“CAT preparation from June”. This phrase creates a lot of frenzy almost all the time. “I have started late (probably in June, sometimes in July). Would I be able to crack it this year?”
The short answer is YES. There are enough and more reasons to validate the claim.
1) The syllabus covered for CAT is very straightforward.
I cannot stress more on this. Math syllabus is equivalent to what is seen in 6th to 10th standard text book. For VARC, it requires basic reading comprehension and understanding sentence structures in English.
You are not late because you start CAT preparation in June.
Why, then, is CAT a tough nut to crack?
CAT is tough because
- The questions are very application-intensive.
- There are approximately 2 lakh people fighting for about 6000 to 12000 good seats.
A practical CAT preparation plan will consist of the following three stages:
- Start preparation by June.
- Finish all portions by the end of August or early September.
- Take a minimum of 20 mock CAT tests (you can read more about strategies on mocks, here and here) and be ready for the actual CAT examination by November.
2) CAT preparation is about momentum and intensity
This exam is as much about momentum and intensity as it is about knowledge or application.
The intensity with which one prepares in the last lap will be a bigger determinant than how long you have been poring over basic formulae.
In effect, it is not about when you start (unless you begin at the very eleventh hour, that is) but how much you can throw in the five to six months.
So, why do people start 12 months before CAT?
This trend of starting 12 or 15 months before CAT started recently. When I took my CAT, we guys used to start preparing in August (reluctantly). I took my CAT in 2000; back then, the CAT exam was in December. But even adjusting for that, we used to prepare for barely 3-3.5 months. But we threw in a lot in that final lap. Many of my friends hit 30 mock CATs before the exam. Back then, 70% of preparation used to be about taking practice exams. (Most of us would have been shocked if someone had asked us to prepare for percentages for 5 weeks).
Is there more to this ’12-month preparation cycle’ phenomenon?
I am afraid so. The most important driver for this change has been the development (over-development) of the test-preparation industry. It really helps the industry if college-goers start enrolling themselves for courses 12 or 18 months before the exam. Less than 5% of this brigade takes the exam seriously. Any trainer will tell you that the longer term batches are the worst preparing. Students start missing classes; they denude themselves into believing that they are geared merely because they started very early. 12 months into the course, the average attendance levels are less than 10%. The result? When the time is perfect for starting preparation, these long-term and uber-long term batches lose all momentum.
3) I am starting preparation in June (or July). What should be the plan?
The broad overview of the preparation plan from June can be broken down into three phases:
- June, July and August -> Covering the syllabus, few mocks.
- August and September -> Lots of short tests and mocks, SWOT analysis.
- October and November -> Intense mock cycle, aggressive reviews
June, July and August -> Covering the syllabus, few mocks
This is the most important part. To start with, do not tell yourself you don’t have a chance because you are starting late. Cover topic by topic for Quants for the next 8 weeks. Read something for at least an hour each day. Spend 2-4 hours each week on DI and/or LR. Run this schedule for about 8 weeks at least; by this time, you should have also taken 2-3 mock CATs (minimum). In this first phase, do not worry about time pressure, speed, overall percentiles, etc.
August and September -> Lots of short tests and mocks, SWOT analysis
By middle of August, you would have seen most question types, and covered most topics in Quant. From here on, take one mock CAT every week and fill whatever gap areas you have. Identify gap areas based on your own gut feel and from what the mock CATs tell you. Have this as the plan for the next 6 weeks. During this phase, you should start building intensity.
Plan part tests and exercises in short bursts. Mix up topics and ensure that you avoid concentration lapses.
You should create a package that looks something like:
- 10 questions in Number Theory
- 3 selected passages from The Economist, TIME and New York Times
- One DI grid and one LR puzzle from the web
Test yourself at breakneck speed of 45 minutes. This phase is like strengthening muscle by muscle before a tournament.
October and November -> Intense mock cycle, aggressive reviews
Final few weeks, take mock CATs and keep reviewing them aggressively. Repeat. Fill gaps if they still crop up and be as relaxed as possible.
I started preparation last November, what should I do now?
This is quiet simple. Restart today. Create a plan to aggressively ramp up intensity of your preparation.
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.