October 03, 2008
The Quantitative Ability section in the Common Admission Test (CAT) has traditionally been the one that students most dread and are afraid of. For many students, mathematics is something that has scared them right from their time at school. For students who have not taken Mathematics as a subject at the plus two level (after Class X), the Quant section worries them even more!
However, the first thing that students need to keep in mind is that the kind of skills required for doing well in this section in CAT are somewhat different from those required at the plus two level. While the emphasis in school was on the process and 'steps' by which one solved the question, in CAT the stress is on application of thinking skills, something that has in fact, been increasing over time.
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Mere knowledge of the correct formulae required to solve a question will not suffice. However, knowledge of basics is extremely important; and one must know how to proceed from there.
Here are some strategies that can be used to do well in the Quant section:
Scan the Quant section before you begin: This is extremely important. Spend a couple of minutes looking through the paper and checking the kind of questions and assessing their difficulty level. This will help you decide what to do and also may help you assess what the likely sectional cut-off will be.
Remember, if the section appears to be tough, it is so for everybody. If it appears easy, you will need to make sure you attempt a larger number of questions to clear the sectional cut-off. Thus your strategy for the section cannot be decided beforehand, while sitting at your home-it needs to be tailored according to the paper in front of you!
Strong grasp of fundamentals: Without this, you will not be able to get far. You also need to quickly decide which 'funda' (properties of numbers, for example) is appropriate to apply for which question.
For example, you might start solving a question and find that the final answer required you to find the square of a large odd number. Rather than multiplying the number and wasting time, you should remember that the square of an odd number must always be odd. Now look at the answer choices -- you may find that all except one of the answer choices is an even number. Thus, the only possible answer is the one that is odd.
Short-cuts to solving questions: There are quite a few books, besides the classroom sessions of the various MBA coaching institutes that will teach you various short-cuts to solve questions. Some institutes may teach you to the basics of Vedic Mathematics, an interesting way to go about tedious calculations. But remember that you need to exercise care while using short-cuts. This is because many of them are best applied only in particular cases and not across the board. Use only the short-cuts that seem to work for you -- and this will vary from student to student.
Use the answer choices: Take a look at and be aware of the answer choices while solving the question. You may be able to eliminate some of them by simple visual inspection. Sometimes you may realise on reading the question that the answer must lie within a certain range; and hence you could eliminate any options that lie outside this range.
Even more importantly, in quite a few questions, you can actually find the correct answer by plugging in the various numbers given in the answer options and see which one fits the bill. This might well be the best way to attack certain questions.
Regular practice is essential: Mathematics does indeed require practice. Remember always that CAT tests on you on your understanding of mathematical questions and on whether you know when to apply a particular formula. It is not about mugging things up through highly intensive study for many hours. Rather, your "general comfort level" with numbers is assessed.
This can only improve if you practice regularly and frequently. I would suggest that you do at least an hour to an hour and a half of numerical questions every day. That would mean that you solve at least 40 questions daily. You will find that your fear of Mathematics decreases with time as you get familiar with a larger variety of questions and their variations.
Understand your strengths and weaknesses: Remember that the Quant section comprises a number of sub-sections such as the Number System, Algebra based questions, Arithmetic questions such as those dealing with time, speed and distance etc, Geometry, probability, simple and compound interest, ratio and proportion, logarithms, arithmetic and geometric progressions etc.
It is important for you to realise that while you may be good at certain sub-sections, others may not be your forte and vice versa. For example, if you think you are scared of Mathematics, it may be because you have a fear of Algebra, but you may actually be very comfortable with questions pertaining to the Number System and Mensuration. So during your preparation period before CAT, you should try to improve on the areas where you are not so comfortable. Remember, that the CAT paper can spring surprises and you cannot know beforehand as to what kind of questions will come in the paper.
Choose wisely: In the older CAT papers, it was very rare for students to be able to attempt all the questions in the Quant section. Selecting appropriate questions was crucial; you could not afford to miss the 'sitters'.
In the papers that have appeared over the last few years, the number of questions has substantially decreased. However, it is still important to choose what to attempt carefully. As mentioned before, a preliminary scanning of the paper before you attempt it is necessary, after which you need to exercise your judgment as to what questions you will attempt and how many.
Do not start by doing the questions that require too much time, for you may find that 20 minutes down the line, you have only gone through a quarter of the Quantitative Ability section. This may result in you beginning to panic later through the paper.
Don't get stuck while attempting the Quant section: It does happen many a time that students start attempting questions and then get lost half way through. However, not wanting to give up once they have started on a question, they keep trying to solve it. This is the classic situation of "throwing good money after bad", or in this case, "throwing good time after wasted time." This is one of the worst mistakes to make; and if it happens more than once in the paper, you will find that you lack enough time to clear the cut-off. The solution is that if you have made a reasonable attempt at a question and can't solve it, you must move on to the next. Don't get stuck anywhere during the paper!
Enjoy Mathematics: Above all, try and enjoy your preparation for Quant. Just as in other things, you are likely to do better if you enjoy what you have to learn, rather than consider it a bore or something you are doing for the sake of passing an examination.
Numbers and their properties are interesting! For example, write down the squares of 11, 111, 1111, 11111, 111111 and so on and see if you can spot something amazing!
Have you read Dan Brown's best-seller The Da Vinci Code and the references it contains to the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Ratio etc? Reading about such things may help to stimulate your interest in Mathematics and do better when faced with questions.
The author is an MBA from IIM Calcutta and is employed with a management consultancy. He has also been a visiting faculty with MBA coaching centres in New Delhi [Images] [Images], and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.