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Cracking CAT: Sure-fire Quant strategies
TIME Research Team
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October 14, 2008

Quantitative ability is that portion in CAT which worries more than 50 per cent of CAT aspirants. The main reason appears to be that a large number of aspirants have not studied Maths for the last five years or more after Class X and are out of touch. Additionally, quite a large number of you also did not do very well in Maths in Class X and chose the Commerce or Humanities (Arts) stream in Class XI because of that very reason.

So, let us address some of the common misconceptions about the Maths section in CAT.

First of all, questions in Quantitative Ability are not about lots and lots of complex calculations nor do they need a deep understanding of higher Maths. An analysis of CAT papers of the last five years indicates that in every paper there were at least 50 per cent questions which could have been attempted by any person who has a reasonable knowledge of the basic concepts.

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So, how can you do well in Quantitative Ability? First of all, you need to believe that you can crack this section even if you have not studied Maths beyond Class X. Winning this psychological battle is not impossible and it is the most important one for those who have been away from Maths for a few years.

Identification of questions which are 'easy' is the next step. A number of candidates lose their patience when they are unable to "crack" the first two or three questions. They just give up and are not able to find some of the 'sitters' that may be hidden on the subsequent pages.

The precursor to these two is about developing and building strong fundamentals of the basics. Chapters like Numbers, Percentages, Profit & Loss, Time & Work, Time & Distance, Ratios, Proportions & Variations, Averages, Mixtures & Alligation etc are crucial.

In fact, it would have been possible to clear sectional cut-offs in most of the CATs in the last five years if you had strong fundamentals of these chapters. Of course, this means you should have found these questions and should have had strong fundamentals to crack them too.

The key to build strong fundamentals is practice, practice and practice. The questions need a logical approach and practicing a variety of questions under time pressure is essential. Questions may have twists, useless information, tricky variations and quite a few questions which appear long and difficult could turn out be reasonably simple ones.

For example let us take the following problem:

a, b, c are three different integers such that a x b x c = a + b + c. How many such triplets can be there which satisfy this equation?

If we think casually the only triplet that instantaneously comes to the mind is 1, 2, 3 and no other group of three numbers seem to meet the conditions. So, the number of such triplets must be 1. Halt! The question said integers and not natural numbers so any triplet of the form (-a, 0, a) eg (-2, 0, 2) can satisfy the above condition. Thus the number of such triplets is infinite and not 1!

Therefore, the problems are based on the application of concepts and not just a mechanical use of formulae. Apart from these chapters Geometry, Logarithms, Surds and Indices and some higher Maths topics like Permutation and Combination, Probability and Functions have their share. But the trend also shows that the number of questions from these sections are either low in number or are based on preliminary knowledge which you can answer without actually knowing a lot about the subjects. This does not mean, however, that you should skip these chapters as they together will form some part of the paper and are also important for other exams like FMS, XLRI, etc as well.

Finally, remember that the CAT is one of the most unpredictable exams and never make a mistake of guessing and leaving chapters that you consider 'difficult'.

So, what should be the strategy to tackle the quantitative section of CAT? 

The first skill a CAT aspirant has to acquire is to judge correctly the right questions to answer and the questions to be either left out or worthy of attempting only in the second round. And that clearly means you have to spend at least the first one or two minutes of starting the section in just scanning the paper.

These few minutes will definitely give you at least four-five easier questions that are at the end or in the middle of the section and you possibly would have never reached there once you start solving the section from the first question onwards. Solve these one by one.

Once this is done, try to find out those questions that you need not solve completely and merely working backwards from the options will do the trick.

Every CAT paper is known to have at least three-four of these questions. Further, there will be some questions where you may not be able to check the validity of the options directly but you can eliminate two or three options by intelligent guessing.

CAT 2008 will have three sections and you should not give more than 45-50 minutes to the Maths section which means after the scanning and attempting the "easy" questions, you still have around 25-30 minutes of time left. Now you can start with the questions you have not attempted thus far.

It is here that the difference between a person who can think fast and one who cannot will get highlighted. If you are comfortable with mental calculations and shortcut methods, you can solve a few more questions in the next 15 minutes. But remember this very clearly means you need to practice these methods while preparing now or otherwise there is every chance that you will commit mistakes in calculations if you try them in the exam hall.

In the last 10-15 minutes of your allotted time, you can attempt around three to five questions that may take up to three minutes each. So your total attempts will come to about 12-18 out of a total of about 25 questions (assuming the pattern is continued from the previous years). With an 80 per cent accuracy rate, this is no doubt a good attempt provided you do the other sections equally well.

Those who have low accuracy rates should try to attempt more and must learn and continuously practice the art of intelligent guessing. Regular practice of mental calculations as well as shortcuts is absolutely essential as this can create a substantial difference in terms of marks.

The last word -- since CAT is not predictable, always approach with an open mind to face any change in pattern or type of the paper.

TIME imparts training and career guidance to student aspirants for competitive tests like CAT / MBA / MCA / BBA / GRE / TOEFL etc. TIME is run by a group of IIM alumni and has the largest network of 159 centres in 81 cities in India. TIME students achieved 885 selections into IIMs alone in CAT 2007.

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