IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights

IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights: August 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Diversity or Merit

Some of the IIMs have clearly stated that they are going to give a boost to girl candidates and non-engineer candidates. B-Schools have always rated diversity very high and informally nudged things around here and there in order to get balance. I am of the view that the diversity-drama is a bit of a sham, a bit overcooked and is very unfair to both the "boosted" and the "boosted at the cost of". This post is an attempt at busting some of the myths

Engineers all have uniform opinions, so you get no 'other' view on things
What humbug. This is one of the most convenient non-truths. Quality of the input/view is way more important than the mere diversity factor. If you are discussing astrophysics, would you have a sportsperson on the panel because he might have something different to offer. I have had some of the most wonderful discussions with fellow engineers. And been irritated by the fetish for difference from fellow B-School grads (these could be engineers also). If you are watching test cricket on TV, would you choose a panel that has Richie Benaud and Harsha Bhogle or one that has Mandira Bedi and Charu Sharma. High quality discussion brings to light diverse views. Not the other way around. Do you think intelligent engineers are blinkered? What gives one the right to assume this.

Are there not even 500 good girls who can get into the IIMs. How anti-women are you if you say that girls should not be given a boost
The most important and the least-debated aspect of this whole issue is how patronising the above conjecture is to the girls. The best ones who would have anyway gotten in will now be seen as being among the ones who got a boost thanks to the system. The ones arguing against this kind of "boost" are not the ones who are saying there are not enough good girl candidates around.

On the contrary, I firmly believe that there are plenty of good girls around. I also firmly believe that they can get in, compete and do well without anyone offering them any extra help. Some of the girls who were my classmates were very good. I would love it if the country stopped patronising them in the pretext of helping them.

Everyone stereotypes. Next time some girl gets into an IIM, I am sure everyone around will go - Yeah, so what your chromosomes probably played a bigger role than your grey cells in getting you there. Which is so sad.

BA English and B.Sc Maths grads can be very intelligent too
Of course. I am not denying that. Only to test this, you have designed the CAT exam. The CAT exam is not a maths test, as everyone is made to believe. Worldwide, math and verbal ability have been taken as proxies for gauging intelligence. India is no different. The maths level tested in CAT is at best of the standard X level. As a signal of smarts, the exam is a pretty good proxy. If the examiners so believe that it is not a good enough proxy for smarts, they should change the entrance exam. Design it in such a way that no group is at an unfair advantage. Randomly adding marks at the end of the whole process is just backdoor entry.

All arguments be damned, we are conducting a social experiment because we can:
This is what the IIMs are telling us, in essence. The merits of diversity have never been demonstrated. We are just adopting received wisdom from everyone because it is convenient. All of education (especially in India) is a signal. A degree conveys the ability of a student to grasp/perform rather than the knowledge he/she might have gleamed in college. Engineering colleges are tougher to get into (the good ones. the ones that actually try to teach engineering), tougher to survive in, and tougher to get out of. The IIMs are effectively telling the kids to not go through this rigour if they want a better chance at getting into the IIM.

The worst affected are going to be the guys in the IITs. Poor sods. They crack JEE and believe they are getting into an elite crowd. Little do they know that at every level, they are going to be discriminated against due to their presence in this elite crowd. Some joker at IIT with a 99.6th percentile will end up with no IIM calls because he would not be bringing in diversity into an IIM, whereas a non-IIT engineer with 99.4th percentile will still get a call. All because the non-IIT engineer will bring more diversity. Ha. The joys of rightful discrimination.

IIM Cal probably has the best policy. Power to them.

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IIMs to give an extra bonus to non-engineers and girls

First, let us have the facts, which have as ever been embellished by TOI (Someone's idea of earning a salary is based on offending all groups of people. To begin with, the heading is 'graceless').

All the six new IIMs and the ones at Lucknow and Kozhikode feel it`s time to rebalance the gender scales in office spaces. So while IIM-Rohtak will give 20 marks to each girl and another 20 to a non-engineer, IIM-Raipur will add 30 marks to the overall scores of each girl-non-engineer. IIM-Lucknow has decided to grant five marks to each girl and two to non-engineers.

Across the board, almost all IIMs have decided to give a boost to girls and non-engineering candidates.

What does this imply?
Obviously, this makes things easier for girls and non-engineers. The bar for quant cut-off at least will now be much lower. I would argue that a 98th percentile overall will still leave you in with a shout if one is a girl, non-engineer.

The implication for engineers is more interesting. Not only will engineers have to focus more on verbal ability, they will have to stress on quant as well as the pool of seats available to engineers would have now shrunk again. So, the engineers will have to get more than 99.3 percentile in quant to have a shot at the IIMs.

What should one focus on?
Nothing much changes. Engineers, please do not assume that VA alone will matter. You will effectively be competing with the world on VA and with fellow engineers for Quants. Given that the engineering entry just got tougher, both need to be good. As we have mentioned in an earlier post, one should focus more on Critical Reasoning questions now.

What else has changed?
Almost all the IIMs are veering towards having a "writing"
section in the second round. Again, perhaps part of the overall convergence that Naveenan had mentioned. So, keep this in mind for the post-CAT preparation phase.

Just another word of caution, do not get caught up in the inevitable diversity vs. merit debate that will spring up all around you. That is an important debate, no doubt. But, whether you are an engineer or not, scoring well on that debate gives you pish-tosh in CAT. Accepting some frameworks and chugging along is an absolute necessity to crack things in India/anywhere. So, have an academic interest in this debate, but do not get completely consumed by it, at least until CAT.

That said, those of us who have finished our MBA (including yours truly) can continue to pontificate and so, will be discussing this issue in future posts. ;-)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

CAT 2011 - Verbal

This post focuses on how the verbal section of CAT might be structured. To get our thoughts on the quants section, and on caveats, check out this post .

We break-down the verbal section also into 3 segments

Reading Comprehension - 9-12 questions: This section's importance should go up slightly in the newer format. Usually, we see 9-10 questions, this could creep up to 12 questions in some papers.

Sentence Correction, Sentence Rearrangement, Sentence Completion: 9-10 questions: Traditional verbal sections. These can be done reasonably quickly, but error rate could be higher. Pick the best ones and have a go. The crucial take-away here is - Do NOT be in a mad rush to run through your RC passages. Take time over RC. This is not a speed-reading exam.

Newer type questions: They are saying Logical Reasoning, we think it is more likely to be what is termed as critical reasoning or analytical reasoning: First up, let us clarify the definitions.

An LR question will usually be of the type - 4 houses - blue, red, green, yellow with four residents - engineer, doctor, teacher, painter, with 4 cars - Santro, Innova, i10, BMW. The engineer does not drive a santro and does not stay next to the doctor etc

The critical reasoning question will be usually a mini-case study with an inference-type question at the end of it. Example
Sachin Tendulkar's test average in matches India loses is 15 runs lower than when India wins a match. This clearly demonstrates that Sachin's performance clearly drives India's performance. Which of the following, if true could undermine above argument

A. Average of most batsmen is lower in losing causes than winning causes
B. India has won most of its matches at home
C. India wins only high-scoring matches, etc

These used to be called Analytical Reasoning questions and were fairly common in the CAT exams of late 90's early 00's.

The big difference of the change in format could be the fact that these kind of questions make a comeback.

The final 9-10 questions could easily be 3-4 LR, 3-4 CR, 1-2 Fact, Inference, Judgement type questions.

So, while preparing for this section, focus on sentence construction and error-types, get some practice for analytical reasoning questions and remember to read slowly.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CAT 2011 - Preparation plan

With only around two months to go, it is a good time to think about the overall paper. We also need to keep in mind the changes in format. So, have given below our ideas of how the paper might be structured.

Caveat alert: This is our view of how they might structure CAT and might have absolutely no link with how CATIIM is thinking about it (Always good to get the disclaimers in early. This is the one thing they drill into investment bankers). With that out of the way, let us get to the sections.

This post focuses on quants. Will follow up with a verbal specific post


We would look at this as three segments, of about 10 questions each

Segment I: This is going to be the section that covers simple quant topics - Averages, Percentages, Profit & Loss, Pipes Cisterns, Simple Interest -Compound Interests, Shares, Progressions, Ratio-Proportion, Speed-Time, Races, Mixtures, etc. There should be around 10 questions in this segment. Almost all questions in this section will be do-able but time-consuming. Student should shoot to get 8-9 of these in about 30-33 minutes. Even if it takes more than 3 minutes per question, it could be worth it.

Take your time but get it correct

Segment 2: This is the set of concept-heavy questions - Number Theory, Geometry, Permutation-Combinations, Inequalities and perhaps a bit of Set Theory. These will be slightly non-formulaic questions. But these will help you save time in case you have the fundas right. Should shoot to attempt 6-7 of these in about 13-15 minutes.

Pick the correct questions and solve them really quickly

Segment 3: 3-4 questions of pure DI, 2-3 questions of DI presented in unconventional format, 3-4 of Data Sufficiency etc. Attempt 7-8 of these in about 22-25 minutes. In this segment DI will be time-consuming, DS will be hit or miss.

Overall, shoot to try 22-23 questions. This number should be good enough to hit 99th percentile +. There are two big mistakes that one should avoid.

1. Getting lots of practice for simpler topics, ignoring No.theory+Geometry: This is absurd. Get problems under the belt for the simpler topics, study from first principles for No. Theory and Geometry. One should know the basis for each formula, not just the formula. You should know how to solve problems like the ones seen here . And be clear on concepts in geometry

2. Skipping simple-topic questions because they take more than 3 minutes to solve: 3 minutes per question is good speed. If you understand a question based on Speed-Time and can definitely get it right in even 3.5 minutes, go for it. The concept-heavy topics are the ones where you should shoot to save time. Do not be in a mad rush for speed in the questions from the simpler topics. You HAVE TO get these correct. So, no point making some silly error here.

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