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The right way to start preparing for CAT

June 23, 2010 14:28 IST

People often go to soothsayers and astrologers to find the most opportune time to embark upon a project of importance. Whether or not that helps is a matter of personal belief. We, however, have some timely advice for those preparing for CAT this year. Most serious CAT aspirants will give anything to find out the perfect moment to start preparing for the exam. We spoke to Vaishnu Dass, Quant faculty at TCY and sought his expert views.

Vaishnu is an authority on Quant preparation and gives coaching for CAT, GRE & GMAT. Faculty at TCY, he has been coaching aspirants for these exams for the last 14 years.

Is there a 'magic number' of hours of coaching that one should get while preparing for Quant part of CAT?

There is no 'magic number' of hours as such. Nevertheless, there are an optimum number of hours of classroom lectures that are required. From my experience of over 14 years, I feel that at least 84 hours must be allocated for Quant in order to excel in it.

How do you divide these hours? How many hours a day? How many days a week?
I would divide CAT test prep into three distinct categories.  Rush Hour, Optimum and Ideal. Let's talk about 'Rush Hour' first.

Rush Hour: is when a candidate sincerely starts his CAT prep after his final year exam. With just about six months to go for the CAT, the entire preparation schedule has to be completed in a relatively short time. For instance, at TCY, classes are scheduled six days a week and here, the onus is on the student to keep up with the hectic pace.

The student has to understand that a very self-disciplined effort in self-study will be required on his part to make it to the top.

Optimum: is when a student is in his final year and starts preparing in January/ February of his graduation year. With around 9-10 months to go, the pace of instruction is brisk but not as breathless as 'Rush Hour'. For Instance, at TCY, classes are scheduled three days a week and a student gets optimum time to revise what is being taught in the classroom. A break of one day between classes allows students the luxury of self studying at the pace most suited to their temperament.

Even an average student who studies sincerely and consistently has every chance of making it to the B- School list.

Ideal: This is when a student enters the penultimate year of his graduation degree course. A good faculty gets the time to teach students to crawl before making them walk and run hard! Basics are covered in depth and preparation starts at the very grassroot level. At TCY, we schedule classes only twice a week over the weekend initially.

The first few months are spent entirely in concept building. It can be compared to being able to dig the foundations oneself before laying them and finally constructing upon them. By the time a student reaches the final year of his degree course, his foundation is so strong that he is more than halfway ready to take on the CAT. The best part about this is that it is of longer duration and more exhaustive than Optimum, but generally costs less.

What preparation strategy would you suggest for each of the three distinct categories you just mentioned?

In Rush Hour, I would recommend the student to take a Diagnostic Test first. A diagnostic test is a mock test especially made to gauge an aspirant's grasp of concepts. Once the strengths and weaknesses are clear to a student, it is recommended that a student start working on his weak areas first as they are the ones that offer maximum chance of improvement. Areas of strength can be worked upon later in the day. At TCY, we put such students on extensive online testing with a strong focus on performance analysis with the help of TCY Analytics. With TCY Analytics, a student is able to benchmark his performance of each sub-section, section and subject against all his previous attempts. This helps him in analyzing his progress with each test. Later on, the aspirant can start benchmarking his attempt against lacs of other aspirants on our website, www.TCYonline.com.

The success in 'Optimum' category rests majorly on the optimum trade-off between self study and disciplined prep. Self study is any day the best test prep strategy. However, disciplined prep calls for following a light but consistent weekly schedule. The CAT programme on TCYonline works on lecture by lecture schedule for each test section. This helps the candidate decide what fraction of the total available time for CAT prep he should invest in a particular month.

Additionally, joining a classroom programme would add to your disciplined effort.

The ideal prep calls for, obviously, the ideal way. For a candidate, this means understanding what skills the exam tests and taking a few sample tests in each area to know his 'Best' and 'Worst' areas. A good faculty will help the student by chalking out a plan till December to develop the lower and middle level skills required. For instance, working on one's vocabulary, reading regularly on topics that come in the exams, improving one's reasoning ability and re-visiting the Class VIII, IX and X math concepts of 2-3 major boards viz. CBSE, ICSE and Maharashtra SSC can be very useful. One can find a lot of this basic stuff on TCYonline and can generate customized tests on any topic to move up the learning curve skill by skill.

What advice would you give to CAT aspirants?

First, the student has to be very clear 'if' he wants to go for MBA. To explain, let us take a hypothetical situation. A BBA student is in his second year and he has consistently been getting good percentage so far. If he is extremely sure that he will not take up a job straight after graduating, he can afford to take his foot off the pedal a little bit and start preparing for CAT. As long as his overall percentage remains above 50%, he can appear for CAT. A high CAT score will see him secure a call from the best B- Schools in the country.

On the other hand, even if he gets overall 70% in BBA, he can't secure a call from a good business school with a low CAT score. I again say, vision is very important. If MBA is not of paramount importance, focus fully on your current academic pursuit. If MBA is your ultimate goal, learn to keep your focus and prioritise accordingly.

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.