Attempting a Mock CAT is pretty much like having the courage to put yourself in front of a mirror that shows you the ugliest parts of you in the backdrop of your hearts’ greatest wish for the moment. Sixty times (and I'm not saying that's the ideal number) I put myself out there, and around fifty times I was shattered and almost gave up. You see, there I was studying for hours, covering topics, working out problem after problem but somehow those 180 minutes got the better of me. That in turn made it very difficult for me to analyse what went wrong. My fragile ego would squirm at the thought of witnessing the tragic combination of silly mistakes and desperate guesses interspersed between should-have-beens.
But I am grateful to the one significant moment after every Mock which told me to brave this painful learning, that voice which said, “Remember this feeling, when you step into B-school, because it is going to be absolutely worth it.”
It is only when you are tested that you truly discover who you are. And it is only when you're tested that you discover who you can be. The person you want to be does exist. Somewhere on the other side of hard work, faith, belief and beyond the fear and heartache of what lies ahead.”
So if you're still reading this, at least I got you to consider not give up on Mocks. Three years ago, before I used to analyse a Mock, there were usually a handful of excuses to not analyse a Mock that I would exhaust first: getting distracted by a call in the middle of the test because of which you didn’t take the rest of the mock seriously, getting intimidated by other people's Mock CAT percentiles and scores and wondering if I should attempt CAT next year, in which case I would be more confident because I'd have more time (a big fat lie, in my case), maybe spending time on a topic I've not covered is a better use of time than analysing the test itself… So, if you're looking for excuses to not take out about 60-90 minutes to face the mistakes you've made and analyse the Mock, you'll find a hundred. But I want you to find the one reason to see this through and in my experience of talking to people from most of the Old and new IIMs & other top B-schools, using fear to beat fear works best. All of us were fighting Mocks with a fear motivation at the back of our minds: it was the pressure of parents who were alumni of old IIMs for some, the fear of not being considered worthy enough for a loved one for some, the only shot at a better life for their family for some, the fear of getting back to people/relationships they can't stand for some others. As long as the driving force is clear and strong, you'll get there.
Now, the various categories of people who attempt CAT broadly fall into the following sub-heads: First CAT attempt vs Repeat CAT attempt, Engineer Vs. Non-engineer, Fresher vs Work experience. Each side of the three above categories tend to have a different approach to CAT, but that mostly has minor changes in terms of speed, study time and attitude - all of which are unified by enough practice, usually more Mock CATs.
In terms of when you choose to analyse Mock CATs, there are three schools of thought that I have encountered. The first, you like to give your mind the time to wrap around the problems you faced and the ones you thought you could get around but could not. It's something you think you can figure out while you're doing routine tasks during the day, so give yourself a span of 24 hours before you start analysing. The second is usually the type that can't wait to get to the analysis part because it helps them focus, and settles them enough to help them move to the next course of action faster. These people generally take a snack break and get to the analysis part immediately after the Mock, or at least the same day. The third is the type who prefer to have company, so you don't end up distracted and a healthy spirit of co-opetition pushes you to do better.
Whatever your style, I would suggest that you take as many computerised mocks as possible, because it's the most accurate Mock test, and you'll understand when to use options like “mark for later” and the on-screen calculator. Here are the few things I used to check up on in the analysis dashboard:
1) Time per question: Understand that CAT isn't a game of answering everything, but answering as many questions right as possible in the shortest time possible. That means, you don't take more than 2.5 minutes (at worst) for any QA/VARC question and not more than 3 minutes for a DILR question (sets aspect mentioned in the previous review). So if you are, make a mental note of the number of questions you exceeded the time limit. Over mocks, the aim would be to keep those at a minimum.
2) Accuracy: In the topics covered, what is your accuracy percentage? If you say you've checked off 10 topics well in a particular section, then are you sure you don't need to revisit sure-shot topics? Because, as hard as this is to believe, I covered basics of Numbers and Number systems mere 15 days before CAT, because I ran into a very considerate mentor and promised him that I'd work as hard as it takes for the next 15 days to attempt the “ very easy” to “easy” category of questions (which were approximately 2 every time).
3) Section strength vs Section weakness: Usually, people are stronger at VA over QA, or vice versa. Whichever side you're on, know that you still have to keep in touch with the stronger side occasionally. I say this because I was on the VA over QA side, and I didn’t pay enough attention to VA towards the end, assuming it was in the bag. I now realise that I was attempting questions more out of ego, than out of common sense. So pay even closer attention to even a slight decline in your strengths’ performance, because it's easier to depend on it to carry you through.
4) Topic coverage: Understand that you can and should leave difficult questions, even topics. But, do take guidance from a mentor at how selective you can afford to be, given your current performance. Cross verify it with the dashboard which gives you the topics from which the questions were sourced. This is one of the most difficult dilemmas you'll face, but test out your theory in atleast 5 mocks to see that it works for you. Similarly, don't back down from doing the grunt work in case the trend seems to indicate a particular topic repeating itself.
5) Wrong attempts or wrong solving: If you're making silly mistakes, that's alright the first time. Beyond that, you need to be wary if you're not attempting questions because you didn’t realise they belonged to a topic you have covered. Secondly, notice if you got a question right not because you learned the topic, but because you had the presence of mind to make an educated guess. This orientation may well be what gives you an edge in terms of percentiles.
The bottom line would be to avoid making assumptions on what your capacity is and focusing on having a reasonable benchmark, in terms of your performance and scores. It's good to push yourself to get better with every test and have an expectation of which B-school you're working towards, but the more important thing is to have your priorities right. If opportunities at work or college make you give up a few hours of CAT prep, only you can decide what's a better trade-off.
Approximately 2.5 lakh Indians aspire to get into top B-schools in India and write CAT year after year. With hard & smart work, you will see yourself through. If you have the time and capacity to read this at this very moment, know that you are incredibly fortunate and brave and smart. Never let yourself believe otherwise.
All the very best.