CAT Strat
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CAT Preparation: Changing The Default Settings

Every year a lot of aspirants toil away at this thing called CAT preparation. The most sincere and determined ones, come in full of energy and enthusiasm to do whatever it takes to ace this test and get into the hallowed portals of an IIM.

But do they come in with a blank mind ready to understand what this test is all about and attune themselves to it? The answer as we all know is, NO.

A CAT aspirant beginning his prep will be at the very least 20 years old, long enough to start the test with a sizeable psychological baggage — a mental make up that stems from one’s experiences and successes with education & tests throughout school & college.

The baggage usually falls into two categories.

The first with respect to one’s ability:

  • I am good at Math since I have got good marks throughout school
  • I hate Math, I can never get my head around it
  • My English should be pretty good, I can speak the language fairly well
  • I am hard-working and sincere but I am not really sure if I am smart enough
  • I come from a vernacular background, so English is anyway going to be an uphill battle
  • I have never really been smart the way my friend/brother/sister is

The second is with respect to the reflex response when faced with a aptitude problem to solve:

  • Duplicating information onto paper as you read a question
  • Trying to solve the question incrementally as you progress reading
  • Trying to recollect the formula or the pattern or a similar problem you have done before

Well, whether your judgement about your ability is correct or faulty is besides the point. It is set against a background that has nothing to do with CAT.

Firstly, throughout school and college, we have primarily been tested on one thing — knowledge, which in turn translates into a test of memory. So being good or bad at school and college Math may not be a good indicator of your ability to crack CAT Math.

Secondly, have we ever been taught to solve problems at school? We are taught concepts, a bunch of formulas and solutions to the problem. Has anyone ever taught us how to approach problem-solving irrespective of the area to which the problem belongs and the concept that it tests? Not really.

For the better part of our school life, we are not taught this.

And the CAT, if anything, is unlike anything you have done in school in terms of what it demands.


What Is APTITUDE?

The dictionary meaning of the word aptitude can be captured in many words. But the words closest in the way it applies to CAT and other tests such as the GMAT and GRE, are competence, skill & ability.

If you really understand this aspect of it you will realize that knowledge ends up taking a back seat since the competence they are testing is not memory!

What they are testing are your reasoning skills in different contexts — Quantitative, Data, Logical and Verbal.

How does one learn a skill? Or rather what is the building block for any skill or competence? TECHNIQUE.

Any skill be it skipping, cycling, carpentry, stitching, drawing or singing, every skill is based on sound TECHNIQUE — a series of movements executed with accuracy and precision.

In the case of aptitude tests, these movements are mental.

The skill you have to develop is to solve problems, not plug numbers into formulas! To develop this competence you have to consistently follow the steps below.


Read the question once, read the question well

How many times during SimCAT analysis have you found that you could have scored at least 20-30 marks more had you avoided silly mistakes? How many of these mistakes are because of not reading the question properly?

The answer to both questions will be “often” for test-takers stuck in the 70-85 percentile range.

The first and foremost thing that anyone trying to crack an aptitude test has to learn is to read the question well. To do this, you have to get rid of all your reflex responses:

  • Duplicating information on to the paper as you read a question
    • You do not need to write since the information is already there in case you need to refer
    • Copying the information is not taking you closer to the solution
    • Writing is not thinking
  • Trying to solve the question incrementally as you progress reading
    • You never know what is being asked till you reach the end of the problem
    • You start solving as you are reading and then do not read the last part properly, resulting in silly mistakes – LOWER ACCURACY
    • You realize you are not getting anywhere and re-read the problem and get it right on the second try — HIGH AVERAGE TIME
  • Trying to recollect the formula or the pattern or a similar problem you have done before
    • You are not reacting to the question in front of you but to a question from memory
    • You fail to see the small twist in the tale
    • You get another answer, which will be there in the options, and move on thinking you have got it right – LOWER ACCURACY

This initial part is probably the most crucial part of problem-solving.

They are similar to the initial movements of a batsman. The best batsmen in the world, watch the ball, pick up the length and take a clear decisive step forward or back. Reading the question once and reading it well is nothing but keeping the head still and watching the ball and taking a decisive step towards playing it.

How the well the shot is executed completely rests on this initial movement. Those who remember the early days of watching Sachin play would recollect the way Gavaskar used to gush about him — look at the balance, look at the head position, look at how straight the bat comes down. It’s all about technique.

So the first step is to change your default settings, your reflex response in terms of reading the question.


Do  not be on autopilot, solve the question in front of you

Remember you need to think about a new problem in front of you, not reproduce an old one

You need to actively process the information in a problem.

You are not solving a stereotype.

CAT is not R.S.Agarwal. R.S Agarwal is the worst thing that you can do to your aptitude prep.

You end up looking for a type rather than solving the unique question in front of you.

You also end up developing the habit of trying to remember every new question as a type rather than learn an approach.

You end up collecting fish instead of learning to fish.

Let us take the example of a problem to understand this better.

A box contains 6 books on Mathematics, 8 books on Economics, 5 books on History, 4 books on Philosophy and 7 books on Politics. What is the minimum number of books one should take out of the box to ensure that at least one book on each of the five subjects has been picked up?

  1. 27
  2. 5
  3. 23
  4. 29.

The moment they read this test-takers who have been preparing for a while quickly jump to the solution by identifying the type. This is the adding-everything-but-one-subject-and-then-adding-a-one-at-the-end type. So we need to add 4+5+6+7 plus 1 = 23.

But is it really that type?

This question is similar to the pair of socks question —

If they are 12 different pairs of socks, all mixed up in a bag, what is the minimum number of socks one should take out to ensure that you have at least one matching pair?

The keyword is to ensure, that means whatever happens after this you will have a pair.

So one looks at the worst-case scenario that every time one picks out one, it is from a different pair.

So in this way, one can pick up 12 socks, each from a different pair.

The 13th one, when picked up, will definitely form a pair with one of the 12 ones picked previously. So, in this case, the answer is 13.

What you need to remember is the approach and not the type! We looked for the worst-case scenario with the socks, even here we need to look at the worst-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario is when we end up picking maximum books from the same subject before moving on to another subject.

Which subject has the maximum books? Economics with 8.

So we should be starting with that subject and then move on to the next subject with the maximum number of books. So the solution is 8+7+6+5 plus 1 = 27.

This example illustrates the common reason for silly mistakes and low accuracy, the tendency to replicate an old problem rather than adapt the approach to a new problem.

The only way to avoid this is to remember that you are not supposed to be on autopilot but actively solving new problems every second of the 3 hours of test-taking.

This part is similar to the playing of the shot well — play it close to the body, play it right under your eyes.


Your brain  is still plastic, you can still make major improvements

More than all of these, the most important thing to believe is that you can still learn and get better. Sure there were kids at school or in your family who seem to be naturally better at these things but that does not mean that you cannot learn these things.

Different people are good at different things naturally, that does not mean that ONLY they can only do those things. Everyone can learn to get better.

The brain is relatively plastic till age 30. It is only after that it starts hardening and it becomes tougher to learn new things. This is one of the reasons why we find that our parents are sometimes resistant to change and reluctant to pick up new things. At the same time, we find children attending multiple classes at the same time — music, sports and what not — without much difficulty picking up stuff.

So most of you can still very easily improve upon your current levels, provided you are willing to believe that you can learn, provided you are willing to change your default settings.

And it is no wonder that it is Rafa Nadal, maybe the hardest worker on and off the tennis court, who summed it up beautifully — If you don’t feel that you can improve, then you don’t know nothing about life, because nothing is perfect in this life.

39 Comments

  1. Shaunak Gaikwad says

    Hello Sir,
    I’m facing an issue which might be an amalgamation of all the things you wrote in the blog plus a fair deal of my low test taking confidence. I’ve noticed a trend that whenever I sit down to take a mock, panic starts building up and it completely kills my potential. I feel very anxious and I end up in such a position that instead of me taking the mock, it’s the other way around. I’ve read your previous blogs and I also meditate regularly, but I still end up panicking while giving a mock. I’m a first time CAT taker and my Presimcat scores + Simcat scores hover between 86-91 percentile. I know if I were to remove my panic out of the equation, I can score way more.
    Please advise how should I go about it.

    Thank you.

    Like

    • Hi Shaunak,

      Getting panic attacks can be a sign of mild anxiety, which only meditation might not be able to resolve.

      You need to figure out if it is only taking tests that creates panic or if you always feel a bit jittery when you have to undertake some non -routine task — say catch a train or a flight, going for an interview — if you do then it means that you might be suffering from a certain amount of anxiety, which is something that you have to learn to manage by doing some extensive reading about the same, I myself am not an expert on the same.

      If it is tests only that create a panic, then you need to figure out the reason for the same — is it your past record that is a source of your fear of failure, or parental pressure, or your current situation (you are out of your job and CAT is your only hope). I have health with this to the best of my abilities in this webinar — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWh8dOyIGI0&list=PLZLYq7TWue8lNn1U5ZkRqnNtj7X-jxKot&index=3&t=45s

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jaswinder Singh says

    Words can’t explain how much your blogs are helping with my CAT prep. It would have taken me months to identify these default settings. Can’t thank you enough.

    Like

    • Hi Jaswinder,

      Glad to hear the post resonated with you and the blog as a whole is helping you with your CAT Prep. I spent the better part of four years meeting students 1-1 every single evening (it was exactly the way a doctor’s clinic would be) and it is those evenings that we’re not just the impetus for starting the blog (I felt that I can spare students the trouble of travelling long distances to come and meet me for queries that everyone has) but also the kind of issues that need to be addressed. I have always been equally interested to solve both sides of a problem — the fastest way to solve a question and all the psychological/habitual reasons that prevent a student from doing the same.

      Keep prepping,

      All the best!

      Like

  3. Hello sir,
    Great article, really inspiring…

    Sir, just one small query, wanted to know your opinion on this.
    I have to choose between NMIMS Mumbai or MICA this year.
    Which should I prefer??

    Sir, everyone is suggesting that if I want to do my MBA in Marketing then I should choose MICA.
    But I am getting really confused, Kindly help me regarding this

    PS – 95% Interest in Marketing but a little afraid to close other domains.

    Thanking you in advance…

    Like

    • Hi Divyanshu,

      Even if you are 100% bent on Marketing I would still suggest NMIMS. MICA is an advertising-focussed college that over the years has also attracted Marketing roles. The advertising roles are lower-paying than the average Marketing roles and do not necessarily guarantee a Marketing role later. NMIMS is known for both Finance and Marketing since after Gurgaon, Mumbai is the HQ for the largest number of FMCG firms including HUL. So I would definitely recommend NM.

      All the best!

      Like

  4. Nilesh says

    Hi Sir,
    What is your view on joining BITSoM? How does it compare with NMIMS?

    Like

    • Hi,

      I do not see any reason why you are even considering BITSOM when compared to NMIMS for Finance! I do not know if it is the fee that is a constraint or if it is the BITS brand is exerting a pull.

      Do not think too much, choose NM.

      All the best

      Like

  5. Mayur says

    Hello Sir,
    I have always been an admirer of your CAT related articles (especially the way you connect them with cricket, I still remember the Jos butler story you shared in one of the masterclass videos before CAT-2020).
    Would love to have more articles from you throughout CAT-21 (also would be interesting to read if you could connect ABD’s cricketing genius with CAT).
    Thanks a lot!!!

    Like

    • Hi Mayur,

      Glad you liked the posts and find them useful.

      Surprisingly you are the second person in two days to mention the Jos Buttler story! I did quite a bit of research for that webinar and as they say, the more one pushes the luckier one gets, and I found that story. I was intrigued by his iceman demeanour and googled the hell out.

      For me the cricket always follows the point I want to make, the examples always provide context and serve the best analogies to illustrate what I want to say about test prep since I find it very analogues to sport; sport or players themselves are never the starting point!

      The only thing I think about when it comes to ABD or even Messi is my colleague, the 11-time 100-percentiler, Scrabbler — watching them play and listening (that’s the beauty) to him open up a Math problem and solve it without putting pen to paper is just pure pleasure —one does not comment on beauty and genius one just marvels at it!

      All the best!

      Like

  6. Ashish says

    Can you please point out the general mistakes for varc as you did for aptitude?

    Like

  7. Hello Sir!
    Thank you for writing these detailed & awesome blogs. I started reading your blogs pretty late in my preparation phase and instantly understood what a mistake I’ve been making all this time.
    I am dropping and re-attempting CAT this year, starting my preparation from this article.
    Hoping to learn a lot from you in the future, as well.

    Like

    • Better late than never works in the case of my blog also I guess.

      There will more as the season goes by and if you are IMS students you will see me in the LIVE Masterclasses and some of the SimCATs (the solution videos).

      All the best!

      Like

  8. Abhay Bembey says

    Hi Tony Sir,
    I was reading your blogs in my CAT 2020 preparation and also now again started reading CAT’21. Not sure if I will be able to crack it this time also or not, but again trying.
    Just want to understand how can someone like me who is a working professional plan his preparation from May end. I am an IMS student, have taken a MyPlan session but I am still having anxiety that can 5 hours of daily study outside office work help do something good in CAT.
    Maybe a blog for us can be helpful for us to understand what balance is needed.

    Also how can I connect you sir. Since last year I have been wanting to talk to you, espcially after masterclass sessions. I this time tired connecting though linkedIn also. I have many questions about doing another try of CAT, need for MBA for me, should I go for GMAT than CAT. Need some mentorship. I am post Grad in Economics plus a 2.5 years of experience, hence feel to old to keep trying for CAT and hence have such absurd questions in me.

    Nonethless, thank you for your regular blogs. It is a feast to mind.

    Like

      • Abhay Bembey says

        Hi Tony Sir,

        Thank You for such a quick reply. I know my comment written in a very haphazard manner.

        Thank you for sharing the link to your 2019 blog. You will be happy to know that is still applicable in 2021 and I think every working professional CAT Aspirant will resonate with your article in many many years to come.

        That article has given me spiritual(not in a religious way) support in tacking CAT preparation and balance both ends.

        Thank you for your regular blogs. It keeps aspirants like I inspired to work even knowing that reaching old IIMs has a success rate of less than 1%.

        Stay safe, Stay healthy sir during these pandemic times!!

        Thank You Sir!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Tanmay Sagar says

    Hi Tony Sir,
    CAT 20 was my first attempt and I got 98.03 percentile, but my DILR sectional was very bad which being the most important factor of me not getting a call from the top 6-7 IIMs. I am 21 years old and I don’t belong from an IIT or a NIT but I got the best on campus placement of my college. IIM U is the only convert that I have. I am in a big dilemma that should I take a reattemp or not since from the very beginning I have never had enough confidence on myself, please give me a guidance and a few suggestions.

    Like

    • Hi Tanmay,

      Congrats on the conversion!

      If you really like the role you have landed, are looking forward to working then take up the job, and give CAT 2022.

      If you are indifferent to the job or want to develop more confidence before entering professional life, then join IIM-U.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  10. Tanmay Sagar says

    Hi Tony Sir,
    I took CAT for the first in 2020 and got 98.03 percentile but because of very low sectionals in DILR, I ended up not getting any calls from the top B-schools apart from FMS. At last, I converted only IIM Udaipur. I am very confused about whether I should take a reattempt since I have not had confidence in myself from the very beginning. Though I don’t belong from an IIT or an NIT background, I got the highest on-campus placement of my college. Please guide me on this and also suggest that how should I go about the next attempt if I wish to go for that please.

    Like

  11. Sir . Mei ne ims ki test series mei enroll kiya hua hai…but i am not able to decide how should i plan my mock test schedule…. specifically, in what interval of time..should I go for a mock test…so that I can make best use of them.
    Please reply.
    Greetings from Uttar Pradesh.

    Like

    • Hi Ashish,

      You should be taking the 16 proctored SimCATs as per the schedule in which they are launched. The SimCAT Schedule will be there on myIMS.

      The rest of the 25 Take Home Tests you should take between the Proctored Tests depending on your level of prep.

      If you are a first-time aspirant you should take a total of at least 25 full-length tests (proctored plus take home)

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  12. Virendra Chandel says

    Hi Sir,

    I am Virendra Singh Chandel and I was a student for IMS CAT-2020 online course and scored 98.44 percentile in CAT2020 but couldn’t convert any major college so I am thinking of retaking CAT2021 this year score better and hence get more calls this year but sir I am a fresher and would complete my engineering this year and didn’t take any job till now but I do intraday trading almost daily and hence want to ask that would trading be counted as work experience or should I look for an actual job as workex below 12months doesn’t have any extra marks so please if you could help me with this or you could please give some contact of any other mentor who could help me with this.

    Thank you!

    Like

    • Hi Virendra,

      Whatever work-ex you show, should be full-time, paid work-ex.

      You can write self-employed and quote and an annual income but you should be prepared to show proofs of your investments and to answer all questions around day trading, including the ethics of it all.

      While there are no marks for work-ex under 12 months (in most cases) and this minimal quantitative impact on your getting a call, you will still have to deal with the interview in which there will be questions around what you have been up to.

      My take — do some certification courses as well or best of all prepare for the CFA (if you want the best Fin jobs) in addition to CAT Prep.

      All the best!

      Like

      • Virendra Chandel says

        Thank You, Sir!
        Will start preparing for CAT as well as CFA

        Like

  13. Samsara says

    Hello Sir,

    I would appreciate your efforts on gauging the student’s mindset and helping them through tough decisions, hence here I am, seeking guidance on few things that have been a hindrance for quiet a while now.

    While most of us are at home, working or solely studying, the idea itself manifests a lot of doubts.I am a IMS student and the entire course is helping me a lot yet I lack direction and also the focus while at home.Days are slipping by with no concrete efforts although the deadlines and tasks for the day are always set.It might be easy to assume that sitting at home provides a lot of time in hand yet the days always end up being super disorganised and unproductive with a pandemic taking a fatigue toll.What is the best way to keep things balanced and measuring the progress and that too in the right direction?

    I am currently working at a managerial position, have done my BBA from a tier 1 college and have 18 months of work ex and mediocre academics 87/75/7.4 and good number of extra curricular activities on my list.I am planning on a job switch considering I will get leverage on my work ex, but parallely I have a confused mindset that this being my second attempt,I could put a lot at stake by not wholly focusing on the exam(I get easily distracted).Even if I quit post serving my notice period by end of July(31st July being the last day),are there any chances of me converting the top colleges?At the moment preparing for the interviews is also giving me a lot of hindrance.

    Considering practice should be the only channel for working hard towards the exam, what should be ideal schedule for a day at home considering we are home quarantined.Also, would be highly obliged if there were more questions on venn diagrams on the online module to practice on.

    Thank for your patience and time!

    Like

  14. Samsara says

    *appreciate

    Adding to this, what would be the right way to analyse the simcats?
    Here I am seeking a linear approach post attempting the questions and not being able to do them.
    (not incorrectly but the language of the questions looks unfamiliar )

    Like

  15. Shabdita says

    Hello sir,
    I’m not exactly a fresher as i completed my graduation (B.Com Hons) last year in October. I got placed from the college but my family asked me to complete my education first and then go for job and so i didn’t join. So this is my drop year, with average grades and nothing good about my profile. I converted KJ Somaiya through NMAT but didn’t get the course of my choice (converted Sports management and Health care management). I did *terrible* in CAT(40%ile), just decent in NMAT(230) and now I’m dropping this year. I don’t know if it is the right choice. There are a lot of maybes, but with the pandemic raging outside this is the only choice that i have at the moment. I won’t be allowed to work because of family pressure and i’m not sure if i’ll get a good college even this year. I want to know if I’m making the right choice or should I somehow talk to my family about job or maybe enroll in any other masters program? I’m extremely confused with zero guidance. Please help me out.

    Like

    • Hi Shabdita,

      If you want to take another shot do so but you have to be prepared to answer questions about your gap. You have two options:

      1. Work, which is the best option
      2. Take up profile building activities along with CAT Prep — https://thecatwriter.com/2019/03/18/how-to-build-your-profile-for-an-mba-2/

      Joining another Master’s Program as a backup is something that I would not advocate (not that it should not be done or there is anything inherently wrong with it) since that is as middle-class as it can get (back-up naukri aur back-up shaadi dono narak ke liye seedhe raaste hain)

      All the best!

      Like

      • Shabdita says

        Thank you so much sir, for your help. I’ll most probably bother you again when I’m stuck in another difficult situation 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Vedang Desai says

    Greetings Sir,
    I am an IMS student currently at the 90-91 percentile mark in the first week of June, what targets on basis of percentile can I set in each of the remaining 5 months, till November that is to reach 100.
    P.S: The course is still pending and will get over by July End.

    Like

  17. Harsh Kumar Agrawal says

    Thank you sir. your blogs meant alot to people like me.

    Sir I need one suggestion.
    Its like when I attempt mocks I easily make an avg of 99 plus percentile. but when I analyse there are still many mistakes which takes my 10 to 15 marks at the very least and I have seen my Varc marks not improving even though I have practiced many rcs. So what should be the aim in next 5 months to get to a better score in varc and better overall percentile .

    Like

    • Hi Harsh,

      Glad to hear that the blog posts are useful and more importantly to hear that you are doing quite well in the other two sections.

      For VA-RC you should look at the test-taking strategy video that is available on the Channel TAB of myIMS.

      This page will have a collection of all the Verbal posts https://thecatwriter.com/category/verbal-strat/

      I will be doing Masterclasses for VA and RC as we go along in the season.

      All the best!

      Like

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