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CAT 2010: How you should start your prep

June 15, 2010 15:50 IST

The Common Admission Test or CAT for admission to the country's top B-schools is one of the most competitive examinations in India. Lakhs of students and working professionals across the country vie for the few thousand coveted seats. To help these B-school hopefuls give CAT 2010 their best shot, Rediff.com launches its CAT 2010 coverage which will include expert tips and chats, topper experiences, section-wise analysis and many other useful articles and features. Kicking things off is an article by Rahul Singh, who scored in the 100-percentile in CAT 2010.

A lot of you would probably be starting out now on your preparation for CAT. Five to six months is a lot of time if utilised properly and should be spent on building the basic skills required to crack an exam of the form of CAT. I believe that a lot of us commit the mistake of prematurely concentrating on the so called "tips, tricks and strategies" for cracking CAT without paying enough attention to the fundamentals.

So if you want to go about preparing in a more sensible and steady manner, now is a good time to start. I have given below my section-wise approach to preparation in the first three or four months.
 
Quantitative ability
Start by revising your basic class X mathematics. Make sure you have a fair idea of how the so-called 'shortcut formulas' mentioned in the umpteen CAT guidebooks are actually derived.

Initially concentrate on the accuracy part of things. You should aim to solve almost every problem you come across, even if it's in an inefficient and time-consuming manner occasionally. This is probably easier for students with an engineering background as they stay in touch with maths throughout their coursework, but three-four months of sincere and steady preparation ought to bring most students up to this level.
 
It is highly inadvisable to start memorising the 'tips' and 'tricks' at this stage as they are no substitute for a good grasp of the concepts. Almost all CAT problems can be solved quickly enough from basic principles themselves, irrespective of whether you know the relevant tricks and shortcuts or not.
 
Once you become fairly confident about solving problems you can start working on the speed factor. Even after you have successfully solved a problem, critically analyse your solution and see if you can make it any shorter by removing redundant steps or if a totally different approach is possible. This is quite often possible in time and work, speed, probability, permutation and combination based problems.
 
Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation
This is one section where almost every candidate starts preparing from scratch unless he has taken CAT before. At the same time I believe that this is the section where consistent hard work pays off the most. The best way to begin is to set aside a fixed number of hours each day (or every week if you don't want to be so rigid in your schedule) for attempting DI problems. There are a few things you can pay special attention to while working on this section:

Spend ample time analysing the solutions. In fact I often spent more time reviewing solutions than I did solving problems. Pay special attention to how the information is represented in a more readable and analysable form through tables etc. This is particularly crucial in solving problems where all the information is just written in the form of a simple, continuous piece of text.

Learn to identify the problems in a set which could have been solved by using just a couple of lines of information from the whole paragraph. This ability proves critical in tackling a tough DI set or when you are running out of time.

Some problems tend to be calculation intensive. In most cases making rough assumptions and rounding off gives the correct answer. Herein the knack of simplifying ugly looking fractions, calculating percentages easily, etc comes in handy.

I was never too good at calculations so I attempted these problems in the very end, but I have seen some of my friends who bank heavily on these problems and it pays off well. I often tried to round off three-digit numbers to the nearest five or ten and two-digit numbers to nearest multiple of two or four in order to simplify my calculations.
 
Verbal Ability
This is usually the section that engineering students struggle most with and it can get awfully tough for students at times. I often hear students complaining that their vocabulary is not good enough for CAT, which I believe is a very narrow approach. CAT is not about your vocabulary or your grammar per se; in general it tests your reading experience. So a 'start from the basics' approach is absolutely essential in this regard, if you are not an avid reader to begin with.

The first step is to increase your appetite for reading. Newspapers are an obvious place to start, but if you find them heavy reading then you can start with some light fiction. I know most of my friends picked up reading after their first Harry Potter or Chetan Bhagat. You will find that your speed picks up considerably as you near the end of such books. As you move on, you should gradually increase the amount of stuff you read in newspapers every day. Their advantage is two-fold: they tell us both about contemporary issues and contemporary language.

Being well read on a variety of topics is a huge bonus while attempting RCs in a CAT paper. You will soon realise this once you start taking mock CATs; you can glide through passages faster if it's about something you have already read about, and it's not uncommon to find such passages in your exam paper. 
 
As it is in the DI section, analysing solutions to RC passages is a very beneficial exercise. Writing down new words that you come across every day is very helpful in remembering them. Spending time memorising word lists and grammar rules would be futile at this stage as the amount of information will become too overwhelming. Hence, the focus should be on developing your reading habit at this stage. If you are already a keen reader, then you can work on your reading speed and grammar. 
 
To summarise, I would like to say that patience is a key factor here. In the beginning one must patiently work on building the aforementioned basic skills before attempting to augment them with tips, tricks and strategies. Initially progress might be slow and unrewarding, but this steady foundation will assure you of a good CAT score irrespective of how tough the individual sections are in the paper or how different the test format turns out to be from your expectations.

Rahul Singh (CAT 2009 100 Percentiler) has written this article for Testfunda.com, a leading MBA entrance exam preparation site.

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 and experiences to getahead@rediff.co.in with the subject 'My CAT tips' and we'll publish your strategies right here on rediff.com.

Rahul Singh