5 tips on retaking the CAT
Most institutes have given out their calls (or, at the very least, most of you are aware of your chances), and many of you may be planning to retake the CAT. For some of you, it may be a case of almost making it but falling short due to one poor section or simply missing out on the overall percentile. Others may have had a bad CAT-day (I arrived at my examination Centre at Tambaram soaked in rain), and you knew right away that nothing significant was going to happen.
We’ve always believed that how we approach something — an exam, or a relationship — the quality of our thoughts about it determines the end result far more than the actual strategies and actions we take, because the mindset precedes all of these things.
So, all you CAT-o-Sapiens out there, this post is for you. It’s for those re-takers who aren’t hoping to get lucky the next time, but who want to make sure they leave no stone unturned in their next attempt at CAT.
Think like a manager!
Those who have quit or plan to quit their jobs to retake the CAT are ideal candidates for the “donkey-prep” mentality. You’ve made a commitment to the CAT, and you’ve given up everything for it, so now you’re going to study for it for 8 hours a day. You’re a prospective MBA, so start thinking like one: why are you going to spend 100 hours on a project when all you need to spend is 50 hours, just because you want to do it well? No! Isn’t it all about optimization?
Similarly, plan ahead of time for the time you’ll need to improve. Even when preparing for CAT, the law of diminishing marginal returns applies. So, imagine yourself as the MBA you want to be, and this is your first MBA project. You need to maximize your marks on the CAT in the same way that you need to maximize future revenues for a firm — the difference is that here, you are raw material, a worker, a machine, a manager, and the CEO, so technically everything is under your control. You must make sound investment decisions because no one knows you better than you.
Do not use percentiles to assess your performance on a section
One way for test takers to evaluate their performance on a section is to look at their percentile on the same. They rate their ability on a section based on the percentile in that section. The CAT is a non-standardized exam, with question types and difficulty levels varying greatly from year to year.
What if the RC passages increase a few notches next year? What will you do if the Quant section contains more difficult problems and the LR section is simple? This has happened to a number of students in the past, with percentiles being reversed on the second attempt.
When planning a re-attempt, nothing is more dangerous than evaluating your ability solely on the basis of your percentile!
Evaluate in terms of the input metric
Nothing is more dangerous than evaluating your ability solely on the basis of your percentile when planning a re-attempt! In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously put a number to the number of hours of deliberate practice put in by those who become high-achievers in their field — 10000 hours.
There has been a lot of discussion about this number, which seemed to imply that all you needed to do was deliberate practice to succeed. But, whatever the case, we know that the best athletes are those who put in more practice time than their peers — this was true of Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer. So the first step is to be honest about how much practice you put into each of the areas.
Learn to learn better!
It’s disheartening to say the least when you don’t get through after putting in a lot of effort, and it was no different for me. Most of the time, how we learn determines how much we actually learn. Our focus has always been on the end result; while we may understand a concept in terms of definition, we rarely manage the application.
VARC — Throw your prep net as wide as possible
The nature of the VERBAL Ability section poses the greatest challenge of all the factors that make the CAT difficult. At some level, the way the CAT has tested VERBAL Ability over the years appears to screen out people whose VERBAL Ability is as much a function of their general command of the English language as it is of their logical reasoning in a verbal context.
The first thing to understand is that reading speed is a skill, just like driving a car or playing a sport; it is a function of a certain natural proclivity and a lot of practice. While you can learn to drive a car in a short period of time, you will need to put in a lot of miles of driving under different conditions before you can drive at high speeds with a lot of control; the same is true for Reading Comprehension. So the only way to master Reading Comprehension is to READ a lot.
DILR – Build your LR muscles
DI-LR, like RC, is a section/area that tests a skill rather than knowledge and thus necessitates a significant amount of practice.
What is important though is that you not only solve enough sets but also evaluate the way you solved to weed out. One of the ways of improving your ability on DI-LR is to solve good quality sets. Thumb rule for DI-LR practice at least one set each per day apart from solving a puzzle a day.
QA — What you dislike weakens you
What stands between your current QA percentile and a great QA percentile are the areas you do not like and hence have not solved too many questions from.
For those whose QA is weak, start from the area you hate the most, and solve enough practice questions to be able to solve questions easily.
Show up! Show Up! Show up!
Most of the time, we have a clear long-term plan, in this case, passing the CAT in November, but whenever something else comes up in the short term — a weekend with a friend visiting from out of town, a new movie or TV series that is supposed to be insanely good — we end up accepting it. As a result, short-term decisions end up jeopardizing long-term objectives! So you have to say no to some things and give up some others (besides deciding to grow a beard till the test).
Can you make a weekend plan and stick to it if your weekdays are unpredictable but your weekends are predictable? Whatever you plan you draw up, stick to it. Do not be like the guy who draws up a will but refuses to die!
Best wishes for CAT!
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