Work on your weakness. Fine tune your skills
SUCCESS MANTRA Before zeroing in on a B-School of your choice, do some research on their cut-offs
How to prepare for CAT 2013 is the burning question on the minds of many B-School aspirants these days. Kamlesh Sajnani, MD, IMS Learning Resources speaks to Sreetama Datta on how to prepare in the best possible manner for the upcoming test.
Q: There are just two months left for CAT 2013. What should be the strategy of the aspirants, at this point?
A: Success in CAT 2013 could be defined as the achievement of percentile required to get into your desired list of B-Schools. The first step therefore would be to find out the CAT 2013 cut-off percentiles of various B-Schools that you are interested in. Based on past data, we have observed that while a 95+ overall percentile (with equal competence across sections) can get you into the IIMs, you would need at least a 75+ overall percentile to get into some of the Top 100 B-Schools. It is therefore imperative that you define your CAT 2013 success benchmark by first short- listing the B-Schools that you aspire to join. Once you have defined your success benchmark, follow an effective and efficient study plan on to ensure that you meet your target CAT percentile. Based on the data collected from past CATs and IMS SimCATs, we have an analysis of the number of questions students must attempt and get correct to achieve certain percentiles.
The objective is to reach your target percentiles in a step-wise manner by achieving the benchmark attempts and number of correct answers at each stage as per the Table given below.
The first step is to identify your current level of preparation by taking a simulated CAT in a proctored environment or at home. After taking the test, analyse your performance to identify where you stand with respect to the Table given below. From now on, the remaining months until your actual CAT 2013 must be divided equally to improve your performance from one stage to the next. So, if you are at Stage 1 (at 75 percentile) then the remaining 12 weeks should be divided into three periods of four weeks each to ensure that you reach Stage 4 before taking your test. Within each period, target to achieve the stated benchmarks of the next stage by:
Working on your conceptual and application skills and
Fine tuning your test-taking skills.
At the end of each period, take another simulated test and check your sectional performance. If your attempt and accuracy is greater than or equal to the benchmark percentile, you are ready to move to the next stage. If on the other hand your attempts and accuracy are less than the benchmark percentile, then analyse the test to find out where you need improvement. Use the explanatory answers provided to you with each test to aid this improvement.
Minutes Per Question
Q: What should be the section-wise study plan?
A: CAT has two sections.
1. Quantitative Ability + Data Interpretation: Target questions in your areas of strength first. Give priority to solving the standalone questions and do not devote more than 2.5 minutes for a question even if you do not get the solution. Do not have a mind block on a particular topic as there might be some very easy questions from that topic. Read all questions and identify these questions to ensure high scores. One must ensure that all the questions are read by the end of the section.
2. Verbal Ability + Logical Reasoning: For Section 2, attempt the vocabulary and English Usage questions first. They are the least time consuming as either you know the answer or you do not. Then devote time to your areas of strength from among Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning. Ensure all questions are read by the end of the section in the stipulated time. Read all RC questions as there might be an easy question alongside an apparently difficult RC passage.
STUDY TIME Organise your day in such a way that the hours spent studying are those when your brain is most alert, and the atmosphere is cool and calm
Q: CAT candidates generally are either working professionals or students. What should be the preparation strategy for each of them?
A: Ideally, you shouldn’t spend more than 4 hours a day on studying for CAT. The manner in which those hours are utilised depends on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses. Some may prefer to spend more time on Verbal Ability while others on Data Interpretation. Ultimately, you must ensure that your progress in each section is equal. This holds greater relevance if you are aiming only for the IIMs because at these institutes, cut-offs matter. Organise your day in such a way that the hours spent studying are those when your brain is most alert. Working professionals, for example, shouldn’t study at night after a hard day’s work. My tips for CAT 2013 preparation for you is that preparing for this test is not like preparing for school and college, where you need to spend long hours on memorizing.
Q: Candidates who take CAT usually opt for XAT. How different should be the preparation strategies for these two major MBA entrances?
A: An often repeated query from B-School aspirants is “What is the additional preparation that I need to do to crack tests like the IIFT, XAT, SNAP etc.?” It is interesting to note that most of the tests mentioned above assess more or less the same concepts that are tested in CAT. Hence, you will find that there is really not much difference when it comes to concept building for any of these tests. However, the various tests differ in terms of the test structure, question types and overall difficulty level. Therefore, we only need to understand the test structure, get acclimatised to the different question types and develop specific strategies to ace these tests. More often than not, if you have prepared well enough for the CAT 2013, then there is a high chance that you will perform well in the other tests. The XAT, for e.g., additionally assesses Decision Making and General Awareness type of questions. So, preparation for XAT will require the student to get oriented to these question types. Additionally, to crack CAT and XAT one should take 4 to 5 mock tests for XAT and analyse the same, similar to CAT, to get acquainted with the test structure and questions.
Q: How should one tackle time management given that CAT 2013 would be a section- wise, time-bound exam?
A: Time-bound sections check the student’s section-wise strengths. If one has prepared the basics of all concepts and is confident of one’s application skills, time management should not be a difficult issue. One must follow the basics and strictly follow the section-wise strategies as mentioned earlier to ensure optimum usage of time and ensure completion of the section in the allotted time. The trick is not to spend more than 2.5 minutes on a question, solve set-based questions in the middle and always keep an eye on the timer. Do not do guess work and answer questions in a hurry as it may cost heavily due to negative marking scheme of the test.
Q: What is the importance of a mock test? What should be the frequency of taking mock tests and things to follow after that?
A: To achieve your target, take one mock test per week (or a maximum of two tests), especially if you are a working professional. For every test you take, as per the above table, you will attempt only the specified number of questions to ascertain your performance.
Now for the post test analysis and the process of improvement:
Work on the questions that you got wrong – this is important as you had more time per question and still got them wrong. It means an error of comprehension or a conceptual issue.
Next pick the questions you did not attempt, solve them without a time limit. This will point out your areas of improvement. Doing this process for each test will definitely improve your performance in the next.
To summarise, you should not take more than 6 simulated tests in the last 45 days. But more important is their analysis. If you don’t learn from each test before proceeding to the next, there’s no point in taking a large number of them.
Try out various strategies for each test such as dividing your time equally in each section or spending more time on the weaker sections by working quickly in the stronger sections. It is also important to attempt a variety of tests because you may score well in a test that is more suited to your strengths while the CAT may carry more questions of the kind you are uncomfortable with. An exposure to a range of problems and the rationale behind them will ensure that you are better prepared.
Q: What is your message for the CAT 2013 aspirants?
A: On D-day, stay calm and focused. Do not stress yourself by worrying. On the eve the CAT 2013, sleep early and ensure that you are fresh the next day. Ensure that you have the Admit Card and Photo ID ready. Mentally break the test into shorter tests - carry the success in one mini-test to the next, but leave failures behind. Do not give up at any stage during the test. For all you know, you may perform relatively better than the others.