IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights

IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights: February 2012

Saturday, February 11, 2012

CAT Aspirants from IITs - What should be the plan?

Had been to a panel discussion on "cracking CAT" held at IIT Madras. Some interesting points were discussed. Just thought it would be a good idea to share those. Lot of the stuff pertains to an IIT audience; hence the title. Having said that most of what we discussed would apply to anyone who is strong in quants and is slightly worried about verbal.

For IIT-ians it is probably a better idea to NOT enroll into a course 15-months before CAT
Till 2000 (the year I took CAT), preparation for CAT used to start at the beginning of the 7th semester, roughly 4 months before CAT (back then CAT used to be held in Dec). Then the CAT training industry happened and preparation cycles expanded - slowly inexorably, painfully to 15-months. This kind of preparation cycle kills momentum - especially for IIT-ians.

Most CAT courses focus on quant preparation. So, if it is a 180-hour classroom program, then 120+ hours will be on quants. The quant-level tested in CAT corresponds to syllabus from standard VI to IX. So, your teacher will be discussing profit&loss and linear equation for most parts - several notches below JEE preparation. Odds are that you will enrol for the course in a bout of enthu and start skipping classes from month 2 onwards, and completely forget about the course by month 4. Empirical data suggests that this is what 90% of IIT junta do. Whats the point?

IIT-ians quant level will be higher. You will not get much value from sitting in a class that teaches basics. You need good-quality practice and may be some discussion with a teacher who can push you that little bit further. Cracking CAT is about momentum, intensity, sharpness. Many graduates across the country need help with geometry, number theory or permutation & combinations. But if one has cleared JEE, one should have little trouble navigating quants.

The second section is a verbal section, not an English section
Among IIT-ians, the general feeling of unease regarding this 'second section' is very high. English is not a comfort-zone area for a lot of "quants" guys. Bear in mind that this section is a verbal section, not an English knowledge section. This is just another framework to test how sharp you are. That you are strong in a quantitative framework need not imply that you should be at a disadvantage when it comes to non-quantitative framework.

Worldwide, examinations are designed with a simple quant + simple verbal framework only because this is considered a good proxy to test intelligence. This is why the tests focus on averages,percentages and the like (rather than differential calculus and vector algebgra). Correspondingly, for the verbal section the focus is on reading comprehension and basic reasoning, and not on identifying past-participle and gerund.

The JEE is a good exam only because it is a great signal of intelligence. If you have cleared it, then you should tell yourself "If I am good enough to have the smarts to clear a very tough quant-framework exam, I should be good enough to clear a far-simple non-quant framework exam".

Looking at it another way - one-third of verbal is Logical Reasoning, which should be straightforward. One-third is stuff like Sentence Rearrangement, Paragraph Completion and the like - for which there should be no particular advantage to any group of students. And the final third is reading comprehension - which does not require specific English knowledge as all questions are going to be based on the passage itself.

So, IIT-ians do not need to enrol in a course, need not bother with excessive quants preparation, the verbal section is also easy - so, does it mean they just cool their heels and go for the CAT exam?

Of course not. Just have a different schedule for preparation. Make sure bulk of preparation is based on tests for the quantitative subjects and not based on a classroom course pegged at a very mild benchmark. As for the verbal section goes, there is ONLY ONE THING that IIT-ians need to do (for that matter, anyone needs to do) - Read. Students' ability to get the crux of a 300-word editorial is fairly poor. And this is an essential skill-set. This does not get built with so called RC practice. Comfort level with comprehension is built by reading, and pretty much nothing else. Read lots, read lots of different stuff. Read from magazines, websites, sports sites, newspapers, fiction, non-fiction, editorials. It does not matter what you read, or from where you read.

Beyond this, take practice exams, fill the gaps in quant, DI and LR. Work on intensity and stamina. Do not fall into the guilt-trap and enrol yourself into a course 15-months ahead of the exam and kid yourself saying you are preparing for CAT.

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