10 Golden Rules for CAT
Just like everywhere else, there are Golden Rules for CAT as well. This article will go over 10 such rules, because we love articles that have points, and that too, round number of points. We already have an older version of this on Video – Please watch that here.
Accuracy trumps attempts.
First off, don’t trade accuracy for attempts. Attempting x number of questions at an 80% accuracy is not good enough. Attempting 20 questions with the thought process, “I should get 12 out of these correct”, is just not good enough. Would you go visit a doctor who has that hit rate?
It will sound like answering 20 questions with a 75% accuracy, mathematically, is better than answering 12 questions with utter surety of their answers. But it is not that case. Don’t do that +3, -1 math. Instead of getting 15 correct answers, if you get 14, then you will end up with the same score. Difference is that you get to spend more time per question by answering only 12 questions, giving you better chances at getting questions right.
Do NOT chase attempts.
With the objective of getting a better score, you should not attempt more questions. If you’re better at reading, at solving puzzles, and at solving math questions, you end up automatically attempting more, which in turn leads to a better score.
In the exam hall, you cannot suddenly tell yourself that you will answer 70 Questions. It just doesn’t work that way. If the paper difficulty is such that you’re only able to attempt 40 questions, you cannot then set the bar at 70, and look to hit that. You might very well hit that, but at what cost?
Chasing to solve a suddenly high 70 questions is more likely going to lead you into a high attempt rate with bad accuracy or a bad score.
My Favourite Golden Rule for CAT – When in doubt, leave.
This is one of my favourite Golden rules – When it doubt, leave. For CAT, you can go in with a pre-determined set of rules for leaving questions.
If you see Trigonometry and a SinΘ, you can leave. If you see 3 different tables in a DILR set, skip. In short, skip questions liberally. It is better to have questions that you could have attempted that you left, rather than sitting for 10 minutes on a question that you shouldn’t have attempted.
A question that you could have attempted but you ended up leaving, won’t hurt you as much. But on the other hand, a question that you should not have tried, but get sucked into, wasting 8 minutes, that will kill your performance in that section.
If you spend 7 minutes agonizing over a question and you leave it, odds are, in the next two questions you answer, you’re going to get one of them wrong. So you spend a 15 minute period (25% of a section), answering 1 Question right, 1 Wrong, and Skipping a question – that kills your section. The idea is – You should be THRILLED at leaving questions.
Take chances, but do them carefully
Take chances through your exam. Not the best of ideas to have a point 3 that says Skip questions liberally, and then say that you should learn to take chances – But there’s a point to be made here.
The key point is, take Chances, but do them carefully and prudently. If you feel like some question CAN be attempted, then go for it. You see 3 different ways data has been presented in a DILR set, but you feel like you can crack this, go for it!
If you’re going into a question, you’ve got to go full on and go for it. You cannot sit on the fence throughout the paper. You need to commit to decisions you take but you need to be careful when you do it.
If you have the slightest doubt, then feel free in your head to leave the question. But if you decide to solve a question, don’t do it half-heartedly. After 3 or 4 minutes, take a call and leave it if you’re able to go anywhere. But be decisive.
How do you know when you’re being overly ambitious with a question against being just confident about being able to solve a question? That comes with making some mistakes. Make these mistakes in Mocks. Take a risk/chance on answering a question. See if it goes well. Improve on your ability to judge on whether you can take a chance on a question. Remember that there’s a fine line between Bravery and Stupidity.
Prioritization is key!
One of the most wonderful Golden Rules for CAT. If you’re asked to fill a jar and given rocks, pebbles, and sand, you should start with the rocks. Very simple Idea. Take a look at the image below to see the difference between starting with sand, and starting with rocks.
Why are we giving you this example? With the given time (In the above image it is given space inside the jar), you have to prioritize what you start with, or at times, you have to prioritize and make sure that you head toward a section with some questions.
If you’re in the VARC section, one RC passage has 3 – 6 questions in a group. Solving a passage, including answering questions, could take you anywhere between 6 -13 minutes. But you’re going to spend a bare minimum of 5 minutes to read it. If you start out a RC Passage with 8 minutes to go, you are going in with so much time pressure that you will run through the passage, miss out on key points, and end up making mistakes. So, make sure you don’t end with any “Group Questions” when you have <10 minutes to go.
Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.
Dwight. D. Eisenhower, Ex-President of the USA, is known to have said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything”.
Go into a mock or the CAT with a plan in your head. But don’t be afraid to make changes to your plan based on something you didn’t expect during the exam.
Don’t set your strategy in stone. Be a little flexible.
Sometimes we need to lose the battle, in order to win the war.
If you get stuck and are not able to answer a question for more than 3-4 minutes, it is time to cut your losses, and move to the next question.
You could be the doyen of Pipes Cisterns or Speed Time Distance. But that one question could have some idea that might not have struck you that one day. You could think, “How can I not get this question right?”. That one question was beautifully crafted, in a way that it draws you in for 4 minutes, makes you sweat, and then makes you mark the wrong choice.
If you don’t get anywhere in the first couple minutes, it is better to push to the next question rather than wasting a few more minutes in the same question and still not getting anywhere, or worse, marking the wrong option. Think of it as: Sometimes we need to lose the battle, in order to win the war.
Fly off the blocks!
Very often,If you’ve prepared well, solving a question gets you going. During the exam, you can have adrenaline or anxiety. Adrenaline helps you during the exam, and anxiety obviously does not.
The best wayto have adrenaline feeding you in the exam is to jump into the paper, look at the first question & solve it. Don’t over analyse your strategy during the exam. If you’re solving questions, your mind is uncluttered so fly off the blocks!!
You shouldn’t care about the strategy, first ten questions, take a look at the question and if you decide to do it, do it and move to the next question. Take a decision – Once you’ve taken the decision, think only about that question and nothing else. Solve and move to the next question.
It’s time to go BAM BAM BAM BAM the first dozen questions.
Respect the Devil – For, the devil is in the details.
Keep an eye out for some trigger words that should help you get clarity on what the examiner is trying to test you on or where the trap is in the question.
For example, if the question states that x^2 < 81, and it does not mention what X belongs to (Integers, real numbers, whole numbers, natural numbers, etc), then by default, you have to assume that x can lie between -9 to +9 (not including the two).
The year values mentioned in a DILR set, the first name being used in a sentence and the second name in a different sentence in some Sentence Re-arrangement question, reading the term non-negative integers (includes 0) – All of this is very easy to miss. You’ve got to train your eye to catch details like this. If you miss some detail, you should be very harsh on yourself because it matters for this exam.
Always have a plan B.
Have a plan B. Don’t put all your eggs into one basket. Don’t quit your job, don’t burn your bridges, and don’t say mean things to your boss. All of this increases the pressure that you have on clearing this examination, and thereby leaves you open to make more errors. Don’t fall into the trap of putting everything into one competitive exam.
Bonus Golden Rule for CAT: Everyone Makes Mistakes
Keep in mind that everyone makes mistakes. You don’t need a perfect score. You don’t have to get every question right. You don’t have to be mistake-free. People can make mistakes, and still get to the 99.5+ percentile. I took my 9th CAT last year and have scored in the 100th percentile multiple times, but I still made a couple mistakes this year.
- I got stuck with a puzzle in the DILR section & spent 12 minutes going nowhere.
- I took the CAT in 2017 and answered practically every question in Quant – I went in with the same mindset in 2018 and got caught off guard in the 1st Qn – I lost 8 minutes and had not solved the question yet.
That’s all folks! You have what I would call the 10 Golden rules for CAT. I got extra gracious and made up another rule to create a 11th Golden rule to crack CAT. Hope this gyan keeps you going for another week! See you all soon in another article.
Rajesh Balasubramanian runs 2IIM and 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.