As CAT 2009 approaches, 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 readers who have taken the CAT to share their tips and tricks. Here, Kaushik Saha, an IIM-Calcutta alumnus, shares his experiences.
CAT is just two months away, and this time it is going to be computer-based, something along the lines of the GRE / GMAT.
While many of you might be having doubts regarding the new format, my suggestion is: take it easy. The level is not going to be any different from the previous years, neither does one need in-depth knowledge of IT to crack the computer-based version.
However, test-takers will need to preparations for CAT.
Assuming you have started preparing for CAT some time ago and have some level of preparedness
Do not start anything afresh at this stage. By now you should have developed some strategy to take the exam. Even if you haven't, do not panic, take five-six practice tests (not more) over the course of next 15-20 days, and devise a strategy.
Try to attempt fewer practice tests from now on; instead, go through the practice papers you have done in the past, and try to analyse where you went wrong, which areas are your weak areas etc. Then revise those sections again.
However, do keep in touch with "quick ways to solve" questions -- Vedic maths, for example. Or maybe methods that you have developed over a period of time.
Assuming you haven't started yet, or started recently
No need to panic. There are several people I know who cracked CAT starting in September. However, you must realise that you need to put in a bit more effort than those who started early.
Let us take a look at the three (four, if you consider Logical Reasoning a separate section, and five, if Reading Comprehension is another). Here is my strategy given that there are roughly 45 days left for CAT.
Quantitative ability (Six days)
Go through the basic concepts of maths taught till Class 10. I suggest study from booklets given by the various coaching institutes, because they are concise, and the material has been developed keeping CAT in mind. Read the Vedic maths section carefully. It is important to understand the concepts rather than solvie hundreds of problems at this stage when time is at a premium.
Data interpretation (Six days)
Traditionally, this is the section where the IIMs have the tendency to come up with the nastiest surprises. They can choose a wide variety of problems. So it would be best to take a look at the last five years' papers. Try and analyse the problems and their answers. Vedic maths can come in handy in here.
Logical reasoning (Four days)
Not much scope for surprises here. The problems are pretty much stereotyped, and a preparation from the material provided by coaching institutes would be enough. This is one area where a calm mind helps the most, rather than intense practice.
Verbal ability (Six days)
Revise your grammar, but do not overdo it. Identify the various types of questions that can be there in the paper, and develop techniques to solve them. There is hardly any scope for surprise, and a thorough preparation of all the types of problems can insulate you if there is any.
Reading comprehension (Eight days)
This has been the Achilles' Heel of many a candidate over the years. IIMs almost gloat over the surprises they can present in this particular section. They can have this as a separate section, they can give difficult reads, they can make it ridiculously easy, they can even give you poems to read. Preparation, more preparation and then some more is the only way out. But how? Read daily newspapers everyday, starting today. Read articles on philosophy, lifestyle, the editorials, politics, business etc. Occasionally go through longish articles on Wikipedia, and read them in full, say for example, "The Roman Empire".
Another way to prepare is this: sit in a group of two-three. Read articles from a newspaper, and then summarise the news from memory to your friends. Ask them questions about the articles they have read.
Reading will help you later too, when you have done well in the CAT, and are preparing for the Group Discussions.
Now, in the eight days of exclusive preparation, practice as much as you can -- from old papers to practice tests. Always take this practice sessions under a fixed time limit. Over the period of eight days, keep decreasing the time limit by a minute.
So, you get 6 + 6 + 4 + 6 + 8 = 30 days, which means there are still 15 days left. In five of those days, take one (and only one) practice test per day. Always try to devise a strategy keeping in mind your areas of strength. In the next seven days, revise, try to analyse your mistakes, your weak areas and where you can do better. In the last three days, relax.
However, you can always change the schedule (increase / decrease by one-two days depending on when you start). What is non-negotiable is the last two-three days of rest and relaxation. In these two days, both categories I mentioned above --watch light programmes on TV, listen to soothing songs (make sure you do not over do it though). Sleep well and stop thinking about the exam.
On the day of the exam
Always remember that the IIMs almost take a pleasure in throwing up surprises. Having been in one of them for two years and interacting with the very people who set the questions, I realised that they do it to check whether a student, when thrown off-guard, panics or stays calm. There are many people in this world who think CAT is an easy exam, and doubt the selection exam thinking that "it is only about class 10 maths". What they do not realise is those selected after the test are not selected based on their knowledge of class 10 mathematics or grammar, rather they are selected based upon who makes the best decisions among their peers in that 2.5 hour time-frame.
Decisions -- it is decisions that we make in the exam hall that to a large extent determines whether we make it to the hallowed portals of the top management schools in the country. Remember, you are your best judge. Do not be overawed by the situation. Just take it as another normal day. Implement the strategies that you have painfully developed over the past few weeks or months. Do not let the content disturb you. Stay calm. Make sure you at least read every question, so that there are no questions left which you later realise you could have cracked. Do not spend too much time on a section or a particular question.
However, keep in one thing in mind -- be flexible on "time divisions". If you think that you are going to dedicate X amount of time to one section, Y to another, and Z to a third, do not be rigid on this count. Finally, realise that what is tough for you is applicable to others too (but do not look around to detect expressions!).
The author in an IIT KGP-IIM C alumnus who cracked the 100 percentile in CAT 2006. He received all six IIM calls with five converts (ACLIK).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll publish your strategies right here on rediff.com.