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CAT 2009: How to manage your time

May 28, 2009 08:55 IST

The Common Admission Test (CAT) is the first evaluation in being admitted to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and other affiliated colleges. Assuming that the CAT 2009 will be held in December 2009, over a  period of 10 days, there are roughly seven months left to prepare well for it.

There are two primary reasons to do well:
1. If you get GD calls, your CAT score will still be an important parameter on which the final admission will be based.
2. If you don't do well, it might, unfortunately, be the last evaluation -- you will not get GD / PI calls from the institute of your choice.

However, I think seven months are sufficient to prepare well for the test. In fact, most students I know who did well, didn't prepare much more than six to eight months.

The sections in the CAT paper -- Verbal, Quantitative, Logic / Data Interpretation -- each are aimed at testing how well a candidate can apply skills that are extremely important in daily life first and management thereafter.
    
I would roughly divide the months till the CAT, into two parts -- time uptil August and the 15 weeks after that. This division is not rigid and the actual preparation pattern changes slowly from person to person. This division is especially helpful for the Verbal section.

The first part should be devoted not only to the CAT but also to generally prepare to get into B-schools. The effort during these months, which one might not explicitly direct at the CAT, in fact does help in many subtle ways for the exam as well.

The last 15 weeks or so should be aimed at intensively preparing for the CAT. Most students who appear for CAT do so while managing their day jobs, education etc. Hence, intensive preparation for too long (while managing a hectic schedule) can be tiring and can take the fun out of the process.

Bottomline: it is better to have a different approach to the exam in each of these time frames.

Quantitative Ability
Most students are pretty quick with numbers due to numerous exams that would have taken till Class XII. However, the 3-4 years of graduation and the job thereafter are littered with electronic devices that hamper the speed of mental calculation.

Given the computer-based testing pattern of CAT, it is important to get back these speeds and is something many of us overlook. Since many people agree that the questions in the Quant section aren't difficult to solve given ample time, I would suggest that you use the months upto August to gain speed.

The time taken to solve the straightforwards (questions on distance-velocity, area-volume and the like) will be drastically reduced; leaving you with time to attempt the tricky ones. This is also a good time to understand the theory behind advanced topics like probability or Permutation/ Combination -- especially for those of you who didn't have these topics in your graduation curriculum. However, it is fair to devote less time to Quant leading upto August.

Having said that, in the second half of prep, practice is of utmost importance. Decide on some material and aim to be thorough with it. This material should cover all the important topics from CBT CAT point of view. At most 10 per cent of the questions might require an original approach and exceptional ability. It is often prudent to not attempt these questions.

Except for these, most questions in a CBT CAT paper will be similar to questions you can find in the material for TestFunda courseware. Hence, it is important that you attempt all the questions and know the approach to the questions you couldn't answer correctly earlier. In case you are not sure, you could resort to the intergrated 'ask-a-doubt' o the website and get your query resolved within one-working day.

Now, no matter how much you prepare for the CBT CAT, my experience suggests that there are some of us who are exceptional in mathematical ability and the rest of us who can't overcome it. Instead of fidgeting no end over this, I think it is practical to do one's best and do better in the other sections.

Logical Reasoning / Data Interpretation
This section typically is made up of 5-6 sets of questions. Each set is related to a central idea or theme. While the entire section might seem unstructured, the key to solving a problem in fact is identifying the structure and the theme of a question. By structure, I mean, the best framework to represent the data given in a set. This structure might be in the form of tables or trees etc. Once the structure to a question has been identified, the next step is inferring more data from the given (now structured) data.

A lot of puzzles are available which essentially hinge on the ability to find a structure to the problem. In these questions once the structure is identified then the inference is obvious. There is no algorithmic procedure to arrive at a structure of a completely new problem. But solving more of these puzzles certainly helps a person gain an understanding of the structuring involved. The 'Puzzle of the week' (http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/MBA-Resource/RL/Learning-Resources) is a good place to start.  The puzzles might be harder or easier than those asked in CAT, but they will prove to be an excellent learning tool.

Many questions, such as Venn Diagrams, reading tables, are already structured. In order to improve on the inferring of new data, I would recommend puzzles like the Sudoku or the Kakuro. These have information in a structured format but inferring difficulty varies. Sorting through the available information and inferring more data quickly is critical. (For Sudoku puzzles visit: http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/Miscellaneous/Games)

Since, there is very little theoretical aspect to this section, one needs to extensively practice various questions to improve speed and accuracy.

Verbal Ability
The best use of one's time till August needs to be made for this section. It is observed that people who habitually read a lot do well in this section. I think that the first two months should be devoted exclusively to reading a lot of articles in English.

This has the following advantages:
i. It is critical that a person be able to read the passages quickly. Hence s/he has to be in the habit of reading long articles.
ii. Most of the vocabulary is learnt by the way of usage in sentences.
iii. A person needs to understand not only the given text but also what is likely to be leading up to it and what will follow.
iv. In the new CBT format, you need to be comfortable with reading online.

You should prepare yourself in the first few months to read extensive opinionated / argumentative articles from good sources. These sources are typically British magazines and the like. Not only should you read them fast, but also understand how the writer structures the article and reaches a conclusion. A few people reading the same article independent of each other and later discussing what the article was trying to convey, helps a lot.

The passages in the CAT are typically excerpts of such articles. In these months, it is a bonus if you can finish a standard set of word lists (used for exams like GRE etc) Planned and sincere study during this time will take you far in improving your Verbal section score. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of reading online. Form a habit of reading a lot of articles from online versions of newspapers. You can keep abreast of current affairs and a whole host of other happenings at http://testfunda.com/ExamPrep/MBA-Resource/RL/CURRENT-AFFAIRS

In the last 15 weeks or so, you should diligently solve a lot of questions. In passages, often two answers seem very close. The knack of picking one of them comes from answering questions and understanding the explanation with the answers.

To conclude, I think in the coming three months read a lot of good argumentative English (Verbal), improve your speed (Quantitative) and attempt as many different puzzles (Logic) as you can. Starting September, practicing questions will hold the key in each section.

Shantanu Gangal has authored this article exclusively for TestFunda.com- the leaders in online MBA test preparation. Shantanu secured 100%tile in CAT 2008 and is one of the many 100%tilers to have shared their experiences and preparation strategies on www. TestFunda.com. For more details, views and news, free online mock CATs, last few years' CAT papers log on to www.TestFunda.com

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