We have about 40 days left for the CAT and the queries I am getting are reflecting the same. Aspirants have written to me saying that they have learnt selection — the A-B-C approach and set selection approach for DI-LR and VA-RC and right now they have a different problem — scores have hit a plateau at their respective levels — 75, 90, 100, 120. And most are facing the same dilemma — I don’t want to increase my speed and go below the current scores and get demotivated, but if I don’t increase my speed my scores will not go up, what do I do.
I have from my end more or less covered everything that needs to be done. The catch now lies in how you are going about executing things. Based on my interaction with students across the years and also my own experiences of preparing for tests I will try and put forth things that you might be doing or are prone to but are not consciously aware of and that prevent you from realising your full potential.
Are you prone to soft dismissals?
As a cricket fan I know that everything an Indian cricketer achieves in Australia is always lettered in gold. Despite the better showings over the last few years, on average, we do not travel that well and Australia has never been a happy hunting ground, in fact for the better part of my cricketing childhood it was watching Indians in Australia was a tragedy unfold in super-slow burn.
Amidst this gloom came the news of a 17-year old (if my memory serves me right) scoring 80-odd runs on an U-19 tour of Australia — Ambati Rayudu. He was touted as the next big hope of Indian cricket and over the decades since he has just been that — a hope that has flickered more than shone.
The experience of watching Rayudu bat can be outlined in a few strokes — the guy always looks busy; always looks the part, looks like be belongs on he international stage; keeps the strike moving at the beginning and relies on 1s and 2s to get going; then as he moves into the 20s and 30s, he starts unfurling a few boundaries that puts a smile on your face and makes you hope that the Hodor-sized hole in our middle order might after all be filled, and then before that smile can settle down, out of the blue, he gets out!
There have been very few times where I have seen a bowler bowl an absolute gem to claim the Rayudu wicket, it is usually Rayudu gifting his wicket away — walking down the track and giving catching practice to long-on; moving too far, too soon, outside off stump that even a bowler with nothing between his ears will know what to do; try to play a scoop drive off a spinner and give a not so easy catch to someone inside the circle.
He is the classic case of a parade of soft dismissals and he is not alone, every player who is considered talented but somehow never ends up making the regular 11 and becoming a star batsman suffers from the same syndrome, they do not seem to suffer from lack of technique or limited technique (say like a Raina, who’s troubles with the short ball are well-known), they have the technique required to survive the rigours of international cricket and get selected for the national side, but they always get dumped after a few years of an on-and-off relationship — their scores are always in the 30s to 40s, there will be the odd 75s, one 100 that will raise everyone’s hopes, and then it is back to business as usual, 30s and 40s — Ajinkya Rahane is also a case in point and the list does not end there (Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Kartik…).
Are you on your way to becoming one of these players?
- Do your scores also follow the same pattern — average, above-average, good, average, below average, average…— but never — good, good, great, awesome, good, good…?
- Do you always come back home, analyse the paper and find that between the score you got and the score you could have got, lies a huge chasm?
- Do you find the paper was not challenging at all, it was just you?
Well, then it goes without saying that like these players discussed above, you are likely to only get a glimpse of a shot at glory — the old IIMs — and you might have to settle for other colleges, while always knowing in your heart that you could have gotten into a school that is known only by one letter.
To fix this problem and avert the fate of the players discussed above we need to go back to these players and look at the reasons why they get out and correlate that with CAT Prep.
The first and most consistent means by which these players manage to get out is by playing the pre-meditated shot. These guys have all the shots in the book and against almost all types of bowling — they can sweep, they can slog sweep, they can dance down the wicket — and hence in their intent to dominate the bowling or to get things going they always play a pre-meditated shot — they have decided before the bowler has bowled. And even if the shot is on, they manage to never make the small adjustments that will ensure that the shot is perfectly executed to meet the unique ball that is bowled to them.
You might also be someone who knows all the patterns — this will apply most to QA — and have solved so many problems that you never feel out of place in the section, you feel it is your strength, but you make the same mistake — you fail to see what is unique about the problem in front of you, you fit the problem to a pattern and start executing the solution without making the desired changes.
How do you know if you are guilty of this?
You re-read a lot of questions after you start solving them, get stuck on mid-way, realise your your mistake after re-reading and then solve it successfully.
Even if this happens on 5 questions and you take 4 minutes each on these five questions it is 10 minutes lost and that is the difference between an average and a good score.
So if you are a candidate for soft dismissals then firstly, stop copy pasting solutions without reading the actual question in front of you, drill this into your head — I might know maths, I might be good at it, but every problem is unique.
The second most common reason behind these soft dismissals is that they play one shot too many, they take a risk as if it was not a risk at all, they always think the shot is on —
You might be guilty of doing the same thing — misjudgment— every B seems like an A to you — and while it might be an A, you never really solve the hell out of it — you tinker with it and then let it go. There is nothing that warrants solving a B before an A. You know A-B-C but apply it casually.
So drill this into your head — I might know maths, I might be good at it, but I will not try every problem, I will be ruthless in selection.
The third most common reason, that follows the first two — either they have decided to play a pre-meditated shot or they have decided to score a boundary through a risky choice of shot — is that the execution is never perfect — playing away from their body, they will guide a slightly wide, slightly full ball, with a shot that can only be called a cross between the cover drive and the glide to third man (the follow through is not completed, the bat face is angled), straight to the fielder at point or backward point. The worst part is that neither the situation of the match nor their own score would have warranted this. And even if the shot was warranted then they should have followed the tried and tested adage — if you flash, flash hard, the way Sehwag always did.
The biggest issue I feel with all of these players is that they seem more busy than intensely concentrated — all the great players always seem to be both busy (okay, not Rohit) and intensely clued in — Kohli, Abe, Stokes, Dhoni — but the balance is right.
This is can be the bigger reason behind the two mistakes we discussed so far. Somehow the sight of the larger picture and overall intensity are not to the levels required.
Are you squeezing every drop out of your brain cells
One of the things I know about test-taking is that your best scores will take everything out of you, you will not be doing it comfortably. All of us, including me, have two modes of solving, one is solving comfortably knowing that we will do well enough, this is the autopilot mode — you are driving the car at 60 and you can do it without having to concentrate very hard — the second is when you are fully on and are smashing your best times — you are driving the car at 80, you are aware of every turn, every bit of pressure you are applying on the accelerator and the on the brake.
When I solve a Sudoku puzzle in the autopilot mode, I do it comfortably in 5 minutes, I am okay wasting a few seconds here and there, my eyes are not wide open to figuring out the missing numbers, when I am on, I shave off a minute at the least and in the odd case even 2.
So to cut a long story short, you need to up the intensity during the 60 minutes of a section.
By intensity in a test situation, exactly what I meant by in the Sudoku example — I mean ramping up your concentration levels, not missing a single piece of information logically, while reading at the same if not faster pace.
Are you a genuine all-rounder or are you a bits-and-pieces cricketer
If there is one thing I absolutely hate in the way teams are built and led, it is setting. Planning to score heavy and win not on the base of sheer skills across all surfaces and contexts but on the basis of setting — this guy will score a 30-40 and since the pitch will turn might me 2 wickets; that guy can hit a few lusty blows (I never understood that damn phrase) at the end and bowl five overs, and all I need is one of the top two to go big and we can win. This essentially, was the Indian team at 2019 WC — a team that was primed to score a 300 if and only if Rohit or the skipper scored a 100, and was capable of chasing a 250 at best. It is no wonder that setting is only as good as it can be, it works only if all the bits and pieces fall together every single time.
Do you also get your score by setting? You have a fixed quota of marks that you expect from different areas, if the difficulty levels are distributed across the areas and topics in a way that maximises your strengths and hides your weaknesses you do well.
The thing with the setting method is that when things are absolutely certain and in your favour — home conditions and your stadium in IPL — the setting method will be perfect and you will seem to be able to do no wrong. But the moment the conditions change you will be all at sea, and you are left picking up the pieces.
If there is one thing that I swear by it is this — the CAT rewards all-rounders — you have to be able to solve easy and moderate questions across all topics and areas every single time. There cannot be a question type or area that you cannot score of — RC, Summary, JP, Incorrect Sentence Out of Context, DI, LR, MR, Numbers, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Modern Math.
Will you to say that you have the knowledge and the technique to solve all easy and medium questions across all of these 12 topics and areas as well as to take on Moderate-Tough questions if the paper gets tough? And you do not need stats for this, you know which areas you do not like face, you know which question types put you under the pump.
So try to imagine the worst paper for your setting
- Only Arts & Social Science RCs
- Calculation and graphical DI sets
- 6-7 questions from Geometry
and prepare for it — watch all the relevant Masterclasses and LMTC sessions to ensure that you can score all around the wicket and against all types of attacks. Until a threshold you are as good as your strengths after a point you are as bad as your weaknesses.
Taking your VA-RC scores to the limit
The first question to ask is how many marks are you scoring from the VA question. Can you push it to a consistent 15-plus for every test from now on and how do you get there?
- Does your intensity and focus to absolutely get the question right stop at RC?
- Do you get complacent and mark answers in VA knowing that you haven’t locked them in the way you are doing on RC?
- Are you happy finding a couple of links and quickly marking a combination for Parajumbles?
- On a summary question, do you always stop to summarise the three things about the paragraph, after reading the paragraph and before proceeding to the options?
You will find that sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. The intensity with which you approach RC might be missing. So tighten that bit and focus on getting a 15 atleast.
Also have you started trying out different VA-RC test-taking strategies mentioned in the previous post? Why not try out VA first to see if that helps you maximise.
On RC questions, you are getting all the direct/specific questions right but the moment it comes to inferences or indirect questions such as which of the following will add least depth to the author’s argument, you either make a mistake or are okay leaving it since you are getting the other questions right.
If you need to squeeze out more from the RC questions, you have to thread the needle on the tougher application questions. You have reached that stage of the match where you need to make the big shots, you can’t be comfortable taking a single, so ask yourself,
- Do you pause at the end of the passage to paraphrase the main idea?
- Do you pause at the end of a question and before going to the options to frame the function that the right answer should perform in other words the shadow answer
If you are not doing these things then you will always be stuck at these scores in VA-RC.
If you are already doing these things and have good accuracy, there is only way up, read faster, do not be scared, all you have to do while reading faster is concentrate deeper. Remember, it will not be comfortable, if you want comfort, make peace with your current scores.
Can you teach your brain new approaches to get hold of a slippery DI-LR sets
Are you the good ol’ LR-first test-taker? Well, if you are then there is only so much you can score not just on the SimCATs but on the actual CAT as well.
From the LMTC — DI-LR, in which I summarised all the 48 sets over the last three years, it should be clear to all of you that there is only so far you can go with LR.
In every single slot over the past three they have given a pure DI set — graphical reasoning or calculation set — and if you do not have the calculation skills to solve all of 9-10 pure DI sets, asked over the last three years, in under 10 minutes each, then you are not ready to take the on CAT.
I have written a lot about the MR skills needed to crack the DI-LR section so if you are still clueless as to what MR is then God help you because almost half the sets over the last three years have been MR.
In the next 40 days, re-solve all the SimCATs and 6 slots from CAT 2017, CAT 2018, and CAT 2019. Select the right sets at the beginning, spending 10 minutes and then try to knock off 3-5 sets in 50 minutes. Do not bother about the sectional-timing, it is about the developing the skills?
Sit for an hour or more to analyse this:
- Are you good at making number combinations of totals based on ratios given?
- Are you able to figure that an equation such as 31x + 2y = 1025 can have only one pair of values that satisfy them and if x and y have to be multiples of 25, then you can start by substituting multiples of 25 for y and quickly find the value of x?
- Do you realise that if 5 cells have the possibilities P/Q/R, R/T/S, P/Q/T, P/T, and P/T then P and T can be eliminated from the first three?
You will find that you are currently limited to a few approaches. When faced with Mathematical Reasoning sets, your brain does not throw up such suggestions to make number combinations or write equations.
If you spend enough time with the SimCATs and the CAT DI-LR sections that I mentioned earlier then you will develop new mathematical reasoning pathways.
Do you step out of the crease to QA questions?
Then there is a lot of you who like QA and score a comfortable 55-60 in QA. Can you do better in terms of core QA ability, yes, but are you doing it, no. May be right since the beginning of the SimCATs you are scoring in roughly the same range, 22-25 attempts with 18-22 right. Are you happy with QA, yes, but then you also see people with similar ability attempting 30-32 and getting 27-29 questions right and wonder what they are doing.
Increasing intensity on the QA section means that you are solving at a faster pace than you normally solve and that happens in two ways. The first, writing fewer steps, never writing whole equations, to put it simply if people look at the solution to a question on your sheet they should not be able to understand a thing — it should just be a few numbers written here and there.
The second is by using shortcuts such as substituting the answer options and back-solving, approximating and eliminating, using ratios instead of equations to solve Arithmetic.
You will not be able to solve many questions by these methods but you should be able to pull out at least 4 to 6 questions in a short time, this would mean about 15-18 marks in 6 to 8 minutes. It is these questions that will propel your attempts and score.
Isn’t this exactly what England did to India in the World Cup — four of their batsmen, Jason Roy, Bairstow, Root and Stokes, hit six unconventional hits to the fence, primarily reverse sweeps. This not only accelerated their score but also put a lot of pressure on the bowlers.
Now some of you might say — Sir but if Virat Kohli can’t do it, can we? The fact is that if a batsman as staid and traditional as Joe Root can do it then anyone can. Indians did not try not because they couldn’t but because they felt they needn’t. Our high scores were a function of a couple of batsmen going big and not a function of an entire team having the array of unconventional strokes that have become common in the modern game.
Some of you might ask — Sir, but are they not high risk? Some of the shots in T20 cricket such as the upper-cut or the scoop or the ramp shot were shots that were started by an individual player but now they have become commonplace with everyone mastering it. Ben Stokes hit a reverse sweep for six in the recent historic chase during the Ashes, it means that it is no longer a high-risk shot for him, he exactly knows which balls to do it on, just like good solvers know exactly the question on which to use answer options. So start stepping out of the crease and go big.
Another thing that might be stopping you is that there still are one or two areas that you do not like to solve questions from, you might end up spending more time on a tougher question from your favourite area than doing an easy one from an area you do not fancy. Revise the QA section of the SimCATs to go through them to look at easy questions from areas that you do not like.
Around this time last year, a student had called saying the was from IIT-D and was scoring around 99.5, he needed a percentile above 99.7 to get a call from C and he was scoring around 60 in QA. And he said he was doing everything I said above. The only thing left was for him to increase his reading speed, not by much but by 10%, he was reading well within himself since he was scared of losing accuracy, I just asked him to concentrate harder and drive faster. He hid and scored a 99.89.
A lot of times I have seen that students have attended the sessions and read the blog posts but they only apply what they feel like applying, they skim the icing off the lectures and posts and end up leaving the cake. Go through all the posts on the blog, section-wise, and see if there are still things that you have not tried whole-heartedly.
At this stage no one, including me, can help you beyond a point, since no one will know exactly what you do when you are faced with a question — how you do you select, how do you solve — and more importantly no one will know the quality of your execution — how you process the information and the efficiency with which you execute the solution.
So if you find that you attempt 3 sets in DI-LR but always make 3-4 mistakes and then put that mistake under the microscope to figure out why they happen — are they always the most toughest questions of the set that you always solve out of your greed to maximise return on a set you decided to solve?
Once you finish your MBA you will be expected to optimise the performance and maximize the revenue of whatever functions you are handling and exactly like the CAT, the concepts in the books will help only to a certain level, it is your expertise in understanding what is happening in real-time not just with you but with your entire team and the competition that is crucial.
In your CAT prep you have to show the potential of maximising only your performance and you need to figure things out for yourself, no else can do that for you, I can only give broad guidelines that are nothing but common sense —
You should look at taking around 2-3 tests a week. And based on the areas of improvement or maximisation thrown up by the test, you should practice at a topic or area level — if it is skill/concept/application problem — or sectional level — if it is a selection/time-management problem.
You have reached a particular level, the last jump will mean that it will take more out of you mentally, but there is no way out. You need to get used to performing at your optimal level every time you solve a question or a test.
Optimal does not mean a number in terms of score or getting a question right, it means that if the test is really easy you hit it out of the park, if the set is very easy you knock it off in 6-minutes, if the test is it is tough to still manage to clear the cut-offs, and if a question is tough you realise it before putting pen on paper and side-step it.
And yeah, a Sudoku puzzle every day with the goal to lower your best time.