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CAT: Timing is everything

April 09, 2009 14:12 IST

Munira Lokhandwala completed her MBA from IIM-Calcutta in 1999. As a CAT coach at TestFunda.com she has been taking CAT exams for the last six years now. As a result she scored 100 percentile in CAT 2007 and in CAT 2008 where she has an amazing score of 290 out of 356 marks.

Here she shares her mantras to success:

Part I: Tips for cracking CAT 2009


I am sure that even before you start reading this article, many of you would have already made assumptions about my natural abilities based on my background and my consistent performances in CAT over the years. That is why I would like to tell you a little more about my background. Most of us might remember the Standard VII scholarship exam that tested the math, verbal and visual skills of students. In that test I scored 36 out of 100 in Math, 64 in Verbal and 50 in visual reasoning. (nowhere near to what a typical scholar would have got!) So you definitely cannot say that I was born with the aptitude of cracking all such examinations.

So the obvious question is: how does someone who is not born with the required aptitude skills go ahead and crack the CAT? Not just once to get into IIMs, but every time with confidence!

Most competent CAT aspirants do realise that the difference in knowledge between them and one of the guys who has made it to the IIMs is not high enough to warrant a massive difference in CAT scores. (Here, by "knowledge" we mean "CAT related knowledge".) Still most aspirants become skeptical about their own abilities during their CAT preparation and start looking at other exams or other institutes. When I was preparing for CAT, I didn't even consider taking the other entrance exams for various institutes. Was this misplaced arrogance? Let's see.

For the CAT 1996, I had started my preparations in February. So I was in the same boat as most of you are. I was in the second year of my Bachelor's studies. So I started in February, took a break in April for exams, in May for some holidaying and started again in June and continued till the end. Excluding these breaks, I was preparing for the CAT two to three hours a day, six days of the week, every week. This article is all about this long preparatory period before the CAT right from when you decide to take it to a nice slightly chilly Sunday morning when you are checking your pencils, eraser and admit card. And the result is in front of you: calls from all 4 IIMs (IIM I and IIM K had just started that year and I hadn't applied to either).

So how do you do it? Here are some tips:

1. Plan backwards
You will never know exactly when your CAT preparation started, but you will always know when it will end. Did I hear  November 15? No, it will end on November 13. The CAT is an exam where presence of mind is essential; studying till the last minute or till the last day leads to an exhausted mind. So it is a good idea to stop preparing on the Friday evening before the CAT. So,  now your deadline is November 13. The last few months will be spent primarily on taking comprehensive tests. Let's try and work that out.

Right now is a good time to decide how many comprehensive tests you will take. The main objective behind taking comprehensive tests is to get your test-taking strategy in place as you measure your own strengths across different sections. The secondary objective is the relative performance measurement.

I think 30 tests are fairly sufficient as there is no point taking a test everyday or worse still take two tests per day. Working with 30 tests will easily take between 70-80 days. This is because if you take a test with feedback on day 1 you will revise and take some section tests on day 2; you may also need 1-2 days break. So assuming 75 days for comprehensive tests takes your deadline to the end of August.

Before you formulate your test-taking strategy, you need to measure your performance in individual sections. That is where section tests come into play. So in the last 15 days of August you should take around two section tests at least from each area and spend some time going through the analysis and feedback for the tests. This will be the first time usually when you really start solving with the second hand making a loud noise every second. So get used to the idea before you venture into the comprehensive test territory.

So finally we have come to our first major deadline August 15 ie Independence day. By this date, you would ideally finish learning new concepts. From August 15, you will be primarily looking at applying what you have learnt and if you have learnt it well, then believe me you will enjoy the process.

2. In-depth scheduling
With August 15 as the deadline you should make a list of what is the kind of theory you want to complete till that time. I have made a rudimentary representative list here to work from:

  • Reading
  • Word List
  • Study Material for the following areas
    ~
    Verbal Ability questions
    ~
    Reading Comprehension questions
    ~
    Analytical Reasoning
    ~
    Data Interpretation
    ~
    Math

The maximum time should be spent doing two major activities: reading and Math.

3. Daily schedule
Make a daily schedule which incorporates all your routines and breaks. If you watch movies a lot then it would be silly to make a schedule which does not consider three hours a week on the week-end spent in catching the latest release. Also try to shuffle the subjects so that you do not get bored with one subject. A good time table for two days can look like this:

Day 1

  • 0.5 hour reading
  • 0.5 hour word list
  • 2 hours math

Day 2

  • 0.5 reading
  • 0.5 word list
  • 1 hour analytical reasoning / data interpretation
  • 1 hour reading comprehension exercises / verbal ability

4. Reading
For those who read as a hobby, this will not be a major problem. For others, it is essential that you take out anything between 0.5 hours to 1 hour for reading, daily. For the uninitiated reader, you can start by reading fiction but there is no use if you spend three months reading one big book; instead pick up any collection of short stories by assorted authors and start reading. You will get used to various styles and different settings and of course different content.

After reading fiction for 1-1.5 months you can graduate to non-fiction. So next time you log onto testfunda.com start a parallel window where you search various CAT topics and read articles on them. The advantages are two-fold, firstly you will get used to CAT like passages and secondly you will start gaining some knowledge on these topics so next time you have an RC on the same topic you will not feel completely lost. For these reading sessions never focus on time only; focus on understanding as well, if you read enough your time will automatically decrease.

Reading will not only help you in the verbal section, but also increase your comprehension in the other sections. It is the single most important factor that will help you crack the CAT.

5. Word List
There are very few questions that directly require knowledge of words. But knowing a lot of good words and improving your vocabulary will never harm but always help you in your CAT preparations. So pick up a good word list and start doing the word list every day or if your vocabulary is already good then every alternate day. Even if you do an alphabet a week you will take around 6 months to complete the word list. Having a good vocabulary also ensures fluency in GD/PI. This is the part where students are lazy, but after the CAT if you feel that just knowing one word would have got an extra mark in no time then that should really hurt.

6. Math
Math based on strengths and weakness should be done either every alternate day or every day. Go through the theory, solved examples and then tackle exercises. If you cannot solve a problem do not rush to the explanatory answers, give it some time, think, get your mind to oil those rusted math gears and levers.

  • Try solving problems in the head, minimise your use if the pen and paper. To achieve this, one should be able to simplify a complex problem situation and should know tables well to do calculations faster.
  • Make a note of important relationships in a topic.
  • Make a note of innovative approaches.
  • Remember writing a lot is very unhealthy for the CAT, but after you solve it in your head, writing the explanation will clear doubts and reinforce learning. So please make good notes.

7. Puzzle Solving
With the increased focus on logical reasoning based Data Interpretation, one should practice solving puzzles from books like George Summers. Puzzle practice helps in developing a logical base and in thinking in diverse directions.

Good Luck!

TestFunda.com has a whole host of feature rich FREE content- 10 FREE mock tests including past years' CATs & XATs with detailed explanatory answers and indepth analysis reports, Quizzes, Chats, Forums, Complete Video GD-PI module, Multi-player Fun learning games, Tips, Puzzles, CAT Questions etc.