CAT 2018 Expert Interview: Identify strong and weak areas by giving full-length mocks early on, says Manek Daruvala, T.I.M.E. Director
Aditi Garg, 20 Jul 2018, #CAT
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CAT 2018 Expert Interview - With only four months to go, the preparation for CAT 2018 must be in full swing by now for some, while some might still be waiting to start. The latter need not wait any longer as in the view of CAT experts, the right preparation strategy and time for CAT plays a key role in the outcome of the exam. Armed with the right CAT preparation strategy as discussed in this interview, the aspirants of CAT 2018 can now tackle the Common Admission Test (CAT). Careers360 brings to the expert interview of Manek Daruvala, Director and Founder of T.I.M.E. as shares the detailed section-wise preparation strategy for CAT.

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According to Daruvala, consistently sticking to a prep-window is very important to keep the preparation going at a healthy rate. Students should start with their full-length mocks around six to seven months to CAT. For those starting their preparation having less than this amount of time on hand, he recommends that they start-off their preparation by taking a full-length mock. This will help them get better insights into their strengths and weaknesses. Also, take a look at the top books and study material by making use of which aspirants can ace CAT 2018. Read this expert interview to know more.

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Manek Daruvala“The first couple of months from now on should be dedicated to concept building and eliminating weak areas. The next month focus on improving the understanding and application levels of the concepts learned earlier and take a good number of mock tests. The last month should be spent on fine-tuning the test taking strategy. Focus on better question selection, spotting tough questions to veer away from them.”


Excerpts from the interview:


Careers360: Is enrolling in a coaching institute a good idea for aspirants who have not started their preparation with just four months or less to go?

Manek Daruvala: For those who believe in themselves that they can put in serious preparation between now and the CAT, the time available is certainly adequate. However, they need to recognise that a lot of time and hard work needs to be put if they want to realise their dreams. Identifying strengths and weaknesses by taking a couple of full-length mocks early on and focusing on improving on the weak areas would be useful for this group of students.


Careers360: For the ones who have already started preparing on their own without coaching classes, please recommend a strategy for the next four months.

Manek Daruvala: In general, I would strongly recommend that students enrol in a classroom programme to ensure that they get a first-hand feel for the competition they are going to face. By joining such a course, they would also understand quicker and faster application of concepts to problems, test-taking strategies etc., which are very important for success in the CAT.


However, there would be some students who, for whatever reasons, can not/do not enrol in a classroom program. Such students should ensure that they enrol into a mock test series and take mocks regularly and analyse them. Inputs from the analysis should be used as pointers for the preparation ahead.


Careers360: What are the must prepare topics in each section which should not be avoided at any cost? Please share some preparation tips on those topics.

Manek Daruvala: While there are some areas from which questions do come frequently and some from which questions are relatively less frequent, given CAT's unpredictability, students should not avoid any topics and prepare on all of them with equal rigour.


Careers360: Please mention some top books and study materials to be referred by CAT aspirants.

Manek Daruvala: While the material issued by institutes like T.I.M.E. is self-sufficient in itself, some of the books that students can refer to are – How to improve your Reading Speed, and, Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis, Puzzles to Puzzle you by Shakuntala Devi etc.


Careers360: How should final year graduation students vis a vis working professionals balance their daily routine with CAT preparation?

Manek Daruvala: The big advantage that students who are studying have, over those who are working is that they have a more-or-less fixed academic calendar. This allows them to have a clear idea of the time available to them for CAT preparation. For those who are working, the work pressure/load at the office can, at times, play havoc with their CAT prep plans.


Allotting a fixed duration in a day for CAT preparation is strongly advisable for both the groups. Consistently sticking to this prep-window is very important to keep the preparation going at a healthy rate.


Working students, in particular should ensure that in spite of losing out on the prep-window on some days due to work pressure, they adhere to the window on the remaining days and see if they can extend it whenever possible to compensate for the losses that may have occurred earlier.


Careers360: When is the ideal time to start taking mock tests? Also, mention the frequency in which mocks should be taken.

Manek Daruvala: Students should start with their full-length mocks around six to seven months to CAT. For those starting their preparation having less than this amount of time on hand, it is advisable that they start-off their preparation by taking a full-length mock. This will help them get better insights into their strengths and weaknesses so that they can put-in focused preparation which will help them to utilise the time they have effectively. It is advisable to take one or two AIMCATs a week.


Careers360: How can one analyse their performance in mock tests? Please share some tips for analysis and the way forward.

Manek Daruvala: Students should spend about two hours analysing each section of the paper. This will undoubtedly help them extract the most out of the learnings that mocks have to offer them. It is an essential part of the preparation for CAT and students should not make the mistake of failing to analyse their performance in mock tests.


Things to do for analysis are as below.


Step-1: Attempt all those questions in that section that you left unattempted during the AIMCAT.


Step-2: Try solving questions that may still be left over. Only after giving all the questions a good try, check the answer key to find out which questions you could answer correctly and re-attempt all those questions that you answered wrongly. You would be able to learn a great deal from this step since you would actually be pushing yourself to think harder and find out where you have made mistakes. Do not look at the solutions until you are finished with this step.


Step-3: Refer to the solutions and compare your approach with that given in the solutions. You should keenly observe and learn anything new that you may find in the solutions. At the end of this stage of your analysis, you should try to categorise the questions into levels of difficulty based on the understanding required and the amount of time that you would take to solve each of them in an exam situation.


Step-4: Analyse the paper; Section-wise, Area-wise, Difficulty Level-wise.


Careers360: How should CAT aspirants balance their preparation with other entrance tests like XAT, IIFT, NMAT by GMAC, SNAP and CMAT?

Manek Daruvala: Most of the exam preparation for these tests gets covered through CAT preparation. There are some additional items like General Awareness (GA), Decision Making, some reasoning based topics like non-verbal reasoning etc., that students need to focus on for specific tests. GA is needed for personal interviews/GD/WAT also and is hence not a test specific activity. Getting better on GK is a long drawn process and it is recommended that students spend time on this right from the early days of their preparation.

For the other areas like Decision Making, Reasoning based topics etc., focusing on those after CAT would suffice as the exams testing students on these areas (XAT, SNAP etc) happen well after CAT.


Careers360: What can one expect from CAT 2018 in term of exam pattern and difficulty level?

Manek Daruvala: As CAT is known to spring surprises, one can use past trends only to understand the changes that the exam has been going through. One cannot predict anything about the pattern/difficulty-level as any such predictions can be rendered ineffective by the sudden turns that CAT may take. The CAT exam pattern has been stable for the last three CATs with no changes while the difficulty level in QA & VARC has been consistently on the moderate side. LRDI has been the tough section for the students in these CATs.


Careers360: What should be the exam day strategy in terms of time management, maintaining accuracy and fulfilling sectional cut-offs?

Manek Daruvala: Cut-offs are a function of the difficulty level of the section and the paper. Hence you should always be on the lookout to maximise the score in the given conditions of difficulty levels. If the sections are individually timed, as they are in CAT, you will have a fixed time to negotiate the section and hence the task on hand is clear. Sectional cut-offs need not be worried about as the time for each section is fixed.

For exams that have all the sections available throughout the test, the number of attempts per section should be decided during the test, based on the difficulty level of the sections. Targeting a certain number of questions to clear the cut-offs even before looking at the paper should not be done as this may not let you perform at the optimal level.


Also keep in mind that sectional cut-offs play a key role only for the schools in the top 30-40. Below this, schools focus only on the over-all cut-offs and not on sectional cut-offs. Hence it important that students should focus mainly on maximising the overall score.


Question selection plays a key role in maximising the score while also helping the students maintain a good accuracy which helps them extract optimum returns out of the time and efforts put in.


Stay away from blind guessing – CAT and all the other tests have negative marking. The negative marking is to deter students from attempting an extravagant number of questions even without solving them. Blind guessing almost always leads to a negative/low score and is hence to be avoided. However, if you are able to eliminate two/three choices (out of the four or five) on a proper basis, then, you may consider making an “educated guess”, based on what your instinct tells you. Keep in mind that your “instinct” will be able to guide you only if you have fed it well, i.e., if you have prepared well.


Careers360: Please share detailed preparation strategy for three months, two months and last month for CAT-takers.

Manek Daruvala: It will help immensely if you have a focused and measurable plan for the coming 3-4 months. For example, in the Verbal Ability area, one could target completing a pre-decided number of exercises in each of the areas every day. Or, a day each for the different question types on Paragraphs (Para formation, Para completion and Para summary), followed by three days of intensive grammar prep covering all the standard models of questions. You may include reading a few novels in your plan. You can take a call on Vocabulary, based on the level you are at currently. A targeted plan like this will help you track your progress on a real-time basis.


If you think your performance in any one of the areas is trailing that in other areas then you could begin with getting the weak area on par with the others areas. It will be important to devise a plan for each topic/question type within each subject and define targets for the same. Similarly, if you look at the QA area, you should apportion your time according to Arithmetic, Numbers, Geometry & Mensuration, Pure maths etc. Do a realistic analysis of your comfort level with each of these areas. For an area in which you are strong, you could just revise difficult/very difficult problems. For an area where you tend to skip/get most questions wrong, you should begin with the basic problems and go all the way to the very difficult problems.


The first couple of months from now on should be dedicated to concept building and eliminating weak areas. The month after that can be focused on improving the understanding and application levels of the concepts learned earlier by attempting higher level of questions and taking a good number of mock tests. The last month should be spent on fine-tuning the test taking strategy by focusing on better question selection, spotting tough questions so that one can veer away from them.

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