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Don’t be afraid of quant questions

Almost all CAT test-takers can attempt a sufficient number of quantitative questions by focusing on the fundamentals

education Updated: Aug 15, 2012 15:17 IST
Ulhas Vairagkar

The first section that b-school aspirants will face in the Common Admission Test 2012 is quantitative ability. This section carries questions on quantitative ability (quant) and data interpretation (DI). Test-takers will get 70 minutes to attempt 30 questions.

A large number of candidates feel the quant section is tough to handle. I believe most of these fears are baseless and that almost every candidate can attempt enough questions by focusing on the fundamentals and practising regularly.

The broad structure of CAT 2012 is expected to be similar to CAT 2011. Going by the pattern of last year’s paper, this section is likely to have a mix of about 18-22 questions from quant and about 8-12 questions from DI. While it has not been explicitly spelt out in the CAT notification, the possibility that this section may also include one or two questions from the data sufficiency area cannot be ruled out.

The Q portion
Let us discuss the key areas in the quant section which you should focus on in the next few months:

Most questions in this section are based on topics/chapters that are taught till class 10 and every CAT aspirant has studied it. Therefore, most questions/
topics are not really new for anybody.

Since different slots will have different questions and CAT has always been an unpredictable test, you should not believe anyone who says that certain chapters are more important and more questions from there are likely to be chosen for the paper. Your preparation should be free from any such preconceived notions.

Building fundamentals: The first step, therefore, is to build strong fundamentals in all topics that have appeared in the past few years.

These topics are the basic building blocks that are required to solve most problems. Whats more these topics place you in good stead even while handling topics in maths and DI. The key topics that you should be thorough with are: ratios and proportions, percentages, numbers, including indices, surds, averages and progressions, simple and quadratic equations, profit and loss, simple and compound interest, geometry of triangles, quadrilaterals and circles, mensuration, basic trigonometry, basics of logarithm etc.

Application areas — time and distance, races, clocks, time and work

Higher maths — permutations and combinations, probability, co-ordinate geometry, functions and graphs etc

Application of concepts: The second step is to learn application of concepts to solve problems. We suggest the following steps:
* Solve questions without worrying about the time needed to solve the same till you develop an understanding of basic concepts and how it can be applied
* Now, solve questions under time pressure to get used to working under pressure
* While solving questions, try to calculate mentally to build speed.
* Assess time needed to solve a question and gradually build judgement that can help you to select easy questions and leave those that may take much longer to solve.
* Develop skills to solve questions using more than one approach so that you become proficient in multiple approaches.
* Build skills in solving problems using techniques relevant to a multiple-choice-objective-type test like CAT:
* Solving questions starting from options
* Substituting numerical values

Develop comfort in taking the computer-based test: Since CAT is now a computer-based test, it is important that you are comfortable in solving questions on a computer screen. You should take topic-wise, time-bound tests to get used to it.

Take full-length/sectional mock tests: Taking sectional/full-length mock CATs will help you assess your relative performance versus other competitors. This is possibly the most crucial aspect of your preparation that can help you to judge your performance and know where you stand vis-à-vis others.

DI and you
There are virtually no new concepts that you have to learn to do well in the data interpretation (DI) area. Most of the basics required in DI are covered in preparation for the quant area. Your preparation in this area should include:

Comfort with various charts/graphs: You should become proficient with different kinds of charts, including, table, line, bar including stacked bar, pie, histogram (frequency distribution chart), venn diagrams etc. You should also be familiar with some of the unusual ones like triangular graphs, spider diagrams, etc.

While answering questions, you should build proficiency in visual observation and interpretation of data, calculations and reasoning
Practise, practise and more practise: DI questions are often asked in sets. Regular practice will help you to identify whether all the questions in a set are doable or one or more are time-consuming and should be left out.

Regular practice will also help you to:
* understand the data given in the set within a short time
* identify the relevant data to solve questions
* solve questions using the methods mentioned earlier

Approximation techniques: Most questions that involve calculations do not require you to calculate accurately and often enough, approximation will help you to solve the question faster. If the options are not close, then finding an approximate answer will be OK. For example, if the four options are: a) 15.15% b) 16.85% c) 13.35% d) 19.25%, you may safely round off the options to 15%, 17%, 13% and 19%, respectively.

However, if one of the options is ‘none of these’, then it may not be prudent to approximate and you should calculate accurately.

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