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Cracking CAT 2016: Tips to keep in mind

  The time has almost come when you have to get into concentrated test mode and attack the questions in earnest. CAT 2016 is on December 4, and so this literally makes it your last lap to the all-important B-school entrance test. Here are a few things to keep in mind.  

The Advanc’edge Team

The CAT has always been designed to assess the ability of an individual to become a successful Master of Business Administration — in the true sense — and subsequently, a successful manager. One should therefore look to inculcate the following basic qualities that are required in an MBA:

  • Ability to identify strengths and weaknesses, thereby building on one’s own strengths
  • Ability to adapt to any situation
  • Ability to plan, strategise and execute
  • Ability to manage time
  • Ability to make quick and correct decisions
  • Ability to perform under pressure

Everything that you learned during your preparation for the CAT still holds true on the final day. You’ll still have to deal with the same concepts in Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading comprehension, etc. The test hasn’t changed, only how you take it.

There are three sections to contend with just like last year:

Section I: Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension
Section II: Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning
Section III: Quantitative Ability

The total number and section wise break-up of number of questions are not disclosed by the IIM Bangalore Team. However, candidates will be allotted exactly 60 minutes for answering questions in each section and they cannot switch from one section to another while answering questions in a section. In those 60 minutes, you will be able to go back and forth within that section to review your answers. However, once the time ends for that section and you move on to the next, you will not be able to go back to the previous section. And finally, the two big changes — an on-screen calculator and type in the answer (TITA) questions introduced last year are continued this year.

By now, you would have evolved as a “test taker” with certain identified strengths and weaknesses. With less than a couple of months to go for the CAT, you need to manage both your strengths and weaknesses and ensure that your result is the desired one.

Managing your strengths
Let us first start with the strengths. The first thing you need to do is to understand whether you have consistently done well in these areas to label them as strengths, or if your performance purely incidental.

In case of the first eventuality, the next issue you need to address is whether these areas emerged as strengths in a fair distribution of time across all sections/areas of the test or due to significantly more time allocated to these areas.

If it is the first case, then it is infallibly an area of strength; you simply need to sustain the tempo and ensure that it stays a cash cow for you. If it is the second case, you need to ensure that the same performance is upheld in a certain desirable time frame. For example, a student getting 99 percentile in one section (because he has spent disproportionately more time preparing for this section) and faring abysmally poor in the other, cannot brand the first section as his/her strength. You need to sacredly anchor on to an instruction which requires you to be competent across all sections of the test.

In case of the second eventuality, that is, when your performance in the so called “strong areas” is a consequence of random flukes, you have to immediately stop cheating yourself, categorise it as a weakness and revamp your approach vis-à-vis these areas.

Managing your weaknesses
Now, let us consider the weaknesses. You need to understand the core reasons for not doing well in these areas, wherein the following have been identified as the most common ones, with their corresponding remedies:-

  • Inherent dislike for these areas, due to which students start ignoring them. For example, most of the students have a natural antipathy towards “permutations and combinations” and they start shying away from questions on this topic; consequently, even the easier questions on this topic get overlooked on that day and this adds to the “opportunity cost”. You need to prepare all topics/areas of the test—which ones you finally respond to or attempt will be a function of multiple variables.

  • Not being able to spend adequate time on these areas, due to which your performance is marred. You need to apportion judicious time to all sections of the test. Placing the sections appropriately along the time curve is a skill you need to master. The sequence of attempting the different sections will vary from one test taker to another and an equilibrium will evolve only over a period of time.

  • Incorrect prioritisation and selection of questions due to which you end up picking “wrong” questions on that day. You need to be more vigilant and understand that wrong picks can unsettle even the best of students! While selecting questions, the following points need to be factored in:
    • Do not choose questions only because they are shorter than their bulkier counterparts. Shorter questions are not necessarily easier and vice versa.
    • Do not pick up questions only because they are from apparently simpler topics; for example, students typically prefer questions on arithmetic and algebra as compared to geometry and modern math.
    • Please ensure that you exhaust all ends of the section while selecting questions. Starting off in a sequence and not being able to reach the fag end of the section, because of dearth of time may keep you away from potential picks.
  • Conceptual flaws and loopholes in these areas, whereby they assume the proportions of “weaknesses”. This requires an immediate attention to fundamentals and revisiting concepts. Without the requisite conceptual clarity, application of these concepts would be a farfetched expression!

To summarise, “the one month to the CAT” requires you to leverage your strengths, hone your weaknesses and formulate a smart strategy to approach the test. The most important thing is not to lose heart or feel that it’s just too late. There have been others in your position and they have made it to the top through sheer focus and pragmatic time management.

Tutorial to understand the format of the examination will be available on the CAT website from 18th October 2016. Candidates are advised to work on the tutorials, available on the CAT website, well in advance.

This shall definitely help to understand and get accustomed with the CAT interface.

Building up to D-Day
As CAT aspirants, most of you would be dreaming of making it to one of the IIMs. So let us take inspiration from those who have already “been there and done that,” and see how they managed their entire preparation and addressed their weaknesses over the final month leading to the CAT. 

When D-Day finally approaches, pressures, expectations and apprehensions will have built up phenomenally. The last few days before D-Day will demand a greater depth of confidence, diligence and commitment from you. So here are a few aspects that will help you refine your thought process.

Reach the venue well in time and ensure that you take along a copy of the admit card, a valid ID proof and the necessary stationary. Ensconce yourself comfortably in front of the designated terminal and read the instructions carefully before graduating to the 180 minutes of the actual experience. While simulated tests would have helped you reach a certain equilibrium in different parameters of the test, this should not stop you from thinking on your feet and realigning to sudden changes in the difficulty level of the test.

Also, do not get emotionally attached to any question/section. Previous experiences tell us that this has drastically marred the overall performance of students; even the ones who were expected to do well. Ensure a certain degree of speed as you graduate from one question/section to another. 


Read the instructions given on the test booklet.
You will get some time to read and comprehend this page. This page will also tell you about the test structure. You have to now use your knowledge and plan your test.

Carefully read the directions before you answer a question
Make sure you are answering the question that is being asked! Often, students know how to solve a problem, but they misread or misinterpret the question itself.

Read through the sections first
By spending the first couple of minutes reading through the entire section you can learn what is expected of you. Prioritise items on the test, and pace yourself.

Intelligent guessing
You can attempt certain questions when you test the alternatives one by one for correctness. This way, you are able to eliminate wrong alternatives. You may be first-time lucky or you may be required to test all but one of the alternatives. Here are a few tips on how you can guess intelligently:

  • Wrong choices usually don’t answer the question; that is, they may sound good, but they’re answering a different question.
  • Sometimes, two answers are very close. Keep both of these for future consideration, because they both can’t be right, but both can be wrong. Answers that are very close are sometimes given to test your comprehension.
  • Some wrong choices may just strike you as wrong when you first read them. Trust your instincts. If you have spent time preparing for these exams, you have probably learned more than you think.

Don’t dilly-dally
If you get stuck on a problem move on and come back to it later. When you are finished, recheck all your work.

Watching the clock
When the test begins, check your watch and write down the time you start and the time that you will finish. Knowing how much time is left helps you to pace yourself during the test and in turn helps you to attempt more questions in the given time.

Keep a good attitude. Think positive!
The bottom line is that you have to be alert for the entire time while taking the test. In the end, it’s not just about Mathematics or English, attempts and accuracy levels. It is also about whether you followed these basic steps to ensure that you have taken the test in the most appropriate manner.