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CAT 2008: My preparation strategy
In the Data Interpretation and Analytical Reasoning section of the Common Admission Test (CAT), candidates are provided with various kinds of diagrams, pie-charts, graphs, or other kinds of figures with data and are expected to answer questions based on these. You also find questions on analytical reasoning -- basically mathematical puzzles which require the candidate to apply the principles of logic to solve.
Here are some tips that may prove useful in scoring well in this section:
Be familiar with the types of problems that appear
This is extremely important. Be familiar with your territory! Certain types of questions (with some variations of course) are seen regularly in the CAT and the entrance examinations of other business schools.
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For example, there is a very common set that states that there are five or six different people let us say -- Mohan, Raju, Sashank, Gupta, Manoj and Suman and six different houses in six different cities. You have to correctly find which house and in which city each of the given people resides in. For this, you are given a number of statements or clues to help you make the correct match.
This type of question might appear time consuming, but remember that such types of questions are usually in the form of 'caselets' -- that is a set of three or four linked questions, so if you get the correct sequence, you actually end up with the answers to three questions at one go!
The point is that if you have practiced such questions, and their variations often, you will find them quite do-able on D-day. On the other hand, if you are seeing a particular type of caselet for the first time, it is very likely that you are going to struggle to grasp it and will take far more time to crack it. So look at past question papers and make a note of and practice such common questions regularly till you master them!
Similarly with diagrams, there are some standard types of questions. For example, a common type of question associated with line-graphs is to find the year in which there was the highest percentage change. First, try simple visual inspection and train yourself to get better and better at this with diagrams -- it will really help you in corporate life! Only if necessary, use pen and paper.
Now, decide the best strategy
Having practiced the standard questions, now decide the strategy to crack them if you get a variation of such a question on D-day. For example, the type of problem outlined above with the six different houses in different cities can be solved by making a three-way table and then working by elimination, using the given 'hint-statements' to arrive at the correct matching.
During your preparation, do carefully note how the solution is arrived at and practice accordingly. Sometimes, there can be more than one method that may be used to solve such problems. Understand all these methods and then choose the one that works best for you.
Good practice material
You need to practice for this section from a good book having a comprehensive range of puzzles and diagrams. A book such as 'The Great Book of Mind Teasers and Puzzles' by George Summers may prove useful, provided you work on it diligently.
Try solving almost all the puzzles in this; you will find the book has a great variety of questions, ranging from the straightforward to the very difficult. You could also look at some of the books by Shakuntala Devi, the great mathematical wizard.
You have to train your mind to be more 'analytical' and improve your 'mathematical logic'. This will come only over a period of time.
It is far better to attempt two or three data sets and five or six caselets every day for a period of 10 to 12 weeks rather than decide to set apart a week for practicing only Data Interpretation and devote 10 hours per day for a week on this section.
Make sure that you are putting in some work on this section, particularly on your analytical reasoning skills almost daily. This skill develops over time, and your mind does require some training.
Make Data Interpretation a part of your life
We read the newspapers and magazines almost daily. Almost in every issue, at least some data is presented in the form of charts, bars, pie-charts and other diagrams. For example, the movement of the sensex of the BSE over a period of time may be represented by a line diagram. What can you infer from a chart depicting the movement of the Sensex? For example, can you say in which day of the week was the movement the highest by simple visual inspection?
Similarly, the rise in price levels or inflation may also be represented in such a format. The shareholding in a particular company could be represented with a pie-chart. Try to look at the diagram and draw conclusions, without reading the explanatory text.
Improve your mental mathematics and revise percentages and approximations
Perform mental calculations whenever possible. For example, cricket matches provide a great opportunity to use our mental maths abilities. You could calculate the current run rate of the team batting or the run rate required to win the match at the end of every over, or the current strike rate of the batsman etc.
Similarly, whenever filling up petrol, try to calculate how many litres you get for Rs 100, 200, 300 etc at current prices.
You would also need to know the reciprocals and percentages of numbers upto 20 ie you should immediately be able to state the value of 1/16, 1/18 etc. Similarly, you should also know the squares of numbers upto 30 and the cubes of numbers upto 20.
In addition, it is suggested that you try to learn the square roots and cube roots of numbers upto 10. This will help you save time at crucial junctures.
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], and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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