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If CAT springs a surprise

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GAME PLAN: Candidates have to organise their wits during the exams.
GAME PLAN: Candidates have to organise their wits during the exams.

DEEPA KURUP

Work on your basics and analyse your work patterns

It is that time of the year when students across disciplines will put their best foot forward in an attempt to bell the CAT (Common Aptitude Test-2008). While management seat aspirants, who have been sweating it out over the year, will now focus on sharpening their skills, the stray MBA aspirant will sit down to some last-minute cramming.

Whether the global financial crisis will affect MBA placements is yet to be seen. However, with an additional 50,000 applicants to CAT-2008 and nearly 40 colleges adding their names to the list of colleges that decide admissions on CAT scores, the “management dream” does not seem to be losing it sheen — at least not for these elite institutions.

Besides being the sole benchmark for clearing the screening round for admission into the seven Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Indore, Kozhikode, Lucknow and Shillong, this exam is being used as an additional admission criterion for many other institutes, even unofficially.

Time is certainly running out for CAT applicants. With less than three weeks remaining for D-day (CAT-2008 will be held on November 16), The Hindu EducationPlus spoke to experts to compile a list of tips and strategies to help face the exam.

CAT 2008 may spring up some last-minute surprises. Experts advice that the first thing would be to get your nerves in place, and the best way to do this is by solving different papers. In 2006, the CAT pattern was changed to reduce the number of questions from 90 to 75. Doing away with three sections of 30 questions each, the new pattern had three sections of 25 questions each. The differential marking system for the questions followed for the CAT 2004 and 2005 was also given up last year.

Jaideep Chaudhary of Triumphant Institute of Management Education (TIME) points out that the only thing constant about this exam is change. “If I were to go on a limb and make a prediction, I would say that there is a good chance the number of questions in different sections will change this year. The questions have come down from 180 to 75 over the past years. This is likely to change,” he explained. The trick is to be open to any surprise.

Students are also worried that from next year the pattern may change entirely, considering the CAT is slated to go online. “This is an irrational fear. Students need not worry and complicate matters for themselves,” Mr. Chaudhary reiterated.

Combinations

His tip to students is to practice different tests and try different combinations (in terms of the sequence of sections attempted). “In the next three weeks you need to start decelerating a bit. The level of difficulty of this exam has grown so much that it is impossible to start from scratch. Just work on your basics and analyse your work patterns,” he explains. “Spend 45 minutes on each section…and use the remaining 15 minutes to clear out what is remaining,” he added

In the final stages, one must study smart and not hard. If you are aiming for the top-most institutes, remember that there are sectional cut-offs. However, experts advice last-minute crammers to concentrate on their strong points. “You can maximise your score (even at the cost of performing inadequately in other sections). Remember, the top-most colleges insist on sectional cut-offs. But the smaller colleges tend to be more concerned with the aggregate scores,” Mr. Gopinath said. For those trying for any of the IIMs, this strategy is not an option. Experts recommend that solving a paper a day will help keep (at least) anxiety away. This helps you understand your patterns, strengths and weakness in every section. The three sections, that a CAT question paper is traditionally divided into, test a variety of skills. Experts provide pointers to help you tackle each section individually, understand the challenges and prioritise.

Problem solving (or quantitative analysis): This section tests your numerical ability. General tips for this section include reducing dependence on purely formulaic methods, thinking on your feet, identifying the tough and easy questions (not spending too much time on any one question). While there may not be enough time to add to your skill-sets, this is the time to analyse. “The weightage is never constant for different types of questions. So, you cannot have a ‘blind spot’ on any one type you have been perfecting till now, this is the time to pick up at least some critical mass in your weaker section,” says G. Gopinath, centre head of IMS Learning Centre, Mysore.

Verbal ability: This section primarily tests your grammar, vocabulary and comprehension skills. The basic skill-sets required would be the ability to read, understand and interpret. However, this is a cause of worry for several students. Incomplete reading of comprehension paragraphs and slow reading skills are the most common problems, and several students tend to pick up negative marks in this section.

In reading-related questions, the options may be very close. “Experts may not agree on the right answer in this section, because answers are often too close. So, you need to identify where you are going wrong here and work on that,” says Mr. Gopinath.

Data interpretation and logical reasoning: Data interpretation rides heavily on arithmetic or numerical skills. In scraping together data from a chart, graph or table, it is easy to unknowingly pick up your data from the wrong graph, bar or line. This results in maximum mistakes in this section. Logical reasoning is time-consuming. Experts say that when the bell rings, it is not advisable to look at logical reasoning or reading comprehension. “Both are easy to solve, but it is equally easy to go wrong here if your mind is cluttered,” says Mr. Gopinath.


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