regarding improving percentile of QA. Thank you for taking so much pain and penning them down for us! 🙂

    I am able to attempt 11 questions (approx.) by the end of the 30th minute and by the time, the clock on the test screen shows 25:00, I’d have reached the end of the paper. I’d squeeze another 7-8 questions in the remaining 25 minutes. By the time, the test finishes my overall attempts would be 19-22. Accuracy hovers around 90%.

    I consider QA my strength and want push my scores further. So should I start focusing on speed now?

    Like

    • Hi Gautam,

      Good to know that you read all four!

      I think the next target you be 25. For this you need to, as you have rightly identified, increase speed.

      Do not increase speed across the board.

      Figure out where you can increase the speed slightly (by concentrating harder) without affecting performance — reading the question or solving. Pick one to start with, usually, it is the second one where people are really super slow.

      To reduce your dependence on the pen you can try something different such as solving the NMAT OG without putting pen on paper. I saw a few questions and they were definitely no pen variety, even the DI!

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

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