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.