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A C.A.T. Approach to Cracking the CAT

  Just in case you thought that the above conforms to the age old wisdom in the adage - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, you are definitely right - the C.A.T. for the CAT!  

The CAT is a test which sends shivers down the spines of the students, for the following obvious reasons – it is the most widely accepted aptitude test for admission to top business schools in the country, the magnitude of competition of mind-bogglingly huge, the stakes involved are enormous, and the pressures to handle are multifold.
All of this requires a “well chalked-out and meticulously executed strategy”. In fact, the right approach to prepare is what differentiates a CAT cracker from a CAT defaulter. You need to phase out your preparation, identify the effort required in each phase and customise your approach accordingly – a process which we will label as “the C.A.T. Approach,” wherein the C.A.T. is an acronym for Concepts, Application and Test taking, the three phases of preparation.

This is the first phase of preparation and is imperative to building basic conceptual knowledge. A sectional view of the CAT reveals three areas of testing – Quantitative, Logic & Data Interpretation and Verbal Ability. Performance in each section is linked to your ability to connect with the fundamentals therein. Obviously, not knowing a concept can be a huge deterrent in effectively tackling a question; for example, it is virtually impossible to solve a question on “cyclic quadrilaterals” without knowing what a cyclic quadrilateral is!
Furthermore, each section differs in the range of concepts involved – the “Quantitative Section” has a greater diversity of concept areas as compared to the “Logic & Data Interpretation Section”, the latter being more practice intensive; while the “Verbal Section” has more concepts to be familiar with in the “Usage & Grammar” area as compared to the “Reading Comprehension” area.
This difference in the sensitivity of each section to concept-intensiveness determines the time to be devoted to each section during this phase of preparation. It is also recommended that you take a Diagnostic Test at the onset, which will bring out the difference between the desired and expected levels of preparedness in each section. It has been observed that just a thorough awareness of major concepts can take a test taker to a performance level of 75 percentile in the CAT.

This is the next level of preparation and logically follows the “concept building level”. Students should graduate to the “application level” only after a comprehensive know-how of the key concept areas. It is therefore suggested that a section-wise analysis of concept awareness be conducted and the gaps be plugged in before escalating to this level. The focus here is to develop a section-wise ability to apply concepts and ingrain a problem-solving approach, involving skills to identify the sequential steps for effectively handling the questions.
Students also need to stress on an integrated approach to solving questions; for example, a question might require an application of multiple concepts and therefore demand the proficiency to apply concepts in an integrated manner – previous CAT questions reveal that certain questions on time, speed and distance also entailed an application of concepts from geometry, while questions on permutations and combinations required concepts from number theory as well.
Taking an optimum number of section-wise tests followed by in-depth analysis is the way forward in this level of preparation. It has been observed that a strong application orientation can take a test-taker to a performance level of 95 percentile in the CAT.

Test Taking
This is the conclusive level of preparation and assumes successful completion of the first two levels. Test-taking, per se, makes no sense if concept awareness is not in place or if the ability to apply concepts is questionable. The way ahead in this level of preparation is taking a range of tests simulating the difficulty level of the CAT and reflecting your performance on a certain scale. It is advisable that you take an adequate mix of paper-based and computer-based tests; while paper-based tests gauge your ability to respond to test questions in a conventional way, computer-based tests mirror your adaptation to the new mode of test-taking and ensure the desired comfort levels.
Moreover, each test needs to be analysed well – the attempted questions need to be revisited from the perspective of bettering the approach and reducing the time allocated for solving them; the unattempted questions need to be explored from a feasibility perspective, which when attempted could have  reduced the opportunity costs and apportioned out more time for other questions. Optimal test-taking can ensure competence with respect to significant test-taking skills such as time management, strategy formulation, prioritisation, judicious management of diverse sections, and can enable the test-taker to graduate to the highest levels of performance, with even 100 percentile being a possibility!
In a nutshell, the C.A.T. approach helps you to structure your preparation in distinct phases and identify the challenges in each phase, thereby enabling you to put concerted and focused efforts ensuring more effective and strategic preparation.