Several steps which are key to having a good CAT cannot be taken overnight or crammed into a couple of weeks' time. Starting early enables a student to work out the best possible strategy and implement it effectively. Some measures I believe students should take to enhance their level of preparation are:
1. Identify the time of day when you study the best
At this point, you have enough time to plan out your preparation, and don't need to study for more than two hours a day at this stage. Now is a good time to experiment by studying at different times in the day (whenever possible) to find what time suits you best. When you need to crank up the hours you put in later on, you'll know exactly when you feel at your freshest and concentrate best. As far as possible, try giving tests on Sundays (or other holidays). Try making this a sort of ritual so you get used to giving a CAT-type test at any time of the day.
2. Subscribe to a daily newspaper and/or a weekly news magazine
Sixty per cent of the Verbal Ability section in a typical CAT paper comprises of Reading Comprehension passages. Cultivating the reading habit is therefore essential to your CAT preparation. Indeed, even if you solve only RC with an accuracy of 70 per cent (very achievable), you will comfortably clear your VA cut-offs without even having to touch the dreaded grammar section.
Reading a daily newspaper and a weekly news magazine has several purposes. It increases your speed of reading. It also ensures that you are quickly able to pick up the salient points in even abstract passages. Finally, it also broadens your horizons and gives you something to talk about in the Group Discussions and Personal Interviews that come later (http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/MBA-Resource/RL/CURRENT-AFFAIRS).
3. Study in bursts
If you need to warm-up for an hour before beginning to be able to concentrate and study productively, now is the time to break that habit. The entire CAT evaluation (including GD/PI) is designed for people who can switch on and switch off for short periods of time. You need to be able to start concentrating almost immediately, and don't need to do the same thing for more than 40-45 minutes. This is why the CAT paper itself has three sections, instead of only one long section.
Practice studying in short productive bursts (typically 45-60 minutes) and take breaks in between. It will be hard to start concentrating immediately after a break in the initial stage, but soon you will get used to it.
4. Get your theory right
CAT tests you on the theory that you learnt in school, so there really is no excuse for getting it wrong. If you have lost touch with high school maths, and especially if you are a working professional, it may be a good idea to set a week aside to actually go through maths formulae that you will need as well as a few basic proofs. Use the 50 keys to CAT on the TestFunda website to get a bird's eye view of all the important formulae. Again, don't try to do things that are extremely complicated. Stick to the basics -- CAT is designed to identify managers with efficient time allocation, not math specialists.
5. Develop a proper test-giving routine
This is the most important part of your CAT preparation. CAT does not ask you complicated PhD level questions. Instead, it puts pressure on you by giving you far less time to solve the paper than is reasonable. It is up to you to develop the best possible test-giving strategy you can, to solve the CAT paper.
Therefore, it is essential that you take practice tests seriously. If you don't want to join a classroom programme (which is perfectly alright), make sure that you get enough practice tests online and analyse your performance in every successive test with the help of detailed personalised reports and personalised study guides. This is especially relevant in the current scenario of CAT going online.
Needless to say, attempt to clear every sectional cut-off (and the overall cut-off) in every paper that you give. There is no sense in attempting only one section well in a paper at the cost of the others. It is a complete waste of time and will hamper your preparation. Also, never ever give a practice test without timing yourself. Don't cheat the clock (or yourself) either.
6. Keep experimenting
Keep changing things -- the section you attempt first, the target number of questions you want to attempt, the time you spend on each section etc. Only then will you finally perfect your optimum CAT-solving strategy which strikes just the right balance between speed and accuracy, ensuring that you clear all cut-offs and are well on your way towards that coveted IIM seat.
7. Start doing crosswords, logic puzzles etc
Solving the daily crossword (and checking the solutions the day after) improves your vocabulary by leaps and bounds. Solving logic puzzles will help you immensely in Logical Reasoning questions which have become an integral part of Data Interpretation sections in recent years.
More importantly, CAT-taking is a habit. Once you get into the habit of solving problems, CAT should be a piece of cake. Suggest you try the Question of the Day (http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/LearningResources/QOD) and Puzzle of the week (http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/MBA-Resource/RL/Learning-Resources) along with weekly quizzes (http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/Miscellaneous/OnlineQuiz) on TestFunda on a regular basis.
8. Develop a hobby
Seriously. It gives you something to do in your free time. After all, you can't be expected to study 24x7. It gives you perspective. CAT is only an exam, not a life-and-death situation. Finally (and this is planning ahead at its best), if you do crack the CAT, it shows you to be a well-rounded personality and gives you something to talk about during your Personal Interview.
9. Avoid over-preparation
There is a limit to how much a person can do, and every person has his/ her own threshold. The minute the CAT starts getting to be a drag, take a break. Strange though it may sound, you cannot do well on your CAT unless you enjoy it. I even went to the extent (and this is NOT recommended) of not doing anything for the last week, because I wanted to have fun solving the CAT. There's absolutely no harm in doing nothing for three or four days until you feel like solving CAT questions again. Treat it is as a challenge, not as routine work.
Someone who follows these measures can increase his level of performance significantly. The measures are in no particular order, except for the last one which is the most important. Remember, the CAT should be FUN, above all else. I wish anyone reading this the best of luck with CAT.
Gourav Bhattacharya has authored this CAT prep strategy exclusively for TestFunda.com: the leader in online MBA CAT test prep. Gourav, an IIT alumnus and a second year IIM-A student scored a 100 percentile in CAT 2007. For more articlesby CAT 100-percentilers, news and views, free online mock tests and all the material for the online CAT 2009, logon to www.TestFunda.com