“Bell the cat”. The proverbial saying can be applied pretty much to CAT as well. Equally hard, if not harder, is tying a bell around the CAT in upper cases. Not everybody gets it right in their first attempt; but CAT 2020 could be your calling. You could be second or third time lucky.
If you have given an attempt that went Code Red, and you are venturing out to read this blog, your intent is on point. Keep up that spirit and read on! Chances are you are one of those listed below; you can rev up your prep this time and make CAT 2020 a fruitful attempt.
1. I am a rockstar in one of the three sections but have no idea whatsoever about the others.
Kudos! You have identified your strength. Now, play to your strength. If your strong area is, say, DILR, never even shoot to attempt (and get right) less than 26 questions. Make this a habit right from your first mock towards CAT 2020. Remember, this means you don’t have the freedom of focusing less on DI because you don’t like calculations (Hi five! I am one among them). The same applies for Quants; you cannot afford to let go of a particular chapter, say Work and Time, because you don’t deem it important/don’t like it. Doing this would ensure a 99.6x+ percentile in this section. Believe me, the gap between a 99.6 and a 98.5 percentile is wider than you think because the gap in the CAT score out of 300 could be much higher than the percentile difference suggests.
Fine. Got it. But, what do I do about the other sections?
If you are a rockstar in Quants, then it is almost impossible that you don’t understand anything of DILR. Voila, that’s another strength right there. I know of candidates who attempted 2 or 3 Quants-based DI sets, ended up scoring an 90.xx percentile. Combine this with a maxed out score of 99.9x in Quants; that’s a smart strategy. But be cautious about the cut-offs for general/OBC/SC/ST categories. Of course, not many people would want to do this and you don’t have to either. A person’s skill sets for these two sections are not so poorly correlated, after all.
Anyone who is a rockstar in one section and has no idea about the others has just not tried enough.
2. What about VARC? How do I fix this section? Forget being a rockstar, I am not even close to being good enough.
Reading Comprehension (RC) is, by far, the best sub-section in Verbal that one can focus on. You know you would get around two or three RC passages of RC and any candidate with a decent understanding of English can attempt and get right four or five questions. While you are practicing RCs, do not focus on building speed. Focus on understanding what you read. Not being able to attempt enough questions is primarily a function of being unable to correctly answer a question in the first attempt; this happens because you can’t understand the question. With this, you might be able to increase the count of RC questions to seven or eight. There’s a caveat to this, though. You need to have a reading list, like Bharath’s curated list, that is being updated every week; reading needs to become a habit of an hour or two daily.
With that, you will be able to get 8 to 10 questions (from three passages) right. Reading as a habit also enables you to look at the essence of a passage/article; this helps big time in cracking the “Identify the inference/central theme” questions. With time (a minimum of 75-100 continuous days of reading practice for at least an hour daily), RCs become a cakewalk. The result of this practice can be witnessed in Sentence Rearrangement and Paragraph Completion/Elimination questions, too. That’s three or four questions more. A total of 20 to 22 correct attempts in your weaker section is brilliant. Again, this is something you should practice right from your early mocks.
3. I am not a rockstar in any one section but I almost always manage to get a balanced score.
Well, this is tricky. I know it is because I am one of your kinds. You always have this feeling that you are almost there, yet far. I have come to realize that being able to get a balanced score is actually not that bad.
If you also know that
- You would always score in the range of 94.xx to 98.xx percentile in all the three sections
- Your overall range is 97.xx to 98.xx
You should focus on accuracy in attempts in every test you take as a run up to CAT 2020. Only accuracy can take you from 97.xx to 99.7x; this is VERY important for any candidate (especially in the open category and with not-so-decent academics) to secure an interview call from at least a few IIMs. You know you are going to be capped at 22-23 attempts in each of the sections and you CANNOT afford to get even a single one wrong.
For that level of accuracy, you should
- Read every question properly without hurrying too much
- NOT fall for common traps (Example: two options might seem close enough)
- NOT get anxious in the examination venue. Calm down your nerves before you hit Start.
Calm down my nerves!?! That’s easier said than done.
True. There’s no one way to do this. Even the most careless of all test-takers will have a moment of anxiety while entering the exam hall. However, there’s one thing you might consider doing. I did this but I can’t say for sure if it worked or not; chances are it might work wonders for you. Do not write only CAT 2020 and be hell bent on joining only the top IIMs. Broaden your options. There are so many other good B-schools in India, including FMS, XLRI, MDI, IIFT and the likes. If you are prepared for the CAT, you are prepared for pretty much any other exam. So write XAT and IIFT, for sure. You might want to add NMAT and SNAP too. Also, apply well in advance to B-schools that accept CAT/XAT scores such as SP Jain, MDI and FMS.
Two reasons why this might help.
- If some of these exams were to happen before CAT, that’s good exam-day practice.
- By applying to so many B-schools, you end up knowing a lot of information about them; you realize that you do have a larger basket of ‘good’ options to choose from. For all you know, you might end up with a BCG offer from FMS/XLRI than if you had been to IIM-A/B/C!
Best wishes for CAT 2020. Start today, and you are good to go!
The author of the above piece is Shivaram, a graduate from College of Engineering at Guindy in Chennai, Class of 2010. He worked with 2IIM for a year before joining IIM-A in 2012.