Question selection – the enigma that sometimes eludes even the most experienced veteran in CAT. This is the season of mocks, and the necessity of choosing the right questions in each mock becomes paramount. Knowing how to traverse through a paper is an important skill-set in the CAT.
1) Question selection has to be dynamic
You do not have the luxury of saying, “Let me look at the questions in different categories and figure out which ones work best for me.” This is not a Board examination where topical difficulties can be presumed.
The decision-making will have to be done on the fly; this is true for all the three sections – VARC, DILR and QA – of the CAT examination.
2) One needs to have an intuitive sense of each section
One should have a particularly clear idea of questions by sub-category. One of the more common (and stupid) exclamations of surprise after CAT is usually along the lines of “I got a stinker. The last 16 questions in VARC were from RC”. You did not see an RC passage till Question Number 17-18. What did you imagine the last 10 questions to be?
Imagine if M S Dhoni lamented at a post-match presentation, “We could have got 40 off the last five overs, but three of them were bowled by Dale Steyn.” Of course, they were!
Have an idea of what kinds of questions have come along your way as and when you attempt them.
3) Plan on question selection by gauging the difficulty level of the paper
The moment you have attempted a few questions, you should be in a position to assess the difficulty level of that section. A great many students end up being conservative with their targets when the paper is too easy. In some sections in CAT, you will be in a position to attempt 26-28 questions. In these you should be setting the bar high.
When in doubt, assume that the paper is easy.
4) What is the number of attempts to reach the 99th percentile?
This is a classic. Irrespective of the month of a year, one question that keeps popping up from everywhere is that on the “99th percentile”.
As a simple rule of thumb, one should hit the range of ~21 questions (getting all of them right) per section to hit 99th percentile. Of course, it goes without saying that there are lots of caveats to this rule.
5) Leave well, leave early
If a question appears Greek and Latin, unsolvable and time-consuming, LEAVE and MOVE ON. Select questions that are familiar to you. Sometimes, you might have mastered a topic, but the question from that topic would still be unsolvable. In cricketing terms, you should know which delivery to leave and which to smash away. Needless to say, question selection comes with practice.
When you are analyzing mock CATs, take a good look at those questions that took you spent more than 4.5 minutes on and figure out how you got suckered into these.
If you take 8 minutes for a question, it hardly matters whether you got it right – it is a bad call. Beat these time-sinks down aggressively.
6) Everyone needs the odd confidence-booster
Let’s face it. Skipping all dicey questions is good in theory, but it does make one nervous. More often than not, you will find yourself in a position where you have skipped 4 in a row; this would result then in you facing a time-consuming, boring question in linear equations.
In order to get your confidence back on track, you might have to set aside 4.5 minutes to crack a question, even it is difficult.
That is perfectly fine in terms of question selection.
7) Start well
Lots of guys start sluggishly and then start sweating by the end of 10th minute. This is most likely to bring down the overall performance (and it applies not just to CAT, but for any other examination as well).
Plan to fly off the blocks with feverish intensity. You cannot go much wrong with that strategy.
To complete with a cricket metaphor, start like Sehwag, and finish like Dhoni. Go berserk in the first few minutes, turn savvy (calculative) half way through the paper.
Get started today, and you are sure to come out with flying colors. Best wishes!
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.