Handling pressure in the run-up to an examination as fiercely competitive and intense as CAT can be a mammoth task. It takes a lot of patience, perseverance and self-discipline, which is why we do not call these ‘impossible tasks’. We mention them as ‘Herculean/Himalayan/mammoth/daunting tasks’, don’t we?
When someone talks about pressure and the (in)ability to handle it, we often brush it aside, stating the fix-it-all-with-a-statement we are always familiar with. “You are imagining too much. Just relax and let it go.” Deep down, we all know this is easier said than done.
So, what exactly does handling pressure mean in the CAT context?
Personally, I have realized that when the time pressure was removed – at least I tried not to think too much about it – I was able to see phenomenal results in my CAT performance (and mostly everything else as well). But this phase is not easy to arrive at. Also, there are other common mistakes that you should avoid in any case.
It is a process that undergoes a lot of phases, each of which requires confronting the reality and coming to terms with it. Here goes!
1) The pressure is real
The acknowledgement that pressure is real and not a myth is the first step in handling pressure effectively.
I had an instance in one of my CAT attempts when I went through a sheer 20-minute brain freeze (you can read about my journey from 66th to 95th percentile, here). And this happened right on the day of the CAT exam when I was sitting there in the venue, the screen in front of me. My mind wandered around where I had come to, whether I was writing an actual CAT or taking a mock CAT, which venue I was sitting in, etc.
These are effectively outcomes of too much pressure. The brain can easily go jaywalking, OR in some cases, it can snap. It is important to recognize this, as you go about overcoming this obstacle.
2) Temperament and handling pressure
CAT has increasingly become an examination that does not merely test your skills, but also your abilities.
What does that mean?
It means that CAT is not just about your understanding of a Quant topic, or your level of mastery in solving a DILR puzzle. It is also equally, if not more, about how you stay focused even as the brain starts panicking, how effectively you prevent the pressure from getting to your nerves and so on.
88 days to go: Tell me what it means for THIS time period
When you have less than 3 months to go, and it looks like the days are being numbered – in the real sense – it can be too much. Now is the time you are taking mocks, analyzing them, completing portions, revising topics and more.
When you take a mock and score low, it is an immediate and instant impulse to get all riled up and depressed. I am not saying you should not exude such emotions. We are all humans and we lose it quite often.
However, when you analyze the same mock, you can make quite a few mental and psychological adjustments.
Mock analysis as a chill-pill for handling pressure
An important distinction you get while analyzing mock(s) is that there is no time pressure. You can take your time to solve n number of questions from the mock CAT paper. This is an important constraint that bogs most CAT aspirants during the actual exam or even a mock.
Now that you have enough and more time at your disposal (at least as far as the mock is concerned), try and attempt all questions without looking at the solution. In all probability, you will be able to get anywhere between 20% to 50% more questions right than that of your actual mock attempts.
What does that tell you?
As you solve questions, you have a gush of emotions that are two-fold: The first is the sense of happiness that you are able to solve these many questions without referring to the solution. The second is the dejection that, maybe – just maybe – you could have got it right during the mock itself. Both of these are important.
The former – the sense of happiness – gives you hope that your preparation is, after all, not going to dust in entirety. The latter, in contrast, tells you that your foundation is strong, but something else is going wrong during the mock.
How do you carry that forward?
Once you have that realization, the next steps going further are crystal clear. Have one or a set of implementable action items to be enforced in your next mock. See how it works and reiterate. After a few mocks (spanning a few weeks), you would have improved on a lot of aspects you thought you were not good at, at all.
3) 150 vs 80: Scores and the reality of handling pressure
I have seen enough and more CAT aspirants having an end goal even before taking a mock. People go in with the “I should be scoring a 150 in thism ock, or I am doomed” mindset. When the scores are not in sync with the target, they get depressed.
150 is a good score for a mock, and even in actual CAT, it gets you to the 95th or 97th percentile. But, does this mean that 80 in a mock is to be scorned at ? Not at all. Let me explain why and how.
The different shades of 80
When you take a mock and score 80, it might not be the score you expected, OR the great/dream score. But, you need to maximize everything in your arsenal to score that 80. Then, go for 90. Or 100. Or even 120.
But, maximizing every metric in your control – the time you put in, the number of sums you solve in a day or a week, the number of hours you read in general per day – gets you to the score you desire. More importantly, all these need to be done consistently.
Case in point: the DILR section
When you are attempting the DILR section of a mock, for example, do not keep fretting that you are not able to solve 4 or 5 sets. Solve 2 sets completely even if each of them takes 30 minutes to complete.
You should be in a position where you say, “Hey, I attempted 8 questions right with 100% accuracy. Now, let me see if I can squeeze in some two more questions of yet another set.” This iterative approach takes you to 10 correct attempts, then to 12, and eventually to 16 or even 20.
4) Do not have November in mind
As much as it is important to take stock of the number of days you have in your bag, it is equally crucial to not think about the deadline or the D-Day all the time. It is counter-productive, and backfires big time.
Have smaller chunks of goals for yourselves. What you do in a week’s time and how it translates to an output three or four weeks down the lane is more significant than what MIGHT happen three months down the lane.
5) Mocks, questions and sticking to strengths
I have scored 93 percentile in Quants twice. This, despite the fact that I suck at Math. I have a phobia for numbers; working with numbers is not something that comes naturally to me.
So, how did I manage to score better than my compatriots who were well-prepared?
I kept/keep it simple. Whenever I see the Quant section, I go for Arithmetic sums. Whenever I see a “X dice are thrown Y times” statement, I click “Next”. Even worse, whenever there are questions with any diagram – read, geometry and its allies – I skip them with no regrets whatsoever.
Okay, what does this translate to?
Quite obviously, I get a lot of time to work with the sums that fall under my areas of strength. Stated otherwise, I get to work with a difficult Mixtures sum even after knowing it is difficult because I choose to skip the other topics which are clearly not within my realm.
So, do I stop with knowing Arithmetic?
No. Of course not. But, question selection plays a key role in seeing you through in CAT. Once you get this process (of attending only the questions that fall under your horizon) straight, you can iterate it by adding topics you cover as you move ahead.
Stay safe, register early, and best wishes for CAT 2020!