How to crack the CAT

CAT is an aptitude test. And it is crucial that you remember this as firmly as you remember your name! This one isn’t like most of the exams you have taken for the most of your educational life if you have studied in India. It tests your aptitude not your rote learning or your ability to answer the exact same question that is marked as important by that professor who knows the question paper better than the one who frames it!

I scored a 99.37%ile in CAT2016 with ~98%ile in each of the sections. However, it wasn’t as smooth as it sounds. I definitely made a lot of mistakes along the way, which if I had the benefit of hindsight, wouldn’t have. However, I would be amiss if I don’t pass on my experience and my learnings to you, so that you don’t have to make the mistakes that I did.

With that promise, here are some tips on what it takes to overcome the first hurdle in making it to the 1% club of all the Top B-Schools in the country.

To crack the CAT, it is important to break it down, so let us tackle this challenge section wise:

Section 1: VARC

This section is invariably dominated by Reading Comprehension questions(~24/34). Hence, acing RC becomes the key to acing this section. There are innumerable strategies that can be tried for RC. I encourage you to try as many as you can. I am pretty sure that most of them won’t work. The only way to get a perfect score in RC is to actually be involved in the passage. But “enjoying’ a passage on fluid dynamics for an arts or a commerce graduate or one on “Expansionary Fiscal Policy” for an engineer is equivalent to scaling the Everest with a broken limb. The problem with this is that we read RC passages with an aim to answer the questions right. To get a perfect score. Nothing wrong with this except the fact that when we are reading the passage, half of our mind is focused on what kind of questions might be asked on it. And this takes away a lot of our focus without us realizing it.

Try this. Approach RC passages the way you approach a newspaper. Read a passage like an article you read in the morning newspaper.(If you don’t read a newspaper, you are going to regret it when you start preparing for the interviews. So form that habit now!). By doing this what you are doing, is that you are reading the passage to learn something new. To update yourself. To learn something that you would otherwise never read up on! And in the process you start getting the questions instinctively right.

For developing your vocabulary there is no better way than reading “Word Power Made Easy” by Norman Lewis.(Buy Word Power Made Easy Book Online at Low Prices in India). It is not just a book. It will be your favourite book by the end of Chapter 1 and it will transform your personality!

Section 2: DILR

Arguably the toughest section in the CAT and the one that separates the Men from the Boys(or the Managers from the Workers). The only way to ace this section is practice. Practice Practice and more Practice. You need to do at least 2 Sets of DI and 2 Sets of LR EVERY SINGLE DAY! It doesn’t take up much of your time. An hour a day max. But it will have immeasurable benefits when you start taking the tests. Start with slightly easier sets and quickly move on to sets which are incredibly tough and time consuming and keep practicing those for at least 2–3 months.

A pro-tip for this section is keeping your cool. Your composure will decide your ability to crack a set more than anything else. So don’t panic if you end up spending too much time on a set and have very little time left for others. Keep your equanimity and the rest will take care of itself.

Section 3: QA

Probably the section where the Engineers have a head-start and the Non-Engineers have a handicap. This is the only section in CAT which is portion heavy and will require you to be deft with all the concepts before you start acing the questions. So spend as much time as possible on making sure that you make your foundation strong. Remember it is better to falter at the start than at the crucial moment!

Apart from your coaching class material, the one place that will help you beyond limits is this Maths Posts. The moment you start reading the posts here, you will fall in love with Quant and it(This Blog) will most likely become and addiction. It will boost your confidence simply by increasing profoundly the number of questions you start getting right.

Last but not the least, this section also calls for a lot of Practice, Practice and Practice! And I am afraid there is no escaping this either.

P.S. For the engineers, DO NOT take this section lightly just because it is something that you studied in the 11th grade and can do it in your sleep. There have been cases where a lot of engineers have missed the cut-offs simply because of their QA scores in the Actual CAT despite scoring well throughout the practice tests. Don’t let yourself endorse this irony.

Test Taking:

The Simulation Tests (SimCATs) are the singlemost important factor that will determine your actual CAT performance. I cannot possibly stress the importance of SimCATs. I would recommend a minimum of 16–20 tests well spaced out. 1 test per week is more than enough. You may do more but the law of diminishing returns might apply beyond 2 tests per week.

DO NOT miss the weekly test. I know many a people who would not take a test just because they hadn’t studied enough or the portion was not taught to them or they were afraid of scoring low or any one of the other million reasons they had. Trust me that is a sure way to failure. Hence, the statement at the beginning. CAT is and Aptitude test. It doesn’t test your knowledge as much as it tests your aptitude. It tests your ability to perform on the day. It tests you ability to perform under pressure when you have a countdown timer on your screen. It tests your ability to perform on any random day. And anyways, QA is the only section where you need to know the concepts. So there is no excuse as to why you can’t attempt the other 2 sections completely and the QA section to the best of your ability even without studying!

So do not miss a test and have a specific target for each test. It is okay if you don’t achieve it. It is okay if you score miserably. But it is not okay to let the fear of failure get the better of you. It is better to falter at the start than at the crucial moment, remember?

Hope you find something new and valuable from my experience and it helps you live your dream life at your dream B-School. I would like to leave you with an invaluable thought…

“It is not always the smartest or the strongest or the most hard-working person that wins. More often than not, the person who wins is the person who wants it the most and just refuses to give up on his dream! So the question to ask yourself when you are down and the chips are stacked against you is;

How badly do you want it?”

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