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Why and How to get 90+%tile in CAT?

When we think about CAT, we think about IIMs. Today, we have several other very good B-Schools offering quality education and career opportunities. Most of the good ones require around 90-percentile or more in CAT.
With just a few days left for the exams, many students give up on CAT thinking that they might not get selected by IIMs. It is very common for students to be discouraged by their poor performance in the Mock Exams. A lot of opportunities open up for a student who scores a 90-percentile. Many students who score around 75-80 percentile in the Mock exams reach 90-percentile in the main exam. In fact, several students improve their performance drastically in the last few weeks and leapfrog to 90-percentile from nowhere.

Crossing 90-percentile has a huge practical value. At that level, the competition is intense because every person in that league is a serious aspirant who is talented as well as hard working. Winning the race from here requires good planning and even better execution. Let’s look at the game plan in two phases – before the exam and during the exam.

Understanding the CAT
CAT has a total of 100 questions of 3 marks each spread over three sections – Quantitative Ability (34 Questions), Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation (32 Questions) and Verbal Ability (34 Questions). Each section has a fixed time limit of 1 hour.

Scoring 90-percentile is not the same as scoring 90% marks. Based on past data, a score of 110 out of 300 should be very close to 90-percentile. We are looking at scoring 35-40% of the marks available. While the exam doesn’t offer any choice, smart students notice that they can leave 50-60% of the questions. The first target should be to find a way to answer 12-15 questions correctly in each section.

Which areas to focus on?
People spend a lot of time deliberating whether they need to focus on their enhancing their strengths or on overcoming their weaknesses. This debate is unproductive. The exam has a pattern that can be predicted to a fair degree. Any preparation plan must take the pattern into account.

The most important criterion to pick a topic is its importance in the exam. Otherwise, even if you master the topic completely, it might not make much difference to your score. As per recent trends in CAT, Arithmetic and Algebra have become far more important than Number Systems or Modern Math. Overall, the topics that you decide to focus on should cover about 18-20 questions in the exam. You still have enough time to master one or two highly important topics in each area in the next few days. Very often students leave a topic that they are afraid of. If we go by the recent trends, you will notice that the exam gives a lot of easy questions across areas. Solving an Easy question in an area of weakness is still easier than solving a difficult question in your area of strength. Don’t shy away from learning new things just yet.

Quite a few questions in Quant and LRDI combine more than one topic. You will notice that Percentages, Ratios and Integer Equations start making an appearance in every other question. Missing out on a topic like this might pose serious challenges.Similarly, the bulk of the Verbal Ability section is based on Understanding Paragraphs and Understanding passages. A student can’t even imagine leaving them out. When are you fighting hard to get to 90-percentile, what you like isn’t as important as what the examiner likes.

A common complaint from students is that the syllabus is very vast. The next step is to create our own personal syllabus book. Once you know the topics that you want to focus on, start revising the fundamentals and the most common models that were asked over the last few years. The ideas keep repeating over the years. It will be very helpful if you can list out all the models that you have come across in each area – 4 to 5 words to describe the model. This list is your syllabus book. Anything outside it is “out of syllabus” as far as you are concerned. When you go through the models, you will also start making a note of how long does it take to solve a question in that model. This knowledge can be of big help later on.

Once you start with this exercise you will notice that the models are particularly few in Reading Comprehension and even LRDI. If you practice them a few times, you will notice a steady improvement in your ability to apply them for new questions.

You will need to take about two mocks each week. Take each mock as if you are approaching the final exam. Begin the test with a clear strategy and a set of assumptions that you would like to validate. After the test, evaluate your performance against the strategy and the assumptions. How much you score in a Mock is unimportant compared to what you can learn from each mock.

By the time you reach the actual exam on November 25th, you will find that CAT is now a matter of routine. You know exactly how you will attack the exam. You know what kind of questions to answer and what to “Leave at first sight”. This awareness will boost your confidence. You will continue to be slightly nervous. But, you will also be secure in the knowledge that you have prepared well.

Even when we are well prepared, the CAT exam will throw a few surprises. You might find that a topic that you thought is very important is given little importance or that a topic that you thought is unimportant might have more questions than you anticipated. These are surprises for a lot of test takers and you are not alone. If you can overcome the shock and stick to your plans, these surprises can play to your advantage.

While the number of questions is fixed and the spread of topics is reasonably fixed, the actual difficulty of the questions can vary year to year. Instead of being fixated on a set number of questions, you will be better off attacking the familiar questions greedily, starting with the easiest ones. The exam gives you an option to view all the questions in the sections at once – use that view to glance through the paper.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for the final day:
  • Make sure that you have a good night’s sleep. Also, make sure that you are not hungry. A tired body can reduce self-control and make you do things that you would otherwise not want to do.
  • Make sure that you reach the exam before time with all the required documents.
  • Try to be relaxed and cheerful.
  • Don’t let minor mistakes impact your mood. Take them in your stride and move forward.
  • Don’t get into ego-wars with questions. Sometimes, you might forget things or struggle to apply something that you know well. It is all part of the game. Move on with a smile.
  • Don’t let the past dictate the future. Even if you spent 15 minutes on a single question, remember that you have 45 minutes to look forward. On an ideal day, you might be able to clear your cutoff in 20 minutes of peak performance. If you can keep your cool, you might still get your chances.
  • Don’t panic if you answered fewer questions than you expected. Most B-Schools that take 90-percentilers don’t focus on sectional cut-offs. If you can stay positive, you might be able to compensate for a bad performance in one area with a good performance in another. For all that you know, the section you performed poorly might’ve been very difficult and your performance might even be very good. If you allow this to spoil your mood, it might adversely impact your performance in other areas.

Let every moment count from now till the main exam and beyond. All the very best!

Adithya Lanka (IIM- Calcutta)
Chief Technical Officer
Published date : 12 Nov 2018 03:23PM

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