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CAT: Two-week countdown
Gautam Puri
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October 29, 2008

With CAT only about two weeks away, it would be wise not to waste time working on anything new. In the next few weeks, just revise your fundamentals. Also, the basic process of revision should not be one where you check yourself on whether you remember the solution to questions or not.

While revising, see if there is a better way of doing a question. At this stage, your study hours should be down to a minimum of three to four hours a day and all that you do should be towards keeping a clear head and improving your concentration.

Here are some easy tips on how to spend your time preparing for CAT:

~ Don't experiment
There should be no fiddling with your strategy at this stage. The time for experimentation is over now. As long as you know that the strategy you are using is giving you rewards, don't change it.

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For example, you would know if your best bet is to scan a passage and then move onto to the questions, while another person could be more at ease scanning questions before going onto the passage. So just stick to whatever works best for you.

~ Taking the tests
Test-taking is the most important aspect of your preparation now. Take two or at the most three tests a week. Test-taking should be followed by an analysis of the complete paper.

~ Analyse
What mistakes you have committed and how you will rectify them. The mistake that is commonly committed is that we take a test as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end.

Remember, CAT is not about last-minute cramming and revising. It's about being alive and mentally alert, here and now.

~ Gauge yourself
The most objective analysis of your performance is to judge your performance with respect to that of other students. There cannot be any method more objective than that. 

The second step is to go by the benchmarks you are expected to get in that test. Ideally, if you retain your old scores even if the test is getting tougher, it means that you are improving. At this stage, improvement can come not by knowing new things but by fine-tuning what you already know. 

~ Finishing touches
Do away with your urge to cover the complete syllabus instead of revising or analysing the test. Besides spending time on why some answers went wrong, also concentrate on why some answers were correct or whether there is any better way of solving the question.

Furthermore, in any well-planned CAT paper, you will not be able to complete the whole section or paper. So go through the questions that you did not attempt and see if you made a mistake by leaving out those and attempting the ones you did.

Also remember than in every paper, there will be both difficult and easy questions. This is where the concept of revision comes in. With regular revision, you get better and better at questions and are able to do them in a short span of time.

~ For D-Day
One of the biggest pitfalls is that as students we always search for short cuts, asking 'which is the easiest way out and which are the easiest questions?' A critical issue here is the tremendous urge to skip questions.

We tend to lose concentration at different stages during the exam and tend to skip questions because of the pressures of time. But things get better if you follow a couple of golden rules. If you want to identify the questions to attend, it is imperative that you read all the questions.

~ Prioritise
Start with the shorter questions. The advantage with short questions is not that they are easier, but that it will take you less time to identify whether you can do them or not.

The short questions are not just one-liners or two-liners. So read all the questions and quickly decide which ones to attempt.

~ Be decisive
Decide in two readings whether you are going to attempt the question or not. This is perfectly normal and don't let it bother you. It will take not more than 15 seconds, at a very leisurely pace, to read a question. But if you read the question faster, you would have saved a few seconds. These can then be spent on understanding the question.

While reading the question, your attitude should be, 'let me give everything I have'. Concentrating for those two-and-a-half hours is not easy, but imperative.

Another good approach is to attempt questions that you are comfortable with. The second issue is about the maximum marks per page.

Ask yourself, "If there are five sheets, can I get three marks in every sheet?" If the quant paper is covered in five sheets, it forces you to remember that you have to get so many marks on each sheet and not get stuck on the first sheet. Realise that you need to move on.  

~ Here and now
This is also the time when students have to appear for other MBA entrance exams. For IRMA, XLRI, IIFT and others, the one section that you need to work on is general awareness and business aptitude. Good reading habits help. But right now, focus on CAT till November 16 and nothing else.

In the last month, people are under a lot of stress. Reading the newspapers will not only give you that daily dose of news, but also help you relax.

~ The DI angle
Let's talk about the Data Interpretation (DI) section for a moment. If your basic fundas are clear you will immediately understand the question. And out of a set of five questions, at least three are bound to be easy.

Learn the art of skipping questions in DI. The misconception is that you have to solve the whole set before you move on to the next set. 

~ Risk taking
If you do the question correctly, you get marks. If you do it wrong, you get penalised. The negative marking is broadly speaking one-third of a mark. Since you don't lose a mark if you leave the question, one should avoid really wild guesses. Which brings us to a controversial area: What should you do when you know that the two choices are wrong and that the correct answer is among the other two?

You could mark one of the two as the answer. But if you do not have the appetite to take that small risk, leave it. However, also remember that intelligent guessing is a part of the game. As long as it is an educated and intelligent guess, it will benefit you. Often by this stage we also know our effectiveness at intelligent guessing, this is where the regular test analysis comes in, especially checking questions that you got right and analysing what is it that helped get it right.

If you are a poor logical guesser even when down to two options -- invest time in seeing why you consistently go wrong. This could pay huge dividends in the long run.

~ Expect surprises
The surprise is more in terms of format than spirit. They will change the structure somehow. CAT is traditionally known to check how students deal with ambiguity because it is necessary to be a good manager in real life and the IIMs are very clear, they are looking for the best of the best of the best.  

~ Ease up, learn to relax
Many a time, very high potential students have not made it to the IIMs because they could not handle the pressure. So unwind, go for movies, do things that help you relax, go for walks, meditate -- do all that it takes keep your head clear. Get back to those tougher sections after CAT, when you are ready for yet another lap for other management schools. People, who stick it out, hang in there and continue to peg away will make it.

The writer is Vice Chairman of Career Launcher (I) Ltd and an alumnus of IIM, Bangalore.

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