Latest Posts

How to crack the DI-LR section of the CAT – II

In the previous post, we took up 6 of the 8 sets from the DI-LR section CAT 2017 Slot 2 and took a call on which ones solve and also looked at the best way of solving the same. In this post, we will look at the remaining two sets and also what is making the DI-LR sections on recent CATs unique. Read More

How to crack the DI-LR section of the CAT – I

Just like I keep getting queries on how to increase RC accuracy, despite the Masterclasses and the Last Mile To CAT sessions, I keep getting queries around the DI-LR section as well.

In this series of series of posts  I’ll dive really deep down into actual CAT DI-LR sets and see if I can come up with some kernel of truth beyond just the solving of the set that can help aspirants approach the solving of the sets better.

Read More

How to select the right DI-LR sets

After the previous posts, 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 and will fade away in the last section. The latter has been the case with most test-takers over the years. Read More

How to increase your VA accuracy on the CAT

One thing that has always bothered me a lot whenever I interact with students, is that they seem to be very reluctant to let go of their playing-the-percentages attitude to tests. Throughout school and college, we tend to study by playing the percentages — giving importance to topics as per the number of questions that appear from that topic in the exam. While this might be a great strategy for school and college exams, as far as aptitude tests go, this strategy is suicidal purely because of the fact that the difficulty level and the number of questions across areas do not follow a fixed pattern.

How is this related to Verbal Ability in the current pattern of the CAT? Read More

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 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 15, 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.

The real reason why your QA scores are below par

While the previous three posts on Accuracy, Selection, and Speed are more than comprehensive in terms of what is needed to push your score north, I still keep getting messages from students who are unable to come to terms with QA. They say they have done concepts and enough practice as well but none of it seems to be pushing the scores up and the confidence levels are pretty low.

It was only a few years ago, that I figured out the core issue with these students when I was sitting with one — he was preparing for the GMAT and had a decent amount of work-ex and by the time I had met him he was already through with two attempts spread over two years with sub-par scores. He was willing to put in another attempt and a year more if required to get a par score.

I gave him some broad guidelines and assigned a personal mentor to him, and met with him regularly on overall prep strategy, some specific pointers, and test-taking strategies. But at the end of another year the score was the same.

I could not figure it out — the guy was very professional, super-committed (something you would have figured by now), doing reasonably well in his job, and super-positive despite everything.

It was when he came to meet me again that I threw a few questions at him, questions that I had solved in class and he had attended multiple times, and his reaction to them and the way he reacted when I told him the solution — Oh, ya, ya, ya, ya! — that I figured the core problem — he was mugging up Math!

Do you learn Math the same way you did for your X & XII exams?

This I realise is a bigger problem than what is assumed. Students whose only interaction with Math has been for their X and XII exams, who have never prepared for an aptitude test before, and took extensive tuitions for their school exams, do not even know that the Math they did then and Math they have to do now is the same but the way it is tested cannot be more different.

Those papers needed parrots, parrots who could replicate things step by step and with good handwriting.

And nothing could be more different from that than a CAT paper.

So ask yourself that question, do you mug-up concepts or do you actually understand why ax.ay = ax+y

If you do memorise and have always done so then you need to really start from scratch and it is not easy and you will definitely need to do approach it more holistically.

I suggest doing this free course by Barbara Oakley — she had a BA in literature and worked in the defence services before taking up engineering later than others —

Read this book by her as well — A Mind for Numbers

Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you somehow mug stuff up, get a bit lucky, and manage to get into an IIM, the first-year course will be as tough, if not tougher than CAT Math — you will be graded relative to others and the others is everybody who has cracked the CAT (the only reprieve is that time is not a constraint). A lot of the students who are unable to complete the MBA Program or finish it over a longer period — would have failed in the first-year Math subjects.

Do you know basic concepts but have no clue how advanced concepts came about?

Do you know how the formula for the number of total factors of a number — — (m+1)(n+1) — came about?

Those who know how this came about will know how to solve this question discussed in Part-II of this series:

How many factors of 1080000 are not divisible by 40?

I am sure there are many who know the formula but yet not know how to answer the question. If they happen to read the solution they wonder why it did not strike them.

It need not be that you have this issue in the whole of QA. It can be that you have this problem only in some areas — Numbers and Geometry or Geometry and Modern Math. — or only on specific topics such as P&C and Logarithms.

If you are in this bucket then you need to focus on understanding how formulas came about so that you develop the ability to solve such questions.

Do you try to memorise patterns?

The last category is test-takers who are good at Math but their approach to prep is to memorise as many different patterns and endless sub-formulas (formulas derived for an endless list of special cases) as possible.

The problem with the approach is that whenever they are faced with a problem the first instinct to try to map it to a formula or a pattern they have solved before.

It is not that there are no patterns, there are patterns and in recent years CAT has become more pattern-based than before. But all that needs to happen is for 8-10 problems that do not fall into a pattern but are otherwise solvable to appear in the paper and these test-takers will not be able to handle them. If a few of these problems turn up at the beginning of the section then the confidence can take a major hit.

Another issue with mugging patterns is that you need to keep a lot of your brain space free for all of these patterns and sub-formulas. Those who have exceptional storage and memory between their ears can afford to follow this approach. I prefer to have only the bare minimum of formulas and patterns in my head and go by pure logic — the lower the fuel in the car the faster it can go. I think the golden mean between the two where you know the patterns but are willing to look at a problem first up with fresh eyes is crucial.

Always visualise yourself in front a problem as a doctor faced with a patient. What does a great doctor do? Listen to you fully, ask the right questions; suggest the right tests, if required; figure out the exact problem; and suggest the least medication possible.

The different kinds of mugging listed above are reasons behind you truly not solving a problem.

If you are truly honest with yourself about this part of your prep then you will be able to make the changes necessary to achieve a good score on QA and as I mentioned before it is not just CAT QA that is on the line but also Quant in the MBA Program.

You need to always start with the WHAT and move to the HOW

Some students have written saying that when they try to not copy-paste patterns they find that their mind is blank and they do not know what to do.

Imagine a F1 driver going to drive on relatively unknown tracks every time he goes out to drive — the key word is “relatively” not completely unknown. He or she will draw upon the experiences but still drive as if it were new.

It is exactly like sport, you practice in the nets but every pitch, every match, every ball is different.

This is exactly what makes the Big 3 matches in tennis so interesting, they have played each other million times but they know that every match can be won by either of them. this despite knowing everything inside out.

And what is different?

Each and every time the questions asked of them by their opponent will be different.

WHAT is being asked is different.

If Nadal is hitting the ball closer to the lines, Djoker knows he is being asked a different question and he knows that has to find a response in real-time while drawing on the past.

If Federer is just creaming winners off the forehand then Nadal knows he is being asked a different question.

The first task always is to figure out the WHAT and the move to the HOW instead of thinking about the HOW.

When students say nothing strikes them it is because they are thinking that the HOW will come and strike them. Nothing strikes you if you are not looking for it, except lightning!

Let us take a question to see what I mean by figuring out the WHAT and moving to the HOW.

Question 1

If all the factors of 5040 are arranged in descending order then which will be the fifth factor?

We know that the greatest factor of the number is the number itself — 5040.

WHAT — But we need to factorise this first since we need to find the top 5 factors.

HOW — 5040 – 24*32*5*7

WHAT — If this is the highest one then what is the one after this?

HOW — I need to remove the smallest possible factor from this?

What is the smallest possible factor that I can remove? 2

So, the next factor in descending order will be 23*32*5*7

For the third one, we remove a 3 — 24*31*5*7

For the fourth one, we remove a 4 — 22*32*5*7

For the fifth one, we remove a 5 — 24*32*7which is what the question is asking us for.

What if the question is tweaked?

Question 2

If all the factors of 5040 are arranged in ascending order then which one will be the 56th factor?

When I read this with fresh eyes, I know that this seems crazy, am I really supposed to write all the factors from 1 to 55? Surely, you must be joking Mr.Question-man!

There must be another way — they won’t be paying an average salary of Rs.25 LPA at IIM-A for someone to do such donkey work!

WHAT — Before I go ahead I need to know how many factors are there and where does 55 stand?

HOW — To find out the number of factors I need to factorise the number

5040 – 24*32*5*7

The number of factors — what you will know from all your of previous practice — 5*3*3*2 — 60

There are 60 factors and they are asking me for the 55th, so, instead of going from 1 to 56 I can come down from 60 to 56.

From here the problem becomes the same as the previous one.

For some this might be a huge change since you have to undo all your previous mode of dealing with Math, for others it might turn on a switch that they never thought they had, but for everyone there is no other way.

The weird part is that even those who have made it to the IITs do not seem to get this. I had a student from IIT-Ropar in one of my GMAT classes and he was like — you must know all the patterns by now, so you can answer all questions!

It is like saying Kohli knows to play all shots, so every time he goes out he will make a 100! It does not work that way.

Yes, teaching helps, but every teacher does not get a 100 every year in QA right?

On good exams, one gets rewarded for thinking nor regurgitating!

So, stop mugging, start solving!