Doubts, in the context of CAT 2020, do not just come in the form of questions related to Geometry and clarifications on Arithmetic topics. There are self-doubts, ponderings, ruminations – positive and negative – that can catapult you towards being better, or shatter you with the pessimism.
There are nine such doubts every CAT aspirant faces. Some of them are quite common and can be witnessed, irrespective of the year. Quite a few others have arisen this time around, thanks to the pattern change (well, it should actually be “duration change“, as we know nothing yet about the CAT 2020 examination pattern, as such).
We will look to answer 9 such most-commonly asked questions in this post.
1) The mother of all doubts: the weak section versus strong section argument
This is a doubt that belongs to the first category – that is, one that remains constant in any given year. The question, to put it in perspective, is “What should be my preparation plan for my weakest section and my strongest section?
The answer, though obvious, might be news for at least a chunk of the aspirants. There is no differentiation in terms of preparation time and strategies at all. The only distinction you can make is at the level of understanding that X is your weakest section, and Y is the strongest.
Why should there be no differentiation?
The reason for the same is obvious, too. You need to look to maximize your scores in the strongest section; this means that the preparation rigour stays the same. If your strongest section is, let’s say, VARC, you will still have to spend time reading books and articles.
For the weak(est) section, the answer is even clearer. You simply have to spend so much time in working out the basics, understanding the concepts really well and then reiterating this same process, time and again.
2) The preparation grind and staying focused
There are variants of this question, but the crux remains the same. “Oftentimes, I find myself getting distracted very easily. What do I do in such instances?”, “How to not get distracted?”, “How to remain focused?”
Getting distracted is a very natural thing. It happens. Different people do different things to overcome lack of focus. Cleaning the room, arranging and planning things in order for the next hour/day/week, etc. are things that work wonderfully well as temporary quick-fixes.
This works temporarily, but…
The best and long-lasting solution to the issue of getting distracted is to tell yourself that this is important. CAT is important. You need to practice not yielding to the distraction-enticing questions. Set yourself up for the mindset that whatever happens, CAT 2020 would be your top priority the next month and a little more than that.
To give a more pragmatic example, you would not even be thinking about letting go when you are holding on to a ledge at the edge of a cliff, and the only thing that you can see deep down is oblivion. You can definitely translate this physical example to a state of mental preparedness.
3) The paranoia of the late beginners
“I have started my preparation a week/10 days/a fortnight ago. Would I be able to score 80th/90th/95th percentile?” – Classic question, right? CAT takers are often primed to believe that year-long preparation would somehow magically provide great results. That need not be true always.
To answer that question in a word, YES. With a caveat though. Unless you are naturally skilled and have a piece of luck by your side, you cannot probably expect to be part of the top 0.5% to 1%, starting your preparation at this point.
Does that mean I do not stand a chance at all?
No, it does not mean that. But it is worth remembering that going from 80 to 90 or even 95 is relatively easier than the painfully excruciating process of crawling from 97 to 98 and further (while having to maintain that level of consistency in attempts and scores).
Focus on your strong areas. Learn to go back to topics that bog you down and fill the gaps really quickly. Take a lot of mocks, and be assured that you have a near-equal footing with all the other aspirants out there.
4) Expectation versus reality: Syllabus completion and mock scores
“I have completed the CAT syllabus in entirety; you name the section and the topic – I have covered it all. But I am not able to answer many questions in mocks. How do I overcome this barrier?”
This, again, is an interesting question. There is an equally interesting follow-up to that as well. Which is “When I analyze my mocks, I am able to nail some/most of the questions which I got wrong or missed. But during the examination, I somehow tend to miss out.”
This second part of the question – what I have mentioned as the ‘follow-up’ – usually bogs the aspirants down so easily. But, that need not be the case.
How so? Why should I not be worried?
You should be worried, but for the right reasons. First of all, if you are able to answer the questions before you get to see the actual answer, GOOD. That is not a completely bad place to be in.
The worry should not be directed along the lines of “I am able to solve so much, but I flounder during mocks” but along the “I am able to solve this much. This means I am at ease with this topics. The only thing I need to fix now is going about the same in the context of a mock” trajectory. Oftentimes, a minor shift in perspectives can do wonders.
The reason you are not able to answer more questions – mostly the easier ones – could be because of a variety of reasons like the time pressure, the urge to score more and more, etc. That bit of thought about zeroing in on a reason would come a long way.
5) The elephant in the room: The new pattern and the scores
“I was scoring better, if not phenomenally well, in the old pattern. My scores are not that great in the recent, new pattern mocks. How do I fix this?” – the million trillion dollar question.
Things fell in place with the old mocks because you had trained yourself for it. Even before you started preparation for CAT 2020, you might have known that you are going to be preparing for a three-hour exam. And you did take so many mocks before starting to score well in the old pattern.
This is the last lap, though.
It is true that you do not have the same amount of time to cozy up to the new pattern. But this is the same for all the other aspirants as well. So, keep taking mocks and analyzing them. The preparation, the mock-taking regime, the rigour of a mock – none of these have changed. Trust the process and keep going for it.
6) When things go blank…
“My brain freezes at least for a certain number of minutes when I take a mock. This keeps happening frequently. What is the best way to sort this out?” – this is what you are asking. This is what you think the problem is. But the actual issue is not the ‘brain freeze’ itself. One level further, you find that there is a root cause that creates – and keeps creating – the brain freeze, the shell shock and the black-out.
In comes pressure
De-emphasizing this examination as just another part of your career (and life) is an important part of the process. The pressure can cripple you to such an extent that the easiest of questions – the objectively easier ones, like “What is 25% of 100?” – seem Greek and Latin.
I have a personal story that dates back to 2012. Back then, I was a 2IIM student and gave my CAT attempt; my brain froze for nearly 15 minutes AT THE EXAM. I ended up scoring 89th percentile; very well would I have scored a 90th or a 93rd percentile, had it not been for the brain freeze. But, it happened. And (sh)it happens.
Keep reminding yourself that this need not be your last CAT attempt. Prepare yourself for such an event that you might need to give one more shot. Learn to accept it with a shrug. If it has to happen after one more attempt, so be it.
There is something that both Rajesh and I keep repeating. “Prepare for CAT like your life depends on it. Write CAT like nothing depends on it.” Though it can come off as some cliched motivational one-liner, I can vouch for it, having taken CAT umpteen times, with varying degrees of success.
The following are three important articles you should definitely check out, if handling pressure if your Achilles Heel.
- How to handle pressure effectively in CAT exam?
- Handling pressure during the last mile of CAT prep
- 2 months to CAT 2020: How to handle pressure and uncertainty?
7) Attempts, scores, percentiles and beyond
This never gets old. “How much should I attempt to score a xx.xx percentile?” Nobody knows. Nobody ever knew even with the old pattern, but at least we had a benchmark of sorts. Now, there is no such thing. So, do not go on a wild goose chase, imagining that some score would lead you to an elite B-school. The flipside of the same argument is that do not get upset thinking you are far away from scoring the “desired” percentile to get an admit from a prestigious B-school.
Reiterating the oft-repeated preparation mindset
We have talked enough and more on input metrics versus output metrics. The former is a sure shot way to get your preparation on track; it shuts you off from all the negative vibes. The latter is one of the easiest ways to induce paranoia, fear, gloom and doom.
Focus on what you can nail. Work on things that are under your control. Like, doing 3-5 DILR puzzles everyday. Like, solving 50-70 Quant questions per day. Like, reading for at least an hour a day. Like, taking a minimum of two mocks a week. Or three per week. Or four.
8) The unopened Pandora’s box: What are the chances of new questions?
“Will there be new types of questions in CAT 2020, due to the duration change?”, “Are there chances we could witness ‘Facts – Inferences – Judgments’ type questions?”, “Should I be worried about my vocabulary, and start working on it?” – the uncertainty brings about panic. And panic results in chaos. Invariably.
I could be wrong, but the following is my opinion. I highly doubt if CAT 2020 will spring a surprise by suddenly deciding to focus too much on vocab or word usage. My best bet is that the overall structure is not going to change.
In any case, trying to learn something in a hurry just for the sake of it is not worth a penny. You would rather want to focus more on maximizing your scores than fretting over speculations.
9) What are the colleges to apply?
At the outset, apply to many colleges. Do not limit yourself to the BLACKIs of the world. There are other good colleges, where you can get an admit from, even if your percentile falls slightly short of that required for the top IIMs.
Blast from the past
In one of my CAT attempts, I ended up scoring a percentile that was not enough for an IIM call. But little did I know that there were other good colleges which I could have applied to, and which would have called me for an interview. Alas, I had missed the deadlines and was mad at myself for not considering applying to many colleges. It was after this that I started researching and reading about B-schools in detail.
If you can shell out those few thousand bucks to apply to one or many different colleges apart from the IIMs, do it. It does not hurt to knock on many doors, as opposed to a restricted number of them.
If you think a college is important, apply. If you are thinking you might not score a top-notch percentile in CAT 2020, apply. In short, apply. Do not leave holes ajar when it comes to MBA and B-schools.
Stay safe, and best wishes for CAT 2020!