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Plan your strategies for CAT 2012

Start preparing for CAT with HT Education as we start a series on what the test is all about and how you can crack it

education Updated: Aug 01, 2012 16:13 IST
Ulhas Vairagkar

With CAT 2012 notification out on July 22, it is time to start preparing for CAT in right earnest! With CAT taking place from October 11 to November 6 on 21 days (42 slots), you have about 75-90 more days to prepare.

CAT 2012 test pattern
CAT 12 notification has not thrown any surprises and CAT pattern this year will be similar to CAT 2011. It will have two sections – each having 30 questions to be attempted in 70 minutes. The first section will include quantitative ability (Quant) and data interpretation (DI). The second section will include verbal ability (VA) and logical teasoning (LR).

Each question will have four options and the right answer will get three marks. A wrong answer will get negative one mark. Questions not attempted will get zero mark. You will not be able to start the second section even if you finish the first section in less than 70 minutes. CAT 12, therefore, will favour those who have strengths in both the sections and your preparation should take this aspect into account.

Basics
Most of you would have started your preparation for CAT about 4-12 months in advance and may have completed about 20-100% of basics. Needless to add, if you have started much later or are starting now, the first and foremost task is to complete basics of all test areas.

If you are a reasonably bright student with no weakness in math and English, you should be able to prepare for CAT 12 in the next 75-odd days.

You should aim to complete the basics in all the test areas at the earliest possible. If you have started your preparations late, you should still aim for completing it at least 15 days in advance of the date you are planning to write CAT.

Let us look at what are the key areas in which you should complete the basics:

Quantitative ability section
* Quant - Arithmatic, basic algebra, geometry and mensuration and modern maths.
* DI: Tables, line, bar and pie charts, routes and networks etc.

Verbal ability section
* Logical reasoning - calendars, clocks, cubes, syllogisms, conditional statements, Venn diagrams, maxima-minima, binary logic, games and tournaments, logic puzzles etc.
* Verbal ability
- English grammar basics
- Reading comprehension: Reading on various different subjects online
- Vocabulary: Consulting dictionary regularly to know the contextual usage of unfamiliar words/usage
- Verbal reasoning: Paragraph formationcompletion, summary of a passage etc.

It is expected that you are reasonably comfortable in each of these areas. Further, you should be able to apply the concepts and solve questions that require application of the same.

During this phase, you should also start taking topic-wise and sectional ‘timed’ tests to test your understanding of each topic. You should take as many tests as possible on-line so that you develop comfort in taking the computer-based tests. This should also help you build speed.

You should also start taking mock CAT tests as soon as possible. It is advisable to take regular, spaced mock CATs so that you have enough time to analyse and take corrective action.

Mock CATs
Most of the CAT toppers agree that one of the most important part of preparing for CAT is taking mock CAT tests seriously and analysing the same diligently. Taking about one test per week initially and taking two tests per week in the later stage is quite sufficient for most students.

The key advantage of taking mock CATs is that you are able to judge your relative performance vs. other test-takers. Unlike other exams where your focus is on the absolute score or % marks and nothing else, CAT requires you to perform on a relative performance scale measured in terms of percentile rank.

Since most B-schools short-list the students based on percentile rank, you need to have a good estimate of your relative strengths and weakness vs others.

You should ensure that the mock CATs taken by you give following details as the part of the results so that you are able analyse your performance in detail and are able to take required corrective action. You should also ensure that the mock CAT tests are written by a large number of students so that the relative performance in the tests is realistic.

Your result of the mock CATs should include:
* Your all-India percentile rank in each section/area and total
* No. of questions attempted by you, right and wrong answers vs. the total population that has taken the test
* Time spent by you on each question
* Difficulty level of each question as statistically assessed by the test-takers

Based on your results, you should check and analyse the following:
* No. of easy questions not attempted by you and the reason for the same. If you are missing quite a few easy questions, you are losing opportunities!
* No. of questions on which you have spent more-than-desired time. You should typically not spend more than two to three minutes on any question. You should leave the question if after spending two to three minutes, you are quite far away from the answer. Ability to resist the temptation to continue is important!
* No. of questions for which the answers were wrong and reasons for the same. It may be due to unnecessary guessing or insufficient knowledge and needs corrective action.
* Total time spent on the questions that you did not attempt. This time is a total waste and needs to be minimised.
* If you did not attempt the questions due because you were not well-prepared in certain areas, you need to take corrective action.

Thorough analysis on each mock CAT may take three to four hours or even more but it forms possibly the most critical elements of your CAT preparation strategy. Don’t neglect it or take it lightly!

Time management
Unlike college/university exams, where most students prepare anywhere between few days to few weeks in advance, CAT requires regular and rigorous practice if you wish to do well. So start today, if not done already!

Devoting an average of at least three to four hours every day in building basics, taking online ‘timed’ topic-based/sectional tests, taking mock CATs, analysing your performance and taking corrective action is the recommended roadmap which should lay a strong foundation for you to do well in CAT.

The author is director, Delhi, T.I.M.E. (Triumphant Institute of Management Education)