A few tips that will help you prepare better for the CAT.

The CAT exam is nearing. Here are some answers to the common doubts that arise in the mind of aspirants as the preparation for the exam heats up.

How many tests should I take in the last month?

Taking about five to six tests in the last 30 days is recommended. But more important than taking the test is analysis. If you don't learn from each test before proceeding to the next, there is no point in taking a large number of them. Try various strategies for each test like dividing your time equally in each section or spending more time on the weaker sections by working quickly in the stronger sections. It is also important to attempt a variety of tests because you may score well in a test that is more suited to your strengths, while the CAT may carry more questions of the kind you are uncomfortable with. An exposure to a range of problems and the rationale behind them will ensure that you are better prepared.

How much time should I spend on studying for the CAT everyday?

Ideally, not more than four hours a day. The manner in which those four hours are utilised depends on the individual student's strengths and weaknesses. Some may prefer to spend more time on verbal while other on Data Interpretation (DI). Ultimately, ensure that your progress in each section is equal. This holds greater relevance if you are aiming only for the IIMs because at these institutes the cut-offs matter. Organise your day in such a way that the hours spent studying are those when your brain is most active. Working professionals, for example, shouldn't study at night after a hard day's work. Preparing for this test is not like preparing for school and college, where you need to spend long hours memorising.

Can I leave out topics that I find too tough?

Students usually find topics such as Modern Math tough but remember that Modern Math questions in the CAT are not always tough nor are arithmetic questions always easy. Your aim is to maximise your score in all sections, you can do that by solving all the easy questions. The earlier CATs had a greater number of questions so you could probably afford to leave out certain topics. But today, with just 20 questions to a section and possibly a further division into one and two-mark questions, you cannot afford to leave questions out. You can't even assume that the one-mark questions will be easier than the two markers. If you leave out Modern Math entirely, you have narrowed your selection to only the easy questions in Arithmetic and Algebra. How do you maximise your score then? Tough questions from any topic should be ignored in any case. For example, in one of the IMS practice tests, a student left a question based on playing cards because he felt it involved permutations and combinations. When he looked at the problem later, it turned out to be a simple linear equations question. So, read problems properly before leaving them; they might be ‘ sitters'.

What exactly do we do when we analyse a test?

For attempted questions:

Check whether your mistakes were silly, careless or conceptual errors.

Check if there are better ways to solve questions

Did you comprehend the problem irrespective of the level of difficulty?

If the concept is new, learn the concept and move on

If answered correctly, check the explanatory answers – was your solution the best possible approach to the problem? Should you really have attempted these when and if there were easier questions elsewhere in the section? Why were you attracted to that particular question?

Unattempted questions

Solve each of them

Identify which questions were potential score increasers

Why did you leave them?

Did you even read these questions?

Now you have an idea of where you are faltering. Therefore pick one area you need to work upon and spend two-three days on solving every possible question of the kind from the material given to you (section tests/comprehensive tests), from the previous years' papers and also refer to your basic reference material. In the tests ahead, you're assured that you will be able to solve any question relating to the topic you have picked.

Could you suggest a test preparation strategy for the final leg of preparation?

A suggested strategy is to take a test every four days. If you take a test on day 1, get into the analysis mode for day two, three and four. Make sure you get in touch with the basics of your weak areas in this period. Before beginning a test, ensure you have an overall target score and section target scores. - While taking the test, you could mentally slot the questions into those that you can:

Understand and solve

Can solve but will take time

Can't solve (whatever the reason may be)

This way you will be able to prioritise and plan your time. Also, developing this habit in practice tests will hone your ability to pick the ‘right' kind of questions.

One of the main reasons people don't do well is that they get stuck in problems and can't move on. If you find that you began a problem assuming you can solve it but can see that your attempts aren't leading you to the answer, let it go and move on to the next. You already have an idea of what you can attempt and there might be an easier question elsewhere.

Does analysing a test with a group of friends help?

Taking a test with a group of friends is immensely beneficial because people tend to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses. With, say four friends, you will have four different approaches to solving a problem. When you analyse a test by yourself, you will probably come up with time saving approaches for about five-six problems because one person can come up with a limited number of perspectives. With a group however, you can be assured of multiple approaches to a sum. For example, some sums may not require you to use calculations; someone else might see that while it may not strike you.

Checklist:

Before the Test

Carry your admit card, test voucher and other documents.

Use the 15 minutes before the test to go through the CAT software tutorial.

While taking the test

Guess intelligently. Test the alternatives one by one for correctness for certain questions. Some answer options may just strike you as wrong when you first read them. Don't discard such intuitions; it is possible your mind unconsciously recognises a certain type of sum.

If you are stuck with the solution of a question, leave it. Students can't let go of questions either because they feel that it's impossible that they cannot crack a problem or after having spent precious minutes on this particular problem, a few more minutes will definitely get them the answer.

Watch the clock. The value of timing yourself and sticking to your time limits cannot be stressed upon enough. You have to display consistent performance across the sections.

Think positive!

Bottom line: Be alert. In the end, it's not just about your strengths or weaknesses in each section or the number of attempts, but also about your self-esteem and your belief in giving yourself a fighting chance.

Vinayak Kudva, Product Head, IMS Learning Resources Pvt. Ltd.

RELATED NEWS

CAT 2010: improve your scores in the quantitative aptitude testOctober 6, 2010

Think beyond IIMsOctober 19, 2010

CAT losing its popularity? October 19, 2010

For a better CATSeptember 6, 2010

It's a problem CATDecember 14, 2009

The CAT fiascoDecember 7, 2009