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How I cracked the CAT
Ritesh Saxena
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September 18, 2006

Ritesh Saxena is a first year PGDM student at IIM Calcutta who scored 99.96 per cent at the Common Admission Test 2005. Here are his tips for future candidates:

As someone who managed to crack CAT twice in two years, that too while working full time, I always assumed that giving advice on the examination would be a cakewalk for me. Not so! When I sat down to write this, I realised that CAT was really a unique exam and that everyone who writes it approaches it in a different way. So, at the very beginning, I start with a disclaimer: Use your head, and if what I say seems like nonsense to you, you may even be right!

Having said that, there are some common notions about the exam I really do not agree with. I would like to talk about a few such myths here and forewarn students from creating unnecessary pressure for themselves and losing out on precious preparation time.

Expecting the unexpected

The first rule anyone will tell you when you go out to attempt CAT is that the pattern changes every time, and that you should be prepared for anything. Now I have a different take on this. True, the pattern changes each time. So, what should I do about it? A lot of people say you should take as many different types of mock CATs as you can. I would say that this is the wrong medicine for the right symptom.

Taking too many different mock CATs does not allow you to form a strategy of your own. And, no matter what people tell you about going in with an 'open mind', you have to have a strategy. At the very least, you need a clear idea about your strengths and weaknesses.

It is best to form a 'common minimum program' of sorts, which will work for you any way the exam comes. This entails recognising which sections you are more comfortable with and which ones you need to simply make the cut-offs in. The way to do that is to compare your performance across similar types of tests, not different ones. What I suggest is to follow a test series that offers you the standard 150 marks, 50 questions in each section. Do give different types of tests too, but mostly to keep yourself on your toes. Do not experiment too much.

I am my own calculator

This is one I've heard a million times: You must be really good at calculations, you've cleared CAT! The days of number crunching DI sections are numbered (pun intended).

In the last few years, the trend of heavy calculations in the DI section has come down drastically and Logical Ability questions are being given their due. Although this does not make any difference if you are good with numbers, it makes a lot of difference to the poor guys out there (self included) who are not too good at them. I was able to avoid the calculation part of the paper almost completely by focusing on the Logical Ability questions.

I'm not saying that the tips and tricks for quick calculations are useless. But don't lose heart if you cannot get used to them. Work on trying to maximize your score by attacking the sections where you are better.

Barron's is a CAT prep book

To those who begin CAT preparation by learning all the words in Barron's, I would just like to say -- don't waste your time. The amount of vocabulary being asked directly in CAT these days is negligible. Even the questions that do get asked are usually not that difficult.

I know that people would say you still need to have a good vocabulary to understand some of the passages in RC. Again, I beg to differ. A word used in a passage is an entirely different story from a word meaning question, because in the former case you can always guess the meaning of the word from other words around it (reference to context). Even in the passages, the level of vocabulary is not that high.

So, does that mean you don't need to work on vocabulary skills at all? Now, that is a tricky one to answer. You do need to have a basic level of vocabulary, but my point is that committing to memory the 3,300 odd words in Barron's and similar books is simply not that productive. The best ways to learn words is through everyday usage and reading. Try reading a lot of editorials and learn the art of guessing a word's meaning through its usage. There are also books available that help in improving your vocabulary through word association exercises and other methods. Of course, if you are in the habit of reading novels, nothing like it!

Verbal Ability issues

This is the one section where you can be really fast. Do not try to max this section. It is a very tempting tendency in case you are good at it, but that is not the optimal way. Do not waste your time on long esoteric jumbled sentences or other such questions, especially if you can't make head or tail of it after one reading. Just crack the easy ones and get on to the other sections where you are in a position of strength. My personal strategy was to finish off the VA section in the first 12-13 minutes. It really gave me a boost in terms of the amount of time I had, especially for the Reading Comprehension section.

Reading Comprehension

This was the real differentiator for me. Many will tell you there is no substitute for regular reading in order to ace this section. Many more will tell you that you should read newspapers and magazines to build reading speed. But no one will tell you what to do if you're not doing well in this section.

The real issue with RC passages is you don't feel like leaving questions after having put in so much effort in reading a passage. So, the best way is to avoid passages that will ask difficult questions. Just follow this simple method: Go through the list of questions at the back of each RC (and this is where you really have to be fast, there is no other way). In general, there are two types of questions. The first ask for information from within the passage. The second ask for your interpretation of parts of the passage. If you see more than 2 questions of the latter type, cross out that passage from your mind. Having put in the effort, you should be sure of the result.

In most cases, passages that have more of the second type of questions will have one or two very simple fact based questions. Do not miss out on that opportunity. Be smart and you can make around 2-3 marks extra in the RC section without even reading all the passages! That is something really worth working for, so practice it each time you give a mock CAT. And develop the courage to take similar risks in the exam because, in the end, percentile does matter a lot

Finally, all I can say is that I gave CAT three times. The first time, I put in a lot of effort and failed to get even a single call. The second time, I didn't put in any effort at all but went in without the burden of expectations and got a couple of calls. The third time I put in effort, but gave the exam without any pressure knowing that I was already well settled in my job. The rest, as they say, is history.

Once you start believing that CAT is just another exam, not the end of the world, you will do much better than you would if you were to keep loading yourself with expectations.

Have you cracked CAT? Post your experiences.

Mention your name, age, CAT percantile, B-School and where you currently work.

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Number of User Comments: 24

Sub: how to start preparing for cat

i am, first year student of electronics and communication engineering . i want to start preparing for cat as early as possible. how shd i ...

Posted by anurag sharma

Sub: good

dat was really helpful,but u nvr said of the QA section as well as bieng in IIM-C means a special mathematics test too.... Plz pay ...

Posted by tarun

Sub: really inspiring

hi, your experience was really inspiring...i will be appearing for CAT next year ...... can you give some tips - when and how should i ...

Posted by S

Sub: cat

ow should i crack cat

Posted by rahul kanthale

Sub: thenx !

thanx was a msg of relief for all MBA aspirants..m gonna appear for the cat this year..a gut attempt on ur part..all the best ...

Posted by swati goswami


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