Focus on mock tests, question paper analysis, efficient time management and accuracy to be a topper.
If it is your dream to get one among those 3,000-odd seats that the 13 IIMs have to offer, then you will need to perform exceedingly well in the Common Admission Test (CAT), which starts in mid-October.
With just about a month to go, hopefully you are done with the concept-building phase and have worked on all areas of the test. You are able to understand what questions will be asked in each area. This preparation would be the launchpad for the next phase. Successful completion of this phase will give you something very important — the confidence that you can solve questions that are asked in CAT. Now, this confidence should be elevated a step higher so that you can aim for the IIMs.
CAT has become much more predictable in the last few years. We now know that there would be 60 questions distributed equally into two sections, with each section having a time limit of 70 minutes. In this last leg of your preparation, the focus has to be on learning the shortest method to solve each type of question and maximising your score.
By now, let's say you have gained the ability to solve all types of questions. You are also in a position to identify every question and know the possible ways to solve the same. Yet, you could be taking a lot of time to do so, making it impossible for you to see all questions given in the CAT paper in the given time. Hence, you have every chance of missing out on easy questions.
You have to, therefore, spend time analysing the exercises you have already solved and redo them. But, this time, you should look at shortcuts as well as intuitive methods of solving questions. The methods could have been taught in a coaching class too, but you will start understanding and appreciating them only when you know the traditional method of solving them.
Solve a number of exercises. Also take individual area tests (preferably online) to test your ability to grasp the fundamentals. Analyse every test paper you take thoroughly. You will start seeing that there are always better and easier ways of solving a question than the one you have followed thus far.
The mock tests
Do a complete revision of all the areas while taking an All India Smart CAT twice a week. This will ensure that you are improving in each area. You can also check your progress through the results of your Smart CATs. Apart from that, sectional/area-wise/chapter-wise tests should be taken regularly.
Remember, taking tests alone will not improve your performance. It is the analysis of the tests that will be of help to you. After you are done with the test, take two to three more hours and solve all the remaining questions. Then check the solutions and compare the method with the one that you used. Identify the method that is shorter. Then, divide the questions into the following categories:
a. Those you could solve quickly,
b. Those you could solve but took a lot of time over and
c. Those you could not solve at all.
Now the objective should be to move as many questions as possible from category (b) to (a). You need not bother about category (c) at this stage. So, go back to the books and revise the chapters for questions that fall in category (b). Also, do the same for questions that you got wrong. Take online chapter-wise tests for these varieties also. This whole exercise would easily take three to four days and you are ready for your next full-length CAT.
I would advise everybody to divide the time earmarked for each of the sections into different slots. Let us assume, I divide it into two parts of 40 minutes and 30 minutes. In the first 40 minutes I should try and get as many questions right in the areas of my strength, mark the questions that I would like to come back to later, and make sure that I reach the end of the section. This will ensure that no easy question gets inadvertently left out. In the next 30 minutes, I will start solving the questions from moderate or weak areas.
It is always advisable to prefer accuracy over speed. CAT is no longer a speed test, as it used to be 10 years back when you would get 175-200 questions solved in 120 minutes. Now the thrust is on conceptual understanding and not speed techniques. You can afford to take two to four minutes per question, but do not get it wrong. Out of every 10 questions attempted, you must get eight or more correct in the Quantitative Analysis and Data Interpretation section; and seven or more correct in the Verbal Ability, Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning section.
The author is an IIM Kozhikode alumnus and co-founder and Director, VistaMind Education.