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CAT 2008: Stay adaptable!
Ashish Dua
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October 06, 2008

With a little over a month to go for CAT 2008, the pressure on B-school aspirants is mounting. Strategising, mock CATs, time management -- each have their own importance and value when it comes to making your CAT attempt meaningful.

To help test-takers, we asked students who have taken the CAT to share their tips and tricks. Here, Ashish Dua, a student at IIM Lucknow (Batch 2008-10), shares his advice.

This year again, on the third Sunday of the month of November, the nation will indulge in a fierce battle of wits. The fighters will change, the battle ground will change and the intensity will differ, but the prize will remain a coveted seat in one of the best management institutes in the country.

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I was fortunate enough to bell the CAT in 2007, in my second attempt at it. In this article, I'd like to share my two cents worth of learning I had picked up during preparation. Having played the game and failed at it, I feel I have some insights that will help you in planning your preparation.

CAT aspirants are of two types, those who've recognised that the CAT is a different type of an exam, and those who will not succeed this year. It is a harsh way of putting it, but this is what I realised for myself once I reflected upon my reasons for failure.

All of us have been taking exams since kindergarten, and all of us have developed a toolkit for dealing with them. The problem with CAT is that the same toolkit will not work unless modified. The difference comes from the reason that CAT is an exam that requires you to optimise and not maximise returns.

I can't be sure that after reading the above line you'll treat the exam differently, but I can promise that unless you start thinking of it as a fundamentally different exam, it would be hard to crack CAT.

Having understood that the exam is different, there are three steps I'd like to advise in setting up your preparation:

Know Thyself: Throughout your preparation keep in mind that you are different. You'll hear a lot of advice from teachers, seniors and friends about test taking strategy. Listen to all of that, but do what works the best for you. The only universal advice I can think of is, join a test series with some preparation institute.

That not only brings a structure and discipline to the whole preparation but keeps you abreast of what your competitors are learning. Other than this it is just you vs yourself. Think of your training like perfecting a cycle:

Perform > Analyse > Reflect > Prepare > Practice > Perform

Compare this with a traditional exam preparation that goes like:

Prepare > Practice > Perform

Most of us end up paying a lot less attention to the analysing and reflecting phase. Do not do that. After every test you take (and take at least one in a week starting today) analyse the mistakes you made, the section that didn't go well and most importantly the concepts you muddled up.

In the next week just do a concentrated preparation on these subject areas through textbook and practice exercises. Try to catch hold of the root cause of the problem and not the symptom. It is easy to think your problem in RC is slow reading speed when actually you are missing out because you don't answer the question being asked. You'll see that if you single out the root cause of the issue it would be really easy to plug the hole.

Know Thy Enemy: There is no official course material for CAT, no fixed format and no syllabus. The test tries to test you in a new environment each time. So an important learning is to stay adaptable and let the format of the test decide how you perform at it.

The most difficult question of optimisation in CAT is to decide which section to attempt first and how much time to give to it. Another problem is when to leave the question you think you know. I'd say practice all possible strategies for you during preparation. Change the order of sections, time per section and choice of questions.

Of course, when you change strategy make sure it is required to perfect the learning cycle discussed above, not because you have been advised to. And throughout the exam, remember, you have to maximise your score in minimum time. This should be the only objective. So whether you solve the question from the choices, from a formula you know or from sheer hunch makes absolutely no difference.

Make sure you have this maximisation intent running through your blood stream when you sit down to take the test.

Know thy battleground: The day of the exam will be a lot different from other tests you'd take during preparation. I myself was never a consistent performer in the test series I joined. I would always perform poorly in either quant or verbal. In fact, of the 12 odd test series exams I undertook during preparation, I crossed 99%ile only once.

So did I get lucky on the day of the exam? I, of course, would like to think otherwise. On that day everything comes down to a test of nerves. As you might realise if you do the last year's paper sitting at home, the exam is not really that tough. Yet, every serious aspirant will underperform in it just because of nerves. I cannot emphasise the importance of a positive frame of mind that day.

Do anything that works for you but feel confident about yourself that day and think of it like another test you are about to take. Past performance, uncompleted syllabus, the fear of a section -- should all be replaced by one encompassing belief -- today is my day. It will make a lot of difference.      

I hope the above strategies help. Just keep the faith and you'll do great. All the best!

Have you aced the CAT? Do you have tips that could help students improve their scores or stress-busting strategies to beat pre-CAT nerves? Send in your advice to and we'll publish your strategies right here on


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