2 months – the time all CAT aspirants have got between today (28 September 2020) and the D-day (29 November 2020). The phrase, ‘all CAT aspirants’ had to be emphasized, as the changes in the CAT examination duration and the uncertainty about the ‘new pattern’ is wide-spread today.
Let me just start by stating, “You are not alone!” Or, if you are a Liverpool fan, YNWA (for those unaware – You Never Walk Alone). There are enough and more reasons to NOT feel pessimistic; as always, getting along with your preparation would solve the lion’s share of the problems.
The phase of uncertainty
I get it. You took so many mocks, and were gearing up for CAT 2020. With 2 months to go, you are not worried as much about the reduction in duration as you are about the uncertainty in the pattern. And I understand that any amount of ‘tips and tricks’ on how to handle pressure effectively would not seem practically viable. Most importantly, I know you are going to get turned off when the “All aspirants are at a level-playing field now” phrase comes up.
“Okay. So, you understand everything. Your point is…”
My point remains (has remained and will always remain) the same. Any phase of uncertainty is not really pleasant. It takes time to get used to it. You cannot not (double negatives galore!) crib about it. After all, it is our innate tendency as homo sapiens to crave as much self-pity as validation. But as mentioned in this article, after you are done with cribbing, it is equally important to pull up your sleeves and double down with the preparation.
Now that this part is sorted, let’s move on to the next.
I understand comparing you with others makes you fume. How about comparing your own preparation in the past with the present?
“Um, okay. Go on. Tell me more.”
Remember the first time you took a mock? Forget your score, percentile and everything else. Just the time you sat for the first time to take a full-length mock. What were you worried about? Yes, scores, percentiles, sectional cut-offs. But more importantly, the first set of worries that must have struck you was, “Would I be able to crack this one?”, “I am embarking on this. Is this three-hour grind even worth it?”, “How similar or different are my scores going to be in the future?”
That was Mock 1. Then, you took Mock2. And 3, 4 and 5. And slowly, the nature of fears, anxieties and worries shifted from, “Would I be able to sit through the mock?” to “How can I score better, goddamn it?”, right?
You did not think this change would happen. There was no plan laid out to reduce x% of your fear with y% of optimism (Mixtures or Percentages, anybody?). And more crucially, the perspective change did not take centuries to happen. All it took was a few weeks.
“You seem to be going somewhere with this.”
You betcha! Of course, I am. There are 8 weeks (just stating the same ‘2 months’ to go in another form :P) The fear, gloom and everything else is gradually going to go away as you start acquainting yourself with the new reality. The question, “How can I iterate my preparation strategy to adapt to this new pattern?” should already be becoming a part of your preparation regime now.
Not choking under mounting pressure
CAT is a high pressure exam for many, and how to cope is probably a key determinant for cracking this exam. This factor becomes all the more crucial when there are just 2 months to go. For a lucky few, there is no great pressure and this is just another exam to have a go at. If you are one of that brigade, you should probably even skip reading this and stay in that carefree bubble. No point thinking and reading about pressure and panic, and planting seeds into the brain.
If you are not among the lucky few…
As stated, there are a ‘few’ lucky ones. And then, there is the majority that consists of lakhs of CAT aspirants.
Quite a few students freeze during the exam, a select few even entertain thoughts of not taking the exam at all, even at this ‘2 months to go’ stage. And a great many become slightly fearful and lose some of the ‘josh’ that needs to be present. Handling pressure is not easy.
I am not an expert at handling pressure and am not going to give much by the way of prescription here. I want to showcase three well-written articles on pressure – well, two on pressure and one on ‘josh’.
The three articles
All the three articles are based on sports and are wonderful articles to help us understand what pressure does to people. Sportsmen need to do their bit in the presence of gazillions of audience. This is precisely why their chokes always provide us the backdrop for us to understand pressure.
#1 – The Art of Failure
This wonderful piece focuses on Jana Novotna’s implosion at Wimbledon. Quite a long piece but totally worth reading. The author distinguishes between choking and panicking. From a student perspective, choking is probably a bigger threat than panicking in CAT.
The most important takeaway from this article must be the following:
“I hope I dont mess this up” is not a good mindset to take into an exam.
For the uninitiated, the South African cricket team has a long-standing legacy of failing to cross the line at the most important matches. The article talks about how they were so close and yet so far from victory in one of the most nail-biting semi-finals ever in the World Cup history.
We keep reiterating this in another form – the input metrics vs output metrics. In short, do not be so focused on the output. That backfires. The inputs – the variables that are clearly under your control – like the number of hours you would read this week, the number of sums you can reasonably aim to complete this fortnight matter the most.
#3 – The Haal Of Pakistan
Having seen two long articles on pressure, let us go through one on adrenaline. This is a fabulous article on the Pakistan cricket team from one of my favourite writers. This one is about ‘josh’, or ‘haal’ as the writer calls it. One should prepare to reach this level where the senses are heightened before the actual CAT examination.
Leaving you with…
All three are long(-ish) articles, but interesting ones to understand pressure and josh. Before a critical exam, all of us have anxiety and adrenaline. Figure out ways to tone down one, and kick in the other. and that alone is worth 200 hours of preparation. Truth is, we do not really know how to do this. Otherwise, sportsmen with their infinite array of analysts would not choke. At all. But, set aside some time to think about these things – the uncertainty, the pressure and the reality.
Stay safe, and best wishes for CAT 2020!
Rajesh Balasubramanian takes the CAT every year and is a 4-time CAT 100 percentiler. He likes few things more than teaching Math and insists to this day that he is a better teacher than exam-taker.