IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights

2IIM's blog to discuss the CAT paper, exam strategies, preparation plan and other CAT-related stuff

What to do the day before CAT?

♠ Posted by Rajesh Balasubramanian in ,,
The simple answer to this is 'Nothing'. The more elaborate answer is "Nothing much". But since I cannot pass off two words as an article, I am going to do the MBA-thing. Say lot of words that convey the same point.

Dont let lack of sleep get to you.
Everyone is going to tell you that you should sleep a lot the day before the exam. But if you have prepared with any amount of intensity, you will find falling asleep tough. Acknowledge that. Keep in mind that the adrenaline on the day of the exam will drown out any fatigue from sleep-deprivation. If you can get 8 hours of the good stuff, great. But if you manage only 4 hours of it, the worst thing to do is to go into the exam beating yourself about this "mere 4 hours". 4 hours is more than enough. Sachin Tendulkar has slept less than that and scored centuries the next day. Going into a critical exam, it is likely that you are too switched on and cannot sleep that easily. Dont worry about this.

Do something that you enjoy, but do not overdo it
Watch a movie, play football, watch youtube videos of Lionel Messi, take a nice ride/drive. Do whatever it is that puts you at ease, but dont do this 2 am.

Get the small details right
Fuel your vehicle, check the hall ticket, verify if the photograph is the same, set aside your favourite pen etc.

Dont fret about preparation, now is not the time to regret the long weekend you took to goof off
However well you might have prepared, give your best shot with that. Do not go in feeling that you are under-cooked. The last day is to gee yourself up, so focus all your attention on conning yourself into believing.

Fly off the blocks, let adrenaline do its thing
In the minutes before the exam, bin all thoughts of percentiles, formulae, strategy, cut-offs and other nonsense. Simplify. Think what Usain Bolt would be thinking before  a 100m dash. He might have prepared his entire adult life for the race. But on the eve of the race, he is going to operate with a simple framework "Hear starting gun, run for 10 seconds". Solving questions is the best way to relax yourself. The least you can do is give yourself a chance.

Remember, this is not such a big deal.
Anyone who does well in the exam has to be reasonably sharp; while the converse is not true. This exam is but one outlet to showcase your mettle. Nothing more, nothing less.

Best wishes from the entire 2IIM team for CAT 2015. 

Why I take CAT every year? - article by Rajesh Balasubramanian

♠ Posted by Rajesh Balasubramanian in ,,,
I have been asked this question many times in many fora and I had always provided a 'fudged' answer. So, I thought I could have some fun thinking about the real answer. Ergo, this post.

I completed my Post Graduate Diploma in Management more than a decade ago. And like most of my classmates, I graduated with the feeling that I had already completed one MBA too many. Why then do I take the CAT every year?

There are two reasons for this. The first is the ‘professional’ reason. I run 2IIM, an online education Company that focuses on CAT preparation. I spend gazillion hours teaching students and creating content and so it helps to have a sense of what the exam is all about.

The second, personal reason is probably more interesting. I like the challenge of taking an exam where one has to reactivate the grey cells for three hours. If you have ever sat down to try a crossword, math puzzle or good old Sudoku, you will have a sense of what I am talking about here. 

The CAT provides more context so test-taking is far more than being merely a fun exercise of the brain. The exam setting creates an intensity that is absent elsewhere and this adds to the thrill.
In one sense, the exam is also my own way of saying I can compete with the youngsters today. Of  striking a blow against the ageists, and telling myself that the intermediary years spent on the drudgery of stock-peddling have not (yet) dulled my senses.

The obvious question here is whether there might not be far better avenues of challenging myself. There probably are. But they all probably involve lot more practice and training. For instance, running marathons needs six months of training and the very thought of consuming long miles with just myself for company leaves me with dread. So, I want something that can push me over a few short hours, preferably only once every twelve months or so. Ergo, CAT. Besides, I have saved up long-distance running for the mid-life crisis.

Contrary to popular perception, the CAT is actually a high quality exam. Any testing mechanism can commit two kinds of errors - It can let in undeserving candidates, or it can miss out on deserving candidates. The better exams do a good job on both counts. The CAT is very well designed for limiting one kind of error - anyone who does well in the exam has to be reasonably sharp; while the converse is not true. It is society that perversely assumes the converse and therefore ends up placing enormous pressure on candidates. Standardized tests cannot be created to cater to all types of intelligences. We should be mature enough to accept that.

As a potential candidate, you are probably thinking – I have read this piece about the motivations of a 35-year old ex-banker whose idea of a good time is to take exams. What am I going to get out of this?

My experience as a test-taker has placed me in a unique position of being able to view the exam not only as an involved participant, but also as someone who is pressure-free as far as the wider consequences are concerned. The one input I would give all aspirants is to have a sense of joie-de-vivre while approaching the exam. Try to retain a sense of wonder about the idea of solving problems or cracking puzzles. To cite a sports parallel, football can be associated with either catenaccio or Joga Bonito. As far as CAT goes, Joga Bonito (play beautifully).

Best wishes for the CAT.

An excerpt from this piece appeared in the India Today Aspire issue that can be found here.

The author, Rajesh Balasubramanian is an alumnus from IIMB (2003) who runs 2IIM Online CAT Coaching company. The author takes CAT every year and has the distinction of having scored 100th percentile in CAT 2011, 2012 and CAT 2014.

What is Reading Comprehension Really About?

♠ Posted by Swaminathan Ravikumar
What is Reading Comprehension Really About?

When it comes to cracking the verbal section, the only skill that really matters is critical reading. This is just a fancy way of saying: "Be alert when you read, and understand what the writer is trying to say." You might think this is self-evident - Isn't that what reading is about, you might ask yourself. But when you're reading under pressure, it's not always easy to act on this advice. Especially when you have to read continuously for six to eight minutes for RC.

Reading Comprehension is really two things. The first is the actual reading part - this is what requires comprehension or understanding (and is actually the more significant part of RC). The second part is answering questions, which is more reflection than comprehension - this is where you relate back to the ideas that the passage has talked about and think about what impact those ideas have on the question posed. Understanding what RC is, is the first step to forming an effective strategy for it. Unfortunately, so many students have such a warped idea of what RC is from all the bad mocks they've taken, they come to view RC with extreme distaste, which is entirely unjustified. Deliberately choosing an absurdly worded passage is a cheap way of increasing difficulty - only mock providers do this, the CAT never does. Reading Comprehension is not an efficient tool of torture that the IIMs have come up with to see you squirm in pain or frustration (even if it appears that way to you right now).

Reading Comprehension is the examiner's way of testing alertness, patience, and your capacity to receive new ideas. The pattern is designed to test how well you can relate to the ideas in a passage, and not to see if you are a literature major who can dissect somebody's PhD thesis. For this reason, the CAT chooses passages that are very easy to read. I would go one step further - I would say the CAT chooses passages that are quite interesting and engaging to read, if not actually entertaining. The examiners don't want to throw off a candidate with writing that has been artificially inflated in difficulty. The passage won't be on some obscure form of philosophy that no one cares about. It won't use words that have died out and should have been put to rest a few centuries back. As I've grown fond of saying, if you're looking for something to occupy your mind while you're having a cup of coffee, you could do worse than pick up an RC passage from the CAT.

No, I'm not peddling some New Age reverse psychology trick designed to help you fool yourself into liking RC. This is not a scheme where you convince yourself that the cabbage that you're eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a bid to lose weight is actually Margherita pizza. Anyone who's had a serious attempt at the CAT will readily tell you more or less the same thing - they might have been under pressure when they were reading the passages, but there won't be very many who'll tell you the passages were boring or even difficult to read. Because they're neither of those things.

Once you understand why the examiners insist on keeping this wonderfully useful pattern in the exam, your attitude towards it will change. Just remember, RC is designed to test two skills - whether you can receive new ideas through reading, and whether you can relate to them in answering the questions. The examiners are not interested in making the first part hard - that'll be like asking someone to run after beating them very hard on their knees. They won't make it difficult for you to understand the ideas in a passage by choosing a passage that is neigh incomprehensible (don't you hate it when a writer makes it harder to understand what he's saying just for the heck of it?).
No, the difficulty from this pattern always comes in making you relate to the ideas in the passage. No, not the questions. The answer options. Making the question hard to understand is another cheap trick that the CAT does not resort to. The difficulty (in all verbal ability questions, not just RC) will be in the way the answer options are framed. Usually, you will come down to two similar, but distinguishable answer options that differ from each other for a very specific reason. If you understood what the writer was really trying to say, then you'll be able to figure out what the difference between the two options is, and you'll be able to mark the better one.

Let's look at an example of what I'm talking about. The paragraph below presents an interesting take on corruption. It's not difficult to read (it doesn't use extinct language) and its main idea is actually quite entertaining:
"Paradoxically, a little bit of corruption can actually end up helping the government. A company that wants to build a new automobile factory knows that corruption is inevitable. But it also knows that by lining a local bureaucrat's pocket, say an official who has to issue a clearance for the factory to be built, with a hefty bribe it can expect that its factory will be cleared and it can commence operations within a reasonable timeframe. A tolerable amount of corruption can be written off as a business cost no different from paying taxes, so long as the company can expect results from the machinery. Corruption can help cut the red tape and make it easier for a company to set up shop in a country and therefore act for the benefit of the country's economy."

Now, a question from this paragraph could be along these lines:
"What is the main point of this paragraph?” and the answer choices could be:
A. A country shouldn't be too harsh on corruption, because it can actually help economic growth by attracting investment.
B. Corruption increases predictability in business operations and helps companies grease the government machinery.
C. Corruption is a necessary evil if a company is to do business in the world today. 
D. Ironically, corruption might have positive side-effects for a country's economy by helping businesses overcome its cumbersome red-tape.    

If you really understood the paragraph, you should be able to eliminate choices A and C. The paragraph has nothing to say about a country cracking down on corruption, so the writer doesn't appear to be defending corruption from attack. C puts a negative spin on corruption, saying something along the lines of "we've got to live with it." The writer observes a positive consequence of corruption for a country's economy; he doesn't say it's evil, or even that it is necessary.
Now, between B and D, which would you think is the main idea of the paragraph? What is the writer really trying to say? If you pause to ask yourself this, you will recognise the difference between B and D.

Ready for the answer?

It's Option D.

The writer isn't interested in only saying that corruption helps a business, which is what option B does. He goes further than that - he argues that because corruption helps a business, it can help the government too. Once you understand the difference between the two options, it becomes obvious that D is the answer.  

What shortcut did you need to solve this question? What mystical knowledge helps the expert solve this question? Nothing more than simply realising that RC is not designed to torture you. It’s designed to test whether you can understand ideas and reflect on them. Reflect on them to use them to relate to the answer options. That’s all.

Now I say that’s what the examiners want to test, but what they’re also testing is to see if you have a reading habit. That’s because this is a pressure exam, and the two things that we’ve seen: Comprehension and Reflection, they’re skills that you pick up if you have a reading habit. Specifically, they’re skills that you can call to action in an exam setting, where the clock is ticking, if you practice them by reading every day. But more on that in another article on how to prepare for RC.  

IIM Ahmedabad selection criterion and the idea of conditional probability

♠ Posted by Rajesh Balasubramanian
IIM Ahmedabad's selection criteria also opened a can of worms and had people talking about how cruel it was to be born as an Engineer. Let us face it, if you are born in India into some type of families, you have only two choices, be an Engineer or be a loser.

Having said that, a great many students have taken this as an open season to crib when they have no reason to. Let us see why.

To cut a long story short, an engineer cannot get called for an IIMA interview if he did not score an average of 80 in 10th and 12th and a minimum of 78% in Engineering. It does not matter if you have scored 99.99th percentile in CAT, you cannot get into IIMA if your BE percentage is 76%.

Now, let us look at this within the framework of conditional probability. P(A / B) is defined as the Probability of event A happening given that event B has already happened.

Here the big crib is that Prob (IIM A interview / BE score of 77.5%) = 0. However, this is not necessarily the correct metric to look at to see how cruel the rule is. Scoring 77.5% is a necessary condition to have a shot at this, but how close is it to being a sufficient condition is key.

To give an extreme example - Prob (IIMA admit / student does not take CAT) is also zero. This does not mean that merely taking the CAT will ensure an admit. In this case, the condition taking CAT is necessary but not even close to being sufficient.

What we need to think of is this wonderful Probability(BE score being the reason for missing out  / student did not make it to IIMA). If a particular engineer did not make it to IIMA, what are the odds that it was the BE score that prevented him/her from doing so? Now, if that number is high, this is indeed an unfair criterion.

Now, let us put a framework on to it.

If there are three possible reasons, A, B and C for not getting into IIMA. Then we can represent them with a diagram like this -

Now, if we have to attribute reason A as the key determinant for missing out then that should be the region where A alone is the reason. In other words, the region where an 'x' is marked. Any other region would include other factors also playing a part.

Now, for our specific scenario, let us include only two factors - CAT percentile and Score being less 78%. The diagram would look like this.

Now, Venn diagrams do not have a notion of scale. But I have drawn this diagram deliberately like this to convey that the big circle incorporates 99.67% of the candidates. The least percentile for an engineer to get a call from IIMA is 99.67. So, x can at the maximum be 0.33% of the candidates.

So, in the worst case scenario 0.33% of the candidates appearing for CAT miss out because their engineering percentage is too low.

Hold on, that's not it. Let us add some more facts and assumptions (All you aspiring MBAs, also keep this as an important lesson. If you are peddling some hypothesis, you should always talk about facts and assumptions as if they can be used interchangeably. As long as you can incorporate your assumptions in along with the facts, you can peddle any theory).

IIM Ahmedabad gives admits to probably ~180 engineers from general category, and they probably call around ~500 engineers from the general category for the interviews. Now, under the scenario that 1.65 lakh people take the exam, 0.33% of this is roughly 550. Among the top 550 candidates based on CAT score, CAT calls ~500 engineers. Assuming that around 20-30 students securing above 99.67 percentile are likely to be non-engineers, only around 20-30 engineers who score above 99.67 percentile miss out. So, probably only around 20 students miss out because of their UG mark.

So, the number of students who miss out purely because of their BE percentages is possibly only around 10. Not 0.33% of test-takers, but around 0.01% of test-takers.

Now, probably half the engineers (or more) will have a score of less than 78%. How come only 20 engineers miss out? This is because there is a very high correlation between academic records. So, the folks who score very high in CAT are likely to have scored high in 10th, 12th and UG and vice versa. So, what the 99.67 percentile cut off number tells us is that the students who have missed out due to other criteria are very unlikely to have scored 99.67 as well. A point that is completely lost on many students. The game is not rigged against you. The game is rigged against candidates who do not deserve to get in. In other words, it is a meritocracy. One of the best B-schools in India wants to make sure that they select only the best candidates available in India. Who woulda thunk?

To speak without all this probability mumbo-jumbo - An overwhelming number of engineers who have scored less than 78% in BE and missed out on IIMA call would have missed out on the IIMA call even if they had a 98% in their engineering. 

To put it differently, the only Engineers who have a right to crib about IIMA's high BE cut-off criterion are the ones who can and do score 99.67+. If you score 99.6 and do get a call from IIMA, it is not because of your percentages, it is because of your percentile.

So, every time you feel like IIMA is conning you out of an interview call, tell yourself you have to get 99.67 to deserve the right to voice that crib. 

In case you are among the 20 unlucky souls who score above 99.67 and still do not have a call, my commiserations are with you. Chances are you have secured an admit into IIM B or IIM C and you have told yourself that you will never again miss out on anything because of some silly criterion. Probably a great lesson learnt, and one for which missing out on IIMA might be not such a big price.

Ten Golden rules while Taking CAT or Mock CATs

♠ Posted by Bharathwaj Uday
Ten rules to follow while taking CAT (or Mock CATs)

Video by Rajesh Balasubramanian on frequently made mistakes, things to look out for, and ideas to keep in mind while taking CAT.

Some key ideas: Never Compromise on accuracy,  Do not chase attempts, Take careful chances, See ball hit ball.

Visit mockcat.2iim.com to take a free mock. Try before you buy!

Visit online.2iim.com for the best Online course in the country!

How to review mock CATs

Everyone tells you that the value in taking mock CATs lies in analyzing them, and not just in mechanically taking them. How exactly does one analyze a mock CAT? Here is a simple guide

Check your percentile.
The starting point for any mock analysis is the percentile. Not because it is very relevant, but because it is impossible to ignore. So, go ahead, knock yourself out. Check the section-wise percentiles, stare long and hard at the numbers, extrapolate the percentiles from the last 3 mocks and see where they are going, imagine how high your overall percentile would be if only you could produce your best section performances in the same mock, give in to curiosity, triumphalism and envy by figuring out others' percentiles.

Do all this to get the damn thing out of the system. Now, ignore it and focus on something that can actually be useful. There are three parts to this -

1. Mocks have the best questions, learn how to solve all of these
Mocks are often seen merely as a tool for assessment and bench-marking rather than as a tool for learning. Mock CATs usually have the best questions, the ones that have an elaborate 6-minute solution while also having the elegant 1-minute solution. So, make it a habit to review the questions that have gone wrong, questions that you have skipped and then the ones that you got right as well. Very often, students ignore the ones they have gotten correct. If all your attempts were through the best approaches, chances are you would have attempted 5 more in each section. There is a learning angle to every mock CAT. Do not ignore this. As this article says, the mock CATs have quite a few Now-you-know questions.

This is why it is very important to pick a mock CAT provider who focuses on providing detailed solutions and helps with the thought process. In other words, have a look at the 2IIM mocks before you go looking elsewhere. :-)

2. Which 3 get kicked out, which ones get in?
After every mock, do a simple exercise to improve decision-making. Select at least three attempts from each section that you should have skipped, and replace these with three you should have attempted. In your first few mocks, you might even be able to select 5-6 questions in each section. The big gains in mocks come from improved decision-making; and you have to take a conscious effort to improve this. If you can reach your point where you cannot find more than 1 question in each section that you had incorrectly chosen to attempt, you can count yourself ready for the exam.

3. Topic-wise and timing-wise analysis
You should ask yourself a few questions similar to the ones given below -
How good is the hit-rate in Sentence Rearrangament? Was it worth doing the DI even after taking 15 minutes, did I at least get all 4 correct? Should I completely skip Sentence Elimination questions from now on? Did I get a Permutation Combination question wrong again? Should I completely dump this topic?

On the timing front, figure out when the fatigue errors creep in. All of us find that there are 2-3 questions where we cannot really fathom why we marked that stupid wrong choice in the first place. This is essentially down to fatigue. There is a spell of 15-20 minutes where not much gets done and errors creep in. Locate this spell, see when it usually happens and reduce it methodically.

On the timing front, it is important to know which type of question gets you the best marks/minute. You might easily attempt 3 RC passages accounting for 12 questions within 30 minutes. But if you get 6 of these wrong, that is effectively same as attempting only one RC and getting all questions correctly. Four correct answers in 30 minutes is a very poor return.