With CAT 2020 done and dusted, a lot of you will be looking to redeem yourself or increase your probability of making it to a top business school by attempting XAT 2021. Make no mistake - this exam is no breeze. Some consider the XAT exam to be even tougher than CAT, given the highly complex Decision Making section. However, the one key to cracking an exam like XAT is to have a strategy to prepare for and attempt the exam. With just a few weeks left to the exam, here are some tried and tested strategies adopted by XAT toppers, a lot of whom made it to XLRI Jamshedpur!
Note - The following tips have been compiled from the archives of InsideIIM. The aim of this compilation is to expose you to different but tried and tested strategies that actually worked for these MBA students/alumni during the D-day, so that you can also incorporate and test these strategies in your own preparation. While there may be some repetition in the tips shared, every strategy has a unique takeaway!
(XAT 2020, 99.70%ile) "Taking 3-4 Mocks Helped Me Decide My Best Strategy For The D-Day"
My preparation was mostly centered around mocks and their analysis. Since this was my second attempt, I didn't want to repeat my preparation strategy like last year. I was already done with a lot of portion of the course and hence I decided to use that time for taking as many mocks as I could and analysing them. What turned out to be a game changer for me is that in every mock that I took, I learnt a new concept which really helped me on the day of XAT.
According to me, the most important aspect of any student's preparation is how he/she deals with the highs and lows of the journey. You are bound to face that. You will score seemingly low or outrageously high in those mocks but what's necessary is to keep focusing on the process and trying to learn something new or adapt to something different regularly. Also staying calm and composed helps a lot. From my past experience, I can say that freaking out unnecessarily on the D-day certainly doesn't help.
My final advice would be try to enjoy the journey and the process. You will definitely learn a lot from it if you are sincere and passionate at every step of your preparation path. Rest will be taken care on it's own. More importantly, don't forget why you are here and why do you want to do an MBA. Exams like CAT/XAT are just a part of your bigger journey!
(XAT 2020, 99.93%ile) "XAT Is A Management Aptitude Test, So You'll Be Tested On Skills That Go With It"
There are multiple areas your preparation should encompass, besides the knowledge of the material and subjects. It is a test for management aptitude, so you will be tested on skills that go with it. The most important of which are as follows:
1. Pressure Handling: As future managers, you would be required to work in challenging situations and in order to bring out the best in your team, you will need to be able to think on your feet and remain calm in every situation. So, you will be tested on this. Be it a change in the pattern of questions, topics or difficulty levels. You can only handle such situations if you have spent ample time with different scenarios in mock tests. So, do not get demotivated if a particular test throws you off. Instead, see what you could have thought and done, instead of panicking in the paper.
2. Strategy: Effective Planning is the bread and butter of management. After 3-4 serious mocks, you will be able to gauge your comfort levels in different sections and questions, and eventually come up with a strategy of your own. However, remember that nothing is set in stone. You might have an overhaul of the pattern in the examination, which turns out quite different from your mocks. So, a better way would be to have a tested holistic strategy ready but also judge each question individually. It may happen that a mixtures question is extremely lengthy and difficult but a probability question is not. So, don’t assume anything beforehand or play favourites.
3. Time Management: The importance of this cannot be overstated. If you are unable to manage your own time, you are probably not going to be managing much else. So, break down your hours into minutes per question with a correction point every 10 minutes or so. It not only ensures that you are able to read through all questions, but also helps you stay calm and not get carried away with a question and then panic. The paper will have a mix of easy, moderate and difficult questions. It is your job to make sure you attempt all easy and most of moderate questions first. And then, if the time permits go for remaining moderate and difficult ones selectively. Also, study in batches of 3 hours, sitting in one place, to build concentration and stamina for the examination day.
Remember - you are only limited by your own mind. Before starting the journey, ask yourself the why. If you have a compelling purpose, you will not need any external motivation. Weigh out all your concerns about marks etc. before starting the journey. One thing I would like to clear here is that people say if you have a gap year, it will go against you. This is a misconception. If you have a valid reason for the gap, tell them honestly. Be honest and proud of your story. I have a 5-year gap due to civils. I graduated in 2015. Professional gaps are never a cause of worry. Academic gaps in completing graduation degree etc., however are. This was told to me by one of my interview panels.
Once, you have decided to go for it, DON’T LOOK BACK! Have faith and keep moving forward!
(XAT 2020, 99.99%ile) "In Hindsight, I've Realized That It Is Normal To Have Bad Mocks. Everyone Does!"
You need to work on skills which do not translate to immediate visible improvements. The single best way to increase verbal scores is to read - a lot and from a variety of domains. This is a tough habit to inculcate but will lead to the largest benefits. Similarly, learn to calculate faster. It is not always apparent how much it helps but it does save you a few precious seconds. Every question.
Take mocks. Analyze them. Repeat. Be consistent in this. Be consistent in general. Work on your prep every single day (even if it is as little as 30 mins some days). Work on your test taking strategy. This is unique for everyone. Experiment till you find what fits you best and then make a conscious effort to stick to it. You will hit low points. I scored abysmally in 3 mocks continuously. This led to me comparing my performance to others and sinking deeper into self doubt. In hindsight, I've realized that it is normal to have bad mocks. Everyone does!
Finally, don't think about the exam or the score you need to get into your dream college. Your aim is to score as high as you can. Do the small things right every single day. The results will eventually accumulate. The whole will become greater than the sum of the parts!
(XAT 2018, 98.37%ile) "Don't Let Complacency Take Over Once You Have Identified Your Strengths"
I identified my strength and weakness and tried to bridge the gap between the two by working more on the latter and reinforcing the former.
- Quantitative Ability: This was not my strong area and I concentrated on solving different types of problems and trying to arrive at optimal ways to reach the same solution. If I couldn’t solve a relatively easier question, I went back to check which step of the thinking process I erred in and implemented it the next time. Think of it as a feedback loop.
- Decision Making: This was not my weakness and solving past years’ questions helped immensely in trying to understand what the test expects from an aspirant. Comprehending the idea behind each question is key to ace this section.
- Verbal and Logical Ability: XAT doesn’t shy away from giving poems to comprehend, and I’d suggest not restricting oneself to limited types of reading materials. Though editorials of leading newspapers help, simultaneous speed and understanding is imperative. Maximizing the chances of getting answers right without having to re-read the passages for each question was my plan for this section.
Overall, I spent more time on QA and DM and ended each day’s preparation with quality time for V&LA to be consistent and to not lose touch. Reading the newspaper every day and checking out leading news sites helped me with GK.
The most important aspect of preparation is not letting complacency take over once you have identified your strengths. Reinforcing your easy areas can help in solving those questions faster. One should consistently prepare every day no matter how less (instead of nothing at all). I was more likely to spend well above 10 minutes even if my goal was just 10 minutes, once I got started with it.
Tracking how far one has come along compared to when they started should be a motivating factor to keep the process going. Appreciating the improvement and not beating oneself up over mistakes can help in maintaining one’s cool. By recognizing that preparation is incremental in nature and by setting small short-term goals like excelling in that one weak area, the long-term goal of scoring well in XAT becomes more and more achievable!
(XAT 2018, 99.26%ile) "XAT Allows Us To Move Between Sections; It Is Important To Use This To Our Advantage"
I started my last-minute prep for XAT about two and half weeks after CAT, in which I scored 95%ile. My focus was on XAT specific 3 mocks and analysis of previously given mock. I solved 4-5 decision making sets, 5-6 Verbal and 4-6 quant sets from the unsolved/ wrongly solved questions, till the end of December.
For GK and last-minute review, I had maintained a small diary which I used read through like a novel, it had GK points and quant formulas and LR tricks. This is the only thing I read through before the exam.
The exam day strategy begins with keeping calm and composed. Your mind should be relaxed before entering the exam hall. In terms of question selection and time management, I followed the strategy of dividing the time beforehand. Since XAT allows us to move between sections throughout the exam, it is important to use this to our advantage. I began my paper by solving my key strength areas first and then moved to the difficult parts. At the first reading, I solved every question I found simple and then began skimming through the rest of the questions again. I had decided beforehand to review my progress after every 45 mins, and to check the number of questions remaining in the section. The idea was to maximise the questions in verbal and DM as those are my strengths and minimise guesses in the quant section.
The most important aspect of preparation according to me is PERSISTENCE with a HEALTHY MIND. It is imperative that at no point you should feel like giving up, the moment this happens you be able to revive the reasons you decided on giving the entrances in the first place. You should try to be mentally relaxed as well, because most problems occur as a result of a panicked mindset while taking a mock test. It should be given in the same manner as you would give your final exam.
(XAT 2018, 99.64%ile) "Throughout My Preparation, I Consistently Spent More Time Analysing The Mock Tests"
According to me, the most important aspect of preparation is to know your strengths and weaknesses. Once you spot these, you can accordingly devote time to improve on your weaknesses and build on your strengths. Throughout my preparation, I consistently spent more time analysing the mock tests; identifying the topics where I consistently faltered or did silly mistakes or improved my performance. Apart from this, I labelled questions while solving them as questions/type to revise. This saves a lot of time during the final stretch of the preparation.
I started taking mock tests ~3 months before CAT. The frequency of tests increased with CAT and XAT approaching. I started off with ~2 tests per week in the first month, increased to ~3 tests in the second and first half of the third month. In the final two weeks, I took ~ 4 tests and focused on revising the concepts and important questions.
While analysing, I bifurcated all the questions into weak areas, silly mistakes, improvements observed and consistent scoring. This helped me to keep a track of where I am going wrong or where I have been improving. Following this structure throughout my preparation helped me channelize my energy and efficiently analyse my performance in the limited time frame.
On the day of the exam, I took it like any other mock test to maintain my composure. I started with my strong area, English and tried to attempt as many questions as possible. I aimed at maximizing my attempts in English. (Lower attempts and lower accuracy never quite worked out of me). After English, I moved on to the Decision-Making section which was a tricky part for me. I believed solving Decision Making section at the end might lead to solving questions in haste and hence, lower accuracy. I took on a conservative approach and attempted questions I was fairly sure about. Then I moved onto Quant, my next stronger section and tried to balance attempt with accuracy in this one. My overall aim was to maximize scores in English, score above the cut off in DM, and balance the attempts/accuracy via Quant.
My sole message for XAT test-takers would be a famous quote from Nelson Mandela which goes like “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” I am here and you can be too. Believe in yourself, have faith in your abilities and never give up!
(XAT 2018, 99.73%ile) "Do Not Become Emotional And Stick To One Question"
XAT is conducted far late in January when most of the students have either stopped practicing and are overconfident or disheartened. One needs to understand that your previous performance in CAT – good or bad – is not going to affect your XAT score. In this last one month to XAT, one needs to prepare the strategy in order to attempt the question paper. I gave a huge number of mocks that helped me decide which section to attempt first, how to move ahead in the question paper, prioritize among stronger and weaker areas. This is the phase where one becomes mentally prepared.
I started taking mocks before 4 months of the exam, with a gap of 2 weeks. Eventually, I reduced the gap slowly and at the end a mock test every day. I maintained an excel sheet with the name of all the chapters, where after giving the test I would enter the number of question appeared from a particular section in the paper, number of questions I attempted and number of question I got correct. This gave 2 parameters, my overall speed to attempt the paper and accuracy. Then I would look at the question I got incorrect and mark whether it was because of lack of concept or an under pressure mistake. At last, I would look at the attempted questions and try to solve them.
My exam day strategy was to play on my strengths and carry my weakness along. Your strength is going to fetch you marks. Decision Making and QA was my strength, so I allocated them 1 hour each and remaining 50 minutes to VA. When you are attempting your strength section, look for the easiest questions in the first round and mark the question which would require some time to solve it. Go for those questions in the second round. Do not become emotional and stick to one question, it is quite possible that the first few questions would be difficult you would not be able to answer them but do not lose confidence. While attempting your weaker section, there is no requirement the of second round, read the question thoroughly and try to mark only if you feel confident enough. Accuracy will play a huge role in the weaker section as the number of attempts would be lesser.
(XAT 2016, 98.69%ile) "Don’t Overthink During Or Before The Examination & Be Clear With Basic Concepts"
On the exam day, start from your strongest section. If you think you are good at the quantitative ability section, then start with it and try to solve maximum questions in an hour. The questions in the Quantitative section might be moderately tough as they are conceptual in nature. Do not panic if you see a tough question. Carry on with other questions rather than wasting time on a particular question if you are not able to solve it.
After an hour or less, shift to Decision Making section. Remember, it is the trickiest section in XAT. The questions are more in real life scenario and the best way to solve these type of question is to keep yourself in the shoes of the person being referred to in the question as you decide the best possible alternative. Answer the question in such a way that you are the most virtuous person on earth. But keep one thing in mind “one’s life come first” which means you should not select the option which causes harm to the person on whom the decision is being made.
Moving on to Verbal and Reading Comprehension section, give enough time to read the passage. 50% of the questions will be directly from the Reading Comprehension. The level of difficulty will be quite high as compared to CAT. Analogy, verbal reasoning, contextual understanding will be of high importance.
Changing a perspective towards the number of non-attempted questions and negative marking, I think that this framework is only used to put aspirants under pressure. If you are not sure about the answer do not attempt it as it’s better to lose 0.05 marks rather than 0.25 marks. Lastly, have a good sleep before the examination, don’t overthink during or before the examination and be clear with basic concepts.
(XAT 2015, 99.82%ile) "Strategy Will Have To Be Made & Modified While You Are Attempting The Paper"
1. Strategy regarding number of attempts will be heavily dependent on your strong sections, difficulty of each section and new negative marking rules (if any). Strategy will have to be made and modified while you are attempting the paper.
2. Start off with your strongest section to build momentum and gain confidence. Do not attempt any section from start to finish. In the first round the motive is to scan the entire paper.
3. Basic rule - scan each page and keep attempting the easiest questions to finish round 1 of attempts (all sections) quickly. Then decide the upcoming strategy for round two. Scan means just that - just get a broad look at the question and stop only at easy ones.
Illustration - you have read the entire paper in a quick glance. You have attempted the easiest 18 questions (of all sections combined) in the first 33 minutes. You have also marked for review:
- questions you are familiar with due to practice.
- questions which seem short and simple.
- questions which are from your strong topics.
Now you have more amount of time left per question. More importantly, now you also know that which section is tough, easy and moderate. So you can devote time accordingly to each section. This is much better than solving entire section from start to finish. In round 2, do the marked for review questions.
Finally, in the time remaining, attempt the questions which seem doable according to the time left.
4. At all times maintain an accuracy of 75%. Accuracy is #1 in XAT.
5. In some sections, especially DM and RC, questions need to be solved by elimination of options. The options can be close together so this may take a bit of time. So pace needs to be slightly faster than CAT.
6. Keep balanced sectionals attempts if you are aiming for XLRI-BM. The biggest challenge in getting an XLRI-BM interview call is that the cutoff in each section is very high. DM cutoff is high and the section is very unpredictable. Therefore a lot of great students do not get an interview call because they do not clear sectionals. Check previous years' cutoffs online and take care of them while attempting the exam!
(XAT 2018, 99.33%ile) "The Most Important Part of Preparation Is To Stay Focused & Not Lose Hope"
The following is a strategy I would recommend for XAT:
- Verbal Ability: Practice all the RCs you can find. RCs can all look very similar but there are some distinct underlying themes and it is possible to be good at solving one type of RC and not be good at solving another type of RC. So make sure you cover all the themes and keep revisiting them every few days. Also, when it comes to grammar, just go through the rules thoroughly and then practice, practice, practice! There really is no other way to get better at grammar.
- Logical Reasoning: This is a section where there’s very little to learn, so it’s possible to read about and understand the different types of questions that may come. What matters most in DILR is the strategy you follow, so practice all kinds of questions so you can understand which types are time-consuming and which aren’t so that on D-Day, you know which questions to skip.
- Quantitative Ability: Learn all the formulae and shortcuts because the most important part of QA is to minimise the amount of time it takes to get the right answer. Keep taking sectional tests so that you don’t forget the formulae and how to apply them.
- Decision Making: This section can be very tricky, so solve as many cases as possible. This section does get a bit neglected because it’s only there in XAT, but make sure you work on DM at least once a week.
The one thing that I did do consistently was - revise my concepts. It’s very easy to forget the concepts and methods of solving problems. The syllabus can be a bit overwhelming and you can have the urge to learn as many new things as possible every day, but it’s all for nothing without an adequate amount of revision.
I started taking mock tests about two weeks into my preparation. At first, I took one test in a week or so, but a month or so after, I started taking mocks more regularly, until I was taking a mock a day. I asked my teachers from my coaching center to help me analyse my mistakes and I focused on rectifying those mistakes.
On the D-day, I attempted questions in the following order: Quant, Verbal, Logical Reasoning and then Decision Making. This was a strategy I adopted because it gave my brain time to go from a numerical/logical problem to a wordy one and this back and forth helped me score better. That said, you should try and come up with your own strategy of what works best for you!
According to me, the most important part of preparation is to stay focused and not lose hope. There will be sections that you will take forever to understand and mocks where your percentile will be far below your target, but you still need to keep going. The way I see it, the exam might only be for a few hours, but you’re being tested from the day you start preparing!
The Decision Making section is considered to be the make-or-break section of the XAT exam. How do prepare for this section, and how do you crack it? A detailed compilation of XAT DM tips will be published very soon. Stay tuned!
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