A step by step strategy to crack the CAT.

CAT 2012 will be conducted from October 11 to November 6 this year. A number of candidates will be fine-tuning their preparation right now, while others will be looking to somehow kicking the inertia out of the system and starting their preparations in right earnest. We provide a plan of action for the latter group.

Do not tell yourself it is too late to start now. Do not listen to anyone who says that there isn’t enough time for preparation. Till about 10 years ago, students used to start their CAT preparation only in August (very reluctantly, I must add). The basic syllabus for this exam roughly corresponds to Maths and English taught in class VI- IX. So, if the fundamentals are reasonably strong, a student should require only 200-300 hours of preparation for this exam.

What should be the plan of action? With the Olympic spirit in mind, let us think of this preparation as a parallel to an athlete preparing for the Olympics. Divide your preparation into three phases.

Do the grind

In phase I, cover the basics for all the topics in quant. Solve as many questions as possible. This is the phase where one builds on first principles and gets the mind ready for the tougher battles ahead. For the verbal section, set aside two hours every day to reading. Read lots of stuff and with as much variety as possible.

The topic, style, subject and size do not matter (Fiction, non-fiction, sports, politics, economics, science, anything goes). Just build the reading habit and get the mind ready to receive written content. This phase is similar to an Olympic wrestler/badminton player spending hours in the gym. This phase should go on for about six weeks.

Build intensity

Start building intensity. Take section-wise tests, set yourself targets for sets of 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Start practising for Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning. Increase the intensity steadily by mixing up topics and setting varying time targets. This is the phase where you should select one DI bunch, one LR puzzle, two passages in RC, eight questions in Number Theory and set yourself 50 minutes of high intensity preparation. This is akin to an athlete training muscle by muscle and play-by-play. This is probably the part of CAT preparation that is heavily underestimated. People who are used to spending 10 hours in office or eight hours in college think that writing a 2 hour 20 minute-exam cannot be that taxing. Taking a test for 140 minutes without concentration “drops” is challenging and will not come without getting the mind ready for it. The better you do this the less tired you will get handling regular questions in CAT and more energy you will have for handling tougher ones. This should go on for about four weeks.

Fine tune your preparation

Phase III is simple. Take mock exams. Analyse them vigorously. Plug whatever gaps you find by revisiting phase I or phase II. And when you analyse a paper, you should focus on what kind of questions you have gotten wrong, which ones you should have attempted but have skipped, which ones took time without giving you much in return, which questions should you have skipped straightaway, etc. Do not waste time on studying percentile patterns and such. Most mock CAT percentile scores are nothing more than a distraction. This should ideally go on for about five weeks. This is the phase where the athlete simulates match conditions, studies opponents, figures out the draw, etc.

Phase I, II and III could overlap. If you plan well and are willing to throw in lots of time toward preparation, this can be done in 10 weeks. The students with intense shorter-term preparation have seen better results than those who enrol into long-term courses but do not do justice to them.

For those who have been preparing for a while, the strategy is simple. Skip Phase I. Kickstart your preparation now and focus on building intensity. Best wishes for CAT 2012.

The author, a B-school trainer, is one of the CAT toppers last year with 100 percentile. He takes CAT every year to understand the pattern and help his students better.