The Common Admission Test (CAT) taken by more than 200,000 people across India every year for admission to some of the most prestigious B-schools in the country is one of the most challenging exams in the country.
The test consists of three sections -- Verbal Ability, Quantitative Aptitude and Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation.
The time duration for completing this paper is about 2.5 hours for completing 75-150 (sometimes more or less) challenging multiple choice questions.
If we analyse the skill set required for cracking such an exam, the first thing that comes to my mind is analytical abilities. However, the most important aspect of a person's personality tested by such a paper is his/her ability to judge his/her own capabilities. This ability helps the person decide which question to select and which one to leave in this difficult maze of questions.
Lesson #1: Know your strengths and weaknesses
Example: My strengths were in Data Interpretation related questions in DI/LR, Number system in QA and RC in VA. I tried my best to devote larger parts of my effort on these questions.
Once you have identified your strengths and weaknesses, the first thing you should do is work on your weakness. Most people think one can only achieve this through practice, practice and more practice. I come from the same school of thought, so...
Lesson #2: There is no substitute for practice
Example: I started with practicing CL mocks and moved onto IMS and TIME mocks to improve my VA score (as it was my weakest section). In addition to writing mocks, it is also important to analyse the solutions at the end of the MOCK to gain maximum value from the paper.
Once you have realised your strengths and weaknesses, you need to prepare your own strategy to tackle the actual papers. A strategy consists of many aspects such as which questions to attempt, which order to attempt questions, which sections to be attempted, how much time to be devoted to each section and which alternative strategy to follow in case your initial strategy is not working.
Lesson #3: Have a back-up plan
It is quite surprising that many people do have numerous back-up plans but are unable to choose from them. The only solution to this problem is again through lesson number 2 -- practice.
Example: I always attempted DI/LR first (as it was my strongest section), followed by VA (my weakest section) and then QA (medium section). I devoted an equal time to all sections. However, depending on the level of difficulty in a section, I aimed at just clearing the cut-off by solving the easier questions and using the spare time to score in other sections.
Once you have formulated a strategy and you have started taking tests on a regular basis, it's time to review your strategy and experiment. One easy way of doing this is by taking a test you took 2-3 months ago and checking your performance using a different strategy (making more guesstimates, changing the time allocation per section or changing the order of sectional attempts).
Lesson #4: Experiment with your strategy before finalising it
Finally, your performance in CAT is directly proportional to your level of confidence. So just before D-day, start taking some easy tests and use a very attacking strategy to score high. It is always better to attempt a difficult paper with high confidence rather than low confidence.
Lesson #5: Peak at the right time.
Manish Jha is a student at IIM Lucknow (Batch 2008-10). He scored 99.81 in CAT 2005, 99.91 in CAT 2006 and 99.88 in CAT 2007.