How to increase your VA-RC score – Part 1

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CAT Strat / Verbal Strat

I have rarely done posts on CAT Verbal, the last one was this one on FIJs somewhere in 2013, and not entirely without reason.

The VA-RC section has always been a peculiar section on the CAT. It is quite to tough to precisely answer the question — what do they actually test? In all honesty even they might not always be in the know!

Be that as it may, your first objective is to ensure that you at least clear the cut-offs, which will be around 35-40, and the second to maximise your score. Read More

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Why I Teach

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Motivation

The germ for this post sprouted in the aftermath of the death of Dr.Kalam.

In the deluge of Kalam-related information that dominated the media after his death one small bit struck a chord — his love for teaching. Of all the things he was — a teacher, a scientist, an advisor to the government, the President — it was the role of a teacher that he cherished the most.

On first meetings, people usually ask, “So what do you do?” The only reply I want to give when faced with this question is — I am a teacher. All the rest, the MBA and the business ownership are built around this core.


Teaching at 21

The first paid job that I took up was teaching.

I had completed my engineering as mechanically as possible and graduated with a software job, whose joining date got deferred in the bloodbath that followed the dotcom bust. I had taken the CAT in my final year and contrary to all expectations (including my own) I failed to get a call.

I was more than determined to clear it the second time round and was offered the chance to teach Analytical Reasoning to GRE students (back in the day GRE was out of 2400 with Analytical Reasoning being one of the sections) at the institute where I had prepared for the CAT.

The feedback for my classes was good but back then I did not really think much of teaching as a profession. I can distinctly remember thinking that it can become a really monotonous thing — the same sheet, the same problems and the same jokes.

It would take me more than a decade before I really understood what teaching was all about.


Teaching, now

During my first teaching stint while my feedback was good and I had no problem solving questions, there would rarely be students queuing up to ask me doubts or speak to me after class. But since I moved to IMS Chennai in late 2012 and started teaching again, things have been different.

It was around that time that I realized that in the decade that I spent since I first taught, my approach to teaching had changed completely. I realized that at 21, I was only a good problem solver with good communication skills. I was not a teacher.

At 21, I looked at teaching from my own perspective — what is in it for me? Am I getting a kick out of it? I laughed inwardly about the monotony — the same sheet, the same problems and the same jokes.

I failed to see the most important and unique aspect in this whole process — the student.

The sheet might be the same but there is a set of completely new students experiencing those problems for the first time.

Once one sees this, the sheet no longer remains the same; in fact it is no longer about the sheet, it is completely about the student, forging a connection with them and helping them absorb everything to the fullest.


The teacher always gets more in return

I can confidently say that teaching has actually taught me and given me a lot in return. My successful second attempt on CAT, had a lot to do with the clarity of thinking I developed because of taking classes.

I learn to solve better because I learn to teach better. I learn to teach better from the students. There have been many cases when the same problem and the same explanation with the same energy fail to help a particular student understand. You notice a face in the class that has not really understood it.

It is then that you are forced to come up with a more creative way of explaining the problem. It goes without saying there are also cases where students come up with better solutions.

While these are the very specific benefits, there are others that my fellow teachers, mostly freshly-minted MBAs who take time out on weekends to come and teach, have mentioned:

  • one says that he has to come and teach after a long working week,  just to refresh himself
  • another guy says that his wife says she likes him more when he returns home after taking a class at IMS than when he returns from his full-time work place
  • yet another guy says that no matter how rotten his day or week might have been all he needs to do is to take a class and he is back to feeling great again

My favourite part

It was around April 2013, the GD-PI results for the first batch of CAT students that I mentored were expected at anytime. One of the students with whom I had spent quite some time called and said — Tony…IIM-B…then a pause…converted! I leapt out of the chair and screamed YES!, my other arm outstretched.

This is always the best part, the moment a student succeeds. Nothing tastes like success, only in this case, it is not your own but somebody else’s.

When I look back, I did not leap and scream years ago, when I came to know of my own result that I had made it!


The world needs great teachers

There was a time in this country and in our culture when being a teacher was a mark of distinction — the word guru itself means the one who dispels darkness; we have hymns equating the guru with all three gods.

Not just in myths with Dronacharya & Arjuna but everywhere there have been legends of great teacher-taught relationships from Chanakya & Chandragupta to Socrates & Plato.

We live in a different world now, a world that talks about technology, inverted classrooms and self-learning. I am more than sure that technology can really make things better but that does not mean that we can do with fewer teachers.

There is something about being in the presence of a great teacher that makes us want to be better than the individuals we are. I have had the privilege of experiencing this a few times.

I hope that more and more youngsters seriously start taking teaching as a profession. It’s a very fulfilling profession and what better day to say it out loud than today — the birth anniversary of another President, another Teacher.

Happy Teachers’ Day my fellow mentors, motivators & guides!

CAT 2017: How to increase your DI-LR percentile – Part I

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CAT Strat / DI-LR Strat

After the previous post a few of you had commented saying that you are eagerly awaiting the post on the DI-LR section. The earnestness is understandable since most of you who are facing the SimCATs will know that the DI-LR section is one that will make or break your CAT.

If it goes well, you will take that confidence into the QA section finish strong. If your performance on the DI-LR section goes south then you will start feeling the fatigue of 120 minutes of testing and will fade away in the last section. The latter was the case with most test-takers last year. Read More

CAT 2017: How to improve your QA percentile – Part III

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CAT Strat / Quant Strat

In the previous two posts we took at a look at the first two building blocks to increase your score and percentile on CAT Quant — Accuracy & Question Selection. In this post we will look at the third building block — if the first two blocks provide the impetus towards the higher score, this block is the one from where you take off towards a higher score — Speed. Read More

CAT 2017: How to improve your QA percentile – Part II

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CAT Strat / Quant Strat

In the first part of this post we covered on the first building block to achieve higher scores and percentiles on CAT QA — accuracy. In this post we will take up the next one — selection.

QA is the section that gets the maximum attention of test-takers of all stripes and there is always a litany of frustrations and queries that plagues aspirants —

  • I am good at Math and like Math but my score just does not seem to go up!
  • Should one attempt the long Arithmetic questions?
  • I feel every problem is do-able!
  • I get stuck for long with one problem without realising it
  • I realise there were many problems I could have solved when I analyse the test

The answer to all of these questions lies in the way you select questions and the way you navigate between them. Read More

CAT 2017: How to improve your QA percentile – I

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CAT Strat / Quant Strat

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 asked on the CAT have also been a part of school curriculum. This I feel is the biggest roadblock in front of test-takers wanting to achieve higher scores on the CAT Quant irrespective of their relationship with Quant with high Math scores during X and XII exams not having any direct correlation with ability on the CAT QA.

Read More

CAT 2017: Setting the right targets on your way to a 99 percentile

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CAT / CAT Strat / Motivation

Last year, I attended the Chennai convocation function for aspirants who cleared the Company Secretary (CS) exam (a relative of mine cleared the exam). The Chief Guest was Padmishri awardee T.N.Manoharan, who is a pre-eminent figure in the Banking and Accounting sector in the country with his book being a must-read for all CA aspirants. He was part of the government-appointed team that cleaned up the Satyam mess and paved the way for the transition to Tech Mahindra. His keynote address was leavened with wisdom and had too many punchlines for me to re-count here but one of the things he said is spot on when it comes to the way we should deal with success and failure. He said… Read More

How to and not to evaluate your first SIMCAT performance

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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!