Here is a timeframe to help you prepare for the management entrance test.

The Common Admission Test conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management for admissions into the IIMs and other participating institutes will be conducted during the test window from October 16 to November 11, 2013. The formal announcement to this effect was made by Prometric India, which partners with the IIMs for conducting the test in 2013. This year, the number of testing locations for CAT has gone up to 40 – with the addition of Surat, Trivandrum, Vijayawada and Udaipur.

Given there is a four-month timeframe, what is the best way to prepare for this important management entrance examination?

Quantitative Ability and Data Interpretation

QA is looked upon as a challenging section even by students who have been regularly in touch with mathematics during their graduate studies. Since the eligibility to appear for CAT is graduation in any discipline, the expected comfort level with mathematics is as much as a student would have who has not studied mathematics in the graduate level. The content is pretty well-defined. It is the time to apply the concepts. That means using the concepts in problem situations: This requires a good two months with the basics followed by regular dose of practice with CAT type problems.

Data Interpretation is a section that can be cracked if a student understands some basic formats in which data can be presented – like different types of graphs, pie charts, tables etc. Reading data from these visual presentations is the first step. Working mathematically to answer questions based on these is the second step. Simple high-school level concepts only are at play here.

Prowess with words

Questions in Verbal Ability check your prowess with words, usage of words in different contexts, difference between the shades of meaning while using a word/string of words in different situations etc. While brushing up your vocabulary and working on word lists will help, the real comfort comes with actual usage and therefore this test area is closely linked to your reading skills also.

Reading Comprehension checks the ability to understand the exact nuances of the presented passage – in the manner in which the author intended it to be conveyed. It is not just about picking out factual information from a pile of text – the innuendos, the sarcasm, the criticism to a certain approach, the adherence to a certain type of ideological code throughout the passage, etc. are just some of the finer points that need to be understood while reading a passage. This kind of critical understanding can be developed only with good exposure to varied types of passages.

So try to read articles, essays and commentaries on topics that do not necessarily interest you. Re-read the passage and understand the flow of thinking and the logic build-up. For example, if you are interested in sports and have been following cricket closely, take a detour and read up on essays on anthropology and particle physics. Also you could test your real love for your favourite subjects by getting deeper technically. Let us assume again that you are a cricket fan. Search for an article that details the evolution of the Duckworth Lewis method and its application in real One Day International matches. See if you are comfortable in understanding the logic of with the arguments favouring the method and the criticism levelled against it

Logical Ability

Exposing oneself to as many types of Logical Ability questions will help in generating enough practice and to quickly identify any patterns in the given data set. The one thing that is central to cracking Logical Ability Questions is the flexibility in assimilating the conditions presented. Since there are no formulae here – unlike in Quantitative Ability – the ability to quickly map out the “resources and constraints” in a problem situation becomes the key in arriving at the solution quickly. The advantage with a clear positioning of the problem parameters followed by adequate mapping of “resources and constraints” in a set of questions is that multiple questions could be answered with the initial time spent.

So one should try to solve as many types of Logical Ability questions as possible as part of the preparation. This could also include puzzles, brain teasers etc. for variety. While these may not appear in an actual CAT examination in the form of questions, the flexibility that one would generate for logical thinking will definitely help in the CAT preparation also. Any preparation should be enjoyable to the student.

General Knowledge Update

While GK or Business GK has not been part of the CAT testing, it is very important for an aspirant to be comfortable with these. Other examinations – like the XAT – have a section on GK. Barring that, the preparation for CAT does not end with giving the CAT examination. Further, the selection processes involve Personal Interview/Group Discussion/Essay Writing etc. It is not wise to prepare for this “after” you have cracked the CAT examination. You are going to be part of the knowledge economy and you are expected to be well informed on matters concerning the nation, the economy etc. You do not need to be an expert but you cannot afford to be a passive onlooker either. Developing a good reading habit will pay off well in the long run.

Remember, CAT is a national level competitive exam. You should benchmark your preparation levels against the best spread of competition on a national scale.

Take a good All India Level Mock CAT exam series to check how you are progressing. This time-series check will be your best barometer for the actual CAT examination. Regularly participate in the mock exams and understand why you have secured a certain percentile. You can then target a specific percentile and develop exam strategies based on that target.

(The writer is the Director of T.I.M.E, Chennai.)