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How to improve your QA percentile – I

Unlike the other two sections, QA is a section that has a direct link to what you have done in school and college. Most of the topics that are tested on the CAT have also been a part of the school curriculum. This I feel is the biggest roadblock in front of test-takers wanting to achieve higher scores on the CAT Quant because high Math scores during X and XII exams do not automatically imply doing well on CAT Quant.

This has to do with the simple fact that test-takers never fully grasp the difference between the two formats since they are as different from each other as chalk and cheese. So high is my resentment for the way they taught Math in school that I can write an entire blog post on that!

But I will try to condense my grouse to this — they never taught us to solve they taught us solutions; we never learned to solve, we memorized solutions.

If you want to get better at CAT Quant you should stop memorising solutions and start solving problems.

When I mean start solving problems I mean literally start solving a problem the way a mechanic will fix a bike.

– Do mechanics memorize the way they repaired each and every bike?
– Do mechanics start fixing a bike or car before they understand the problem?
– Do mechanics need to constantly revise the basics of how an automobile works before they begin to fix every new vehicle?

The answer to all the above questions is a resounding NO! So the first step is to make this perceptual shift in your mind before you can think about increasing your scores on CAT QA.


Leave no concept unturned

While the QA section of the CAT might seem like one big block of Math, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Each of the topics on CAT QA is a different ballgame altogether and one can’t club it all under a big Math umbrella. This is the reason why test-takers have such varying degrees of expertise across the areas within CAT QA —

– some are exceptional at Numbers but poor at Arithmetic
– some are great at Arithmetic and Geometry but really bad at P&C
– some find P&C and Probability solvable but find functions a problem

This in itself indicates how each topic on Math ends up testing a different kind of mental skill set, making the QA section similar to a Heptathlon or Decathlon, which requires you to be good at 7 and 10 different events.

To compete in such an event you need to first know how to perform in each individual event. You cannot know how to perform only 5 out of 7 events in a heptathlon (100 meters hurdles, High jump, Shot put, 200 meters, Long jump, Javelin throw, 800 meters) and then try to compete.

It goes without saying that to succeed at such an event you need to be above average in all events and great at a few, success on the CAT requires something very similar — you need to know the basics of all the topics and be competent enough to solve Easy and Medium questions from all of them.

So I hope after this no one will ask what the important topics for CAT QA are (that indicates the mindset of Board Exam preparation and not CAT prep).

Once the basics are in place, the three building blocks to get better at CAT QA are AccuracySelection & Speed.


Why accuracy is the first thing you need to work on

The first thing you need to do is to fix the machine or rather ensure that the machine churns out a very high percentage of items within the quality standards. While achieving 6-sigma levels of accuracy is a very high benchmark to set, you should strive to have an accuracy rate of at least 80 per cent.

Irrespective of the how many concepts you know, if your machine has an error rate of 35% then you are always going to be performing below par.

  • 20 Attempts at 65% accuracy will fetch you 32 marks
  • 30 Attempts at 65% accuracy will fetch you 46 marks
  • 20 Attempts at 80% accuracy will fetch you 44 marks
  • 20 Attempts at 85% accuracy will fetch you 49 marks

What should you focus — attempts or accuracy — given that you are taking the CAT to enter the world of business?

Obviously, accuracy since you will always look to squeeze the maximum out of every dollar invested (unless you run an e-commerce business and have investors to watch your back, albeit not for perpetuity).

What do you think is easier to achieve?

  • an increase in attempts from 20 to 30 or
  • an increase in accuracy from 65% to 85%

If you accuracy is low then trying to dramatically increase attempts will only further bring down your accuracy. If at your current speed you are prone to crashing 3-4 out of 10 times then at a higher speed you will only crash more often.

So, fix the machine to get the most out of it. The table below will give you more than enough reasons to do so.

CAT QA Score Improvement.jpg

Use the above table to see where you are right now and then try to move rightward first only then try to move downward.


Diagnose the reasons behind your low accuracy

Good accuracy is a function of two things — your solving technique and your choice of questions. Since we will take up selection in the next section of this post, here we will deal with just solving technique.

Since we have undergone the induction process of learning solutions during the long formative years of our education, we don’t really know the technique of problem solving as such. So we usually attribute our mistakes to that worn-out phrase — silly mistake. If we continue to use that phrase then neither can I nor can anyone can else help you out since the only solution is to stop being silly!

Even if you tell yourself that you will be serious, that you will concentrate hard, it is not going to work since there are just words or attitudes and not process changes.

To improve your accuracy on CAT QA, you need to first stop viewing your mistakes through the silly-mistake lens, view it through the process-mistake lens. 

These are the big process mistakes to which most errors can be attributed.

Missing crucial information in the question – MISREADING

We are always in a tearing hurry to read the question, so it is not a surprise that we tend to misread the parts of the question, usually the first parts (if n is an integer) or the last part (if they work on alternate days).

Since we are always trying to map a question to a pattern we have previously learned or to a formula, we tend to ignore the unique aspects of the question in front of us and tend selectively pick out information that either matches a pattern or can be put into a formula.

Taking your eye off the ball while calculating – MISCALCULATION

Keen followers of cricket will know how Sunil Gavaskar always gets agitated when a batsman gets run-out because of not grounding the bat. For him it is unpardonable since to ground the bat is part of the process of batsmanship and more importantly, it is a case of throwing away one’s wicket. He is known to have been such a stickler for correctness — he always took an extra run before celebrating after reaching a 100 since the manual scorer could have made a mistake — no wonder he gets so incensed!

Just like running between the wickets is the hard (or donkey) work in cricket, the calculation part is the hard (or donkey) work in the CAT QA. You can either choose to just run without really being alert and present or be vigilant & fast at the same time a la Dhoni & Virat.

If you watch those two they don’t just run blindly, they have their eye on where the ball has gone and on the fielder, that is what makes them exceptional. They are as alert during the running phase as they are when they are facing up to the ball and playing a shot.

I am sure some of you with the number of miscalculations you make would give Inzamam a run for his money 🙂

Missing the complexity of the question – MISJUDGEMENT

Sometimes you make a mistake, not because of the above two reasons but because you have underestimated the complexity of a question.

This underestimation can happen at two stages:

  • One during the initial stages when you have unknowingly simplified the problem. The reason for this though is again related to mapping a question while reading itself to a previous pattern in your head and thus missing the extra knot that makes the specific question a tad tougher.
  • The other during the execution stage in the rush to solve the question and move forward to the next question.

Such errors tend to occur in questions involving permutations & combinations or probability.

So firstly, do a diagnosis of the process mistakes you commit. Make a list of all the mistakes you have made in the preceding SimCATs in an excel sheet and next to each mistake write down the process mistake you made for the questions that you could have solved but ended up messing up.

You will come to know which process mistake is contributing how much to your errors, for example, Misreading (40%), Miscalculation (25%) & Misjudgement (35%)


How to eliminate errors due to misreading

If you are making quite a few errors because of misreading the question and if these questions are not towards the end of a section, which means that the misreading was not due to time constraints then you should:

Drop your pace of reading

It might seem as if you will solve far fewer questions by doing this but dropping the pace does not mean that you should read at a snail’s pace. It just means that you will read without rushing. While you might see a marginal dip in the number of attempts, it will be more than offset by the increase in score.

Read the question in front of you

Do not always map the question in front of you to a pattern or a formula as you read it. This is a big reason why even though you read at the right pace you skip information — you selectively pick and exclude information.


How to eliminate errors due to miscalculation

Different questions will require you to concentrate at different levels, some might take up 20% of your mind space some 80% but the key is that within the solving time of the problem, the same level of concentration has to be maintained throughout the solving of the problem without viewing the execution of a solution as a burden or taking your eye off the ball during the calculation phase.

Even when you are approximating, which means that you are cutting open something with say three slashes of your sword and not ten, each of the three slashes has to be made with concentration and precision.

To keep it simple look at the ball and the fielder before taking off and always ground the bat.


How to eliminate errors due to misjudgment

Firstly, these are higher-order errors where you are not entirely to blame. The test-setter might have managed to cleverly slip in a trap but that cleverness sometimes relies on you making a process mistake.

So to start off with do not start solving as you start reading. By starting to solve as you read you are setting yourself up for a host of errors:

  • taking the wrong thing as X only to calculate it and find it in the answer options, move on to the next question thinking you are right and being shocked when you see the score
  • assuming the question to be simple and setting up a simplistic structure to solve and not accounting for the build-up in complexity as you are reading the question leading to having to reformulate the problem with different variables and equations

While reading only evaluate how the solution will unfold, what you have what you do not have etc.

Before you jump to the solving just pause for a moment to think about

  • the complexity of the problem or possible cases if it is a P&C problem
  • what will be convenient — taking X or taking a 100
  • what will be convenient taking 100 or taking a number that is a multiple of the ratios (if two things are in the ratio 7:8, and you need to assume the total as some value, it is better to take the total as 15 or 150 and get the two values as 7, 8 or 70, 80 instead taking 100 and getting 700/15 and 800/15)

Improve your solving process

If you see most of our inefficiencies occur  because

  • we are always in a rush, operating all of the time out of a fear of time running out
  • we do not read the question properly, so without figuring out the problem we want to deliver a solution
  • we do not think about how to solve the problem, we just jump into solving; aren’t we supposed to think, isn’t this supposed to be a test of reasoning in different contexts?

It is not possible to make these processes changes just like that, you need to program your brain to slip out of its current grooves and create new pathways. To do this talk to yourself before every practice session about the changes you need to make — all the great sportsmen do it.

So before every practice session tell yourself to

  • read the question properly till the end without panicking
  • concentrate hard and never take your eyes off the ball
  • think, think and think and not just regurgitate old solutions.

Setting the right target scores

The biggest thing about improving scores is to set the right targets. Most test-taker do not have a target but a vision — I want to do the best I can. Unfortunately, all that ends up in is a you-versus-timer shootout.

A good target to set from one test to the next is a jump of ten marks over your average score.

So, if on average you are scoring 40 then set a target of 50 and so on.

 

The simplest way to convert this score into attempts at an 80 percent accuracy is to divide it by 2.2. To do this calculation, I simplified things and excluded TITA and taken a negative for every incorrect, stricter rule but works. Rounding off, it works out to:

  • 60 marks, ~ 28 questions
  • 50 marks, ~ 23 questions
  • 40 marks, ~ 18 questions

Basically, at an 80% percent accuacy, 10 marks more  it means 5 more attempts.

I believe that this is the most realistic way to go forward.  Go with a fixed number target — the average of you last three or four SimCAT scores in the section plus 10

Obviously, it goes without saying that on an easy paper, you can relax and take your foot of the pedal when you see that you are reaching your target comfortably; you should push, attempt more questions, and score higher than the target score for the same percentile.

Bear in mind that the converse will also hold true. If it is a difficult paper you might find yourself behind the target and but remember that as long as you select the right questions you might end up with a higher percentile.

Taking the average of the last 3 to 4 SimCATs and then adding ten to arrive at your target, will thus take care of the variability in difficulty as well as your recent form.

The key though is to select the right 28, 23, or 18 questions.

In the next posts we will take up the other two building blocks — selection & speed; before that please do the diagnosis to improve your accuracy and start ringing in the changes.


You cannot do the same thing and expect different results

If the reading of this post has to benefit then you should understand the importance of making these process changes.

When cricketers are a bit out of form and getting out in a particular fashion

  • Ricky Ponting getting caught LBW
  • Brian Lara getting caught in the slips
  • Sachin Tendulkar getting caught driving

what do you think their coaches told them? Did they just say — you are making these silly mistakes just stop making them — they did not?

In two of the cases, they identified a clear process mistake

  • Ponting, during that phase, was leaning forward too much and tending to fall over and hence getting trapped in front when the ball was pitching and swinging in
  • Lara’s bat was coming down from third slip instead of first slip and given his backlift was resulting in him slashing across the line instead of getting behind it

In other cases, they identified tendencies and just avoided them

After a disastrous tour of England, Virat Kohli with the help of Sanjay Bangar identified that the reason for him getting out so frequently to Anderson was that his right toe was pointing towards cover and the left one towards mid-off, making his stance very straight on — this resulted in Anderson squaring him up. So before the first test in Australia, they changed the stance to a more side-on one — right toe pointing towards point and the left towards cover — that helped him play beside the line and leave the ball.

If the best batsmen in the past and current generations can identify process changes and adopt a different approach to get better results, so can you.

Be it in life, in sport, or in business, the mantra is always simple — change or perish!

And for the change to happen do not wait for Newton’s Second Law to kick in; the external force — the need to crack the CAT this year — is already there do not wait for the force to increase — failing to crack it this year — before you make changes.

 

17 Comments

  1. Akanksha says

    Hello Sir,
    I have been following your blogs since last year and they have really inspired me at various points of time. But there’s something I have been desperately searching for since last year and that’s a good small group of people with whom I can study. I totally believe that group studies can help me practice better, especially when it comes to quants. It gets difficult to study alone, atleast for me ! Given the pandemic situation it becomes really tough to find a small circle of friends, even within the telegram group provided by IMS.
    I just want to ask you, what are the ways I can make learning and practicing quants fun by myself (without a group)?

    Like

  2. Neelkanth saxena says

    hi sir myself Neelkanth Saxena sir i have completed arithmetic ,algebra, modern math and right now number system is going on i can easily identify which question to pick which to solve and know the concept which will be applying in that question for example i am not that much perfect with TSD so if i am able to identify that i will do it in mock than i go otherwise i leave it but the main problem is i am not able to solve questions in mock sometimes i solve full sometime i get in stuck between the solving and i get tensed while solving due to which i am not able to solve more than 5 ques in mock plz tell me what to do? should i again revisit my fundamentals and give sectional test ? is lack of planning and practice is the cause ? or should i first try to give topic wise test ?/

    Like

  3. PARUL SARASWAT says

    Hello sir,
    I know this article is for quants but I have a doubt about VARC. Sir I went through your video on how we should score the RC’s as we go about in the exam. I did try that strategy in SIMCAT-3 and did score the RC’s. I scored the RC on child’s psychology the least as I couldn’t understand anything from the first two paragraphs because of the heavy English used in that passage which wasn’t easy to comprehend. But to my surprise when I saw SIMCAT 3 analysis by Amit Sir, he said it was the easiest passage of the VARC section. So now I am questioning my judgement, I mean how are we supposed to go about that? How do I not lose marks here?

    Like

    • Hi Parul,

      What matters is how you scored and whether your score improved since each test-taker can have a different reaction to a passage based on his or her own skills. The process will take some time for you to perfect stick with it and do not get jittery. The only catch is if everything that is easy for others is consistently difficult for you, that would mean that your reading and comprehension skills are below average.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  4. Pingback: How to improve your QA percentile – Part II | The CAT Writer

  5. Pingback: How to improve your QA percentile – Part III | The CAT Writer

  6. Mohamed Mashood says

    Sir, I would like to talk to you personally. Please share your contact details. I won’t spare more than 10 min of yours.

    Like

    • Hi Mohammed,

      I usually answer all the queries on the blog itself. It will be unfair if I speak to some students and not to others and my work does not permit me to speak to all students.

      This is a professional forum linked to test prep and career queries, so, please put down your query here and I’ll reply as I usually do within a day.

      All the best!

      Like

  7. Mashood says

    Hello sir,
    I’ve started my preparation from May onwards. I’m focusing more on QA as it is my weak zone. As I’m preparing myself I’m not sure whether I’m done with a certain topic or not. After studying the concept I’ll start solving questions. Then I move on to another topic. But after finishing couple of sections I’ll return to the initial topic that I studied, but now I can’t solve much problems, so I’ve to start from sqaure one again. Could you please suggest some remedies.

    Like

    • Hi Mashood,

      Since you are weak in Math you need to first ensure that you develop skills in Arithmetic since that accounts for a bulk of the paper.

      And if you ask me arithmetic might seem like different topics but it is all based on a few core concepts — ratios, averages and weighted averages.

      The only way you can make progress is if you stop looking at it the way you did in school — as formulas to be mugged up and try to understand how the concepts came about — this might sound like generic gyaan but the fact is that people do not never really understand what they learn.

      Let me give a simple example — What is interest?

      The amount of money you make as a return on the amount you invested as a percentage — so, if a bank is offering ten percent as interest per annum it means that if you put 500 rupees then after a year you will get 10% of it Rs.50 as interest. (10 percent is always one decimal point from right to left 500 becomes 50.0, 1 % is two decimal points, 5.00)

      Do you need the formula PNR/100 to determine this? If for one year you get 50 bucks then for 5 years you will get 250 bucks as interest!

      Do you need to remember this and revise this over and over again?

      And what is compound interest. It is nothing but interest on interest. Not only on the amount invested but also on the interest earned.

      So, if at the end of the first year you get Rs.50 as interest then in the second year you will 10% on this as well, which is Rs.5.

      You have to understand this, you do not merely know a formula.

      Now tell me how different is profit percentage? Paisa bank mein daalo toh interest, business mein daalo toh profit percentage! But because business mein loss bhi hota hai you have loss percentage also.

      But essentially it is the same, you invested 500 bucks and lost 50 bucks, loss percentage is 10%.

      So, understand Arithmetic first in this way and then move.

      And once you understand something you cannot forget it.

      Once you learn how to drive a cycle and then you are preparing to race, you will not go back to learn how to drive right?

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Like

  8. Pingback: The real reason why your QA scores are below par | The CAT Writer

  9. Sneha Garg says

    Hello sir,
    Thank you so much for such an insightful blog.
    It would be of great help if you can share the accuracy and attempts table according to the 2hr format exam.

    Thank you!

    Like

    • The accuracy and attempts do not change in the 2-hour format, the table is a guide to show how increasing accuracy offers better returns than increasing attempts!

      The total number of marks you can score changes from 3-hour to 2-hours!

      Like

  10. Mohamed says

    Hello sir,
    I’ve asked you a couple of questions a few weeks back and you answered it well. I followed each and every steps you suggested and felt it was much customised for me, a big thanks for having this space. Right now I’m hitting mocks and my percentile is improving with every mock. But recently some interviews of certain CAT toppers hitted my mind. Everyone of them are with extraordinary academic scores. But in my case my academic scores are below average. Tbh, I scored 8.4 CGPA in 10th (CBSE), 76.41% in 12th (state board) and CGPA of 57.50% in UG. Will I be ever able to crack CAT?

    Like

    • Hi Mohammed, One of the first sessions that I take for aspirants is called is Attitude for Aptitude and in that I start with saying – your marks until now do not matter. Why? Because do not indicate the presence of skills to crack CAT, they just indicate memory, tenacity and competitiveness.

      In fact what I find it hardest to do is to get them unlearn the nonsense filled in their heads.

      So both are unrelated.

      Another suggestion get off YouTube fully. Right now it is just between you and the exam. And everything else that you will possibly need we have and will be covering in the forthcoming Masterclasses and LMTC Sessions.

      All the best!

      Like

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