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CAT 2007: Frequently asked questions
Rahul Reddy
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September 13, 2007

With only 60 days to go for CAT 2007, my advice to students is to understand what can be achieved in this time, and work exclusively towards this goal.

But this is also a stage where a lot of doubts crop up in the minds of students. This article is an attempt to look at some of the common doubts that students face. It is meant for students taking serious preparation and preferably writing any and all India Mock series.

Whichever section I do last suffers and I am not able to get the cut-off for that section. What should I do?

This is a very common occurrence with students. The main cause is poor distribution of time. While we think we are dividing equally, say 50 min each, what happens actually is more like 56 - 55 - 39.

So keeping this in mind, plan for some buffer. e.g 45 - 45 - 45 - 10. The last ten minutes are a buffer to make up for lapses in the three sections. It can also be used for topping up the score in your strength area. You'll also notice that about five minutes go to waste in time distribution. So it makes sense to budget for that.

Also, in general, concentration levels are weaker at the end of exam. To develop concentration levels I suggest that during home study, practice should be done in two and a half hour stretches without a break. This to done to condition the mind to work for longer stretches.

In the exam, take micro-breaks between sections. For example, close your eyes and count till 60. We all know that our PCs work faster after rebooting, not really sure why, but it works.    

My scores keep fluctuating. Some Mocks I get very good percentiles, and in some I get very poor percentiles. What do I do?

In most such cases we see that what is changing is accuracy. Students tend to have a target number of attempts for each section. It is better to spend a fixed amount of time per section and solve as many questions as we can. Trying to attempt the same number of questions per section/ across papers will either spoil your accuracy or your time distribution.

What kind of accuracy should I have in each section of CAT?

Obviously there is no optimal accuracy for each section. What matters is the Return on Time Invested (ROTI). In other words, faster students with higher attempts can afford to have lower accuracy. But, in general, we should look at 80-90% accuracy in QA and DI sections. And in English, based on the last 2 years CAT an accuracy rate of 60-70% would also do, provided you attempt enough questions.

I don't know which DI set to attempt? Whichever I attempt turns out to be the most difficult?

Deciding which set to attempt is critical to getting a god score. But at first glance, all sets look equally easy or difficult. You need to spend two or three minutes before deciding that a problem set is possible. Firstly, try to understand the data given. What exactly does it mean? What all can be calculated from the given data? Then we have brief look at the questions. The minute you read the question, some idea on the approach should come to you. If it doesn't or the idea is very unclear, you should probably skip the question set.

I take too much in the English section and it is affecting the other sections what do I do?

With the kind of questions that are given these days, I would say that verbal questions require 90 seconds to two minutes approximately and RC questions two to two and a half minutes approximately. Now if you have spent 40 minutes attempting 10 questions, it is obvious that each question did not take four minutes to solve. In fact, I would say perhaps eight questions took about two and a half minutes each and the remaining two questions took ten minutes each. This is obviously non-productive, as most of the time is spent agonising over two very close options.

So try to look at a good number of attempts with an accuracy of 60%+ and you should get a decent score in the English usage section. Don't agonise over close choices, either leave it or, if it is 50-50, take a guess and move on.

Now that only 60 days remain, how many mocks should I be taking?

Last week when I had an argument with one of our employees, he reminded me that he had five years of experience. I had corrected him gently that he had 1 year's experience repeated 5 times. A mock CAT is basically a test of your ability. As long as fundamental ability or test strategy does not change, no point is served by taking mocks.

Any mock test has to be analysed for 6-8 hours -- including the solving of all questions -- and it should give at least one good idea on how better you can tackle the next mock. Also you need to understand conceptually a problem and how to tackle it.

To put it simply, when you do a problem or a problem set once, you get the answer but the conceptual understanding is not good enough for you to be able to solve variations of the problem.

Remember, you don't really expect that CAT 2007 will contain 75 questions selected from the few thousand that you have solved in you preparation? Especially for DI, I would rather you solve good, quality questions multiple times rather than chasing quantity in terms of material, mocks, etc

How should I go about applying to colleges?

The two basic principles of applying to colleges are:

Please look at applying to at least 10-12 Business schools. Write three or four exams, minimum. One bad day should not affect your chances of getting into a good Business school. If budget is not a constraint, it is always better to apply to more schools rather than less.

A successful student never regrets applying to extra Business schools more but an unsuccessful student almost always feels he or she should have applied to a few more schools.

Look at the latest mock performance, do an honest assessment of your chances, take the help of experts and then apply.

All the best.

The author, Rahul Reddy,  is a Director at T.I.M.E. Kolkata. He has done his Post graduation in Management from IIM Calcutta.

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