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Preparing for CAT 2011? Here are some strategies

March 23, 2011 13:57 IST
There are around 8 months left for the CAT 2011, if the IIMs stick to the same schedule they followed in 2010. The exam paper consists of three sections, which includes quantitative reasoning, data interpretation, and verbal reasoning. It is very important to do equally well in all sections if you want to get calls from the top institutes. They have individual cut-offs for each section. I will briefly outline how one should go about preparing for each section.

Quantitative Ability:

This is the section where engineering students tend to do quite well. What matters the most in this section is solving a particular problem in the least amount of time. With a good background in mathematics and maybe a lot of practice to build up, it is always possible to solve problems fast, just through basic principles. Yet, it helps to know some tricks. A common pitfall is in trying to learn the tricks without understanding them, and I would recommend deriving them on your own from basic principles, in order to gain a thorough understanding.

Preparation for this section should begin by refreshing basic concepts and solving various problems on these topics. Understand the formulae well. In the initial phase, make sure you are able to solve all questions, no matter how much time it takes. While checking your answers, go through the model solution for all the questions, even the ones where you got your answer right, as there is always the chance of coming across a better method.

Once you are done with all the concepts, the next phase is to improve your speed. This comes with a lot of practice and having a habit to analyse solutions. In areas like Combinatorics and Work-Time, your speed increases considerably with practice. It is also important to note that if you are not able to solve a problem or if you make conceptual mistakes in this phase, go over a concept again in detail. With this approach, you will improve your speed and accuracy leading to a high percentile in this section.

Data Interpretation:

Preparing for this section is about solving as many problems of all the different types as you can -- in order to improve speed and accuracy. It is important to keep in mind the following points:

The first thing to do is master the art of transferring data on the screen to the rough sheet. Do this smartly while reading the question set, which saves a lot of time. Identify the question sets that you can solve in the least amount of time per question, and solve them first. To do that, looking at all the question sets quickly before solving any of them is important.

Often, large parts of the data provided are not useful in answering the questions. So develop the ability to identify the useful data by going through the question. For the problems based on numerical data involving tedious calculations, learn to quickly get approximate answers by rounding off to two decimals and match them with the correct option.

There is one last thing I would like to mention. I already discussed it for quant, but it works better for this section. Always go through the model answers for a question set no matter whether you get it right or wrong for the same reasons as in quant. Comparing methods and using the best possible method for processing data and solving problems is always useful.

Verbal Ability:

The two most important requirements for doing well in this section are good vocabulary and a good reading speed. So in the next couple of months, start reading up articles on a variety of topics like science, philosophy, arts, and language, from various magazines and newspapers. This will help you to improve your reading speed and will allow you to grasp important concepts in short articles similar to the ones in the CAT exam. Make sure you always note down new words that you come across, and their meaning. This will build up your vocabulary as well as set up a good foundation in VA and RC.

For improving your vocabulary, I have found word lists useful in the past myself, but they should be finished by the end of April. For grammar, go through all the basic rules and common mistakes. Looking at options also helps in figuring out the correct set of sentences in grammar questions. Summarizing a paragraph and arranging sentences requires a lot of practice, and always go through the reasoning given in the sample answers. Since the number and type of questions that can be asked is limited, try to solve as many questions of each type as you can. Amongst all the three sections, I think practice helps the most in VA-RC.

For RC, there are two approaches that people take. The first is to read the entire passage before answering any questions and the second is to go through questions first before reading the passage. I would recommend trying out both the approaches and picking up the one you feel the most comfortable with. When the number of questions is very high, you need to smartly leave out the RCs that take up more time, and where accuracy could be low. This ability comes with practice.

There are two last comments I want to make about this section. First, this is the section where you do not need to make any calculations, so speed is the highest. Thus, it could be finished in less time as compared to the other two. Keep this in mind when you start giving tests and pace yourself accordingly. The last tip is that you will often come across questions in RC/Summary/Ordering where two answers are very close to each other. Identifying the correct one comes from identifying the one that is not correct, as one answer will be slightly wrong. The ability to figure this out comes from practice and analysing the solutions.

Overall, practice well for all three sections. The initial phase is about building up concepts in the next couple of months -- followed by extensive practice, revision and mock tests. Try out various exam strategies in the practice tests and then adopt the one that you feel suits your abilities the best. And if you work diligently towards your goal, a great CAT score in all three sections is waiting for you come this time next year!

This article has been authored exclusively for TestFunda.com by 2010 CAT 100 percentiler, Shashank Samant, an IIT Bombay alumnus who works with Morgan Stanley. Log on to TestFunda.com to play online prep games, quizzes, FREE downloads of past XATs, CATs, FMS, IIFT original papers and strategies from past 100 percentilers. TestFunda is the leader in online MBA & UPSC test prep.