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Preparing for a b-school exam? Read this!

Last updated on: October 28, 2011 09:49 IST

Preparing for a b-school exam? Read this!

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Nearing a b-school exam? Don't know where to start? Here's a list of what you should do and avoid while preparing for a b-school exam. Read on.

With the Common Admission Test 2011 already in process and other b-school entrance exams like the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) on November 27, 2011, Symbiosis National Aptitude test (SNAP) on December 18, 2011 and Xavier Admission Test (XAT) on January 8, 2012 to name a few, lined up in the months to come, it is important to remember a few crucial things that you SHOULD do and some that you definitely AVOID!

Though this list is not comprehensive or exhaustive, it is meant to serve as a guide for the next few days till you appear for CAT and the other MBA exams! Read on.

During revision

DOs

  • Now is the time to focus on the theory and concepts of only those chapters where either you are conceptually strong but slow at solving CAT level questions or where you are quick but go wrong because you have either not understood the application of the concepts or the interpretation of the question or have made a silly error.
  • Identify areas that are definite strengths for you. For instance, for any given chapter, if you can solve 7/8 questions out of 10 in 3 to 3.5 minutes each, then that chapter is a definite strength. Practise a few questions from such chapters every day.
  • Make hand written notes -- one of the oldest yet one of the most effective ways of preparing at the very last minute. For every chapter that you read, make YOUR OWN NOTES. These could be anything -- formulae, properties, some time saving tips that you follow, some elimination techniques...whatever else comes to your mind! This will help you prepare effectively in the last 2-3 days when you will have close to 100 chapters to go through and less than 100 hours at hand.

DON'Ts

  • If there is a chapter or concept where you are still going wrong, you may not have enough time to significantly strengthen your concepts and then solve enough questions to become adept at them. It may be best to ignore such a concept, unless it is a concept as critical as say, Reading Comprehension or Numbers.
  • Quality is always better than quantity! Do not try and solve 50 or 100 questions everyday in the hope that repetitive practice will make your CAT preparation better. The more focused your practice is, the better your chances are at CAT.

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During mock tests and analysis

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DOs
  • Make a mental note of the number of days you have AFTER taking away the last 2 days before the date of your examinations and try to take that many mocks starting today. Although, there is no fixed number of mocks that you should take now, this number has to be decided by you keeping in mind your comfort levels and preparation levels. Also, if possible, try and attempt these mocks at the same time at which your actual CAT is scheduled and without taking any breaks!

DONTs

  • Do not attempt so few mocks or do not keep such a big gap between mocks so as to break your rhythm. If your rhythm does break at this stage, then it may affect your scores and your confidence as well.
  • Also, do not attempt too many mocks so as to make test-taking activity a routine and mundane exercise. Never attempt more than one mock a day. Taking too many mocks will not only leave you with insufficient time for analysis but also affect your concentration levels in the second mock.
  • During the mock stage, your analysis should be focussed more on attempts to gain practice rather than individual details. Briefly run through the analysis of previous mocks and try to correlate your number of attempts per area (QA, VA and DILR) versus the overall accuracy and attempts and see what attempt strategy suits you best.
  • While it is not preferable to have an iron clad strategy for the exam, it is always better to have some idea as to how you are going to approach the actual exam.
  • Do not try to over analyse the mock tests. There is often a temptation to analyse a test using every single parameter i.e. speed, accuracy, attempts, time per attempt, attemptable questions etc. There is a phrase -- 'paralysis of analysis' which means that even the greatest of analysis becomes meaningless if it does not lead to decision making and remedial action. And if you have spent too much only on analysing the same data on various parameters, then you will not get any time to work on remedial action.

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The day before the exam

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DOs
  • Relax! Relax! Relax! You can say this as many times as you want but that would not still convey the actual importance of that word.
  • You should try to maintain a very relaxed schedule on this day so as to ensure that you are completely focused on the day of the actual exam. Rest as much as possible and try to get some well needed sleep. If watching a movie or going to a fancy restaurant de-stresses you, go ahead and do that. Do whatever you want -- yoga, meditation, music -- as long as you can relax.

DON'Ts

  • While it is important to de-stress and relax, please do not indulge in any such activity that may physically or mentally hamper your actual exam. Thus, while it is fine to watch a movie or have a high-end dinner, don't get your inner trekking fiend or glutton out on this day. All your preparation over the last few months will go down the drain if you fall ill on the last day because of something silly you did or ate on the last day.
  • Do not attempt a mock test on this day under any circumstances. This is risky for two reasons -- one that it reduces the actual intensity you would have on the final day i.e. if you attempt a test on the penultimate day then the actual test may also seem like a mock; and two, in case you do poorly in the final mock test, your confidence in the actual test may take a very severe beating.

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Gearing for the D-day

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DOs
  • Make it a point to visit the centre at least one day in advance, preferably around the same time that you need to visit on the actual day. This will not only let you know the route, duration etc but also give you a good idea of the traffic patterns, best mode of transport etc for the critical day. While this may seem trivial right now, it is precisely such a thing that could spoil your confidence if it goes wrong on the exam day.
  • Please check and re-check all the documents that you need during the exam i.e. the CAT voucher, the admit card printout, proof of ID etc. This is in fact a much more vital aspect as the absence of any these documents could lead to a no-show at the exam centre as the CAT and PROMETRIC authorities are very strict about these things. One miss and you could end up wasting a full year!
  • If you have made the hand-written notes explained above, they may come in handy at this time. You could spend some part of the day in revising the chapters that you feel need some last minute touches. This will ensure that you are suitably geared up just before the exam. If you want, you could practice a few problems from select areas, but do not overdo things.
  • Please reach the centre at least 30-45 minutes before the time specified by Prometric. Any delay or last-minute hassle here could unnecessarily increase your stress levels and affect your performance in the actual exam. Please note that this is not just motivational information but a scientifically proven fact that increased stress levels could cause adverse hormonal activity which can increase anxiety in turn and affect performance. This is where your visit to the exam centre on the previous day may help!
  • Please make it a point to go through the entire tutorial provided by Prometric. Note that any time that you save from the tutorial will not get added to your exam time. So, please spend this time in going through each and every screen in detail. This will not only acclimatise you with the features of the interface, but also soothe your nerves and help you relax. So, when you start the paper, you are reasonably settled and warmed-up.

DON'Ts

  • Our experience over the last two years has been that bags are not allowed in the centre building, forget the test lab. So, do not carry too much material to the test centre unless absolutely necessary. In case bags are not allowed at your centre, you may spend valuable time running around to find a place to keep your bag!
  • Do not try to cram too much on this day at the centre. All around you, you will see other students with notes and books trying to remember formulae or tricks. Unlike conventional graduation exams like engineering or commerce, this may not help for an aptitude test like CAT. At the most, you could look up a few concepts that you want to revise. Again, those old-fashioned hand-written notes may come in use.

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During the exam

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DOs
  • If the authorities allow you a break between the two sections, do take it. A mental as well as physical break between the two sections always helps. A lot of studies have shown that average concentration levels of students hover around the 45-50 minute time frame. Thus, taking a break will help you recharge between the two sections.

DON'Ts

  • Avoid attempting questions in chronological order. Scan the entire section in the first 6-7 minutes before you attempt even a single question. Chances are that your initial few questions may be tougher and your last few questions are simpler. Even if this is not true, starting a question without having looked at all the other questions is an invitation to ending up with fewer attempts than you want. Also, if you do not do well in the first 3-4 questions, you may end up nervous and this may affect your overall sectional performance.
  • Do not spend more than 3-4 minutes on a question at a time. Chances are that if you have not been able to solve a particular problem in 2-3 minutes, you will not be able to do in the next few minutes as well. It makes a lot of sense to mark that question for the time being and come back to it later. A question that seems complex at the first attempt may seem elementary when seen again later.

Once your exam is done, please do not worry yourself to death by over-analysing the paper trends over the subsequent or preceding slots. That will will not change your performance! Instead focus on all the other exams that you are planning to take!

While you may have known or heard most of these things earlier, we sometimes tend to take these small things for granted. Based on my experience over the years, these are just a few guidelines that you may make your test-taking experience better and less painful!

Wish you all the very best!

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