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CAT 2009: Getting started

Last updated on: June 08, 2009 13:59 IST

June has begun, and it's the time of the year when students across India start preparing for perhaps the toughest examination of the world in terms of pure competition -- the Common Admissions Test (CAT) -- for admissions into the Indian Institutes of Management.

With the exam going online, many experts feel that the CAT will be very different this year. A lot of students have common doubts about the format of the question paper, length of the exam, difficulty level, avenues for practice etc. While these questions are quite understandable, to me, they are pretty much a waste of one's valuable time. It is June, and there are no more than five months to get your concepts right.

An important point to understand is that while the format of examination may change, the underlying subjects won't. A management entrance examination like CAT will always continue to test three things:

(a) Aptitude
(b) Time management skills
(c) Stress management skills.

While students manage to master Verbal Ability (VA), Quantitative aptitude (QA), Data interpretation (DI) and Logical Reasoning (LR), a majority falter when it comes to time and stress management. Now, why does that happen? In a lot of cases, it is because they have not used the months of June and July effectively for preparation.

So, the natural question is: what should be done in these months? Probably the three most important things to do would be as follows:

1. Focus on the basics
By basics, I mean things like our good old multiplication tables. While it may seem childish to 'learn' multiplication tables to many, it is the right way to start. Knowing the squares, cubes, reciprocals etc is the way to go when it comes to gaining speed. It is these smaller things that matter, right at the end, when getting that 'one extra question right' is the difference between getting a call and not getting one.

Another place where having numbers at your fingertips helps is in data interpretation. While a lot of students may take a number like 221 as a prime number, a student good at his basics will know 221 = 17x13. Such small things matter.

2. Learning to 'love' VA
VA has been the Achilles' heel for a lot of students. Even the greatest mathematical geniuses flounder when it comes to cracking those lengthy, verbose passages of comprehension questions. Once again, why does this happen? It is because of the lack of planned preparation, particularly in these two months.

The starting point of preparations would be to start reading books, particularly non-fiction. One particular book that I can most fondly remember during my preparation days for CAT is Wings of fire by our former president Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. While reading such great books is a joy in itself, it will unconsciously hone your comprehension skills too.

3. Interpreting data
A lot of CAT aspirants are web-savvy creatures and they look at loads of data all the time. How many sixes Matthew Hayden hit for the Chennai Super Kings at the IPL is common knowledge. While knowing such data is great, analysing this data would perhaps form the foundation of data interpretation. Essentially, I am looking at using data in everyday life to hone one's Data Interpretation skills. A simple example can be predicting the required run rate while watching a T20 match after every over, without the help of the commentators.

While there are a lot of things that a lot of people may tell you about CAT, the core to it all is optimisation of the available resources. For doing this, it is very important to be crystal clear about concepts. The aforementioned steps are important avenues of getting these concepts in place.

At the end of it all, it is important to remember that students who get through to the IIMs are hardworking chaps like most of us but who could prioritise well, learn their basics right and perhaps, most importantly, manage stress better to perform on the day of the exam.

The author graduated from IIM Calcutta this year and has joined Rediff.com

Siddhesh Joglekar