CAT Strat
Comments 26

Why your actual abilities might not be as good as you think they are

The purpose of this site has been to examine the problems that students keep bringing back to me over the years, and as the important ones get addressed I keep getting other questions that depending on how one looks at it are either simple or hide more than they reveal to the casual observer.

One such conundrum is this one, a paraphrase of a problem that I have answered in many comments:

I do not know what happens to me during the test — I do pathetically, sometimes I am even ashamed to mention how much I score — but when I sit after the test, I find that I can answer all questions easily.

How do I deal with this nervousness, how do I tackle this?

You are looking in the wrong mirror — your post-test performance does not really count

The biggest thing test-takers discount is that they are solving the whole paper for the second time!

  • You have already spent 40 or 60 minutes with the 25 to 35 problems.
  • You have already tried half of the problems for atleast 2 to 3 minutes each
  • You attempted all the rest of the questions at least for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • You have understood all the superficial aspects of the question
  • You have already tried the obvious methods

When you read it for a second time

  • your brain registers what it missed or took for granted the during the exam
  • your do not draw the same table or represent the information in a DI-LR set the same way that you did during the exam
  • you actually understand the anchor condition because in the exam you did not give it enough thought
  • you thus start correctly solving the questions you spent 2 or 3 minutes on during the exam
  • you gain confidence and then correctly solve the questions you spent 1 or 2 minutes on during the exam
  • you conclude that your problem is nervousness

You completely and conveniently ignore the fact that in reality you spent, on average, 4-5 minutes on every question, or in other words you took twice the time to solve the same section.

You took two stabs at the question.

You are adding the score of first and second innings into a single score!

Estimating your capabilities by post-test performance creates a vicious cycle

In your head your actual capability on a section is 45-50 marks because of the way you ace it post-test whereas your actual scores are in the 15-25 range.

After every successful post-test solving you approach the next test with the same mindset — I am awesome at this section, this time I am going to score 45-50.

What happens when you go in with this thinking?

  • To score a 45-50 you have score attempt around 20-22 questions and get 17-18 right or attempt 4 sets or all RCs
  • This means that you going to attempt almost 2 out of 3 questions
  • More importantly, this means that you have just about 2 minutes per question
  • You feel under the pump right from the beginning
  • A few questions go wrong in the beginning and the downward spiral starts
  • You desperately try to keep your head above the water for the rest of the section — everything but your head is still
  • You come back home, pick yourself up, resolve the section, and feel good
  • You think my level is 45-50, next time I will nail it
  • The cycle, unfortunately vicious not virtuous, continues

And another thing also happens because of these misplaced targets

  • All the question-selection strategies and solving techniques that IMS mentors, including me, keep going on and on about in Masterclasses and other videos are thrown out of the window
  • You think that all of these strategies & techniques are not practical in actual test conditions
  • You relegate the processes to the background and go back to being you and doing you.

Accept your true ability and set realistic goals

I am not saying that you can never score a 45, you sure can, but not right now! Right now may be your ability is somewhere in the middle — not 15-25 or 45-50 but 30-35.

This might be tough to accept —

  • you think you are good at VA-RC since you read a lot
  • you think you are good at QA since you like Math a lot and have done well in the past

But the fact is that this exam and the question types and the format have nothing to do with your capabilities in general.

It has everything to do with performing in the format of the test. The only true indicator of the ability is your performance on the test. You are a good test cricketer does not mean you will be an ace at T20 and vice-versa! You play exceptionally well in India does not mean you will play exceptionally well in England!

So, this is what you should do.

Set your ego aside completely, put the test above you.

Set a target of your current average score plus 10. If you are currently scoring around then do not aim for more than 25.

Solve only as many sets/questions that you need to solve to reach this score.

If you are used to aiming for 4 sets out it is okay to aim for only 2 of the easiest and get them right.

What this does is that

  • the pressure of the timer disappears
  • you have enough time to execute the selection correctly
  • you have enough time to execute the processes correctly
  • you are more likely to achieve your target

Once you achieve a 25 for 2-3 tests, add another 10 marks, let your score stabilise at 35 and then add another 10.

Some papers might be damned difficult but if you are selecting right then you will clear the cut-off and get a good percentile despite a lower-than-target-score since your targets were realistic to start with.

Your problem is nervousness only if

Nervousness is a valid problem only if you are scoring exceptionally well in the TakeHomes and tanking only in the Proctored SimCATs

Your performance in sectionals are not a valid indicator of your ability since you are not comparing apples with apples; the comparison is valid only in VA-RC since it is the first section and you have as much energy in the SimCAT as in the sectional.

So, if you fall into this category — great TakeHome scores but drastically reduced scores in Proctored Sims — then, yes, nervousness is a problem. I will be doing a session about the same later in the season.

But in the meantime you will not do badly to set reduced expectations, that in itself will decrease the pressure.

There is enough and more time from now until the end of November.

Enough time for you to set the right targets and slowly work your way to higher scores, provided you do not slave mindlessly but work strategically

  • identify the your problems with test-taking correctly
  • set the right targets, and
  • sit down to prepare, be it practice or testing, every single time with a clear goal — I need to select better, or I need to execute processes better, I need to cut down on errors due to misreading and miscalculation.

The goal is not to score hundred but to score a good 35-40 during which

  • only the right deliveries were played at,
  • every shot played hits the centre of the bat,
  • every shot is played right into the gap and
  • gets you as many runs as the ball deserved

Walk, jog, run, and finally, fly.


  1. Akhil k says

    After reading this, I feel like I have been caught cheating. The bullet points listed my exact thought process to the letter. Thank you for pointing out this gaping hole in my prep. strategy. Really glad it is mid August and not mid Novemeber. 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Missy Cooper says

    This hit a bunch of nerves !!!
    I guess I have been doing the same for long now. Aiming too high and scoring too low as compared to that. Realistic targets seem reasonable rather than that indeed “vicious” cycle of post test capabilities assessment.
    Thanks a ton for writing this out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ambitious lion says

    hello sir,

    I have planned for realistic targets for the past one month just 10 correct questions in each section but I am unable to score that and still, my scores are tanked lower and thus till now I am unable to identify my strongest section can you please help me out in this case

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi AL,

      If you have been setting modest targets then the issue is are doing a good job with selecting the 13-5 easiest questions of which you can get 10 questions.

      If you are still moving across the paper in the serial order Q1-24/46 and hoping that by doing it slowly you will get 10 right then you might be mistaken — the last two sets might be the easiest sets. If you are having unread questions after 40 minutes it means that you are not doing question selection.

      So, use the SimCAT Strategy videos (on Channel TAB of myIMS) to learn question selection first and then use Take Home Tests and Section Tests and Proctored Tests to practice executing it.

      If you are doing the selection perfectly, then it has to be a technique issue where you are not able to execute a solutions properly — you need to ask yourself — do I have a solid technique for RC and the three VA question types — by solid technique I mean do you use the methods that we keep on going about as instructors — 5-Pauses, XYZ Method, Labelling Method, Sort-Link-Sequence Method — if you do it just normally, read and answer, then low accuracy is very much expected. The same applies to the other sections — are you able to identify the anchor condition in a DI-set , do you unnecessarily draw tables etc. Do you know where your errors in QA are stemming from — misreading, miscalculation, or misjudment?

      As far as the strongest section goes, it does not matter, since there are fixed time limits for each section and you are only as good as your weakest section.

      Go through all the SimCAT Strategy videos on myIMS and the video solutions and analysis videos of SimCATs 1 and 4.

      All the best!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Himon Roy says

    Hello sir
    Really helpful article, this is what happens with me most of the times. Sir in simcat mocks, in selection of sets in Rc and dilr sometime it takes 5-7 mins to just select a set(if the first set you are getting is tough then at least I have to devote some time in reading it to find it difficult) then I see the timer it’s 33 min remaining only, that’s where I become nervous. ( as I have still not started actually solving any set)
    How to overcome such situation?
    Sir, managing time in the 2hr format becomes much more difficult for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Himon,

      Reading and comprehension speed plays a huge role in the shortened format but the catch is that the number of sets and passages you need to do come down.

      For RCs you have 5 mins to read the first paragraphs of all four passages and decide the ones you are going to attempt.

      For DI-LR you have about 8 minutes to do the same and then 10 minutes each for the three easiest sets.

      I hope you have seen the SimCAT Strategy videos and figure out the way to select, one does not solve a set but actually x-ray the set to figure things out.

      You have to may be practice reading at a faster speed while concentrating — not very different from riding faster on average and this having to concentrate harder on average.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  5. Tanya says

    Hi sir, i have a couple of questions-

    1. I went through the simcat strategy videos and decided to try out those for VA RC specially. However, I came across some problems:

    You told us to rate the RC on the basis of our own practice level and not on the basis of RCs which are present in that particular test (according to the rating on the go method)- but when I did this I realized that after attempting 2-3 RCs, and almost exhausting the time, it is possible that the RCs which are left turn out to be easier than the ones I had attempted. So I decided to try rating first and then attempting.
    This probably worked a little better as I preferred to have a hang of the difficulty level of the section before starting out, however this method involved reading the RCs twice and I guess a little extra time as well. And I feel maximum time pressure in VARC section only.
    So what do you suggest Sir, am I making any mistake in analysing or should I try a different strategy

    2. Also, Sir, I start with VA, to get into that reading zone and to also not get panicked after 10 mins as when I start with RC, it is not until 5-7 minutes that one attempts a question. However, I wanted to ask if in actual CAT also, the VA questions are present at the end after RC, like simcat’s order. Or will the VA questions be jumbled up and present in between 2 RCs? Because if it’s the latter case then how do I carry out my strategy of attempting VA before rating the RCs, as when I go through the paper to search for VA questions, I’ll be coming across the RC questions as well…so should I rate them then and there or wait to finish VA first and then go back?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tanya,

      When I meant rate based on your entire practice and on an absolute scale I meant that you have to figure out how easy or difficult the RCs are in general compared to say SimCATs — this will tell you whether 3 out of 4 or 2 out of 4 will be good enough. So the task is to first read the first paras of all passages, rate them and decide the order in which you are going to attempt them.

      As far as VA goes, you can do it first up, since the VA and RC questions are clearly demarcated, with all VA questions coming in a bunch and all RCs together. I think it is best to start with VA with a set time for it and then move to RC, select the easiest ones and solve them.

      Also, what is most important is to focus on skills and not on scoring, if you have selected the easiest passages then reading and solving should be done in 10-12 minutes, so you have to knock that your skills control the clock and not the other way around.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


  6. Neha says

    Hii tony sir,
    Commenting to report some inconsistency in the DILR score improvement batch.

    In the program we enrolled, the DILR session consists of 8 sets, 4 of them are solved during the live session while the other 4 are given to us as homework with some clues provided during the session. The homework solutions are expected to be uploaded the next day, but to our disappointment, it hasn’t been uploaded for the session which happened 5 days backs.
    To be precise, a session on calculation-based sets happened on 16 August 2021 but its solution isn’t available even today (as I type this). the same problem exists with the session on 18 August 2021 related to Matrix, Grouping, and Arrangement-1. We solve the homework sets but have to wait for the mentor’s video solution which is delayed. The student’s telegram group barely has some 60 members and no mentor to lead/text. Hence the peer learning doesn’t really happen because of limited students and no mentors to guide. It would be really helpful if we could get a text solution for homework sets on the next day since the video solution is getting delayed.
    Also, the lectures were supposed to be on Mon-Wed-Fri, but no lecture has happened on Friday. This is also true with other section score improvement batches. Please look into it.

    Warm Regards,

    Sorry for Commenting here. Some students mailed but didn’t get a satisfactory response.


  7. NikhilChauhan says

    Hello Sir,

    My dilemma is a different one, but one that eats away a good part of my confidence. I had taken CAT last year, managed a 95.91. This year, my mock scores are exceeding my expectations. I try not to place too emphasis on scores and percentiles, but i sense a little bit of relaxation (or complacency) has set in lately. I am trying to exceed my efforts to keep improving my scores, but I feel like I am 1 mock away from realizing that my run of good mocks is a fluke. I fear bad mocks would deteriorate my confidence, and my performance in later mocks would not match my earlier scores.

    What would you advise sir?


    • Hi Nikhil,

      The problem you suffer from seems to be “excessive rumination” — a lot of time spent thinking thoughts that are in no way helpful — they are not fun, insightful, productive in the way for example the thought that goes into solving a SimCAT question!

      So, what should you do, just enjoy the solving of the SimCATs, focus on your strategies, continue doing what you are doing, and see if there are things you can pick up from the various sessions we conduct or from other mentors.

      The rest of the time do something else that you like doing — treat CAT Prep like work or like playtime — catching up with friends is possibly the best thing you can do, watch some good shows (provided you are not given to binge-watching), watch videos of the sportstars/teams you love or read stuff that you like.

      Thinking about consequences is always counterproductive, think only about things you need to do and can do and if you are good on that front just enjoy the whole process. One of the reasons why some sportspeople feel a lot of pressure while others enjoy and revel in pressure is that the latter actually enjoy the business end of a game — the crunch time — while other equally talented people do not and most if it has to do with thinking about outcomes.

      So, just keep asking yourself — what should my action be — if there is anything that you can do to increase your scores, great, else, it’s okay.

      Also, during the season one will experience the odd blip here and there — just accept that it will happen, the test-taker might get your or you might have a bad day but no point thinking about it.

      As my favourite batsman, Brian Lara said when asked about him getting out to Mcgrath quite a few times — Well, someone has to get me out, so I do not think too much about it and I have scored well enough number of times against him as well!

      I will do a session on the same as we go deeper into the season!

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mohit Bohra says

    Hi sir,

    Thanks for this, it was really helpful.

    Just one doubt, you mentioned nervousness for difference in scores of TakeHome & Proctored. Why so? Is there major differences in difficulty level or any other reason?

    Bcoz I have decided to complete first all the take home mocks and then in the month of october & november, will solve the 15 proctores SimCats. Is this strategy wrong?


    • Hi Mohit,

      This year’s SimCATs which people are finding so difficult will become Take Homes a couple of years later and that is how we are able to make percentile mappers. So, in terms of difficulty, there is absolutely no difference, yet every year I get the same question — are take-homes easier?

      Thus, the only other factor for low scores in Prctired can be the fact that it is considered more important and thus induces nervousness.

      There is nothing wrong with your strategy; you can stick to it.

      All the best!


  9. Vighnesh Jain says

    Hi sir
    I have been following your blog for a while now and all the posts have been useful to me, especially the one on the RC accuracy. Thanks a lot for that.
    But this post is by far the accurate analysis of what I am doing wrong. The pointers that you have mentioned at the beginning of the post about the vicious cycle are bang on. An eye opener.
    Thanks a lot, sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sharad Dubey says

    Hello sir
    First of all, Thank you for this blog. I wanted to ask that my VARC scores as well as percentiles are fluctuating by a huge degree. In my case, I’ve scored 98.XX, 89.XX and 70.XX in the last three SimCATs that I attempted. I’m just worried about ‘What if this lowest %ile thing happens on the day of CAT’. The second issue I’m facing is the score difference in the sectionals/Take home Simcats and the actual Simcats. I’m scoring about 8-10 marks lesser in the Simcats than in the sectionals/Take home tests, and this is the case with every test that I attempted. Hope you help me with these issues. Thank you.


    • Hi Sharad,

      As we reach the later SimCATs percentiles drop since only the super-serious students remain committed to taking tests.

      So, lower percentiles in the later SimCATs do not necessarily mean poorer performances.

      It can be that since sectionals and Take Homes are less stressful since psychologically they do not seem like national benchmarks, this itself can result in a better performance.

      All I can say is that you need to ensure that your technique on each of the question types on VA and RC is rock solid.

      All the best!


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