There has been plenty of posts on individual CAT journeys and most of them were quite inspiring. Every time I thought of writing my journey, I realized that it was rather quite boring in nature without much element of drama in it. After getting the result of CAT 2019, I wanted to somehow help the upcoming aspirants in my capacity. Most of the articles that I found during my preparation only talked about the preparation and none of them mentioned how to build the exam-taking strategy. This is one area in which I feel I can help the aspirants and therefore this is my small effort in helping the upcoming students and also motivating them in my little capacity.
In this post, I would like to highlight the key strategies that one needs to adopt to ace the CAT. I have secured a 99.58 percentile in CAT 2019 and I would like to share with the readers what strategies I used to get to the same. This is going to be one long article but I have tried to write a comprehensive guide on how to clear this exam and this will hopefully be of some help to the students.
I come from a non-engineering background, therefore I was quite out-of-touch with Quants for more than 4 years. The strategies I used may be unique to my case, but I believe it will be helpful to the test takers of the upcoming years. So here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clear the CAT!
STEP 1: Know where you stand
I think this is one of the most crucial steps in which a lot of people get it wrong. I have seen a lot of people shying away from taking a mock test in the initial days out of fear. Well, I believe if you have just started out with your preparation, the first major step you need to do is to take a mock test to assess your current situation.
For the initial preparation, I would suggest you go through some free online material and past years’ papers to get a hang of the type of questions. Secondly, I would recommend you to subscribe the IMS online test series. Now let’s say you have 5-6 months till the test day, it is imperative that you take a mock test within a week or two from the day you start preparing.
How will it help you? Let’s say you secure a percentile in the late 80s or the early 90s, you will also know how you have fared in the different sections. The result will tell you on which areas you need to work on, and also give you a rough idea of where you stand among the test takers.
STEP 2: Know your sections
Well, though the CAT is divided into three sections, I consider it to be a 5 sections’ test. The sections being VA, RC, DI, LR, and QA. Treating CAT as a 3 section exam will be quite counterproductive to you and not let you analyze how you perform in the sub-sections.
Always treat CAT as a 5-section exam, unless they change the pattern that is. Your performance in VA and RC may have quite low correlation, the same goes with DI and LR. Some of my friends were quite good in LR but when it came to DI, they failed to perform in the caselets and therefore their performance in the whole test came down.
Do not bank on just RC or just LR or DI to perform well in the individual 3 sections. To do well in CAT you need to give equal importance to each of these 5 sections. When I had started out, I didn’t give much importance to VA, I thought my performance in the VARC section depended on how I performed in the RCs.
Well, I was not just wrong, I also had adopted the incorrect strategy in the process, I used to dedicate 50 out of the 60 minutes to RC and then solved the VA questions. Let’s look at the weightage of each subsection in VARC. There are 24 RC questions and 10 VA questions, so VA has nearly a one-third weightage.
Suppose you get 20 questions in RC right and 6 in VA, you easily go north of the 75 marks which will be a 99 percentile in VARC in any CAT paper. The same goes for DILR. My suggestion to you is to give equal importance to each of the 5 sections and analyze the performance in all these sections throughout the process of your preparation.
STEP 3: Choose the right preparation material
It is absolutely important to choose the right preparation material and to stick to it till the end of your preparation. In this step, I will guide you on how to choose the right material for your preparation. Let’s start with RCs.
To begin with, I would say that your reading habit plays a crucial role in the preparation, therefore what you read is also part of your preparation material. I would suggest you subscribe to the New York Times online newspaper. Apart from the NYT, I would also suggest you read from the Guardian.
An average RC in CAT is generally around 500 words, which is approximately 5 paragraphs. Similarly, you need to read at least 5 paragraphs of a news article if not more. I would also suggest to read from aeon.com, and read from a diverse set of themes. You need to develop a habit of cold reading, which I believe will also help you in the long run. Now coming to solving RCs, I would first suggest you complete all the previous years’ CAT papers before touching the coaching institute’s material.
Why I say so is because the material served by the coaching institutes, specifically for the RCs are not close to what you get in the actual exam, therefore you need to get used to solving RCs from actual CAT papers.
As you need to take close to 70 mock tests to clear the CAT, which is close to 350 RCs, I believe that will be enough for your RC preparation, you don’t need to look elsewhere. The mock tests along with reading the news articles should just be right for your RC preparation.
For DILR, I’d recommend solving the sets from the Mock tests. Generally out of the 8 sets that you get in a test, you’ll only be able to solve 3-5 sets in the first few days. Chances are, people won’t go back and look at how to solve the other 3-5 sets of that test.
It is very important to solve each and every set. The more sets you solve, the better equipped you will be for the D-Day. Let’s say you take a mock test every 3 days, apart from the test day, use the other 2 days to solve the remaining 3-5 sets, 2 sets each day and you will be well prepared for the LR and DI sections.
We have already used a bottom-up approach for the first two sections and it will be the same for the Quants section as well. You can roughly divide the quants syllabus into 5 parts: i) Number System, ii) Arithmetic, iii) Algebra, iv) Geometry and v) Modern Math.
Roughly you get around 4-6 questions from each of these topics. For a 99+ percentile in CAT, you need to solve at least 30 sums a day without fail, which is equivalent to 4000 sums in the whole preparation process.
Solving 70 mock tests will expose you to let’s say around 2500 of them. I’d suggest you solve the rest 1500 sums from your coaching institute’s material. I personally liked Arun Sharma’s book. If you are following his book, it is imperative that you solve L1 and L2 questions from every chapter.
STEP 4: Choose the right Mock test series
The mock tests are supposed to be a simulation of the final test, in terms of the test-taking experience and also the level of difficulty. Therefore, choosing the right Mock test series will play a crucial role in your preparation.
IMS, CL, and Time are undoubtedly the most popular test series available. But as a student, you will face a dilemma as to where to put your money on. I had subscribed to all three of them and from my experience, IMS mocks were the closest to the final test.
If you’re choosing all three, then good for you, if you’re choosing 2 I’d recommend you to choose IMS along with Time/CL (IMS being a must).
I feel that the Time test series is a bit tougher than the actual CAT, and some of them might be unrealistically tough to demotivate you.
IMS mock tests are mostly consistent in their difficulty, not varying too much over the course of the season. Though I am not a huge fan of the CL mock series, I believe CL provides the best analysis after the test.
Why I say so is because, I remember in the last few days, the CL interface allowed me to revisit questions from each subsection which I had not attempted or done wrong in the previous mock tests.
This is a feature that is not available in any other test series as of now. Not many people know about this feature, but it played a crucial role for me in the last few days.
Now coming to the frequency of test-taking, I believe any person clearing CAT would suggest taking above 60 tests in the whole season.
That means, on average you need to take a test every 3 days without fail. Some weeks you may go for every alternate day (during August and September), and some weeks like in October and November you may reduce the frequency to once or twice a week.
STEP 5: Persevere and be disciplined
Now coming to the hardest step, which is all about working smart and being disciplined. As a thumb rule, I can say you need to practice 30 QA, 1LR, 1DI, 2 RC, 2 VA questions every day. That is roughly 2 hours of preparation every day.
If you miss out on 10 questions a day you miss out on 70 questions a week and ultimately lose out solving more than 1000 questions in the whole season. Therefore, be disciplined, if you really want to clear the CAT there’s only one recipe to success, just solve the questions. Prioritize your task for the day over other engagements.
If you miss out on solving a few, make sure you solve them along with the questions kept for the next day. Maintain an excel sheet, note down how many questions you are solving for each subsection every day.
Your excel sheet will reflect how you will ultimately perform on the final day. Be motivated and stay healthy. These days are going to be the toughest you will face in a long time. Make them worth it. Give it all.
After taking a test, make sure you spend adequate time in the analysis. Every question of a mock test is important. Do make it a habit to know how to solve the questions that you couldn’t solve in the previous test. Keep a track of your percentile over the mock tests.
If you reach a 95+ in your mocks, try to reach a 99. If you reach a 99, try to maintain that position for the rest of the season. Consistency is the key to success, and it is no different when it comes to the CAT.
STEP 6: Develop the exam taking strategy
In the last few days of your preparation, after working hard for the entire season, it will be time for you to develop the exam taking strategy for the final day. I am not talking about which questions to attempt first or the rough strategy that you will have used in your mocks.
I am talking about detailing out every minute of your 3 hours’ exam. I will be sharing my strategy below and hopefully, you can come with your own strategy. Mind you, the strategy you select will be unique to your own preparation and therefore, don’t blindly adopt exam strategies used by others.
The exam strategy that I used:
- Attempt RC questions first. Take the first minute, exactly 1 minute in gauging the difficulty of each RC.
- Note the order of difficulty of the RCs which roughly will be the order that you will be following to solve the sets. Write down the starting question of each set as a reference to it while noting the order down.
- Spend 8-10 minutes for each RC, 2-3 minutes to read, and 6-7 minutes to solve. If you cross the 10-minute mark for a set, move on to the next set. (Allow a maximum of 1 minute buffer time)
- Be done with the RC sets by 45 minutes. Move on to VA.
- For VA use the first 3 minutes to order the difficulty of each question. Use the next 12-13 minutes in solving 6-7 VA questions.
Note: The VARC section is all about managing your time. Not all sets will be easy, some RCs will be difficult to read, some easy to read but with difficult questions. The key to attempting this section is not to waste unnecessary time in questions that you cannot solve. Move on to the next questions. I will recommend you to attempt 28 questions from this section, 22 from RC and 6 from VA.
- Use the first 2 minutes to find the easiest LR set in the whole section. Solve it within 8-10 minutes.
- Use the next 1-2 minutes to find the next easiest set (LR or DI or combination) and continue the same process.
Note: The LRDI section is all about picking the right sets to solve. Do not pick a set, the type of which you haven’t come across previously. As a thumb rule, make sure to solve a set within 15 minutes and try and reduce it to 10-12 minutes. For a 99 percentile in LRDI, you need to be solving 4-6 sets on the final day.
- Read 3 questions and solve the easiest question irrespective of the topic. Read the next 3 questions and continue the same process until you have come to the end. This way you solve around 11 easiest questions in the first 20 minutes (Assuming you spend 1.5 to 2 minutes for the easy questions). If you don’t find an easy question, skip to the next set of 3 questions.
- Call it Round 1. In this way, you will have gauged the difficulty of the paper within the first 20 minutes and you can set a target of 22/24/26 questions for the entire paper depending on the difficulty.
- In round 2, follow the same process and solve the easiest out of the 3 sets of questions. In this way, you will solve another 10 in the next 30 minutes (round 2 being of greater difficulty and assuming you spend 2.5 to 3 minutes for each question)
- Depending on the difficulty you will have solved 18-23 questions within 50 minutes. Spend the last 10-12 minutes in solving the moderate to difficulty level questions.
Note: The key to attempt this section is to scan the whole section as quickly as possible. The technique I used not only will let you scan through the 34 questions in the first 20 minutes, but will also let you solve the easiest of the lot in that time as well. You will need to save as much time as possible throughout the whole test.
A final message…
Scoring a 99 plus in CAT is no guarantee to getting a seat in a premier B-school. It is just one of the prerequisites. I would suggest that before you start with your preparation, please aim for a college. The profile that you have may not suit all colleges and you may be disappointed after not getting a call from them. Therefore, do look for the criteria set by each college and target 4-5 colleges accordingly. The CAT journey will be one of the most exciting journeys in your life and the feeling you get when you see a 99 plus in your scorecard is all worth fighting for. Make sure you give your best effort and trust me you won’t be disappointed. Be diligent and disciplined in your efforts, happy hustling!
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