CAT Strat
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How to manage your 120 minutes

We have reached the last stretch now. If you are in a track and field race, you have turned the last curve and hit the straight. We have done enough concepts, practice & strategy. We have now crossed an invisible frontier, we have moved from the general to the specific, from what is outside of you to what is inside of you, to that space between your ears.

Those who have taken the CAT before will attest that how well you manage your 120 minutes, how well you react to tough set or a section, how well you are able to execute Plan A or switch to Plan B, everything, depends on how well you manage the space between your ears.

So let’s take it section by section, let’s look at each of the 40 minutes, let’s look at what you need to do right, what you need to watch out for and most importantly what can go wrong.

Managing 40 minutes of Verbal Ability

The Goal — To Maximize Accuracy

Whether one is good or bad at Verbal Ability, the single-point agenda for this section has to be to maximize accuracy — the specifics of which I discussed in detailed posts earlier, the VA-RC Masterclasses, and the VA-RC feedback of a few SimCATs.

I hope all of you have seen the LMTC VA-RC webinar and decided your time management and order of attempts strategy.

What can go wrong?

Hi, I am a new question type!

The Verbal section of the CAT has always been the one that has most regularly thrown up some variety. Every two years or so they have thrown in a new question type; the last new type being the incorrect sentence in context.

So, do not be surprised if you encounter a new question type right at the beginning of the test.

Firstly, do not panic — new need not mean difficult. Like it is the case with existing question types, if there are 3-5 questions, 1-2 will be easy 1-2 medium and 1-2 tough.

Secondly, do not be in a hurry to quickly read the directions and greedily read the question and options. Take time to read the directions, understand the question type before you jump into solving the question!

Thirdly, if you are not able to get your head around the first question do not skip the whole set thinking I will deal with this later, remember that there will be do-able questions.

Who chose these RC Passages?
For most test-takers, success on RCs is directly linked to their comfort level with the content of the RCs.

But what if 3 out of 4 passages are on topics that are not to your liking?


  • panic
  • react negatively
  • attempt questions half-heartedly or worse
  • decide to somehow solve all VA questions!

Doing this would mean self-sabotaging the 40 minutes of your Verbal section. Instead,

  • steel yourself to the reality that it is going to be testing time
  • take your concentration levels up a notch
  • follow the process for RC that we discussed in the previous posts or what works for you
  • attempt judiciously, let go or mark for later the questions on which you cannot break the deadlock between two options

Go into the CAT, expecting this to happen. As they say, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

Five minutes of madness at the end of the section
You do what you can and reach the end of the Verbal section. You take a look at the number of attempts and see that you have attempted 15 questions.

What do you do? Decide to take things into your hands (in this case the mouse) and go mark, mark, mark!

Nothing could be more counter-productive. This is equivalent to committing hara-kiri. You are setting yourself up for disaster — a poor sectional percentile.

If you have answered the 15 questions properly, eliminating the options as per the process discussed in the previous posts and left out questions you were unsure of then there is no need to worry. The deduction is not that you have not done well but that the paper is tough.

So, if you find that you have not managed to attempt enough then use that to selectively attempt a few questions not blindly mark options.

Your goal for this section is to maximize accuracy and the steps we have discussed are geared towards achieving the same.

Practice Tip: Solve old CAT passages that you would otherwise not touch because of their content.

Managing 40 minutes of DL & LR

The Goal — To solve easy & medium sets of both DI & LR

I have always maintained that CAT is primarily a test that rewards test-takers with all-around ability.

Test-takers with weaknesses in one of the 5 areas — VA, RC, DI, LR & QA — are always at the mercy of the paper with their performance hinging on encountering a paper that plays to their strengths. But are you not leaving your future to chance?

What can go wrong?

Killer LR — Where did my time go?
On average, most test-takers are comfortable with LR rather than DI, which is not a surprise since expertise on the former is an innate skill while on the latter it is an acquired skill.

This results in test-takers banking on solving at least 2 LR sets to see them through the cut-off for this section and one DI set to hit a higher percentile.

What if this is not possible to execute?

You get one do-able LR that can be finished in 10 minutes and two toughies. You have spent 10 minutes and solved one LR set. Most would see this as a good place to be in and then proceed to the next LR. But should you be attempting that LR in the first place? If you are good at LR you should recognize (based on the number of conditions and the nature of the information) that the set is better left alone!

In many cases, those who are relying excessively on LR would enter that set and since solving only 1 LR set is unacceptable to them they end up losing about 15-20 minutes on that one of the tougher LR sets.

What follows after that is predictable — try the last set for 5 minutes, desperately try every DI for 5 minutes and end the section in a panic mode.

This is not an unrealistic scenario. It has happened often enough for you to be wary of the script taking this turn.

  • You are not going to put all your eggs in one basket.
  • You are not going to waste a year of your life over one LR set.
  • Even if you are Vishwanathan Anand’s cousin, if a set needs to be left, it needs to be left!

Do not spend more than 20 minutes on LR until you have solved all the easy & medium DI sets.

What are the odds of a killer LR?

The IIMs have made their intention of getting more diversity in terms of educational background loud & clear — they have given a scientific calculator as well.

So after all of this, they are not going to make the DI crazily tough.

If anything they will make DI solvable and LR tough since they are not looking for diversity sans logical skills!

The DI-LR section is going to be the most crucial section on CAT.

How this goes is going to determine how you approach the Quant section. In terms of mental energy you will be a bit tired to say the least, if you are psychologically down as well then it is game, set and match before the Quant section begins.

So please ensure that you are prepared for the worst.

Practice Tip: Solve all the DI sets from the last three years’ CAT if you have not already.

Managing 40 minutes of Quantitative Ability

The Goal — To Choose The Right Questions

Your big challenge will be to execute a great Quant section after of 80 minutes of solving and maybe 3 hours since you left home.

For the same reasons that I expect the DI to not be that tough, I expect the Quant section to be of medium difficulty as well.

But how do you ensure that you maximize your performance in this section?

What can go wrong?

Unlike the 40 minutes of VA-RC and DI-LR, during which you will be operating in chunks of time divided between sets and areas, QA will be an uninterrupted stretch of 40 minutes.

Given the fatigue, it can happen that you let the section drift — you start well for about 15 minutes, drift for 20-30 minutes and then switch back on towards the end.

This is very much possible and you need to have a way to counter this.

What is the best thing to do?

Divide your Quant into two sets of 20 minutes each.

You will be tired so the best thing to do is to knock off the easiest questions first without spending too much energy in the first 20 minutes.

During this period do not get into questions which you know will take time — solving time not reading time! If there is an 8-liner Arithmetic question, read it, it might turn out be a sitter.

Use the MARK button judiciously to single out questions for the second round so that you can return to the questions you are most likely to crack. If you MARK every question for later, it will defeat the purpose. In the second 20-minute come back to the MARKED questions

If it is an easy paper this 20-20 split will not work since many questions will have to be solved on the spot and you will exceed the first 20 minutes. But that, as you realize, is a better problem to have!

Throughout the section just keep urging yourself to

  • keep moving
  • not get stuck
  • pluck the lowest hanging fruits first

Practice Tip: Solve section tests with this strategy.

Having a good second serve is as important as having a good first serve

The objective of this whole post was to make you aware of all the speed-breakers and panic-inducers on the 120-minute stretch that is the CAT.

As prospective leaders/managers, one of the biggest qualities you will need to display over your career is the ability to soak up the pressure and face up to adversity. Having a great plan B is sometimes (not always) as important as having a great plan A.

So do not go into the test expecting a particular kind of paper and panic upon not finding it. That would be relying on hope and not on ability.

Go in expecting a few twists and turns and be prepared to navigate the same, visualise yourself doing the same.

The next post will be about that — the power of visualisation.


  1. Socrates says

    -Thank you for this post sir
    -I think i have previously seen this ‘cat image on a black background’ somewhere on your blog. what does it mean by the way?
    -(killer LR last para) “Viswanathan Anand’s cousin (wrong) ; scrabler’s cousin (right) 😉


    • If you look at the image carefully from top-left you will that a man has released a cat from a height and the cat manages to somehow land on its feet, something cats are famous for.

      So your job is to land on your feet irrespective of the kind of paper that us thrown at you.

      Well, Scrabbler likes his privacy 🙂

      All the best!


  2. Nidhi Verma says

    Thank you so much sir for this informative post. It really made us wary of our actions which was definitely possible on the D-day. One doubt I have is, since the pattern is changed so the change might be as small as just reducing the 3-hour paper into a 2-hour mode. I feel that it is very likely to have the same (34-32-34) paper on that day. So, Sir is it possible to have 100 questions on that day? And should we practice for it in the same mode.


    • Hi Nidhi,

      Since they would want to have three different papers for each of the slots, they would not want to make too many extra questions time around (1 extra slot) so a reduction in number if questions is fairly likely.

      It does not change anything even if it is 100 questions.

      Whatever the number of questions you should solve at a speed that maximises your score.

      At the core of it is simple — answer as many as you possibly can in 120 minutes, be it out of 60 questions or 100 questions.

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. isha verma says

    Hi sir
    Thank you for the post. However, the DI videos on CAT-holics (link provided above) does not seem to be working. Is there any alternate way to access them?


  4. Akaknksha says

    Hello Sir,
    I read all your blogs and I really like them and I also try to follow all your strategies and techniques. However, I am facing an issue with Quants these days. Even if the overall time has been reduced I find myself tired by the time I reach the quants section and hence it significantly affects my scores. It didn’t happen to me earlier but since last 3-4 mocks I am facing this issue on a serious not and my scores are almost below 20 due to that. Could you please tell me what can I do ?


  5. rajan says

    thank you sir for such a morale-boosting article. Is there any chance iim can give a different number of questions in each slot, and also should we avoid the news from slot 1 students about difficulty and number of questions? I am in slot 2.


    • Since different number of questions in each slot has not happened so far, I doubt it will happen this year.

      I do not subscribe to speaking to others before the test since you will end up getting more information than required. Slots tend to vary in difficulty so you rather not bias yourself with information . I would strictly advise against the same.

      All the best!


  6. Sumeet Vishwakarma says

    Hello Sir Sumeet here ,
    I have been doing Cat last years paper getting score around 120- 130 range like in last 4 test 2017 slot 2 2018 slot 1 and 2 2019 slot 2 , I’m targeting around 95 percentile or say but VA RC Accuracy is pretty BAD I need to figure out what I can do in last 10 day for that section ,
    I’m solving 8 RC doing 20 – 30 VA question I don’t know will it work but it makes me tense since its fluctuating a lot . would you suggest something or should stick to my plan ???


    • Hi Sumeet,

      It is not about how much you practice or what you practice but the way you practice, the specific things you want to master in the practice, just like a bowler would say try to fix a specific problem or get better at a ball by trying to change something in his technique or master a new technique.

      I have covered all possible techniques in the VA-RC Masterclasses, you have to go through them and figure out whether you are executing any of them or just using your own methods.

      All the best!


  7. Sir, as you have mentioned about the round approach in quants (Dividing it into 2 sections of 20 minutes). What shall be the approach to solve VARC section? Solving 4 RCs and Verbal ability in 40 minutes has been quite challenging for me. I end up solving 3 RCs and some VA questions and sometimes all RCs but no VA questions. This is because I try my best to understand the passage in order to answer questions properly but still, I am unable to score well in VARC Section. Can please suggest how can I improve?


    • Hi TJ,

      I have outlined 6 different time-management strategies for VA in the Last Mile to CAT webinar, which is available on myIMS. You can try to execute any one of them.

      All the best!


  8. Sir, as you have mentioned about the round approach in quants (Dividing it into 2 sections of 20 minutes). What shall be the approach to solve VARC section? Solving 4 RCs and Verbal ability in 40 minutes has been quite challenging for me. I end up solving 3 RCs and some VA questions and sometimes all RCs but no VA questions. This is because I try my best to understand the passage in order to answer questions properly but still, I am unable to score well in VARC Section. Can you please suggest how can I improve?


  9. Anupam says

    Do you have any info regarding IIFT Kakinada? If it’s going to take admits from this year or next?


  10. DHWANI SHAH says

    Thank You so much sir for this post ..I m facing the problem of remembering concepts .while doing simcats i use to get blank . also Im only good at LR, is it ok if we rely completly on LR?
    In RCVA i end up attempting more question feeling i know that answers.
    can you plese suggest how to increase my percentile and overcome this problems.?.


    • Hi Dhwani,

      I wish I had a solution that would help students remember concepts during an exam. The only reason I can think of is that these concepts are fairly new to you and thus you have not internalised them completely.

      You can rely only on LR if you have been able to successfully clearing the cut-off, and you will know that from your performances in the mocks.

      As far VA-RC goes, accuracy is all about technique (one does not know the answer but arrives at the answer through a process). I have discussed the techniques in detail in the VA-RC Masterclasses.

      All the best!


  11. Shweta Dubey says

    Hello sir, thank you for the post.
    I wanted to take advice on the issue I’ve been facing recently in VA-RC. I don’t know whether it is because of the day coming closer or anxiety, but recently in my tests I’m not able to tackle the RC section well, I’m not sure about the answer and scared of attempting thinking that it might attract negative marks. Hence, I end up attempting very less and also attracting negatives in what I’ve attempted.


  12. Karishma says

    Hello Sir,

    Thanks for the great piece of advice listed above.
    In recent times I’ve been struggling with one section for every mock test. The section is not fixed, sometimes it’s VARC, sometimes quant, and sometimes DILR, I perform fairly okay in the rest of the two sections, but there’s always one section out of the three where I fall apart and not even manage to clear the cut off. I’m confused because had it been the same section every time I would have tried to work my way through, but every time its a new section which troubles me.
    This is making me very nervous as I don’t want all my hard work go in vain for one section.


  13. Hello Sir,

    Thanks for the great piece of advice listed above.
    In recent times I’ve been struggling with one section for every mock test. The section is not fixed, sometimes it’s VARC, sometimes quant, and sometimes DILR, I perform fairly okay in the rest of the two sections, but there’s always one section out of the three where I fall apart and not even manage to clear the cut off. I’m confused because had it been the same section every time I would have tried to work my way through, but every time its a new section that troubles me.
    This is making me very nervous as I don’t want all my hard work go in vain for one section.


  14. Satyam Saboo says

    Sir,my problem has been management of time,somehow I just feel I am not able to manage time properly,in all sections.I am always been short of one RC in VA section I plan to take 10 mins in one RC but somehow take more than that in one RC and I am always short of time for an RC.In LRDI I feel I can attempt 4 sets but somehow take more time in one set so end up with 3 sets or in worst case 2 sets.In quant take up long time in one question to screw whole section,I have scored between 60 to 100 in SIMCATS but not happy with inconsistency.Can you please help I really want to manage my time quite well on the D-Day,please do reply sir.Please do give some valuable inputs.


    • Hi Satyam,

      Decisive question/set-selection and time management are the keys to consistent scores. The sequence in which you attempt 4 sets can end up determining your score more than the difficulty of the individual sets itself. For example, 4 sets have a solving time of 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. You are likely to solve 3 sets fully every single time and end up with a good score if you attempt in that order rather than a random order every single time — attempt the 12 and 15 first up and you will end up scoring only off 2 sets.
      What is more important managing to solve 3 sets, 3 RCs, 15 Qa questions every single time instead of going up and down.

      I and my colleague have covered selection and time management in detail (they are fully linked) in detail in the Last Mile To CAT webinars for each of the section and it cannot get more detailed than that and there is nothing apart from that I would advocate. The LMTC webinars are available on myIMS to all IMS students.

      All the best!


  15. Shubh says

    Hello sir,
    I have been following the strategy of rating the sets and solving as you had suggested in LMTC. However, I am facing certain problems in the same strategy.
    In Simcat – 17, these were the ratings that I had given:
    Set 1 – 2 2/3 0 = 4/5
    Set 2 – 2 2 2 = 6
    Set 3 – 3 2 0 = 5
    Set 4 – 3 2 4 = 9
    Set 5 – 2 1 4 = 7
    Set 6 – 2 1 3 = 6
    So I first solved Set 4 (which I was able to solve fully in less than 10 mins), then I went to Set 5 only to realize I had already given 8 mins and then went to Set 6, but on that as well I ended up wasting a lot of time. It turns out that Set 1 and Set 3 were a lot easier as compared to Set 5 and Set 6; however, the ratings tell a different story altogether. Could you please suggest any changes or mistake that I could be doing? It would be of great help as I do not want to change the strategy when I am so close to the exam.


    • Hi Shubh,

      As I discussed in the LMTC session, the only case in which the rating system I outlined might not work is if there is a Math Reasoning set and you can see through the Math of the set, in that case, while you will rate it low, the set might turn out to be very easy.

      Set 1 and set 3 are pure Math Reasoning sets, where despite being maxima-minima questions they are not open questions but closed questions since they can be calculated based on the Math Reasoning and not LR.

      In Set 1 for example, since it based on moving averages you know straight away that the difference between M11 and M10 multiplied by 5 will be the difference between the test 6 and test 11.

      Set 3 again will be easy only for those who know this variation of Venn Diagram. It will always seem once you see the solution but it could not have been solved as quickly as the solution shows to be the case unless you have solved such sets before and know how the MR in such cases works.

      So, in that sense, you did not really make a mistake as much as not see the Math behind the sets while rating.

      The mistake that you did make though is in rating set 5. In terms of familiarity, I will not have given it a 2 since the concept of passenger movement is a new one and will not be easy to figure, this when clubbed with the conditions that are almost all deductive and two tables, would make it set only a 6 for me — 1,1,4 — when this is the case it means that while the set it closed it will be time-taking.

      Always consider how many marks you have given to the first criteria — type of set and type of conditions — if they together score less than 4 then it will not be an easy set in terms of time.

      And go through all the Math Reasoning sets in SimCATs just to get comfortable with Averages, Weighted Averages and Venn Diagrams.

      All the best!


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