How to and not to evaluate your first SIMCAT performance

comments 27
CAT / CAT Strat / Motivation

The response to the first SIMCAT was great and it was nice to see so many students jump into the fray from the word go. But the plunge as most of you would know is similar to jumping off a diving board for the first time — the moment of impact, the bewilderment when you are under the water and most importantly the desperate eagerness towards the end to somehow get back to ground again. (I have never jumped off a diving board but was once caught under the waves on the beach when I was quite little, thankfully my dad managed to rescue me).

Just like you would not bother too much about the score given to your first ever dive do not think too much about the score you got. This is neither an engineering exam nor a blood test. So what is it and how should you evaluate your performance?


The four cornerstones of aptitude testing

The four concerstones of aptitide testing are concepts, application, test-taking strategy and mental toughness.

On a scale of 100, the weightage to each of these depends on the pattern of the test but on average they would be 25%,30%, 30% and 15% respectively.

Concepts, Application and Mental Toughness need no defining but what most test-takers do not understand is the key role by test-taking strategy that has two parts

  • Question Selection
  • Time Allocation

Choosing the right question

Question Selection becomes very important on a test where you do not need to answer a question before you move ahead and you can navigate to and fro between questions.

On the GMAT for example you HAVE TO MARK an answer before you go ahead and you cannot return to that question again so there is no question of choosing or leaving a question.

On the CAT and the GRE, you do not have any such compulsion. So your task is to identify and solve the easiest questions or sets first, mark the medium-level questions later and never attempt the really tough questions.

How many of you chose questions wisely in the first SimCAT?

  • did you answer questions in serial order as they appeared?
  • did find that you ended up wasting time on tough DI or LR sets only to find out too late or after the test that there were easier questions or sets?
  • did you have unread questions at the end of each section?

If your answer to any of these questions is YES, it means that this first SimCAT is simply an eye-opener for you with respect to your test-taking strategy.

Can you develop this ability to identify the right question to do immediately, mark the right question for later and leave the tough question by the next SimCAT? The answer obviously is NO. You will develop that skill only after solving quite a few SimCATs. Also, we will dedicate an entire 3-hour session to it later in the season.

Time-allocation

The CAT has always been doing flip-flops on the question of where it stands with respect to time-allocation. Over the last decade they have alternated between having sectional time-limits and having no sectional time-limits.

I for one am not in favour of sectional time-limits since it plays crucial part in evaluating a candidate’s ability to strategise — use the resources at his/her disposal (relative skills on various sections) to maximise the outcome — clearing sectional as well as overall cut-offs.

When you have to divide your time properly, choose the right questions and solve them correctly, you have to play three roles those of CEO, Manager and Worker respectively.

With sectional time-limits you end up playing only the latter two roles — Manager and Worker. Most you by now would have realised that for the better part of SimCAT 1 you were doing only one role — Worker.

We do not know what changes this year’s CAT will ring in but if they remove sectional time-limits things will surely get infinitely more interesting (or tough depending on the way you view it).

How many of you let your performance on the second section affect your performance on the third section? I am sure quite a few would have. This is where the fourth stone — mental toughness — comes in.

Of the four cornerstones most of you will be still in the work-in-progress stage on first two — concepts and application. The other two stones you will lay by taking as many SimCATs as possible.


You are not going to see your best scores till September

Those of you who haven’t prepared for an entrance test taken by so many people might be tempted to view your SimCAT 1 like you view engineering exam. If not in the mains, then definitely in the supplementary! Once I finish the concepts I will start scoring well. Yes, your scores will go up but so will the scores of others!

So accept the reality that you will take time to develop expertise in all four areas — concepts, applications test-taking and mental toughness.

In all probability you will not see your best scores before September.


Who are those people scoring 170s and above!

I am sure you would have seen that the scores and percentiles of toppers will be in a different range and obviously that will set you wondering if they are from a different planet.

Well, most of them will be test-takers who gave a serious shot last year but could not make it for some reason.

There will also be a handful of people from a different planet such as a student of mine last year who scored a 180 in his first SimCAT after attending classes only for a week and having never prepared or appeared for the CAT before!

But not everyone needs to be like that. Many greats have made modest starts. Some food for thought:

  • Number of matches SRT played before first ODI century — 78
  • Number of years it took Djokovic to win his 1st Major – 5

When you are taking a SimCAT you are competing against the most serious aspirants among the approximately 2,00,000 people who register for the CAT, so you really need to be on the top of your game to hit the higher percentile ranges.


How to analyse a SimCAT

Back in the day when I was preparing for the CAT, I spent as many hours if not more hours analyzing a SimCAT as I spent taking it. So the first half was spent taking the test, the second analysing it and only then would I go to the beach to meet friends (that is what I would do every day in the evening in the small beach-town that is Vizag).

What are the things that constitute a great analysis?

What is the best score you could have got?

Irrespective of what you current level is you should look at

  • the mistakes you should have avoided
  • the questions you should have avoided
  • the questions should should have solved

to arrive that the best score you could have got. You need to get that number after every test to know what you are capable of, what was within your reach.

What are the things on which you succeeded but you could have succeeded better?

You should look at the questions you solved correctly and see if you could have done them faster.

  • could you have cut down on solving that DI or LR set if you had spent more time at the beginning trying to understand the set?
  • could you have solved some questions/problems faster by not writing so much, by approximating or looking for an alternate approach?

Use this to a list of the process improvements you can make in the next SimCAT.

Solve all the unsolved questions in the SimCAT

Yes, I know you have not yet touched that Geometry book yet but your learning need not be linear. Use every unsolved question to learn concepts from topics you have not yet covered. So if there is a trapezium problem then you can at least learn the formula for area of a trapezium by learning to solve that problem.

People keep asking for tough problems, especially tough DI and LR sets. The SimCATs will always have the best sets. So spend enough time trying to solve them on your own before looking at the solution.

If you consistently do these things over the next few months after each and every SimCAT, be it a take-home one or a proctored one you will start seeing results.

If you stick to only solving the books and not doing this part of the job then you are really not preparing for the CAT but for a college exam.


Developing a skill takes more time than learning a concept

As I have mentioned many a times before, cracking the CAT is a skill and it will take time to develop. But the reason I keep repeating this is that one needs to view the whole process with the right mindset.

So think of the first SimCAT as the first time you took a car out after learning how to drive a car in the driving school — one will be overwhelmed by enormity of the task and the pressure of driving in real-time traffic. But by repeatedly taking out the car all by oneself, one learns, one will bang the car, make a dent in it, but one will get better for sure.

All you have to do is take as many SimCATs as possible, spend enough time analysing the tests you take and stay patient, the results will show.

Incase some of you haven’t enrolled for the SimCATs – you can do so here

All the best for the next SimCAT!

 

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How to prepare for the VA section of the CAT

comments 16
CAT Strat / Motivation / Verbal Strat

When I took my first CAT paper, an actual CAT from the paper-based days, I felt I could easily crack the test. One of the big reasons for this was my outsized ability on the Verbal Ability section. By the time I wrote my first CAT Mock I had been reading three magazines a week for more than 6 years, had a vocabulary wide enough to crack the GRE without preparing for it and a question solving speed of about 1 minute per question. Even on last year’s CAT I needed only 30 minutes to finish the Verbal section. On the GMAT the time is marginally higher — 54 minutes for 41 questions to score the maximum on the Verbal Section. Read More

My 2 cents from a lifetime experience called MBA

comments 8
B-School Selection / Motivation

Over the past few years of mentoring there are always students who keep in touch even after they graduate from b-school. Some to express gratitude once they get their final placement, some to sort out their post MBA dilemmas and others just to have a nice chat about everything under the sun :-).

Likewise this year a student of mine who graduated this March, wrote to me saying that he felt investing in an MBA was the best thing he did and over the course of a few mails I asked him to do a guest post about his MBA experience.

Given that a lot of aspirants who made it to b-schools will be debating the pros and cons, thinking about the cost involved whether it is worth it, the better schools you missed out on and stuff, this post is timely.

Two years back I remember this student also being in the same dilemma. He was wondering whether it was really worth leaving his job at Ford to do an MBA. I felt he should since over the longer-term you need an MBA not just to be given the big roles but also to do justice to them.

This is his take on his MBA experience. Please note that this purely one student’s take based on his personal experience.  Read More

A prep plan for CAT 2017

comments 53
CAT / CAT Strat / Motivation

In less than a couple of months the first SimCAT of the season will start and so it is time that those who are serious about their prep should do so with a set of concrete goals. In this post we will look at how you should be using your study material, what milestones you should set yourself for each of the upcoming months and most importantly how to approach your practice. Read More

Preparing for an MBA and not just the CAT

comments 14
CAT / Motivation

The results of quite a few top b-schools are out and even now I get a lot of queries about that revolve around specialisations — which specialisations should I choose, I do not have any idea what my area of interest and so and so forth.

This is not surprising since in India our strategy is simple — first crack the test, then see what is the best college your percentiles can get you and then finally start thinking about specialisations! The funny part is that we do not seem to learn from our mistakes since this is the same policy we followed for our graduation as well and now want to do an MBA so that we can undo the mistakes of our graduation but without having changed our standard operating procedure!

Read More

To re-take or not to re-take the CAT

comments 4
B-School Selection / CAT / Motivation

April is the cruellest month is how one of the greatest modernist poems starts off and it is kind of applicable to all those who have taken CAT 2016 and are awaiting the results. While some have already made it, others are desperately awaiting the results, while still others are waiting for the results but are not really sure whether they should go ahead and join a b-school this year or give the CAT another shot. It is not an easy call to take but your task will become easy if you ask yourself the right questions and give the most honest answers you can to them.


Read More

Should I quit my job to prepare for CAT?

comments 10
B-School Selection / CAT

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, so I thought I will take up a question(s) that I am often asked and is most relevant at this point in time given that some of you might be looking at re-taking the CAT after an underwhelming CAT 2016 and others might be desperate to crack CAT 2017.

  • is it wise to quit my job to prepare for the CAT?
  • will quitting my job have a negative impact on my profile?
  • how can I prepare if I am working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week?

Read More

CAT 2016: GD-PI Toolkit

comment 1
B-School Selection / CAT / WAT-GD-PI

Dear CAT 2016 Achievers,

Like we did last year, we have created a folder with articles curated to cover topics that might pop in this year’s WAT-GD-PIs.

The articles are not easy reads by far since they are from sources such as EPW and McKinsey. More than trying to agree or disagree with the views expressed, it would be best to look at them to get a more diverse set of examples and also incorporate view points other than your own into your essays and GDs.

The toolkit also contains all institute specific processes and topics from previous years.

Also, we will be updating this once a week, so do download the folder again next Monday.

CAT 2016: WAT-GD-PI Toolkit

Happy Reading!