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How to crack XAT Decision Making – Part I

One of the most tedious and inscrutable sections that you will find across all management entrance tests, Decision Making has been the nemesis of many a XAT aspirant. A lot of factors contribute towards DM possibly being the biggest stumbling block on the XAT. But none is bigger than the fact the amount of time any test-taker would have spent preparing for DM when compared to any other section is minuscule. This coupled with the dislike and unease most aspirants have towards reading, and the extremely subjective nature of questions ensures that DM ends up becoming the deal-breaker as far as the XAT is concerned.

Decision Making is not Reading Comprehension

It is as tedious as RC, it is as boring as RC, it must be RC!

The first thing that every test-taker should remember is to remove his/her Reading Comprehension sunglasses before preparing for or approaching DM.

The ability to crack a puzzle has a lot to do with understanding the kind of thinking that the puzzle is testing and orienting your mind to approach it from that direction.

So you need to approach DM with more than the ammunition you take for RC, the default setting for which is usually — I think I have read this somewhere.

The first challenge in Decision Making – choosing the right set

Before I started writing this post, I decided to take a XAT Decision Making section in its entirety and put myself in exactly the same shoes as test-takers. Well, it was not an enjoyable experience.

The section is titled Decision Making & Analytical Reasoning but only one set can be classified as a pure reasoning set, the rest are all DM.

One cannot choose a DM set based on judgement, the way one chooses a DI or an LR set 

  • read the set
  • classify or map it to a pattern
  • estimate the complexity of the information
  • and decide whether to attempt or to leave

Firstly, there is really no pattern. There are broadly three types of cases

  • number-based decision-making involving a business/revenue situation
  • information-based decision-making involving a strategy situation
  • information-based decision-making involving an HR situation
  • analytical reasoning

Secondly, identifying the pattern though does not translate into any strategic advantage as each set in any category is very different from the rest.

Thirdly, unlike in DI & LR, the information in a DM set can never tell you how difficult or easy the set is going to be. All sets seem to be easy and straightforward.

You can assess the difficulty level only at the last stage, after you have read the question and the 5 options.

Lastly, the difficulty level varies vastly from question to question within a set — you are unlocking a question and not a set!

So, it is not like RC, it is not like DI-LR, should you approach it like individual Quant questions?

Yes, exactly the way you would do the A-B-C for CAT QA.

The second big challenge on Decision Making — you cannot be on auto-pilot

One has to concentrate harder than one does on any other section one has done so far.

The reason for this is that there are very few situations where you will be executing something you have already done, even at micro-level. For example, you know the contours of the QA concept within which you are operating, you know that this DI set is based on arrangements.

Every question on DM is so unique that you will have to be switched on throughout the process of solving a question — something that will tire you out and take up a lot of a time.

So how do we go about it? The devil is always in the details so let’s dissect a few sets to understand how to approach Decision Making both at a question-level and at a section-level.

For best results, exit this post now, do a Decision Making section of a past XAT paper (preferably 2015, which is discussed here; you can set aside 16,17,18,19 for later practice) and return.


Answer questions on the basis of information given in the following case.

Bright Engineering College (BEC) has listed 20 elective courses for the next term and students have to choose any 7 of them. Simran, a student of BEC, notices that there are three categories of electives: Job-oriented (J), Quantitative-oriented (Q) and Grade-oriented (G). Among these 20 electives, some electives are both Job and Grade-oriented but are not Quantitative-oriented (JG type). QJ type electives are both job and Quantitative-oriented but are not Grade-oriented and QG type electives are both Quantitative and Grade-oriented but are not Job-oriented. Simran also notes that the total number of QJ type electives is 2 less than QG type electives. Similarly, the total number of QG type electives is 2 less than JG type and there is only 1 common elective (JQG) across three categories.

Furthermore, the number of only Quantitative-oriented electives is same as only Job-oriented electives, but less than the number of only Grade-oriented electives. Each elective has at least one registration and there is at least one elective in each category, or combinations of categories.

On her way back Simran met her friend Raj and shared the above information. Raj is preparing for XAT and is only interested in Grade-oriented (G) electives. He wanted to know the number of G-type electives being offered. Simran replied, “You have all the information. Calculate the number of G-type electives yourself. It would help your XAT preparation”. Raj calculates correctly and says that there can be ———— possible answers.

Which of the following options would best fit the blank above?

  1. 3
  2. 5
  3. 8
  4. 9
  5. 11

On the face of it, the set above seems like a straight-forward Venn Diagram involving three sets.

So test-takers are usually tempted to go for it; the known is usually considered safer than the unknown but a closer look will reveal that it is closer to a known devil.

The total number of electives is given as 20. The intersection of the three sets is given as 1. These are the only numbers involved. The rest of the data can be represented in three variables.

Also, if you look at the first question, it will be revealed that there are many possibilities, which means you cannot use equations to crack the set and get a precise answer. there are three more questions in this set along the same lines.

If we use the A, B , C classification then this question set should be classified as a B, definitely not an A. The temptation to do this set will be high since it is a pure AR set but you can always come back to it.

It would have taken about 3-5 minutes to read the set take this decision.

SET 2: Decision Making — HR Set

Answer questions on the basis of information given in the following case.

Mr.Dipangshu Barua, a young IT professional, came early to office to assist his boss in the preparation for an important client presentation. When be switched on his computer, he saw an email from Mr.Patel. The email was as follows:

Dear Mr.Barua,

This email serves as a follow-up of my conversation with you on December 1, 2014. I have already conveyed the need for improvement in your behaviour as desired by your project leader and colleagues. They are yet to notice any visible improvements. I am apprehensive that your failure to act may warrant further action leading to dismissal. I will continue to monitor and assess your performance over the next three months to determine whether improvements meet the expectations. At the same time, I would like to re-affirm that you are very valuable for our organization.

Best Wishes,

Mr.A. Patel

HR Director

Initially, the e-mail distracted Dipangshu but he decided to focus on the job. Which of the following options might best explain his decision to do so?

(1)  Mr.Patel would soon be transferred to another department.

(2)  Last week, Mr.Dipangshu has been assigned to a new team in the same project.

(3)  Three days back, Mr.Dipangshu has been assigned a new project similar to his final year engineering project.

(4)  His friend has been hospitalized for the last three months.

(5)  Failing to perform in the client meeting might further complicate things.

Well, this set is pure an HR set and one of the easier ones of the lot.

Every Decision-Making question is framed from a particular point of view or maximising the positives for a particular stakeholder.

The stakeholder can be

  • the employee
  • the organization
  • or both at the same time

You need to read the question properly to ensure that you identify the stakeholder properly.

The question above is straightforward. The stakeholder is the employee and it is asking you why he decided to focus on the job at hand. Option (5) is the obvious answer that needs no explanation.

The scheduled presentation went off smoothly. Back in his cabin, Dipangshu read Mr Patel’s e-mail once more and pondered over it. During the last meeting, he tried hard to put forward his explanation but Mr.Patel had not allowed him to speak. Dipangshu was thinking of meeting Mr.Patel once again but was doubtful that would help. Incidentally, he had a job offer from a start-up with a comparable salary. If Dipangshu was to join the new job, he had to accept the offer within the next two weeks. However, he cannot think of a life without a job. Dipangshu was confused!

Which of the following options would be the best move for Dipangshu?

(1)  Talk to Mr.Patel and highlight the initiatives he has taken but at the same time start applying for other jobs.

(2)  Reject the offer from the start-up. Use the next three months to find a better job, but continue in the present job.

(3)  Resign from this organization right now.

(4)  Accept the offer, only if the start-up gives a salary hike, else keep prospecting.

(5)  Accept the offer with a request to give him a 10% salary hike.

By the time it comes to the second question it gets tougher. What is the best option for the employee?

If you read through the options then it is not easy to make up your mind without pausing and evaluating each option. I am sure there are at least 3 options (1), (4) & (5) in the running.

The best way to tackle decision-making question is to

  • define the situation
  • identify the criteria
  • list and evaluate options


  • Dipangshu’s position is very shaky (team and boss are unhappy and HR has sent a letter threatening termination, do not get fooled by the last sentence — At the same time, I would like to re-affirm that you are very valuable for our organization)
  • HR not open to listening


  • Cannot be out of a job


  • Start-up with comparable salary but need to accept within two weeks

If you now evaluate the options, elimination becomes easy.

Remember since these questions are not logical reasoning questions you have to rank order options based on how much they are meeting criteria and choose the one that meets all criteria.

(1) Low-return option – HR refused to listen to him the first time around and sent a letter after that as well

(2) Violates Criteria — Cannot consider since it deprives him of the backup and his current position is very shaky.

(3) Violates Criteria — Cannot consider since he will be without a job, it does not state whether the should take up the start-up job or not.

(4) Medium-return option should consider but is still risky since he is the conveying to the start-up that he will not join unless his demands are met thus not ensuring job security, which is his sole criteria.

(5) High-return option Ensures job security which is his main requirement.

So option (5).

After a couple of weeks, Mr.Patel came to know that Dipangshu’s project leader Mr. John, a very competent senior executive, may have wilfully influenced his team members to file a wrong complaint against Dipangshu. Mr.John may have done it because Dipangshu has refused to tow John’s line. Mr.Patel also came to know that Dipangshu was thinking of quitting this job. He felt regretful about his letter to Dipangshu. He wanted to resolve the complicated situation. He was contemplating the following five actions in his mind.

I. Talk to Mr.John about Dipangshu and convey to him that losing a bright employee would cost the organization dearly.

II. Catch up with Mr.John during coffee-break and convey that Dipangshu has a very good track record.

III. Chat with Dipangshu during coffee-break.

IV. Catch up with Dipangshu during coffee-break and convey that the organization values him.

V. Arrange a meeting among Mr.John, Dipangshu and himself to sort out the difference.

Which of the following is the best sequence of actions for resolving the problem?

(1) I, III, V

(2) II, III, V

(3) I, II, IV

(4) I, IV, V

(5) III, IV, V

Who is the stakeholder here? The HR Director Mr.Patel.

Whenever the question involves a sequence of actions or choosing between statements it is best to proceed by elimination; do not ever go by selection or try to select the right options and sequence.

Identify the statement that cannot be part of any sequence (if the options do not have all statements listed). Eliminate options that have that statement

Statement III is ruled out since unlike IV it does not mention what the HR Director should chat about with Dipangshu; it just says chat with him. This eliminates options (1), (2) and (5)

So we are left with options (3) and (4).

Statement I and IV are there in both so the choice is between II and V.

This is where DM gets really tricky! How do you choose between the two? Never try to choose, instead try to eliminate.

In I & IV, the HR Director is already talking to John and Dipangshu respectively.

II calls for a chat with the John again which is already completed in I. Hence it has to be V and hence, option 4.

The three questions will easily take 10 minutes to read and solve. So including the first set, you should have spent 15-20 minutes and gotten 3 marks.

I think we have done enough to kickstart the DM prep.

I will take up the other sets in this paper in  part – II of this post.

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