How to crack the CAT in 6 months
Thousands appear for the Common Admission Test in the final year of their undergraduate studies.
Those who are not able to get through in their first attempt reappear the following year and add to the ever increasing pool of candidates with work experience.
With the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other Indian b-schools too laying stress on work experience since the past few years, candidates with work experience can fancy their chances more than freshers.
But for a working professional, working five to six days a week, CAT preparation becomes all the more difficult.
With this schedule, taking the help of a professional coaching institute is also difficult and hence in most cases their preparation is irregular and incomprehensive.
In this article I try and draw from my own experiences as well as those of my friends who successfully cracked CAT while they were working in some of the most stressful and demanding jobs there can be.
The author Deepak Nanwani is the co-founder of One52.com an online adaptive solution for GMAT, MBA and UG exams. An alumnus of IIT Guwahati and IIM Bangalore, he is a master strategist for all competitive exams.
Photographs: Rediff Archives
Discipline is important
A study schedule is very important for anyone who is preparing for the CAT but in the case of a working professional, discipline is far more important.
Every single day no matter what time I reached home after office, I made it a point to stick to my preparation plan.
At the same time, it was important to know my limitations.
I knew that on a weekday with my hectic work schedule, devoting more than an hour and a half to CAT preparation meant that I would be stretching myself beyond limits.
Others I knew who had successfully cracked CAT told me that they did not put in more than eight to ten hours all weekdays combined.
It is always important to keep your mind and body up and running for the next day at office.
Importance of sectional tests and analysis
Sitting for full length tests on weekdays was practically impossible for.
So on weekdays, I used to attempt three sectional tests of 20-minute duration with 10 questions in each.
After these tests I used to spend 20 minutes analysing the tests (including analysis of incorrect answers as well as better/faster methods of doing questions I had not attempted correctly).
Sectional tests should ideally form the most important part of a working professional's preparation schedule owing to their focus on a specific area and the tests' short length.
Target a number of tests
I had a personal organiser that helped me track the number of tests I had to take every week.
This number kept changing depending on the past week's performance.
Of course, sectional tests do not have a minimum cut off as such, so I kept a record of my accuracy in an Excel sheet.
Every week, I calculated the average accuracy over the cumulative number of tests taken till date.
The goal was to improve the accuracy consistently (especially in the verbal section).
Image: Make a study plan and no matter what, stick to it
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
My Study Schedule in detail
I feel that a preparation time of five to six months with the right focus areas is enough especially for a person who has attempted the CAT in the past to succeed in the test.
Barring some glaring conceptual glitches, ironing out most of the past errors should not be difficult.
Additionally, since you have attempted the CAT earlier, practising the same kind of questions and studying the same concepts can become very boring and demotivating after some time.
Hence, it is advisable not to overdo anything.
I started by taking a couple of full length tests and analysing where I was going wrong.
I broadly identified the weak areas (Algebra, Problem Solving, DI, LR, etc) and also noted the accuracy I was achieving in each of these sections.
The first step after this was to go back to brushing up my basics and revise the concepts -- especially the ones I was weaker in.
Simultaneously, I started solving Sudoku and crossword puzzles and reading newspapers with a specific eye on the tone of the article, the major ideas that have been talked about and the inferences/judgments/opinions present in the article if any.
No matter how inconsequential it might appear, this strategy helped me.
Image: Ensure that you do not over-prepare
Photographs: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
Months Two and Three
The aim by now was to keep working on the basics while at the same time improving on them by practicing a lot of sectional tests.
I have always found it difficult to concentrate for long hours and hence sectional tests made perfect sense for me.
At the same time I made sure that I was constantly analysing my results and keeping track of my accuracy.
Two important points to note here -- I gave only a couple of full length tests during this time, mainly to understand if my plan was having enough impact on my overall score.
Secondly, I made it a point not to practice more than six to eight sectional tests over the weekend -- to ensure that I was not overdoing anything.
The core idea was to attempt all the questions in any test even if it took say a couple of minutes more than the allotted time, simply so that I could learn, improve and be exposed to as many question types as possible.
Image: Attempt as many different questions you can
Photographs: Noah Berger/Reuters
Months Four and Five
During these two months, every weekend, I took a couple of full length tests.
Besides that, I was still practicing two to three sectional tests a day.
Something else that I did at this stage was to note down the time I was saving in each sectional test.
If I finished a test in say 15 minutes, I noted down the five minutes I'd saved.
Within a month I had a good amount of data to identify topics where I could achieve good accuracy without spending much time (the 'star' topics), the areas where I had to put in considerable efforts to get the correct answers and topics where I was better off leaving the questions for the end when I had spare time to spend on them.
Now was the time for some strategy.
In any test (sectional/full length) if I encountered a question whose answer I was not able to find in a straightforward manner, I noted down the question number and the topic, came to it at the end of the test only if I had the time.
I also started optimising my time utilisation -- I analysed which questions I could get correct with the highest possibility in the last 10 minutes. This strategy helped me maximise my score.
Image: Identify topics that'll help you improve your accuracy
Photographs: Erin Siegal/Reuters
Around this time I was subconsciously able to decide on-the-go whether to attempt a question or leave it for the end (even from my strength areas).
I again brought down the frequency of full length tests to around two to three per fortnight from the earlier four to five a fortnight to prevent exhaustion.
The last 10 days
I took just one full length test during this time.
I did not revise any new concept and did not try out any new type of questions ensuring that I was totally relaxed, and not over worked when the D-day arrived.
For a working professional, it is very important to conserve as much energy as possible (because of professional commitments).
Hence it makes much more sense to do less full length tests as compared to say a candidate who is giving the Common Admission Test for the first time, more so because a working professional has already gone through the rigour of preparation multiple times.
Focus only on the areas you need to improve upon.
Image: Try not to learn any new concepts one week before the exam
Photographs: Carlos Barria/Reuters