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Cracking the CAT: All you need to know

  The last few months prior to the CAT are very important, for both first timers and repeat takers. It's normal to have a lot of questions at this time, when tension starts building up. In this article, we answer some of these most often asked questions for you.  

The CAT is a behemoth of a test, taken every year by about 2 lakh students in an attempt to get into the world of management. This test is probably the biggest hurdle to joining a business school, and naturally, MBA aspirants at this stage, 3 months before the CAT, are full of doubts and questions.
“Am I preparing correctly?” “Am I taking enough mock tests?” “Am I spending enough time every day on my preparation?” These and a lot more are just some of the anxious queries filling the already stuffed brains of CAT takers.
However, at this stage, it is essential to concentrate on preparing for the all-important CAT, rather than get troubled by the numerous questions that keep coming back to the anxious minds of the students. Here are the answers to some of these questions to help you take the load off your mind.

How many tests should be taken in the last 3 months?
For the last 3 months, we recommend taking 1 test per week and analysing it well. In the last 1 month you can increase your test taking frequency to 1 in every 4 days. That makes it to about 15 tests in the last 90 days with proper analysis. In fact, more important than just taking the tests, is their analysis. If you don’t learn from each test before proceeding to the next, there is really no point in taking a large number of them one after another, since you might keep repeating your mistakes.
Try out various strategies for each test like
VA questions first and then RC questions OR RC first and then VA.
LR Questions first and then DI questions OR DI followed by LR
By working in this manner, you can come to understand which strategies are working for you, and which aren’t.
It is also important to attempt a variety of tests. This is because you may score well in a test that is more suited to your strengths, while it just may turn out that the CAT may carry more questions of the kind you are uncomfortable with. An exposure to a varied range of problems and the rationale behind them will ensure that you are better prepared for the final day.
Finally familiarity increases speed. In a high stress test like CAT every second counts. And in most cases you lose time in trying to understand the question and figuring out how to solve it. This time required gets drastically reduced if you are already familiar with such  type of question and know exactly how to tackle it. By taking more tests you are exposed to a wider range and type of questions. This can really help you on the C-Day.

How much time each day should be spent on studying for the CAT?
The closer one gets to CAT, the more you have to devote time to completing your backlog, taking tests, analysing them and revisiting the weaker concepts. That means you have to increase your study time for CAT to about 4 hours a day. However, the manner in which those four hours are utilised can make or break the deal.
Whenever you sit for studying, your phone should be in airline mode. For the next few months try to become a social pariah by bidding adieu to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and every other social platform. Your career should be more important than your 10 seconds of fame on social media.
Also, how you divide the study time should depend on your individual strengths and weaknesses. Some may prefer to spend more time on the Verbal section, while others on Quant. Ultimately, you must ensure that your progress in each section is equal. This holds greater relevance if you are aiming primarily (perhaps even exclusively) for the IIMs, because at these institutes, cut-offs — even sectional ones — matter. So, you should be spending more time in practicing your weaker sections and bringing them at par with your stronger section. At the same time you shouldn’t completely forget your stronger section and let it become weak without regular practice.
Furthermore, organise your day in such a way that the hours spent studying are those when your brain is most alert. Working professionals, for example, shouldn’t study at night after a hard day’s work. On the other hand, if you’re generally more active and alert during the late hours, perhaps a night-time study routine would be best suited for you. You need to understand that preparing for a test like the CAT is not at all like preparing for exams in school and college, where you need to spend long hours memorising the material.

Can topics that appear too tough be ignored?
Students usually find topics such as Modern Math tough, but you must remember that Modern Math questions in the CAT are not always tough, nor are Arithmetic questions always easy. Your aim is to maximise your score in all sections, and you can do that by solving all the easy questions. If you leave out Modern Math entirely, you will have narrowed your selection to only the easy questions in Arithmetic and Algebra. In such a scenario, how do you maximise your score? Tough questions from any topic should be ignored in any case. For example, in one of the IMS practice tests, a student didn’t answer a question based on playing cards because he felt it involved permutations and combinations. When he looked at the problem later, it turned out to be a simple linear equations question. So, read problems properly before leaving them — they might be sitters.

What exactly should be done while analysing a test?
There are two answers to this dilemma — for questions that were attempted, and those that weren’t.
For attempted questions
Check whether your mistakes were silly, careless or conceptual errors.
Check if there are better ways to solve the questions.
Were you able to comprehend the problem irrespective of the level of difficulty?
If the concept is new, learn the concept and move on.
If answered correctly, check the explanatory answers — was your solution the best possible approach to the problem? Should you really have attempted these when, and if, there were easier questions elsewhere in the section? Why were you attracted to that particular question?

For un-attempted questions
Try solving each one of them without seeing the solution.  Classify the questions into the following buckets and tackle them accordingly:
Identification Error: These are the questions that you could solve now very easily but did not attempt in the test. This shows inefficient test taking strategy and question identification. To improve you need to practice various strategies using the Take Home SimCATs. As you move closer to the test, the number of questions in this bucket should decrease.
Time Factor: These are questions that you did not attempt in the test and now also could do it after being at it for a long time. This indicates a lack of familiarity about that area. You need to practice, practice and practice more.
Conceptual Clarity: Did you have to leave out the questions this time also because you couldn’t figure out how to do it. This shows lack of conceptual clarity in a particular area. Go back to the drawing board and learn the concept and practise it by taking up questions of this sort.

Once you have done this analysis, you should have an idea of the areas where you have been faltering. Therefore, pick an area that you need to work on and spend 2 to 3 days on solving every possible question of the kind from the material given to you (Concept builder, section tests), the previous years’ papers; also, refer to your Basic Reference Material. If you’ve done this second rectification step correctly, rest assured that in the tests ahead, you will be able to solve any question relating to the topic you picked.

What would be a good test prep strategy for the final leg of preparation?
A suggested strategy is to take a test every 4 days. If you take a test on Day 1, get into the analysis mode for Days 2, 3 and 4. Make sure you get in touch with the basics of your weak areas in this time period. Before beginning a test, ensure that you have an overall target score and sectional target ones. While taking the test, you can mentally slot the questions into those that you can
Understand and solve
Can solve but will take time
Can’t solve (whatever the reason may be)

By dividing the questions in this manner, you will be able to prioritise and plan your time. Also, developing this habit in practice tests will hone your ability to pick the “right” kind of questions. One of the main reasons people don’t do well in tests like the CAT is that they get stuck with problems and can’t move on. If you find that you began a problem assuming you can solve it but can see that your attempts aren’t leading you to the answer, let it go and move on to the next. You already have an idea of what you can attempt, and there might be an easier question elsewhere.

Does analysing a test with a group of friends help?
Taking a test with a group of friends is immensely beneficial, because people tend to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. With, say four friends, you will have four different approaches to solving a problem. When you analyse a test by yourself, you will probably come up with time saving approaches for around 5 to 6 problems because a single person can come up with only a limited number of perspectives. With a group, however, you can be assured of multiple approaches to a problem. For example, some sums may not require you to use calculations — someone else might see that, while it may not strike you.