Home » Examination » Countdown to CAT 2010: What to study in the last one month

The Common Admissions Test (CAT) starts less than a month from now. The good news is, that you can still start your preparation now and crack the exam to get a percentile you can use for the top b-schools. I spoke to six people who had sound advice to give on what to do in the last month to the CAT.

The first and senior most among them is Nishit Sinha, an IIM Lucknow alumnus and author of several CAT books published by Pearson Education including “The Pearson Complete Guide to the CAT”.

I also spoke to two current MBA students: Rohit Gupta (IIM Ahmedabad, Batch of 2010-12) and Ranjeet Pratap Singh (FMS Delhi, Batch of 2010-12), both of whom secured high percentiles in CAT 2009.

I then talked to three MBA aspirants preparing for CAT 2010, who have been scoring consistently well in mock CATs. They are:

  • Arshdeep Kaur is a member of the PaGaLGuY Dream Team and has some exceptional mock scores to her credit, the best being securing Rank 1 in Career Launcher’s Proctored Mock 3, not to mention a string of 99 percentiles secured in other mock CATs. See a record of her mock scores.
  • Saranyan S is also a member of the PaGaLGuY Dream Team, was All India Rank 1 in AIMCAT 1111 and has consistently scored above 99 percentile throughout the season. His mock scores.
  • Shirsho Biswas, was ranked 1 in AIMCAT 1106 and had a score of 164/180 in AIMCAT 1104 to his credit. He too is a member of the PaGaLGuY Dream Team. Mock Scores Repository.

I now hand over the stage to them!

1) With less than a month to go for CAT 2010, what position should one ideally be in right now so as to gain the maximum benefit from the last one month?

According to Nishit Sinha, any serious CAT aspirant should be well aware of his strengths and weaknesses at this stage. A topic can be said to be a strength of an aspirant if one is comfortably able to solve about 80% of the questions from that topic correctly. Also, one should be analysing the mocks which one has taken till now. One should always remember that CAT does not test only the Intelligence Quotient of an aspirant but also the Emotional Quotient of the aspirant.

According to Rohit, an ideal position to be in at this point of time would be that of optimising everything about your preparation. By now, you should have figured out your strengths and weaknesses, and hence the order of attempting sections and various types of questions. At this time, you should be looking up old mocks to reinforce the concepts in your mind.

According to Ranjeet with one month to go, an aspirant,

a) Should have an idea of his/her strengths and weaknesses both section-wise and topic-wise.

b) Should have tried different strategies in mocks and should know what works best or at least know what doesn’t work best for him/her.

c) Should have grasp over the basic concepts across all the sections.

According to Shirsho, ideally, people should be comfortable with all the basic concepts of the major topics of Quantitative Aptitude, and should have reasonably good calculation and reading speeds. Also, they should be familiar with the common question types asked in the previous versions of the CAT. And they should have tried out a number of strategies in the previous mocks and identified the one which works for them.

According to Arshdeep, one should be in a position to basically know and understand one’s strengths and weaknesses. Whatever be your scores in mocks so far, it doesn’t matter, all that one needs to know is what one is doing right and where one is going wrong. Everything else can be worked on.

2) In what sequence should one solve his strongest and weakest sections in the CAT?

According to Nishit Sinha, one should always start with his strongest section and try to do as much of it in the first 30-35 minutes of the test. After that, one can move to his weakest section and solve it in 40-45 minutes. The moderate section should be placed at the end and should be done in around 30-35 minutes. The remaining 25-30 minutes should be used to maximise the scores. So, the first 100-105 minutes can be used to optimize the score and the last 30 minutes can be used to maximize the score. Also, one should try to see the entire section in the first 5 minutes allocated to the section and plan accordingly as to which questions to attempt in the first round.

Ranjeet offers another perspective: “There is no thumb rule for it. We’ve seen people doing great adopting different strategies or for that matter not adopting any strategy.

Ideally one should have figured out by now, in what order does one wants to attempt the sections and if he/she hasn’t done so till now take a mock every alternate day for a few days and zero in on one strategy.

For people who have no idea of what works best for them, start with your weakest section, if it goes well go to the other section and end with strongest section. If weakest sections seem too tough in the initial few minutes, switch to the strongest section, then the other section and come back to weakest section.”

According to Rohit, “The strongest section should be placed first, since the brain is not in top gear when starting off the paper. Finishing off a lot of questions from your strongest section gives you a sense of confidence that you have at least one section under your belt. This confidence should immediately be used to attack the weakest section. The weakest section should also be in the middle because you will neither be in low gear nor too tired while attempting it, and by placing in the middle, you can give an extra ’2x’ minutes to it by extracting ‘x’ minutes each from strongest and medium sections.”

According to Saranyan, one should try to gain some time and some confidence by attempting one’s strongest section first. After solving enough questions so as to clear the cut-off and one can move on to the weakest section. Again after giving enough time to cross the cut-off, one can then move over to the third section. After finishing the section, one can move to the strongest section again.

“It is important to allocate extra time for your weakest section (maybe around one hour) just in case you find the questions difficult and think clearing the cut-off is not possible in 45 minutes. Regardless of what your strong and weak sections are, avoid attempting RCs and DI sets during the final 15 minutes of the test,” he adds.

Arshdeep says, “If you are a person who would get demotivated doing your weak section first, go with your strongest section in the beginning. However, if you feel that you would not be able to do justice with your weak section towards the end and hence, would struggle to clear the cut-offs there, you should probably start with your weak section, so that you can attempt it with a cool head and with a little more time in hand.”

3) What difference does it make between taking the test in one of the earlier slots as opposed to the ones later in the testing period?

According to Nishit Sinha, it won’t make much difference. In case the papers follow a particular pattern which can be noticed in the first few days, the people taking it later would be knowing what to expect. Also, the candidates who will be taking the test at a later stage will have slightly more time at their disposal for last-minute preparation.

According to Rohit, “Taking the CAT later is both beneficial and harmful. It’s a little bit advantageous because you get an idea of the level of the questions that are coming and the average number of attempts people are making. It’s harmful because you come under intense psychological pressure to attempt at least the average number of questions, something which can cause a lot of stress and cause you to break down midway through the test.”

According to Ranjeet, “Considering that the window is longer this year and that many a people have learned from last year and are taking the test on weekdays, I think this year it should not make much of a difference.”

According to Arshdeep, “The trade-off is between getting a little more time to prepare and dealing with the anxiety that comes with when your friends and peers are done with the CAT before you have. If you feel that you’ll be able to process the inputs from various newspapers, websites, friends et al positively, then you can select a date in the later half of the test window. Otherwise, you can simply get it over with as early as you can to save yourself the anxious nights that are bound to come once the testing window starts.”

) The big question: What should one do in the last one month?

According to Nishit Sinha, with about a month to go, aspirants should analyse the tests they have taken this season and also, one should take mocks regularly till the test day and religiously analyse them.

According to Ranjeet, “It depends on in what position one is in right now and how much time one can devote for preparation, but generally speaking this is what I would suggest for an above average person,

a) Take sectionals, analyse them well and follow-up properly, as this gives you many advantages such as: How to maximize your score in a section. How not to get bored while solving questions from same section for 45 minutes. How to know about what you need to study more and then do study the topics you think you need to improve in.

b) Stay calm and confident. If you have been doing good in mocks, good. If you haven’t been doing good in mocks, better. You have a chance to prove that mocks aren’t worth the hype they own.

c) Enjoy. It’s very important to be in a relaxed frame of mind. A movie or a cricket match with friends is the best you can have for ensuring that you are in the best possible frame of mind.

d) Don’t overstudy. It’s very important to realize that though hard work pays well, its positive impact on your performance is NOT directly proportional to the number of hours you put in. Sit back for a moment and see what works best for you and then work accordingly.”

According to Arshdeep, “In the last month, ideally, you should get your confidence right up there. If you sit for CAT with the right frame of mind, believing in yourself, knowing that you can do it, half the battle is won. So focus on staying positive, and doing whatever little you want to brush up on, depending on where your preparation stands at the moment. Above all, listen to yourself. A thousand people, all of them IIM pass-outs may give you 1,000 different inputs, and maybe none of them will work for you. So all you need to do is, tune in, listen to what your inner self says, and go along with it.”

5) How many mock tests or sectional tests should one solve during this time period?

According to Nishit Sinha, about 3-4 mocks per week should be enough to keep one in touch with the preparations. Also, just taking mocks would not be enough. It is an important exercise to analyse the mock you have solved.

According to Rohit, an average of one mock every 2 or 3 days would be sufficient. Attempting at a frequency higher than this may overstress you.

According to Saranyan, doing around 2 mocks a week would be good enough. The sectionals should be based on the performance in the mock tests. Once weak areas are identified based on the mock tests, use the sectionals to practice and get better!

6) Is it advisable to start learning new concepts at this stage for a topic one hasn’t studied before?

According to Nishit Sinha, if you are taking the CAT 2010 in the first week (Oct 27 – Nov 2), you would have enough time to get comfortable with an entirely new topic. But, one should also keep in mind that the season ends in January with XAT. So, even if you aren’t comfortable with a topic, you can work on it keeping in mind the entire season.

According to Ranjeet, “Going by last year’s CAT it isn’t advisable to leave many topics untouched. Make sure that you can solve the sitters from almost each area and that there are areas in which you can solve even the more difficult ones. One or two areas can be left if there haven’t been too many questions from those areas in the previous years.”

According to Rohit, one should learn enough to handle a sitter from that section. One should not be completely blank. But, then, one should not try to achieve expertise at this time. It’s better to revise all that one has done.

According to Saranyan, with CAT becoming a 60-question paper and with the whole normalization process coming into picture, it is not advisable to completely leave any topic. If someone leaves an easy question it could really cost him/her especially with the limited number of available questions.

According to Shirsho, “If you have an important topic like geometry or PnC left, you should definitely do it. If it is something less important like logarithms, maybe you can leave it. But I’d say finish all the topics, atleast the basics. Avoid doing too many problems, but you should be familiar with the basic principles of all the topics.”

7) What should be the priority while solving the paper: speed or accuracy?

According to Nishit Sinha, with the decrease in the number of questions one has more time to ponder on each question. If one is not sure about the answer, one should always revisit the question and try to get to the correct answer. Even in the Verbal Section, if one is not sure about 2 or 3 answers, one can use an intelligent guess between two options. But then if there are 10-12 questions you are not sure of, one should look for the finer aspects of the question and not guess.

According to Rohit, “Any successful candidate cannot do away with either of them. It’s totally an individual perspective how one chooses to balance these two aspects in a paper. Both of them are important and neither can be done away with.”

According to Ranjeet, “It’s all about finding out the correct balance that works for you. Personally I don’t think there is a question of focusing on speed or accuracy.

The point is that you don’t actually need to go with an aim of how many questions to solve in a section. You try to solve the maximum number of questions in the given time, “solving” being the keyword here. Under no condition should you go for blind guessing. Educated guesses are fine provided you are able to settle down to two options and one should use it as a last resort only when there is no other question which can be solved.”

According to Shirsho, “Ideally you should have great speed with great accuracy. If you have to compromise on one, compromise on speed. No use attempting all questions and getting half of them wrong. Good accuracy with decent speed is the way to go, in my opinion.”

According to Saranyan, “Accuracy is definitely more important. At the same time it is important to be quick enough to at least have a look at all 60 questions even if all of them are not attempted.”

According to Arshdeep, “Accuracy is extremely important since the number of questions in CAT have reduced drastically over the years. Now with only 60 questions, if you make a mistake in a question, for the simple reason that you did not spend a minute extra on it, that, I believe, would be criminal. So focus on accuracy. The cut-offs are never that high, the only problem is that in an attempt to do more, we only end up getting loads of negative marks. Speed too matters, but definitely not at the cost of accuracy.”

Shirsho concludes with a simple yet important and often forgotten message: “I’d advise people not to panic about the fact that CAT is only a month away. One month is a long time. You can accomplish a lot in this period. You can even start and finish your entire preparation in one month. People have done it before, and so can you. So relax, make a plan, stick to it, and try as hard as you can to maximize your chances of clearing all cut-offs first, and then getting a good overall percentile. This last month, if spent wisely, can change your life. Don’t waste it!”

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