When I first started preparing for various B-school entrance exams around April 2020, I was fairly familiar with the CAT exam pattern. I had taken the exam a couple of times before, and I knew the three sections that it tested candidates on. However, this was the first time I had decided to write XAT as well. And it takes just one look at the exam pattern to realize that this paper is unlike any other B-school entrance exam you will write.
Whereas CAT has three sections namely Verbal Ability, Logical Reasoning & Data Interpretation, and Quantitative Ability, XAT has four sections out of which two are, to an extent, similar to CAT. XAT tests verbal & logical reasoning skills, and quantitative & data interpretation skills in section 1 (Verbal and Logical Ability) and section 3 (Quantitative Ability) respectively.
The point where things get different and (for many people) difficult, is section 2 of XAT called the Decision Making (DM) section. I remember just taking one look at the section and thinking to myself that it’s going to be an easy ride. A cup of tea. A piece of cake. And boy, was I wrong.
After writing the CAT 2020, I had around a month to prepare for XAT. While most of the preparation had already been taken care of while preparing for CAT, I devoted a major chunk of my time to the DM section. As I mentioned above, I believed that it would be a pretty straightforward process. And so I jumped in. Within 2 days, I was disappointed, disgruntled, frustrated, annoyed, and whatnot. It got to the point where I was seriously considering skipping the XAT altogether. I had started by solving the DM section of previous XAT papers and I could barely get a couple of questions correct. To make things worse, I was not able to figure out why the options that I chose were wrong.
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Many people I know consider the DM section to be a highly subjective section. I agree with that viewpoint, albeit to only a limited extent. Decision Making is subjective, in the sense that there are no predetermined sets of formulae or concepts that you can directly apply to get to the correct answer. Things here are not as black and white as in the other sections. However, that is where the beauty of the section lies.
The beauty of the DM section is that it tests the candidates not merely on their ability to take the correct decision. What the XAT exam wants to know is whether you have a thinking process working in the back of your brain through which you can envisage the repercussions and consequences of various options given in a problem set and whether you have a moral compass that helps you in making out which consequences out of those are simply unacceptable.
XLRI as an institute puts a lot of premium on ethics, and it is sometimes evident in the DM section as well. Consider this for example: you are given a problem where your corporation is reeling under heavy losses. You are stuck between two close choices, and both would help in turning the ship around. However, one of those options leads to negative social or environmental impact in the long run. Would that be the correct decision? You guessed it – that choice is, in all likelihood, not the correct option.
In many questions, there would be two decisions out of four that would be extreme and hence one can easily eliminate them both. Now the remaining two choices come agonizingly close to being the correct answer. It might as well happen that at first glance you might not even be able to make out the difference between the two options. On a closer look, you’ll realize the presence (or absence) of a few extra words. And those extra words make or break the option.
Now, back to where I stood – on the brink of giving up and skipping the XAT exam. But I had not come this far in my journey only to abandon it the moment things got hard. So I decided to approach the section with a bit more patience. First of all, I made peace with the fact that it is, in all likelihood, one of the trickiest sections of the XAT exam. Secondly, I decided to approach the section with the hard work it deserved.
My strategy from that point on: There are numerous websites and YouTube channels that systematically solve the DM questions of the previous XAT papers and explain the rationale behind each option. So for every set and every question that I attempted, I made sure to learn about 1) why a particular option was correct and 2) why the other options were NOT correct. The second part is as important as the first part here, if not more so. This would be my first piece of advice. This process slowly but steadily wires your brain to think the way it should while attempting the DM section. It helps you in identifying the red flags in the wrong options and the trapdoors in the almost correct options.
My second advice would be to practice and solve as many problem sets as you can get your hands on. Previous XAT papers are a fantastic place to start, but make sure you solve dedicated DM mock tests that are offered by various coaching institutes. The DM Mock series that I attempted was offered by TIME. Be assured that no matter how many questions you solve, you are never going to encounter the same set in the actual XAT exam. But solving different types of sets helps you in broadening your horizons and also helps your brain to think in different directions and consider different possibilities. This will undoubtedly give you much-needed confidence when you sit for XAT.
Started from the bottom, now we’re here: I remember when I attempted the first DM mock test, I scored a meagre 44 percentile (one can imagine why I wanted to give up). The strategy that I have mentioned above not only helped my brain in thinking in the right direction but also boosted my confidence as I saw an ever-increasing trend in my percentiles from that point on. And finally came XAT 2021 and I approached the DM section with a calm mind. Result: I managed to score 99.2 percentile in the DM section of XAT 2021, the section that had almost led me to skip the exam altogether.