CAT: The unpardonable sins

  • HT Education Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 08, 2014 12:47 IST

Here is the ugly truth that nobody will tell you about the Common Aptitude Test (CAT). While attempting as many questions as you can, you are actually giving yourself more chances to botch up your CAT score. The more questions you attempt, the greater are your chances of making silly mistakes and missing the easy questions.

Which brings me to the most unpardonable sin you can commit in CAT – the greed of attempting more and more questions. To address this, you will have to attain nirvana from this greed of “I will attempt as many questions as possible” or “I will attempt all the questions”. There is a simple solution to this: leave out questions to improve your score.

Of course, like everything else in life, this is not as easy as it sounds. You cannot indiscriminately skip questions and hope to improve your score. To make this work, you will first have to analyse your performance pattern in the last few mocks.

What’s the right definition of an attempt? The number of attempts for most students in the last few CATs averaged around 12 to 15 in each section and the number of correct answers were around eight to nine. This means that one is unable to get 90% accuracy even after spending almost five minutes per question. Of course, the statistics will change with the new CAT pattern.

Here’s your next problem – the definition of an attempt. Most define attempts as the number of questions for which an answer was marked. What then are the quantitative analysis (QA) questions for which over 1.5 minutes are spent in framing equations, working on calculations and not marking answers? You may have to take a relook at the definition of attempts. It must be interpreted as the number of questions for which you spent at least 1.5 minutes, whether you marked the answer or not.

Pick up any mock CAT (proctored or unproctored) that you attempted recently and identify the questions that you spent the maximum time on. You will be surprised to discover that the questions that were answered correctly and incorrectly would have taken about 35% of your time. The remaining questions that were not answered would have taken at least 30% of your time. These were the speed breakers that derailed you. Most probably, if these questions had not been attempted, the unforced errors would have vanished.

You did not have time for the easy questions because you were not willing to leave those speed breakers. The difference between somebody who gets a call from IIM and one who does not is one of making a choice. The first may have attempted the easy questions, left the difficult ones and wasted very little time.

Let us look at the attempt – percentile co-relation for CAT papers from 2009 to 2012. For a sectional score of 95%, one needed a net correct attempt of 15 or an attempt of 20 questions with three to four ­incorrect answers. For an overall score of 99%, one needed a net correct attempt of around 35 in the paper or a total attempt of 40 to 42 questions with four to five incorrect answers. Given that every question carries equal marks, you should leave the most difficult questions to save time.

Why is it difficult to leave questions?
Most of you have a good academic record and have been toppers in school and college. You have been in the habit of attempting all questions correctly in exams. So when you come across a difficult question that you are unable to solve correctly due to time constraints, your ego takes a big hit. You consider the ­question as a challenge that has to be conquered and not an obstacle that has to be side-stepped to achieve the goal.

For those who are not good in academics, when you see a question that can be solved easily, you start working on it even if you are not sure of ­solving it. There are some questions that you feel you can solve but even after spending a couple of minutes do not get anywhere. Identifying and taking ­corrective action will improve your ­performance significantly. Make sure you analyse the proctored and unproctored mocks that you take over the next ten weeks.

Compiled by HT Education and Career Launcher

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