From Kya Terminator to CATerminator : Cracking CAT – Alternative Mavericks

This is the first article in a new series called ‘Alternative Mavericks’

So the CAT season is upon us again and once again, we find ourselves rushing from one mock to another mock, from one sectional test to another, in midst of all this – the Hindu editorials and a whole load of formula-revising beckons.

By now, almost everyone has come up with a strategy to bell the CAT, all of us would have that game-plan in mind. Engineering junta would be banking on their strong mathematical abilities to get them cracking ahead while commerce and arts students would refining their reading and verbal prowess to give themselves a  winning shot. All the articles from leading CAT “gurus” on loads of websites advise us to get that “strategy” to attack CAT , to “think” like a manager while taking the exam, to maximize attempts, minimize errors, optimize performance and have solid back up to our plans..

Plans… Here is the funny thing about plans – Mike Tyson once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” – and that is true to most things in life including the CAT exam.  You plan for one thing and something else happens. I am not saying that planning is bad or useless.  My suggestion to you is not to rely too much on your plans and have enough flexibility in your approach to improvise when needed to.

There is another approach to CAT which is often sub-consciously used as an effective replacement for planning – I like to call this approach the Machine approach or the Terminator approach. In this approach, there is no room for feelings, intuitions and gut reactions – you take the exam as a machine. You are a Terminator in that room. You read the question and search your brain’s databank to come up with complete algorithm / method to solve it. You spend a few seconds to come up with an end-to-end method to derive the answer. Now either you will have complete clarity on how to solve and get the answer or you will proceed ahead. In less than 20 seconds, you decide whether you want to invest more resources such as your time in that question or you proceed ahead. Just like a machine, you will not deal in ambiguity. You do not attempt a question further unless you have complete knowledge of how to reach the answer.

There are no feelings involved in this approach. When you start entertaining feelings, you also invite stress and pressure. Suppose, you attempted 12 questions and you found yourself struggling on all the 12 questions, it inevitably leads to stress build-up and you risk destroying your CAT. However, when you are a Terminator, you don’t get affected by it because you have decided not to attempt the 12 questions and are swiftly moving ahead to attempt other questions. You cannot let pressure or stress overwhelm you. You are the Terminator. You terminate questions and move on – no happiness, no sadness, no pressure, no stress.

Once you complete round 1 in this manner, you repeat the process again. This time, you spend a minute and think longer on cracking that question and having complete algorithm in your head. The entire basis lies on the assumption that once you have thought out an approach, your brain’s resources are freed up to execute the approach. Too many times, we force our brains to think of an approach and solve the question at the same time – this is risky because if there is an error, the brain has to devote more time and resources to understand if the error was in approach or in the execution. A safer way is to have the approach clearly defined in your head and then execute it – that way, the silly mistakes are easier to catch and the success rates are higher.

A lot of people say that cracking the CAT is about holding on to your nerves and managing pressure well. These are vague terms because these don’t give us actionable steps for us. When someone advises “don’t get pressured” – we ask “How!!??” – The machine approach works precisely on this problem and conditions your brain to detach all feelings and extra-thinking away. Throw it out. If a thought is not directly related to solving the problem on-hand, it is a deterrent and should be dispelled as soon as possible. This is a tougher approach to adopt at first – but it almost always works.

Some of the world’s most elite organizations use this approach in some of the most life-threatening situations. It cannot get more pressurizing than that – but ask US Army, the Indian Military forces, soldiers, firefighters, fighter pilots, ER doctors and circus acrobats and they will tell you how they are trained to follow orders and not think extra! Their success depends upon executing orders like terminators because if they don’t they risk their lives as well as the lives of others around them. They practice until they do not feel the pressure anymore.

Try out a few mocks this way.. May be it might work out for you, maybe it might lead to more flexible strategy…You never know it until you try it.

Good Luck… Go Kick some CAT…

– Raheel Shah


Raheel did his MBA from a well-known institute of management in western India. He believes that everyone is a genius but if you measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will find the fish to be pretty dumb!!

About Alternative Mavericks

“Alternative Mavericks”, weaves different stories to present unconventional view points which challenge the readers to not accept everything at face value. Raheel has completed his MBA from IIMA. He loves working on new ideas and is constantly coming up with new ways to solve old problems…

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