Now that the IIMs have confirmed that CAT will be a computer based test this year onwards, all the anticipation and the trepidation that CAT aspirants have been going through for the last few months have gone - giving way to anxiety, in some cases.
CAT takers need not feel any anxiety about the 'new kind of avatar'. Fundamentally, none of the essential ingredients for good performance in CAT have changed. Strong conceptual understanding, application of concepts, analytical approach to problem solving and speed of answering questions - all of which have helped students to do well in the paper and pencil CAT - will still be required for computer-based CAT.
Unlike commonly perceived, the CAT is not a test of raw intelligence, but of decision-making ability as well as analytical and problem solving skills. The structure of the paper is such that almost no one will be able to complete it in two hours. Preparation for such a test would consist of three critical elements - strengthening fundamentals, building the requisite skills and getting maximum possible exposure to the exam situation through practice tests.
Preparedness for the CAT consists of two components - knowledge of concepts in all topics in each test area and a high level of familiarity with questions at the CAT level as well as techniques and tricks of solving. Knowledge of concepts improves by tackling a wide variety of problems in every concept area. Study materials provided by reputed training institutes and some books available in bookstores provide such problems for practice.
What study material cannot provide is familiarity. It is very important to note that when it comes to CAT preparation, familiarity with concepts is more important than mere knowledge or understanding. Familiarity is what helps a student quickly understand a problem and figure out the best possible method to solve it. For a student preparing for the CAT, familiarity breeds not contempt, but success.
Familiarity requires many rounds of reworking problems already solved to remind oneself of the nuances in every area and of the tricks and techniques that can improve speed. Reworking a problem, especially a difficult one, will help you remember important concepts quickly, thus improving your ability to recall them when needed in a test. During your reworking, you may often realise some nuances that turn a problem you found difficult into an easy one. While you revisit problems, you often find patterns by relating to questions you have solved at different points in time in different papers. It is these patterns that will help you evolve shortcuts for solving problems quickly.
Familiarity-building is also the easiest part of preparation. It requires only systematic planning from your side. Once you are sure that you have a good volume of high quality study material, all you need is a good plan to go through it and revise it thoroughly enough. The question that you may have is, `How much revision should I do?' In general, the advice to students is to revise their study material at least five times before the CAT. Clearly, such elaborate revision needs a well chalked out plan.
Test-to-test planning takes into account the fact that you are planning to give a large number of mock tests, probably every week, as part of your preparation. While the basic objective of these tests is to check out where you stand with respect to the competition, these also serve an important purpose - continuously identifying your weaknesses.
In test-to-test planning, you do a detailed post-test analysis of your performance through an immediate and comprehensive reworking of each test paper. This will throw up weaknesses that affected your performance adversely. These weaknesses could be in concept knowledge or familiarity. You then go through various parts of your material to address these weaknesses. For instance, if you find that you have not done well in geometry, go through the basic study material on geometry and rework all geometry problems in that material, as well as in all the previous tests and exercises you had written. The target date for this revision should be the next mock-test you write. Once you write the next mock-test, you sit down to analyse your performance and restart the entire process.
Ideally, your revision plan should be a healthy mix of the two approaches. What you probably need to do is some sorting out of your priorities and ensure that you give enough time for such a comprehensive revision. If you are a college student, you will need to make plans keeping in mind your regular academic calendar. If you are a working executive, you will need to make a robust plan that will survive the unpredictable demands that the work place places on your time. Five months is sufficient time to make and implement these robust plans. Start today and get cracking.
(The author is a senior member of the Academic, Team, T.I.M.E)