Comments 19

CAT 2020 Miscellany: Early Morning Slot, Insomnia, and other blues

I did my last webinar for the season recently and any of you who still have queries around how to increase your scores in the last few weeks, what scores to target for what percentiles, what to prepare, will find my take on all of them and a few more queries in the recording of the same. But there are a still a few non prep queries that will be swirling around in your head. This post is will cover all of those niggles that do not prevent you taking to the field but are a bother that you can do without.

Is there a chance you might have burnt out or are running solely on adrenaline?

Those of you who have attended all of my webinars know how much store I set on having optimal mental energy. So for me a lot of issues can be traced back to the quality of our mental energy. Some of you might not realise that you have depleted your energy sources and are running solely on adrenaline

Ask yourself the following questions?

  • Do you feel fresh and mentally alert throughout the duration of the test?
  • Do you tend to flag after DI-LR?
  • Do you feel as fresh as you felt months ago when you began the prep?
  • Do you need to pump yourself up and motivate yourself to gather enough energy to take a test?

From the answers to the questions above you will know the state of your mental energy right now. Ideally you should be feeling alert and light from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep.

There about 10 days left to the test and it is not late to shift your focus from practising crazily to building up energy reserves to handle d-day, which as you know will demand more energy than a mock taken in the comfort (or discomfort) of your room.

I have covered everything about how to manage your energy, stress and anxiety in this webinar, it would not hurt to refresh whatever I covered.

Another obliquely related post that I think you should read (or re-read) if you haven’t is this one.

Between these two I think you will find what you need to get into the right state and manage your energies.

I got the worst slot — the super early morning slot!

For some the early morning slot might be a blessing in disguise since that is the time when you usually prepare, for night-owls it can be their worst nightmare come true.

Either way, you need to start tuning your biological rhythms to ensure that you reach the exam centre by 7 A.M and by 8:30 A.M on the 29th of November, you are absolutely fresh and raring to go.

If I were you I would do the following for until D-day:

  • Having had a simple vegetarian dinner by 8 PM
  • Ensure that I turn in by 10 PM
  • Wake up at 5 AM and get fresh by 6 AM (all you need to leave for the exam centre is to wear your clothes)
  • Do a small round of breathing exercises and meditation for a total of around 10-15 minutes
  • Read a chapter of any spiritual book or text that helps you go into the right frame of mind (5 minutes)
  • Have a breakfast involving one or more — bananas, soaked almonds, oats, eggs (if your centre is in a different city then soaked almonds and bananas are the easiest option)
  • Get ready to leave (during the run-up to the test, start your preparation)

Obviously this has to be modified by you to account of the travel time to the exam centre.

I do not know if 12:30 is a good slot or a bad slot!

If I have to choose a slot among three to take the test, I would choose 12:30, it is a bit later than the time at which I am at my optimal, 11:00 to 14:00, but I would not complain the way I would with 8:30, which is way too early for me, and 4:30, which would mean getting out in the afternoon (something I hate :-))

The thing with the 12:30 slot is that like the early morning slot you have to slightly alter your biological rhythms, your body is programmed to feel hungry between 1 and 2, over the next ten days you need to reprogram it.

The following would be my plan until D-day

  • Wake up at whatever my usual time is but not later than 8 AM and get fresh in an hour (all you need to leave for the exam centre is to wear your clothes)
  • Do a small round of breathing exercises and meditation for a total of around 10-15 minutes
  • Read a chapter of any spiritual book or text that helps you go into the right frame of mind (5 minutes)
  • Have something super-light at whatever your breakfast time is (maximum before 9) to trick your body into believing that everything is the same — I would suggest two bananas and some soaked almonds
  • Start your prep or log in to work
  • Have a proper breakfast just before the time you would need to leave for the test centre on D-day to reach there by 11 A.M — oats, eggs, upma, whatever floats your boat but nothing too heavy
  • Resume your prep or work

Those with the 4:30 slot need to do nothing different! Just go about things the way you normally do since it is neither a feeding or a digestion slot for the body!

It goes without saying that everyone should try to take SimCATs in the time-slot of the actual test.

Insomnia induced by test-day nerves

I am sure there are those of you who know that you will not be able to sleep the night before the CAT. The sheer nervousness, you are sure, will have you tossing and turning all night.

Even in this case the best option is to pull an all-nighter two nights before the CAT and not sleep during the day that follows so that the night before the CAT, fatigue will overcome nervousness and your body will crash to sleep. Do not leave this for the end, try it once or twice before.

Managing your diet in the lead up to the test

I was surprised to get a query around the kind of diet one should have but then I also remember talking to my colleagues about physical fitness for test-taking, so in a way, the question is very relevant.

I will try to answer the question from whatever little reading I have done and whatever experiments that I have done with respect to diet and I will try to keep it really simple. This is something that everyone can take up irrespective of the slot.

Food can help you feel two ways, one — extremely happy, satisfied, heavy, and ready to hit the sack, which is what happens when you have food that you and maybe most people really like such as biriyanis, desserts (you get the drift). This state of body and mind after this is perfect to watch something silly while lying down and going off to sleep. As someone who really likes food and can really eat a lot, I have done a lot of this in the past and treat myself to this feeling of satiation twice a month (usually immediately or the day after a webinar :-))

The other thing that I have also done is have phases where food made me feel another way — nourished and light, exactly the way one feels after eating some fruit.

Afternoon Slot .jpg

Given that all of you want to crack the third or fourth toughest test in the world (JEE, UPSC, Gaokao) I suppose you know which one of the two options you are supposed to choose.

So just eat a certain amount of fresh foods (fruits and nuts) and food that is not fried, overtly spicy, and oily (the non-vegetarians, please savour the meat and eat smaller portions), basically home-cooked food in moderation (delete the food apps on your phone)

Also, stop eating when you are just about three-fourths full do not crave for the feeling of heaviness.  I have found that even milk makes me feel heavy or rather makes me aware of my gut and I hence cut it out of my system, you should try it as well.

And yeah, no snacks, at all, nothing out of a plastic packet, they don’t just make you feel heavy but bloated and make you crave strong flavours.

Ensure that you include some amount of light exercise every day

One thing that is least talked about is the importance of exercise for mental activities such as test-taking and I cannot vouch for this more. Whenever I sit at my desk for a long time, after a point I feel stale as if my brain is not working, all I need then is a good short walk and get the blood flowing through the body again. Movement is what gets oxygen into our system and makes us feel fresh.

It has been now proven that sitting for long period of time has many harmful effects and I know professionals who have desks that can be adjusted for height so that they can stand and work. You do not need to get one now but you need to counter the effects of sitting for a long time on your desk to prepare long with college or work.

All you need to do is a  light exercise at an intensity that only at the end of 30 minutes will make your breath reach your mouth, and perspire slightly. You should not be panting, your t-shirt should not be drenched. I would suggest a walk or a jog early in the morning or late at night or Yoga or (light) weight training for those who are already doing it.

As I have said before I cannot think of a better thing than adding a few breathing practices to your day.

Some of you might be thinking, is all of this really necessary?

Well, yes and no.

If you are my friend who is a 10-time 100-percentile or one of his students who had a 100 the year before last and scored just a mark or two fewer than him, you do not need any of this. These guys are at a level way beyond the test and the test doesn’t need them to stretch. If these guys have to compete on a different exam with many more people at their level I am sure they would also benefit from being in prime physical shape. But everyone else, including yours truly, can get better by being really fit.

Magnus Carlsen, the current world chess champion and the player with the highest ELO rating ever,  does a lot of exercise work as well, he works out every single day, basically a lot of aerobic training. He says it crucial to be able to sit and think for hours at a stretch, so yeah, if Carlsen does, you and I sure should.


  1. Hello Sir,
    A little offtopic though- What is the significance of the cover pic (the inverted cat one?) in your last post (How to manage your 120 minutes)?


    • 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 is thrown at you.

      Liked by 2 people


    Hello Sir,
    What is your advice for students like me, who have their test centre far from town, it will take around 4 to 5 hours from our town (Fortunately got 4:30 slot), and what should we be doing while travelling there and how to manage mental energy after 4 hours of travelling?


  3. Mohit Bhanushali says

    Hello Sir,
    What is your advice for test takers who have their test centre in another city, nearly 4 to 5 hours from hometown and how can we manage our mental energy after that journey.
    Thank You.


    • Hi Mohit,

      If I were taking the test in another city I will not travel on the day of the test, even if my slot is 4:30. I will reach the day before and stay in a hotel. Just the fact that anything can go wrong during the journey itself — vehicle breakdown, unexpected delays — not to mention the fatigue of the journey itself, is enough for me to reach the day before.

      All the best!


  4. meenakshi says

    Sir why didnt you give any tips to the ones with 4:30 pm slot. I didnt read otherslooking out for 4:30 and got nothing.


    • Hi Meenakshi,

      Because as I wrote there is nothing different from your every day that you have to do for a 4:30 slot!

      The early morning slot and afternoon slots usually mess with either your sleep cycle or your eating and digestion cycle, 4;30 to 6;30 is neither, eating, sleeping or digesting time!

      Just ensure you leave for the centre well in time!


  5. Siddharth says

    Hi sir
    I am not able to focus for the first 10-15 minutes and which is costing me marks in VARC ..any tips so that I am able to concentrate from very 1st minute of test


    • Hi Siddharth,

      I hope you saw this webinar, the last part covers what you need to do.

      It is basically about creating a ritual to gather yourself.

      All the best!


  6. Megha says

    Hi Sir,
    I have been following your blog posts and videos diligently for a while now. All I can say is that it really helps me ease out my fears/anxiety/excitement/nervousness on various days. Just by tuning myself mentally in the right way and preparation of course, I have seen a huge jump in my scores without actually thinking about my score constantly in the back of my head and rather just performing in that moment.
    So, thank you so much for all the positive affirmation!


    • Hi Megha,

      Great to hear that the things that I try to communicate beyond Quant and Verbal resonates with students and more importantly and to hear that people have seen results.

      All the very best for the exam!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello sir,
    I don’t have a query as such, you covered everything under the sun. I just wanted to thank you for everything(though I know its not enough and fair against the efforts that you pitch in for us). I really admire you sir, for a lot of things but majorly for your excellence of hitting the right spot. You always know what a student is struggling with.
    I used to have a lot of thoughts going on at the back of my mind while writing mocks, which did affect my scores… I tried everything meditation, breathing exercises, harder focus… nothing worked!
    You know what helped me, sir? Your story about your best friend(discussed in the ‘Zen and the art of test taking’). Since then, every time something pops up in my head while writing a mock.. all I can hear is “So what, THE QUESTION DOESN’T CARE!”(that too in your voice😅). This along with the other numerous hacks that you have introduced us with, has made the CAT journey even much more fun.
    Thank you very much sir.


    • Hi SK,

      Thanks a lot for the generous praise.

      For about 4 years I was handling IMS Chennai and during those days my evenings were like those of a doctor — a line of students waiting to me — and that is when I figured that most of the queries fell into the same bracket and that I can make things easier for students by starting a blog — they need not travel, wait to meet me only for me to repeat the same things I told the previous person, it did not reduce the line in the evenings but the discussions became very student specific.

      Good to hear that the events I recounted ended up making the difference, as long as the problem is solved I am happy!

      All the very best!


  8. Purvi says

    Hi Sir,

    Would it be wise for the 4:30 slot test takers to catch a hint of the paper in terms of any surprise elements, no. of questions, RC-VA distribution, topic difficulty distribution in QA, section difficulty etc. after the first slot has been concluded? While I understand that being exposed to all this on the D-day may lead to looking at the paper with a prejudiced lens but would it not in some way help us navigate through sections better and keep calm (say for example if DILR turns out to be a nighmare, a person who would be expecting the same would not lose his/her mind halfway through the timer in a grave situation!?).
    If you suggest getting our hands on only specific information, what would that be?



    • Hi Purvi,

      Two slots are never identical. When I demonstrated selection both the slots of VA-RC of 2019 in the Masterclasses, everyone felt that one slot was tougher than the other.

      So the biggest fallacy is to assume that if the difficulty of the morning slot is high then yours will be as well. Imagine what will happen if you went in thinking it was tough but there was one more do-able set in your slot than in the morning one. In your head, you are aiming lower than what will be a par score.

      I would want never advise what I will not do personally since I personally see no incremental value in the same as a test-taker.

      No one can tell me how to solve new question type, what extra strategy will I figure out beforehand by knowing how many RC s and how many VA questions are there.

      If you feel that there an extra advantage that you feel you will have by having extra information go ahead.

      I would neither endorse or rundown the process of asking others for information, it all depends on your ability to process the information that you get irrespective of the kind of information that you get.

      All the best!


  9. Sandeep Chaurasia says

    Hi Sir,
    Some day I am performing good in Quant/DILR and other day extremely bad(consider same level of difficulty of mocks). This is because of many silly mistakes I’m making or my mind was not properly working on that day(i’m getting hint about it during mocks). Sir plz give some reasons and solution for it. My only big concern is what factors led to bad or good performance during mocks? Is it about your mind is not on proper condition that day or some other mental or environmental cause.


  10. Akshit says

    Sir as per your advice I gave back to back mocks yesterday, what should be made of the scores in the 2nd mock? I Scored better in LrDi and Quant but could not focus in Varc.


    • It is okay, as ling as you felt that you had the stamina to answer questions for 4 hours that is enough. The idea was to push your mental energies to the limit.

      As long as you did not give up mid-way through the second test and performed only decently that should suffice.

      All the best!


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