Home | Cover Story | The mock tests beckon!

The mock tests beckon!

  Now is the time when you will start taking simulated test series, to get yourself out of the ‘concept building’ mode and into the ‘test-taking’ mode. You will have to know how to make the most of the simulated tests, how to deal with stress, etc. Here a few things you need to know about the various tests, and what you can expect to face in the mocks.  

The countdown has begun for the few months till November 25th, the all-important D-Day, when the future careers of lakhs of students will be decided. The tension is palpable, with some students delving deeper into their books and others finding that their enthusiasm has suddenly frozen into fear of the test and their performance at it. This is the time that you actually take the concepts that you’ve been studying these last few months, and apply them to tests. In other words, the phase of taking mock test series begins now.
Although some of you may know exactly what the CAT and other competitive exams like it, such as the CMAT, XAT, SNAP, NMAT, among others, entails, you will never get the feel of it until you actually sit down and stare at the questions on the screen, just waiting to be answered. So for all those who may or may not be fully aware, here are a few details about the tests that you will be taking.

What’s all the fuss about?
Many might ask: Why all the hullabaloo about these tests? You only have to know basic concepts. Well, that’s exactly the point.
Knowledge of basic facts is important, but mere knowledge of these facts learnt in a conventional “orderly” pattern can sometimes act as a hindrance while taking a test such as the CAT, CMAT or XAT. This is because the multiple choice questions attempt to probe that knowledge from an unusual angle. Take, for example, a simple mathematical problem:
Q. 5 is 25 percent of _____
(a) 1/20
(b) 5/4
(c) 20
(d) 125

Now this is not a very complex problem (certainly not the sort you’ll find in the actual test!), but what keeps it from being absolutely simple for anyone who has finished his primary school is its unusual nature. We are not used to thinking about percentage problems in this way.
If it were presented in an honest, straightforward “What is 25 percent of 20?” form, most of us would have no difficulty with it. Hence, a good objective type question is likely to have this unusual twist.
Let us take another example:
Q. Which of the following could be considered the opposite in conception to secular state?
(a) theocratic
(b) communistic
(c) fascist
(d) non-religious

Now, you know that the opposite of ‘secular’ in this regard is ‘theocratic’ and that is the right choice.
However, if you are even slightly unsure of your answer, the two alternatives (b) and (c) can easily distract you. It is common knowledge that communist (b) states have no religion. Likewise, alternative (d) would suggest nearly the same idea as “secular”, except that the latter has the backing of usage in politics.
Thus, each of the alternatives, except (a), has an element of distraction built into it. In order to sail through one needs more than mere knowledge of facts.
Essentially, therefore, the CAT is unlike other tests in that merely being aware of the various concepts will not be enough. It is highly important that every test taker takes the next step, and cultivate the habit of applying multiple concepts to a single problem! The various other tests have their own complexities. For instance, Decision Making in the XAT, General Awareness in the CMAT, etc, require their own forms of preparation!

Duration of the tests
If you’ve done homework, you’ll see that most of the management entrance tests have a similar test taking duration. Most range from 120 minutes (2 hours) to 180 minutes (3 hours). The important aspect from this analysis is that you should possess the ability to concentrate continuously for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours. Although most students can solve questions easily when there are no time limits, they find it quite difficult to correctly solve the same questions when they have to concentrate on multiple areas and sections under time constraints. Your score can definitely improve just by getting used to taking tests under a time frame and for a continuous concentration of 2 to 3 hours. You have to be disciplined and have the ability to concentrate for long durations.

Negative marks
Almost all multiple choice question tests (MCQs) penalise the students for incorrect answers. This characteristic is unique to MCQs only to help avoid outright guessing. In this case, the test is fair to those test takers who really know the answers, versus those who will guess the answers and may get them right. Negative marks ensure that the student more often than not knows the real answers to the questions. This way, the test setter can check if the student is really answering the question or is gambling.

By creating the negative marks concept, the test is clearly harping on accuracy. Therefore, it is important that the student knows how to answer the question as a priority. Most Indian students are used to studying only those portions of the subject where they are good at. However, these tests are very clear on the fact that the student needs to be competent rather than casual.

Speed is a factor of the number of questions to be answered in the given time. If the number of questions in the test is high and the duration is short, it suggests that the test setter is seeking fundamental understanding. If the number of questions is less compared to the duration of the test, he is seeking to test not only the fundamentals but has gone a step further by checking applications of the fundamentals. The CAT of the 21st century as compared to the CAT of the 90s has changed from just checking fundamentals to querying the students on applications. In CAT 2017, the test takers had a total of 180 minutes to answer 100 questions, which means the test gave them 108 seconds (1 minute 48 seconds) to solve each question. Earlier, the CAT used to have anything between 150 and 180 questions, and the duration was just 120 minutes, meaning that the candidate had just 40 seconds to answer a question. So now, although the time given per question is more, the test taking skills are more tilted in favour of applying your knowledge.

No fixed structure
Although you may know the test structures of all the important tests in the Indian MBA calendar, the tests do bring in factors to throw students off balance, such as changing the structure/pattern of the test subtly. This is done especially since the areas and the subjects tested are same and cannot change. So the test setter alters other parameters, like the duration of the test, quantum of negative marks, breaking up areas into different sections or suddenly combining them into one, altering the weightage of subjects or areas or topics, and changing the level of difficulty of the questions themselves. Very often, the CAT comes up with ingenious ways to unsettle students who have pre-set notions and fixed expectations about the structure of the test. Therefore, the two prime requirements to crack the entrance tests are:
Knowledge of the fundamentals of each subject.
A consciously cultivated ability to think on one’s feet.
Both are absolute requirements to become a successful manager.

Some points that will help
When dealing with a competitive exam like the CAT, it helps to be connected with your peers, especially those who are serious about cracking it. Some peers in your immediate circle may be nervous and don’t do the required amount of work. In fact, friends who are not better prepared will reinforce each other’s negative feelings about how difficult it will be to crack the test. So it’s better to spend time with someone who can enhance your preparedness, rather than with someone who creates tension and continuously complains about the lack of effort you and he or she is putting in.
The CAT does not demand sacrifices, but a balanced lifestyle that keeps your stress under control instead. It has been seen that students spend the last few weeks packing in studies into the whole day’s schedule. Since the test is a timed test, there is already a pressure exerted on you. You shouldn’t have to handle anymore. So keep your mind relaxed and uncluttered by spending time in activities that make you happy. This could be anything as simple as listening to music.
Nervousness and panic set in only because of what you feed into your mind. If you keep brooding over the prospect of failing at the test, you will definitely hamper your performance. This test is so competitive that a lot of your preparation can be done in the mind, by dealing in the right manner with your thoughts. It is also important to have back-up plans. Make sure you discuss your options with the concerned experts – if CAT then what, if not the CAT, then what?
You are led to distraction and procrastination only when you don’t have a specific goal in place. If your goal is set in your mind, you automatically find that you don’t waver from it. Again, it becomes important to set aside time for all your activities. For example, you may be spending time with friends, all the while thinking that you haven’t studied for the CAT that day. Therefore, you will end up worrying even more.
Keep these few things in mind, keep the concepts you have learnt in your head, and remember, it’s just about applying those concepts. So start taking the mock tests, and more importantly, analyse your score and performance so that you can improve them in the next. So finally, when you get to the actual exam, it’ll become just another test!