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CAT 2009: Why you need a draft strategy

November 12, 2009 10:28 IST
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In the last few weeks before CAT, a very important thing for you to do is to analyse your test scores and performance in a detailed manner. If you have been taking mock tests, you should sit down with your performance results and try to spot a trend. Crucial aspects to look out are:

In the English Section

  • Within the Reading Comprehension section, which type of passages are you comfortable with and scoring well?
  • Conversely, in which type of passages do you struggle -- is it that you are weak with passages dealing with philosophy for example? Do you struggle with inference based questions?
  • What kind of strategy works for you in Reading Comprehension, to read the questions first and then attempt the passage or vice-versa?
  • Within English, are you more comfortable doing the Reading Comprehension part first or Verbal Ability?
  • Is your Vocabulary up-to-date?
  • Are you comfortable with Grammar?

In the Quant Section

  • Are you strong or weak with a particular type of question. Example: Are you weak in Probability or Geometry?
  • Do you take too much time solving some particular type of questions?

In the Data Interpretation and Analytical Reasoning Section

  • Are you comfortable with all sorts of diagrams such as tables/graphs etc or struggle with a particular type?
  • Are you god with analytical reasoning/logic based questions or have trouble with them?

The reason for doing this is that it is time for you to decide your strategy to attempt the paper. Of course, this is only an 'interim' or 'draft strategy'. The reason why it is called interim is that there is no way you can actually predict the CAT paper, and hence your actual final strategy must be decided only when you get the actual question paper in your hand/view the questions on the computer screen, as we shall see in the next chapter, since there is always some unpredictable aspect in the CAT exam.

Nevertheless, it is beneficial to have an interim strategy in place. As Louis Pasteur said "Chance favours the prepared mind". This will ensure that there is some method you adopt in tackling the CAT exam and that you do not panic and attempt the paper in a random, haphazard way.

It is time to decide what type of questions you will definitely take a shot-at in the exam, what you will most likely leave and what you think you should work more on in the remaining month. For example, let us say that you are weak with passages pertaining to philosophy. What you can do is read 5-6 passages on this theme from a journal or a site like and improve your confidence and comprehension abilities in such passages.

Similarly, if you realize that you are weak in Geometry, you can go back and revise the basics from any of the CAT preparatory material you may have with you. In addition, you can decide to practice 15-20 questions on this topic every day for the next 7-10 days, thus attempting to improve yourself in these types of questions.

Or if you are weak in Mathematical/Analytical Reasoning based questions, you can practice the same from a good book on the same lines (10-15 questions a day for 7-10 days).

The important thing is to take stock of where you currently stand a few weeks before CAT and focus your preparation accordingly.

Getting your interim strategy in place

Now based on the analysis you should have done as mentioned above and all the practice exams you may have taken, it is time to devise your 'interim' strategy. This strategy should cover the following aspects:

  • Which section, whether it is English, Quantitative Ability or Data Interpretation, you are going to attempt in the beginning, followed by which section and which in the end. Relevant advice here is not to leave questions that require strong concentration levels and a fresh mind to solve (such as mathematical puzzles, analytical reasoning0 for the end as you may well be tired by then.
  • Within these sections, what will be your order of attempting the various types of questions? For example, within the English section, will you do Reading Comprehension first or begin with the Verbal Ability part?
  • What is your time allocation strategy? How much time do you plan to spend on each of the sections? In particular, do you plan to devote equal time to each section or slightly more time to the section that you are the strongest at?

    A suggestion here is to divide 2 hours 20 minutes or so equally among the three sections and then come back for the last 10 minutes to the section that you are the strongest in or you think will fetch you the best return on additional time invested. This will enable you to clear the sectional cut-offs as well as maximize your total score.
  • How will you respond to a differential marking scheme if that is specified? For example, if there are 2 mark and 1mark questions, do you plan to do the 2 mark questions first?
  • What will be the bare minimum number of questions you will attempt in each section so as to ensure that you clear the minimum cut-offs. You should decide this based on the cut-offs of the various section in the question papers of previous years. This will give you a rough idea of what cut-offs are generally expected.

Do you plan to spend some time at the completion of the exam, cross-checking or verifying some of the answers, especially of those questions that you are not really sure of and have just estimated or guessed the answer?

Remember that this is only an interim strategy. Points like the sectional cut-offs etc can only be actually decided when you see the question paper on the day of the exam and judge its level of difficulty. CAT can certainly throw-up surprises -- instead of the usual three sections these days, you may face four or five or even two sections.

Think also of a back-up plan. What will you do if the unexpected happens? If nothing you had planned happens, this plan can be implemented?

Keep in mind that this interim strategy that you have decided should be a 'customized' one, a unique one, given your areas of strength and weakness, your comfort levels etc. Do not borrow this strategy from anyone else, without tailoring it to your needs.

Excerpted from An Introduction to the CAT: Tips from an IIM Alumnus by Sidharth Balakrishna with permission from the publisher Pearson Education India.

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