XAT Strat
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A timing strategy for the IIFT


I never thought I will be doing a timing strategy post since the CAT has gone with fixed sectional time-limits for a long time now. But a since IIFT does not have one I thought it might not be a bad idea to do a short post on the same.

I have always preferred a test without sectional time-limits since it tests a crucial quality required for management — optimizing resources to achieve maximum return on investment. In this case, the resources are your own skills and the investment is your time. 

So how does one go about using the 120 minutes on the IIFT?

Breaking 120 minutes into smaller blocks

The first thing that you have to do is ensure that you clear all sectional cut-offs. This can be tougher than it seems on tests without sectional time-limits since you can get stuck on your favourite section!

The catch hence is to maximize your areas/sections of strength while clearing the cut-off(s) on your weaker section(s).

The best way to do this is by keeping a buffer that allows you to take stock and play the paper on its merit.

I’d say you should allot 30-30-30-10 for VA—DI-LR—QA—GK.

Use the fixed blocks to clear the cut-offs by a bit

Your first task is to clear the sectional cut-offs. Use the 30 minutes per section to solve enough questions to comfortable clear the cut-off in each of the sections. Realistically, for those aiming to get into IIFT, on a paper of last year’s difficulty this would mean about — 12-15 questions, 30 marks on DI-LR, 8-10 questions and 25 marks on QA. VA-RC is more about speed and I would say 20-25 questions for 60 marks is very much possible.

What will result in this plan failing is if you end up solving each and every question without leaving some for later and without leaving some altogether.

What order should I attempt in? 

Should you attempt your section strength first or your Achilles’ heel first?

Should it matter which section you attempt first?

You can start with your strength first so that you can get as many marks in your bag.

I feel that if you have have the stamina to perform for 120 minutes then no strategy can help you.

Do not break the time-block under any circumstance

When I took the CAT the second time, it was a 120 minute-150 question test. My VA was very strong and I could solve 50 questions in 40 minutes flat. The challenge was to clear the cut-off in QA.

I could have solved all 50 VA in 40 and then moved on to the other two sections but I decided otherwise.

I stopped the VA section after 30 minutes, I would have solved around 35 questions — good enough to have cleared the cut-off.

I then did the QA and DI-LR sections, ensuring that I solved enough questions to clear the cut-off. In the end, I had some time left and I came back to polish off the remaining VA questions.

I attempted about 90-100 questions in all if I remember correctly, about 45 in VA and the rest equally split between QA and DI-LR.

If I had spent an extra 10 minutes on VA, I would not have gone into the other two sections knowing that I have time on my side even if the section got tough. 

So whatever happens ensure that you stick to the time-block and don’t exceed it.

How to use the buffer time

How you use the 20 minutes of buffer time can determine whether you end up getting an IIFT-call or not.

What are situations you can find yourself at the end of 100 minutes.

You are confident of clearing all the cut-offs

If the paper goes according to plan and you are confident of clearing all cut-offs then go back to your strong area to increase your overall score.

When you go back to your favorite section, ensure that you are not engaging with the really tough questions and getting stuck on them.

On average you should have about 10-15 questions left in each section at this point and even if you solve 7-8 questions in these 20 minutes at almost 3 minutes a question you will have easily cleared the overall cut-off.

One or two sections do not go well

If two out of three sections go badly then it will mean that you will give very little time to the one that went well.

If, say one or two sections have not gone well at the end of 100 minutes, and you are doubtful about them attack them first in the buffer zone.

So do enough to clear the cut-off by eking out whatever you can and move on to the other section.

By now you should have taken enough Sim IIFTs to know where your relative strengths and weakness and before you next Sim you should have a list like — the one below made by an aspirant who works with me — ready.

  • 10 min – GK
  • 30 min – VA-RC
  • 30 min – QA
  • 30 min – DI-LR
  • 20 min – Buffer

It goes without saying that you can make your own order, with GK coming in anywhere.

Also, it is important to mark out questions to return to in your buffer-time — the ones that can be solved but will take about 3-4 minutes.

With sectional time-limits it is like batting in the first innings just go out and make as many as you can, without sectional time-limits, it is similar to planning a successful chase. If you do not keep a buffer and divide the time equally it means you have not done any strategising.

 Most importantly please note that all the attempts and marks mentioned in this post are based on last years pitch(paper). The actual level within each section can go up or down, so do not feel happy if you comfortably reach the attempts or sad if you are struggling to reach the attempt. In a perfect test you have no time to feel happy or sad your foot is to the pedal at all times. Happy chasing!



  1. Abhishek Saha says

    Thanks for the outline sir, it was extremely helpful. Attempts increased considerably.


    • Glad you could attempt a decent number of questions and it seems to have worked for others as well!

      This is why I keep saying that knowing Math and English is around 60% of the job, the rest is all test-taking strategy and skills.

      All the best for the rest of the tests!


  2. Hi sir, Sorry to write these all here as i am not able to comment on the previous post.

    This CAT was my first attempt. I am an engineering grad from a well-reputed University in Gujarat. I completed my engineering in june 2021. i am a studious student since childhood. As far as CAT is concerned,i started to prepare it in february 2021.I did not take it as seriously till the starting mocks (presimcats and simcats). Then i worked hard like anything. I made CAT 2021 my only aim in life. I did nothing except CAT. As time went through I even shut myself in my room in most times to prepare for it. hardly sometimes I used to go out with friends and all. I even skipped many functions, get to gathering in families just to study. Initially i was weak in all 3 sections, then by practising more i gained strength. But could not score good in mocks. I was stable at 45 percentile and its nearby figures throughout the simcat season. My highest PR was 68. In between many times, i thought to give up as I was not scoring. To add fuel to the fire, a good friend of mine started to prepare 2 months after me, but he used to score in 90PR most of the time. But i did not give up and held myself to just focus on preparation believing that scores would improve. DI LR is the section that gave me nightmares. I just could not figure out in the beginning what to do, what sets to pick and all. Then a little improvement came and i solved many sets and applied strategy. I solved nearly 1000 sets till november(modules, learn tab,practise tab,e maximizer,take homes, presimcats and simcats proctored). I even solved 3 to 4 RCs regularly till November and for QA i practised many sums from module, learn tab, practise, take homes,etc. I even decreased attempts to gain accuracy. Then came October, I was still hoping for the magic to happen, but in vain. same 40 45 PRs every single time. I attended every masterclass, revision class and all. I even solved all the past CAT papers from test tab. i was still hoping that the magic would happen in D day. In all i solved nearly 40 mocks this season.

    I was alloted slot 3.
    My marks 31 in VA
    1 in DILR ( just could solve 1 set of 4 questions)
    12 in QA ( 6 questions)
    total 44

    I just lost all my mind and am clueless. My hardwork just did not give even a fair result. I aimed to go in one of the top 10 IIMS. These marks still haunt me like anything. Then i gave IIFT but i dont think i will qualify for the overall cut offs. I will be giving snaps and nmat and xat too but I am less confident now. This nightmare of CAT is still haunting me everytime. i think what is the use of all such hard work when u cant even cross a simple cut off and score average. I did not to any job and just studied. Pls guide me what to do in order to remove this nightmare from my head.


    • Hi PS,

      I can only guess how much the poor performance is hurting you since you have put in more effort than maybe 99% of the students — 40 mocks is huge and you have gone through almost all of the content. The amount of effort is not surprising since you have mentioned that you have been studious all throughout your childhood.

      I hate to say this but the thing about aptitude tests is that they test a completely different skill set and good marks throughout schools and engineering signify very little (apart from commitment) in terms of potential to score a high percentile on the CAT.

      More than the DI-LR it is the QA score that is a bit shocking since the section is not that tough. Something tells me that somehow in your head you are still studying and solving Math the way you did in schools, remembering patterns and writing most of the steps. Otherwise, there is no way you can end up with only 6 marks after all the effort. The thing about school and college tests is that there are no surprises but on the CAT, everything is finally a surprise since finally, every question is new.

      Most of the time I have found that aspirants do not solve the problem in front of them but try to think about which problem they have solved is similar to the one in front of them.

      The thing you have to do is to first do an honest assessment of your thought process and your skills vis-a-vis these exams. You might find that in terms of skills, your level and skills are aligned to some tests only and not all of them. Once you fix which tests you are most likely to crack, you need to think about what I mentioned before your mindset in QA.

      Most importantly you need to understand that these tests reflect one kind of skill set. I knew during my graduation that I will be a really bad fit for an MS since I sorely lacked the technical bent of mind required for a tech job (I knew my engineering batchmates will do much better than me, despite me having better marks than them).

      Most of them took up MS courses and are doing very well for themselves and took up MBA much later.

      In India, we are conditioned to narrowly focus on the exams and not find an alignment between put skills and our career choices.

      If you are clear that management is what your skills are most suited to then take up the other exams. If you do not succeed this year, take up a job and take another shot next year but as I said you have to figure out what went. I also failed miserably, despite working very hard, in my first attempt. But I knew right away that my approach to Math was all wrong and in my second attempt fixed things, first in my head in terms of my approach and I prepared very little but very effectively focussing only on my approach and on the things I needed to get better at.

      If management is just something that you chose but without much thought then you should consider MS, since the opportunities and quality of life and career are much better with an MS.

      Hope this helps,

      All the best!


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