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CAT 2007: The six month countdown
ARKS Srinivas
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April 26, 2007

CAT, the Common Admission Test to the management institutes of the country, is going to be held on November 18, 2007.

With just over six months to go, it's time for those of you who plan to give the exam to start your preparation -- if you haven't done so already. Do remember, however, that unless you have a clear study strategy, the hours of effort you invest in your preparation can be wasted.

Here's how you can plan your preparation over the next six months:

To begin with, divide your preparation into time slots. Give yourself targets to achieve within these time slots.

After mid-September, your entire focus should be on maximising scores based on what you already know rather than spending time learning new topics. This is why it is important you spend the time you have before that on achieving a high degree of comfort with the basics of all the areas CAT will test you in.

Now, let's look at a timewise break-up.

May 1 to July 18

Objective: To work on every area thoroughly. You also need to understand what kinds of questions can be asked to you in each area.

This period is probably the most crucial -- it should be utilised as a launch pad for the four months thereafter.

In Data Interpretaion, you should use this time to become thorough with every type of representation. There are about six to seven types of DI sets that are possible. Also, there are standard types of questions like percentage increase, percentage share, counting, etc, as well as questions which are specific to a data representation.

In Quantitative Ability, you should go through the 15 to 20 chapters that are important for the CAT exam, giving special importance to Numbers, Number Theory, Geometry and Mensuration. By July 18, you should know every formula and concept in Quant, as well as the steps involved in solving these questions.

At the end of the first two months, you should have solved each type of question at least two to three times. It is not important as yet to solve the problem quickly. The focus is entirely on getting to know the variety of questions and developing the ability to solve them.

For Reading Comprehension, you should read at least 100 articles (at least two a day) in as many spheres as possible. In CAT, the passages can come from Psychology, Philosophy, Medicine, Economics, Sociology, Art, Culture and Religion, Literature, Politics and all other general topics. As we can see, there are about 10 subjects from which the RC passages can be given. Hence, in the next two months, you should read at least 10 articles from each of these subjects/ areas.

You also need to tackle the other areas in CAT, viz, Reasoning, Verbal ability and Data Sufficiency in a similar manner. At the end of two months, you need to be thorough in each of these sections; you need to know the types of questions that can be asked as well as the methods to solve them.

July 20 to September 19

Objective: To explore ways of solving each type of question in the shortest possible time.

After the first two months, you'll gain confidence -- confidence that there are questions in CAT you can solve. Now, aim to increase this confidence so that you can target the ideal IIM score. 

By now, you can identify every question and know possible ways of solve it. Yet, you could be taking a lot of time to solve each question, making it impossible for you to go through the entire CAT paper in the given time. As a result, there is a good possibility that you might miss out on easy questions.

The solution to this is to spend time analysing the exercises you have already solved and redo them. This time, look at shortcuts and at intuitive methods of solving the questions. The methods might have been taught to you in a coaching class, but you will start understanding and appreciating them only when you know the traditional method of solving these problems.

Solve a number of exercises. Also take individual area tests to test your ability to grasp the fundamentals in the given time. Analyse every test paper that you take thoroughly. You will start seeing that there are always better and easier ways of solving a question than the pattern you have followed thus far.

Do a complete revision of all the areas while taking an All India MOCK CAT (AIMCAT) every Sunday. This will ensure you keep improving in each area. You can also check your progress through the results of your AIMCATs.

September 20 to November 18

Objective: To get the best results from your preparation.

This is the last leg of your preparation. From now on, all you should concentrate on is maximising your scores. You should take two full CAT level tests in each week, one on every Sunday and one on Wednesday/ Thursday.

The focus in the initial month would be on experimentation. You should adopt various strategies in each of the AIMCATs that you write and check which strategy is giving you the best results. It is possible that, despite a wrong strategy, you may have got good marks or, despite a correct strategy, you may have got fewer marks.

To ensure that you don't fall pray to such mistakes, check each strategy for at least two papers. If one strategy seems to be working, use the same for two more papers so that you are in a position to finalise the strategy you are going to use on the final day of CAT. You must remember to keep your strategy flexibile, just in case there are changes in the exam pattern.

This way, the last two months would be primarily used to give you the maximum returns on your preparation.

IIM-Calcutta alumnus ARKS Srinivas is the director of  T.I.M.E, an organisation that prepares candidates for courses like the MBA and the MCA and competitive examinations like CAT, the GRE and GMAT.

YOUR SAY: Have you aced CAT? Share your study strategy, tips and advice with those who are going to give the exam this year. You could be an MBA student or a management graduate. Mention your name, age, CAT percentile, B-School and where you currently work. 

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