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CAT 2009: Keep your strategy flexible

November 04, 2009 13:09 IST

With less than a month to go for CAT 2009, the pressure on B-school aspirants is mounting. Strategising, mock CATs, time management -- each have their own importance and value when it comes to making your CAT attempt meaningful.

To help test-takers, we asked B-school students to share their tips and tricks. Here, Prajeesh Jayaraam L, IIM Lucknow, shares his experiences.

With applications running into lakhs, the Common Admission Test (CAT) conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management has turned out to be one of the most competitive exams in the country.    

Of the hundreds of thousands of students and professionals who apply for CAT only about 5,000 manage to secure admissions into premier B-schools in India. Preparing for such a highly competitive exam doesn't just involve hard work but smart work and strategy.

The most important resource at your disposal is time. This is especially true for a working professional preparing for the exam. Make the best use of your weekends. We will now look at each section of CAT and their preparation methodologies.

Verbal ability
Verbal ability is the section that you have to start working on as early as possible. This is because enriching vocabulary and increasing reading comprehension is a time-consuming process and should be ideally stretched across a few months.

The ideal way to prepare would be to read the editorial page of a national daily with full comprehension. This should be done religiously no matter what the editorial is about. You might not be interested in the success of NREGA in Uttar Pradesh, but you should still read it and understand the article completely.

If you come across an unfamiliar word underline it and continue reading. After reading the entire article find out the meaning of all the unfamiliar words and see how they are used in the article. This reading should be done with total concentration as your reading speed will improve with concentration. This exercise will improve your reading speed, vocabulary, concentration and knowledge of current affairs. 

In the examination skim through the passages and decide the order in which you will attempt them depending on your comfort for the theme. Answer as many passages as possible as there are bound to be one or two easy questions in each set.

Quantitative ability
This section asks for a good understanding of the basics of mathematics. Study material from any reputed coaching institute will be a good starting point. Graduates with little or no exposure to mathematics in college should consider going through relevant topics like permutations, geometry, etc from school textbooks.

During the exam try to choose the right questions and attempt them. If you are stuck with a question for more than 1-1.5 minutes leave it, even if you are very confident you can do it. Make use of substitution of choices to solve problems wherever appropriate.

Data interpretation
This section asks for quick calculation, logical reasoning, appropriate approximations and exposure to a wide variety of problems. Speed mathematics techniques will help to a certain extent to quicken your calculations. Consider solving puzzles to improve your logical reasoning. They are interesting and help you to think out-of-the-box. Practising a wide range of problems can't be stressed more for this section as it is the practise that gives you confidence to tackle problems.

During the exam have a look at all the sets in the section and decide on the order in which you wish to attempt them. Attempt as many as sets as possible since there is a very high chance of one-two questions being easy in each set.

Mock CATs
Inherently you might be better in one of the sections listed above. The fact that you need to do well in all the sections calls for a good understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. This can be best learnt by attending as many mock CATs as possible. After each mock CAT spend enough time solving problems that you couldn't solve in the exam hall and cross checking with the solutions provided. See what went wrong and make sure you don't repeat mistakes.

Compare yourself with the rest of the test takers and learn which section you have to work more on.

Also experiment with your time allocation for different sections and the order in which you attend the sections. After about 10 mock CATs you will have a good understanding of how to maximise your score by attending the sections in the optimised order with proper time allocation. In the rest of the mock CATs fine tune your strategy.

Presence of mind at the exam hall is very important. In CAT 2008 there was more weightage on the verbal ability section and still there were test takers who didn't adapt their strategy to this twist in the paper. They spent equal time in all the sections and missed out in the verbal ability section's cut-offs.

Good preparation, a flexible strategy and a cool head should get you very good percentiles.

After CAT
A good CAT percentile is not the end of the CAT journey. The most rewarding and satisfying part of CAT is after the calls are out. Preparing for group discussions and personal interviews will give you a lot of insight about yourself.

Coaching institutes will be after you to train you for GD/PI if you have one or more IIM calls. Take active part in these training sessions. Give your best in each of your mock GDs and mock interviews. Consider them to be your final GD and final interview. Take the feedback seriously and try to avoid repeating your mistakes.

Read newspapers regularly and have a concrete opinion on anything that is being debated in the media. Everything in your resume/interview form should be at your fingertips and you should be able to answer any question based on them. You can also expect questions from your graduation subjects and from your domain of work-experience. You should know yourself well -- your strengths, weaknesses; career plans; alternative career plans; greatest achievement; proudest moment in your life etc. Introspection is your mantra as far as interviews are concerned.

Concisely put, a planned approach with enough hard-work can help you sail smoothly through CAT.­­­­­­­

Have you aced the CAT? Do you have tips that could help students improve their scores or stress-busting strategies to beat pre-CAT nerves? Send in your advice to getahead@rediff.co.in and we'll publish your strategies right here on rediff.com.