Consider a Marathon runner. There are three levels in a marathon.
- Running a marathon (approx 40 Kms)
- Completing a marathon
- Winning a marathon
Anyone can try to run a marathon. Only a few will have the perseverance and drive to complete a marathon. Tougher yet, only one runner will win the marathon in the fastest time. Now think about it. What if you are not a regular runner? What if your fitness levels are below average? What are the chances that you will be able to complete a marathon which you are running four months from now? Very low, no doubt. And you obviously understand why.
Winning the CAT (Common Aptitude Test) race is much like running the marathon. It is a marathon with more than 2 lakh starters and only about 4000 finishers. Out of the finishers, less than half of them get into the top 6 IIMs of A,B,C, L, I and K. To win this marathon, you need to first develop a marathon mindset.
What is the Marathon Mindset?
Regular Marathoners and Medal winners undergo rigorous physical and mental training in order to bring their A-game on the marathon day. Many follow a 3 Stage Preparation process approximately 4 months ahead of the marathon.
**Stage 1: Base** 30% Endurance - 60% Strength - 10% Speedwork
**Stage 2: Preparation** 60% Endurance - 25% Strength - 15% Speedwork
**Stage 3: Peak** 40% Endurance - 10% Strength - 50% Speedwork
As you can see the focus shifts from strength to endurance to speed through the three stages of preparation in the lead up to the marathon. CAT aspirants can draw a lot of inspiration from this three stage model and apply the same to improve their preparation mindset.
Applying the Marathon Mindset to CAT
Let’s see how you can learn, apply and internalize this marathon mindset for success in CAT. Believe me, it works! In the context of CAT, let’s first define the 3 variables used.
- Conceptual Strength
- Better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses
- Ability to concentrate for continuous amounts of time (focus)
- Mental Strength and Composure
- Solving speed
- Comprehension speed
- Picking the right questions (and skipping the right questions)
Stage 1: Base - 30% Endurance - 60% Strength - 10% Speedwork
Period: 1.5 months
Daily time required: 2 hours
How well you have mastered the basic concepts involving math and English matters a lot when it comes to your final score in CAT. So, you should spend at least 2-3 hours every day for one month in laying a strong foundation of concepts from which you can build on during the subsequent phases of training. You should arrive at a schedule covering all the important topics and question types and stay committed to the schedule. After spending enough time on understanding the concepts, you should also try to solve problems preferably from previous year papers and other mock tests available. The time taken to solve a problem does not matter much. In fact, the more time you spend on the problem, you will arrive at alternate ways of solving the problem. This will, in turn, strengthen your concepts. The focus should be on thinking about how to solve the problem efficiently before putting your pen on paper. In short, you should think before you ink and preferably solve it in your mind. While you will struggle initially, you will start getting better at it after some time. The key is not to give up and stare at the problem as long as required to solve it mentally.
Pro tip: Avoid entertaining friends during this stage. You will not be presenting a good picture when you have a vacant, dreamy look in your eyes and staring at a piece of paper for minutes together with no intentions of writing anything on it.
Stage 2: Preparation - 60% Endurance - 25% Strength - 15% Speedwork
Period: 1 month
Daily time required: 3 hours
Now that you have reasonably mastered the concepts (If you have not mastered the concepts by now, you don’t have enough discipline to survive an IIM MBA!), it is essential that you build your stamina to help you think for long and sustained duration. There is a saying which goes like this: Only 1% of the people in this world think, 9% think that they think and 90% will rather die than thinking. It is actually very hard to start thinking in the first place. Now thinking for 3 hours at a stretch like in CAT becomes even more difficult and it is essential that we practice for that eventuality. This is a phase where you will take 4-5 topics at a time every day and solve as many problems as possible from these topics in a span of 3 hours without taking too many breaks. Keep a track of problems solved and keep trying to better your record. As you keep at it, you will get more clarity on the concepts and also will get a fair idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are at the end of this phase. While it sounds easy when I say not to get distracted for 3 hours at a stretch, it is not actually that easy as your mind will continuously start wandering off and all the long last memories will start reappearing and plaguing you. People say that the 2 seconds before you are going to die, your entire life flashes before you. Lots of students report the same at this stage also.
Pro tip: You should attempt to improve your record not necessarily by solving problems faster but by cutting down on the wanderings of your mind.
Stage 3: Peak - 40% Endurance - 10% Strength - 50% Speedwork
Period: 1.5 months
Daily time required: 3 hours
Now comes the all important phase where you should try and achieve peak form going into the exam. You should break this entire duration into alternate days and follow the suggested routine.
Odd day sequence – 1st, 3rd, 5th etc This should be dedicated to taking mock tests (you will need about 20-25 of them) and trying to consistently clear cutoffs (generally in the range of 50% to 60%. Target 60% score and you are safe). There are a few rules which you should follow while taking these mock tests.
- Try to attempt only 50% of the questions in the first round. Obviously, you need to choose the easiest 50% of the entire paper. The easiness quotient will depend on the nature of the question and your strengths.
- Answer the question only if you have solved it and don’t make any wild guesses. You will be tempted to make a wild guess especially when you have spent a lot of time on a question. You should, at all costs, resist that temptation.
- If you have eliminated other answer choices and narrowed down to 2 choices, then you are allowed to answer the question but mark it separately during the solving session itself. Human mind is weird. We always try to take credit for correct answers and blame it on luck for wrong answers. So, it makes sense to mark the gambles during the test itself when you don’t know the correct answer.
- Invest more time on how to solve the problem than solving itself as it will enable you to find better methods of solving the problems.
- Once you are done with your first round of questions, then go for the second round where you more or less follow the same principles of the first round.
Even day sequence – 2nd, 4th, 6th etc
This is when you analyse the paper which you had given in the previous day and understand how to improve your score. The score which you will calculate will have 2 parts. One is your actual score based on your legitimate attempts (where you solved the problem and were sure about the answer) and the other part is your jackpot score which is how much you scored on lucky guesses (while it will probably be in your favor, probability is a vanity term and you don’t want to bet your life on it. Do you?). The idea is to get your score to the range of 50% in each section using legitimate attempts only and use lucky guesses only as a score booster. If you are consistently scoring negative marks in lucky guesses, then you are truly an unlucky person and should stop guessing. Tabulate all your scores in these mock tests, analyse them and keep improving your scores over that period. Maintain error logs where you capture all the errors you were making in the questions which you thought you had it in your bag. Try to avoid them methodically and that will, in turn, boost your scores. If you follow these phases religiously, you would have given yourself your best chance to crack the CAT.
Now go forth and get started with Stage 1. Track your progress and stay disciplined through the ups and downs. Don’t get carried away with spurts of good performance. And don’t lose heart from spells of poor performance either. The goal is progressing through the stages and what lies after the stage 3.
About the Author:
Venkat Raghulan is a 99.99 percentiler and an alumnus of IIM Kozhikode. He is the Founder Director of Focus Academy for Career Enhancement, India’s largest employability focused skill-development company. He has a phenomenal track record (> 90% conversion rate) in mentoring CAT aspirants and helping them make their IIM dreams a reality. Venkat, along with a team of CAT experts and IIM grads, has also launched a comprehensive affordable online course to help students crack the CAT 2016 – IIM Fast Track: CAT Preparation