IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights

IIM - CAT Coaching: Experts' Insights: August 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mock CAT - How to select the right questions?

Knowing how to traverse through a paper is an important skill-set in the CAT. This is particularly true of the computer-based version, as in the paper-based versions one has to luxury of  choosing the order of the sections, sub-sections etc while attempting a paper. Let us look at a few aspects in this post

1. Question selection has to be dynamic: A student does not have the luxury of saying "let me look at the questions in different categories and figure out which ones work best for me." The decision-making will have to be on the fly. This is why sections like DI and LR work as 'fillers'. If quant is tough, one has to look at cracking DI to anchor the section. Similarly, if 2 RC passages are vague, one needs to get all 9-10 correct in LR.

2. One needs to have an intuitive sense of each section: One should have a particularly clear idea of questions by sub-category. For instance, if you are at question number 20 in quants, you should know the exact number of DI questions that have gone by.

One of the more common (and  stupid) exclamations of surprise after CAT is usually along the lines of "I got a stinker. The last 10 questions were from RC". You did not see an RC passage till question number 20. What did you expect the last 10 questions to be?

I am going to use a cricket metaphor here. Taking CAT is like chasing in a ODI match. Think of all the good chasers there - Javed Miandad, Dhoni, Bevan. You can bet your bottom dollar that these guys would have known exactly how many overs were left for the first/second bowlers and the fifth bowler. You can take it for granted that by over no 30, a batsman like Dhoni would have already 'alloted' n runs to be taken from the 6 overs from the non-regular bowler.

Imagine  a post-macth interview where Dhoni says, we could have got 40 off the last 5 overs, but unfortunately three of those were bowled by Dale Steyn. 

3. You should be able to gauge the difficulty level of the paper and plan accordingly: I am going to continue with the cricket metaphor here. If you are batting first, it is silly to plan for 300+ score if it is a very tough track. Equally important to not 'play' for 220 runs on a 280 track. A great many students end up being conservative with their targets when the paper is too easy. In some sections in CAT, you will be in a position to attempt 26-28 questions. In these you should be setting the bar high. As a simple rule of thumb, one should hit the range of ~21 questions per section to hit 99th percentile. (It goes without saying that there are lots of caveats to this rule). And when in doubt assume that the paper is easy.

4. Leave well, leave early: Carrying on with the cricket metaphor here (suddenly realized that there are quite a few parallels :) ). As for the first round of attempts is concerned, if you do not get the method straight away, skip the question. When you are taking mock CATs and analyzing them, have a good luck at questions that took you spent more than 4.5 minutes on and figure out how you got suckered into these. If you take 8 minutes for a question, it hardly matters whether you got it right - its a bad call. Beat these time-sinks down aggressively.

5. Everyone needs the odd confidence-booster: Lets face it, skipping all dicey questions is good in theory, but it does make one nervous. And sometimes, every now and then you will find yourself in a position where you have skipped 4 in a row and then you face a time-consuming, boring question in linear equations. In order to get your confidence going, you might have to set aside 4.5 minutes to crack this. This is ok.

6. Start well:  Lots of guys start sluggishly and then start sweating by the end of 10th minute. Plan to fly off the blocks with feverish intensity. You cannot go much wrong with that strategy.

To complete with a cricket metaphor. Start like Sehwag, finish like Dhoni. Go berserk in the first few minutes, turn savvy (calculating) half way through the paper.

Best wishes for CAT 2012. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Get, set, go - From "The Hindu"

This is an article from "The Hindu" contributed by the director at 2iim, Rajesh Balasubramanian

 CAT 2012 will be conducted from October 11 to November 6 this year. A number of candidates will be fine-tuning their preparation right now, while others will be looking to somehow kicking the inertia out of the system and starting their preparations in right earnest. We provide a plan of action for the latter group.

Do not tell yourself it is too late to start now. Do not listen to anyone who says that there isn’t enough time for preparation. Till about 10 years ago, students used to start their CAT preparation only in August (very reluctantly, I must add). The basic syllabus for this exam roughly corresponds to Maths and English taught in class VI- IX. So, if the fundamentals are reasonably strong, a student should require only 200-300 hours of preparation for this exam.

What should be the plan of action? With the Olympic spirit in mind, let us think of this preparation as a parallel to an athlete preparing for the Olympics. Divide your preparation into three phases.

Do the grind
In phase I, cover the basics for all the topics in quant. Solve as many questions as possible. This is the phase where one builds on first principles and gets the mind ready for the tougher battles ahead. For the verbal section, set aside two hours every day to reading. Read lots of stuff and with as much variety as possible.
The topic, style, subject and size do not matter (Fiction, non-fiction, sports, politics, economics, science, anything goes). Just build the reading habit and get the mind ready to receive written content. This phase is similar to an Olympic wrestler/badminton player spending hours in the gym. This phase should go on for about six weeks.

Build intensity
Start building intensity. Take section-wise tests, set yourself targets for sets of 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Start practicing for Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning. Increase the intensity steadily by mixing up topics and setting varying time targets. This is the phase where you should select one DI bunch, one LR puzzle, two passages in RC, eight questions in Number Theory and set yourself 50 minutes of high intensity preparation. This is akin to an athlete training muscle by muscle and play-by-play. This is probably the part of CAT preparation that is heavily underestimated. People who are used to spending 10 hours in office or eight hours in college think that writing a 2 hour 20 minute-exam cannot be that taxing. Taking a test for 140 minutes without concentration “drops” is challenging and will not come without getting the mind ready for it. The better you do this the less tired you will get handling regular questions in CAT and more energy you will have for handling tougher ones. This should go on for about four weeks.

Fine tune your preparation
Phase III is simple. Take mock exams. Analyze them vigorously. Plug whatever gaps you find by revisiting phase I or phase II. And when you analyze a paper, you should focus on what kind of questions you have gotten wrong, which ones you should have attempted but have skipped, which ones took time without giving you much in return, which questions should you have skipped straightaway, etc. Do not waste time on studying percentile patterns and such. Most mock CAT percentile scores are nothing more than a distraction. This should ideally go on for about five weeks. This is the phase where the athlete simulates match conditions, studies opponents, figures out the draw, etc.

Phase I, II and III could overlap. If you plan well and are willing to throw in lots of time toward preparation, this can be done in 10 weeks. The students with intense shorter-term preparation have seen better results than those who enroll into long-term courses but do not do justice to them.
For those who have been preparing for a while, the strategy is simple. Skip Phase I. Kick start your preparation now and focus on building intensity. Best wishes for CAT 2012.

The author, a B-school trainer, is one of the CAT toppers last year with 100 percentile. He takes CAT every year to understand the pattern and help his students better.

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