How to prepare for CAT?


What is CAT all about?

First up, learn what CAT exam is all about? What does CAT test? Which colleges admit based on CAT score? What exams to take up other than CAT? What is the Syllabus for CAT? What are the different sections to worry about for CAT and other such enervating questions, dive into What is CAT all about?

If you have healthy disdain for gyan related to CAT and are merely interested in starting preparation at the earliest for this exam, visit our questionbank  to get going. As we never tire of saying, no amount of preparation planning is as good as a few minutes of actual preparation.

How to organize CAT prep?

We can break CAT prep into three phases – Learning fundamentals, doing the grind and taking mocks. Read more at Three phases of CAT prep. All three phases are important – one builds strong basics, one builds automaticity (Special read on automaticity) and one gets you exam-ready. Read more at Three phases of CAT prep.

It is very important to stay away from questions of extraordinary difficulty levels in Quant and focus on the relevant portion of preparation. Stay at a discreet distance from social media and forums when you are preparing for CAT.

How to schedule CAT prep?

CAT has a lot of topics and so it always helps to have a clear schedule. Watch the video to get a quick overview. Or, if you are from the small minority that likes to read, page is all yours - CAT Schedule.

There are three common mistakes students make while preparing a schedule.
1. Overagonize over Quants. Students get a serious bout of Quantitis, and prepare to crack Olympaids in Number Theory and Combinatorics. This is useless
2. Underestimate reading. Read for an hour every day. Read all kinds of different things. (What to read?).
3. Ignore DI-LR. This forms one-third of the paper. Students usually spend less than 10% of the time focusing on this. Do the math.

How to prepare for Quants section?

People think the toughest section to prepare for is Quants. So we have outlined Three step quants prep plan and Common traps to avoid.

This article here outlines the broad approach to take while preparing for Quant. It is very crucial to not bypass the fundamentals and to not be fixated on speed building while preparing for CAT. Speed will come with lots of practice. Have faith in this funda and prepare without worrying about speed right from day 1.

How to prepare for Reading Comprehension section ?

But the most crucial part of CAT preparation is Reading. Reading is the elephant in the room. Better readers have a higher chance of cracking CAT. It is the most crucial aspect as it improves your chances with RC, and the rest of the VA section as well. You will definitely want to know what to read – for books click here and for blogs and websites, click here. For how to go about reading, watch here and here.

This article gives an interesting view on how reading plays a crucial role in CAT preparation and how it is infinitely more crucial than vocabulary-building.

What about DI & LR?

Mock CATs... What about them?

How to plan a mock CAT schedule and how to analyse a mock CAT? – This is a whole new topic unto itself. So, as usual go to - Everything about Mock CAT

Overwhelmed? Read more

QUITTING YOUR JOB TO PREPARE?

Under what circumstances is it a good idea to quit your job and prepare for CAT?

NONE!

This is one of those essay topics that can ideally feature in competitions seeking ultra-short contributions. The one-word response would be, 'None'! However, having told my boss that I definitely want to comment on this topic, I cannot get away with the ultra-short version. So, here goes.

Thanks to my earlier avatar as an investment research analyst, I have acquired this habit of getting my disclaimers in early. I am not going to sit on the fence. It is NEVER a good idea to quit your job. So, if you are among the group of people that has decided to quit and you do not want to hear anything against that decision, skip this article and move ahead to the next one.

Every week, I get at least two enquiries from students who are keen to take a step up by focusing exclusively on the CAT preparation. This roughly translates to, "I hate my job. I want to have a decent-sounding reason to quit". Beware! there are two major pitfalls in quitting a job to prepare for CAT.

1. The personal interview phase becomes trickier:
You will lose scores for work experience, and might face uncomfortable questions in the interview. Sample this:

1. "Quitting a job at an MNC to prepare for CAT makes me doubt your ability to weigh risk-reward. I think I would be fueling your foolhardy decision-making if I gave you a seat here. What are your thoughts on this?"
2. "I met eight candidates before you, all of whom have managed busy work schedules and squeezed in CAT preparation while you have focused exclusively on CAT. All other things being equal, why should I select you over them?"
3. "So, you cannot hold a job and prepare for a competitive exam at the same time? After MBA, you will have to multitask at an even greater level. You are basically telling me you are not equipped to handle that. Thoughts?"

Do not think that it is a smart idea to say that you have not quit your job but taken a break to pursue your passion of working in industry X and therefore joined your cousin. As a general rule, professors do not think it is a great idea to take a break for the sake of CAT preparation and will interpret any shift to a 'small company in a preferred industry' on your resume as a proxy for this.

2. Pressure increases:
Bear in mind that if you take a break in June, you do not take a six-month break for CAT preparation, but rather a nearly 12-month break. CAT is not an exam that one needs to prepare for 50 hours a week; it calls for intensity over two-three hours a day. A longer preparation time could easily lead to a plateau in results performance. A large number of candidates run out of practice material that really tests them but can never cross 90th percentile. This is essentially because the intensity disappears from preparation. If you set yourself a target of preparing for eight hours a day for 180 days, you are creating a recipe for losing intensity within weeks. All these factors will intensify the pressure on the day of the exam. Importantly, this plays a role in affecting decision-making after CAT as well. If you do not have a viable plan B, the temptation to join a college ranked 60th (because this is the only decent admit) will be high. The assurance that comes with having a viable plan B is vital for cracking this exam.

There are many other reasons for not taking this decision, but the two mentioned above are the most important.

Compared to 10 years ago, the admission processes for the IIMs have changed dramatically. When I took my CAT in 2000, the admission process was extremely CAT score oriented. If you had a decent CAT score, all else was pretty much forgotten (particularly true for IIMC). In the current era, the CAT score is taken as but one metric in a broad basket of input variables. Ten years ago, it might have been a decent (if still risky) idea to trade 2 percentile points for one year of work experience. In the current era, the trade-off is not even worth the discussion.

Do not try to use CAT as an excuse for getting out of a taxing/boring job. Even after your MBA, odds are that you will go through a few bad jobs (and bosses!) If you must quit, do so in August, have a job in hand that you plan to join by Nov 1st. Take a six-to-eight-week break, have a go at CAT in this time window and hope for the best.

WHAT SHOULD YOU MAKE RIGHT THIS CAT VIS-A-VIS YOUR LAST CAT?

Category I:
I am a rockstar in one of the two sections but have no idea whatsoever about the other.
Kudos! You have identified your strength. Now, play to your strength. If your strong area is, say, Section I i.e., Quant and DI, never even shoot to attempt (and get right) less than 42 questions. Make this a habit right from your first mock. Remember, this means you don't have the freedom of either focusing less on DI because you don't like calculations (Hi five! I am one among them) or focusing less on a particular chapter, like say Work and Time, because you don't deem it important/don't like it. Doing this would ensure a 99.6x+ percentile in this section. Believe me, the gap between a 99.6 and a 98.5 percentile is wider than you think because the gap in the CAT score out of 450 could be much higher than the percentile difference suggests. Since the interview call is based on the CAT score out of 450, the percentile number could be slightly misleading.

Fine. Got it. But, what do I do about the other section?

If you are a rock-star in Section I, then it is almost impossible that you don't understand anything of LR in Section II. Well then, that's your strength in Section II. I know of candidates who attempted just the 9 or 10 LR questions in Section II (in the previous CAT Pattern), ended up scoring an 80.xx percentile but maxed Section I by scoring a 99.9x and landed a seat with a top IIM. That's a smart strategy. But be cautious about the cut-offs for general/OBC/SC/ST categories. Of course, not many people would want to do this and you don't have to either. Anyone who is a rock-star in one section and has no idea about the other has just not tried enough.

A person's skill sets for these two sections are not so poorly correlated, after all.

Reading Comprehension is, by far, the best sub-section in Verbal that one can focus on. You know you would get 16 of RC and any candidate with a decent understanding of English (if you can max out Section I, you got to be decent in English) can attempt and get right six or seven questions. While you are practicing RCs, do not focus on building speed. Focus on understanding what you read. Not being able to attempt enough questions is primarily a function of being unable to correctly answer a question in the first attempt; this happens because you can't understand the question.

With this, you might be able to increase the count of RC questions to seven or eight. So, nine or ten LR questions plus seven or eight RC questions and you already have 22 to 24 correct attempts in your kitty. With a good understanding of passages, you will begin to get most of the answers in Sentence Rearrangement and Paragraph Completion/Elimination questions right. That's three or four questions more for each type. A total of 35 to 36 correct attempts in your weaker section is brilliant. Again, this is something you should practice right from your early mocks.

Category II:
I am not a rock-star in either of the two sections but I almost always manage to get a balanced score
Well, this is tricky. I know it is because I am one of your kinds. You always have this feeling that you are almost there, yet far. I have come to realize that being able to get a balanced score is actually not that bad. If you also know that you would always score in the range of 94.xx to 98.xx percentile in both sections with an overall of 97.xx to 98.xx, you should focus on accuracy in attempts. Only accuracy can take you from 98.xx to 99.7x and is important for any candidate (especially in the open category and with not-so-decent academics) to secure an interview call from at least a few IIMs. You know you are going to be capped at 35 to 39 question attempts in each of the sections and you cannot afford to get even a single one wrong. And for that level of accuracy, besides the fact that you should read every question properly and not fall for common traps, you should not get anxious in the examination hall. Calm down your nerves before you hit Start.

Calm down my nerves!?! That's easier said than done.

True. There's no one way to do this. Even the most careless of all test-takers will have a moment of anxiety while entering the exam hall. However, there's one thing you might consider doing. I did this but I can't say for sure if it worked or not. Do not write only the CAT and be hell bent on joining only the top IIMs. Broaden your options. There are so many other good B-schools in India, including FMS, XLRI, MDI, IIFT and the likes. If you are prepared for the CAT, you are prepared for pretty much any other exam. So write XAT and IIFT, for sure. You might want to add NMAT and SNAP too. Also, apply well in advance to B-schools that accept CAT/XAT scores such as SP Jain, MDI and FMS. Two reasons why this might help: One, if some of these exams were to happen before CAT, that's good exam-day practice. Two, by applying to so many B-schools, you end up knowing a lot of information about them, thereby realizing that you do have a larger basket of 'good' options to choose from. For all you know, you might end up with a BCG offer from FMS/XLRI than if you had been to IIM-A/B/C!

The author of the above piece is Shivaram, a graduate from College of Engineering at Guindy in Chennai, Class of 2010. He worked with 2IIM for a year before joining IIM-A in 2012.

DIVERSITY OR MERIT

Some of the IIMs have clearly stated that they are going to give a boost to girl candidates and non-engineer candidates. B-Schools have always rated diversity very high and informally nudged things around here and there in order to get balance. I am of the view that the diversity-drama is a bit of a sham, a bit overcooked and is very unfair to both the "boosted" and the "boosted at the cost of". This post is an attempt at busting some of the myths

Conformity in Thinking?
Engineers all have uniform opinions, so you get no 'other' view on things

What humbug. This is one of the most convenient non-truths. Quality of the input/view is way more important than the mere diversity factor. If you are discussing astrophysics, would you have a sportsperson on the panel because he might have something different to offer? I have had some of the most wonderful discussions with fellow engineers. And been irritated by the fetish for difference from fellow B-School grads (these could be engineers also). If you are watching test cricket on TV, would you choose a panel that has Richie Benaud and Harsha Bhogle or one that has Mandira Bedi and Charu Sharma. High quality discussion brings to light diverse views. Not the other way around. Do you think intelligent engineers are blinkered? What gives one the right to assume this?

Affirmative Action - Do we Really Need It?
Are there not even 500 good girls who can get into the IIMs. How anti-women are you if you say that girls should not be given a boost?

The most important and the least-debated aspect of this whole issue is how patronizing the above conjecture is to the girls. The best ones who would have anyway gotten in will now be seen as being among the ones who got a boost thanks to the system. The ones arguing against this kind of "boost" are not the ones who are saying there are not enough good girl candidates around.

On the contrary, I firmly believe that there are plenty of good girls around. I also firmly believe that they can get in, compete and do well without anyone offering them any extra help. Some of the girls who were my classmates were very good. I would love it if the country stopped patronizing them in the pretext of helping them.

Everyone stereotypes. Next time some girl gets into an IIM, I am sure everyone around will go - Yeah, so what your chromosomes probably played a bigger role than your grey cells in getting you there. Which is so sad.

BA English and B.Sc Maths grads can be very intelligent too:
Of course. I am not denying that. Only to test this, you have designed the CAT exam. The CAT exam is not a maths test, as everyone is made to believe. Worldwide, math and verbal ability have been taken as proxies for gauging intelligence. India is no different. The maths level tested in CAT is at best of the standard X level. As a signal of smarts, the exam is a pretty good proxy. If the examiners so believe that it is not a good enough proxy for smarts, they should change the entrance exam. Design it in such a way that no group is at an unfair advantage. Randomly adding marks at the end of the whole process is just backdoor entry.

All arguments be damned, we are conducting a social experiment because we can:
This is what the IIMs are telling us, in essence. The merits of diversity have never been demonstrated. We are just adopting received wisdom from everyone because it is convenient. All of education (especially in India) is a signal. A degree conveys the ability of a student to grasp/perform rather than the knowledge he/she might have gleamed in college. Engineering colleges are tougher to get into (the good ones. the ones that actually try to teach engineering), tougher to survive in, and tougher to get out of. The IIMs are effectively telling the kids to not go through this rigour if they want a better chance at getting into the IIM.

The worst affected are going to be the guys in the IITs. Poor sods. They crack JEE and believe they are getting into an elite crowd. Little do they know that at every level, they are going to be discriminated against due to their presence in this elite crowd. Some joker at IIT with a 99.6th percentile will end up with no IIM calls because he would not be bringing in diversity into an IIM, whereas a non-IIT engineer with 99.4th percentile will still get a call. All because the non-IIT engineer will bring more diversity. Ha. The joys of rightful discrimination.

IIM Cal probably has the best policy. Power to them.

Some pitfalls you can avoid while facing the personal interview.

Post CAT, candidates will go through a second round of testing, the most important component of which is the dreaded personal interview. Now is a good time to revisit some aspects of the interview, with particular stress on the key mistakes.

I don’t know what I want to do in life, let me just say I want to be an entrepreneur.

The staple answer to “What is your long-term goal?”, the entrepreneurship card seems like a wonderful answer, but could be a risky gambit as well. If you have a clear idea of what you want to do, have done some research about the industry, have a sense of how you can differentiate yourself and have something resembling a business model; then anchor your long-term vision around a new venture. However, an answer along the lines of “I want to start a new business and contribute meaningfully to society by providing employment to the deserving” is pure waffle.

In case you don’t know how to read, I can recount everything my CV says here.

Faced with the standard “Tell me about yourself”; too often answers recount all the facts of life, down to the 86.4 per cent scored in Class X. The interviewer has already seen your CV, he is buying some time before coming up with the next question by asking a ‘filler’ question. He is bored after interviewing all day and wants to hear something interesting. The last thing he wants to listen to is a re-recording of your resume. The personal questions are wonderful opportunities for you to make a case for your selection. Do not waste them by restating facts.

I got this far by being good at multiple choice questions, I can answer all questions with Yes/No.

In a post-match conference, an eager commentator asks the player of the match “They missed the run-out chance in the 37th over. You were playing scratchily till then, but really clicked on after that. Was that the turning point of the match.” The cricketer gave a deadpanned reply, “Yeah”, and stopped at that. The commentator has not really just asked a question; he is keen to start a conversation. And the ‘yeah’ killed that. Your interviewer’s approach is going to be similar. Bin the ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘good’ and other monosyllabic answers; and take some of the questions to show that you have a personality beyond your resume. You should take effort to drop into a ‘conversation’ mode in the interview, and not fall into the Question-Answer mode where you just rattle off answers.

I am smart and funny, just not so in an interview.

Even the most experienced candidates have interview-anxiety. The better interviewees are the ones who can conquer their anxieties within the first few minutes, have a dialogue with the professors and wear a smile even while exiting.

The interviewer wants to know whether you can articulate, and will test whether you can respond when put under pressure. Practice well for the interview, but do not lose your spontaneity or your wit. An ability to think on your feet and a polite smile can open the doors that hours of studying cannot.

Practice extensively prior to the interviews. Have a series of mock interviews done by experienced people. And bear in mind that, notwithstanding all this preparation something could still go wrong in the interview. Shrug off one or two bad answers and get back on track.

The writer is director at 2IIM, a coaching institute for CAT. He scored 100 percentile in CAT 2012 and CAT 2011.

CAT ASPIRANTS FROM IITs

I'd been to a panel discussion on "cracking CAT" held at IIT Madras. Some interesting points were discussed. Just thought it would be a good idea to share those. Lot of the stuff pertains to an IIT audience; hence the title. Having said that most of what we discussed would apply to anyone who is strong in quants and is slightly worried about verbal.

For IIT-ians it is probably a better idea to NOT enroll into a course 15-months before CAT

Till 2000 (the year I took CAT), preparation for CAT used to start at the beginning of the 7th semester, roughly 4 months before CAT (back then CAT used to be held in Dec). Then the CAT training industry happened and preparation cycles expanded - slowly inexorably, painfully to 15-months. This kind of preparation cycle kills momentum - especially for IIT-ians.

Most CAT courses focus on quant preparation. So, if it is a 180-hour classroom program, then 120+ hours will be on quants. The quant-level tested in CAT corresponds to syllabus from standard VI to IX. So, your teacher will be discussing profit&loss and linear equation for most parts - several notches below JEE preparation. Odds are that you will enrol for the course in a bout of enthu and start skipping classes from month 2 onwards, and completely forget about the course by month 4. Empirical data suggests that this is what 90% of IIT junta do. Whats the point?

IIT-ians quant level will be higher. You will not get much value from sitting in a class that teaches basics. You need good-quality practice and may be some discussion with a teacher who can push you that little bit further. Cracking CAT is about momentum, intensity, sharpness. Many graduates across the country need help with geometry, number theory or permutation & combinations. But if one has cleared JEE, one should have little trouble navigating quants.

The second section is a verbal section, not an English section

Among IIT-ians, the general feeling of unease regarding this 'second section' is very high. English is not a comfort-zone area for a lot of "quants" guys. Bear in mind that this section is a verbal section, not an English knowledge section. This is just another framework to test how sharp you are. That you are strong in a quantitative framework need not imply that you should be at a disadvantage when it comes to non-quantitative framework.

Worldwide, examinations are designed with a simple quant + simple verbal framework only because this is considered a good proxy to test intelligence. This is why the tests focus on averages,percentages and the like (rather than differential calculus and vector algebgra). Correspondingly, for the verbal section the focus is on reading comprehension and basic reasoning, and not on identifying past-participle and gerund.

The JEE is a good exam only because it is a great signal of intelligence. If you have cleared it, then you should tell yourself "If I am good enough to have the smarts to clear a very tough quant-framework exam, I should be good enough to clear a far-simple non-quant framework exam".

Looking at it another way - one-third of verbal is Logical Reasoning, which should be straightforward. One-third is stuff like Sentence Rearrangement, Paragraph Completion and the like - for which there should be no particular advantage to any group of students. And the final third is reading comprehension - which does not require specific English knowledge as all questions are going to be based on the passage itself.

Does this mean IIT-ians don't need to prepare?

So, IIT-ians do not need to enrol in a course, need not bother with excessive quants preparation, the verbal section is also easy - so, does it mean they just cool their heels and go for the CAT exam?

Of course not. Just have a different schedule for preparation. Make sure bulk of preparation is based on tests for the quantitative subjects and not based on a classroom course pegged at a very mild benchmark. As for the verbal section goes, there is ONLY ONE THING that IIT-ians need to do (for that matter, anyone needs to do) - Read. Students' ability to get the crux of a 300-word editorial is fairly poor. And this is an essential skill-set. This does not get built with so called RC practice. Comfort level with comprehension is built by reading, and pretty much nothing else. Read lots, read lots of different stuff. Read from magazines, websites, sports sites, newspapers, fiction, non-fiction, editorials. It does not matter what you read, or from where you read.

Beyond this, take practice exams, fill the gaps in quant, DI and LR. Work on intensity and stamina. Do not fall into the guilt-trap and enrol yourself into a course 15-months ahead of the exam and kid yourself saying you are preparing for CAT.

SELF BELIEF - THAT'S THE DIFFERENCE

At the risk of imitating Mr. P. Chidambaram, I am going to seek the help of a Tamil verse from the book Thirukkural, written by the poet Thiruvalluvar

Vellathanaya Neermattam Maandhar tham
Ulla thana duyarvu


The meaning of this "kural" is - if you have seen a lotus, it will go up when the water rises in the tank and go down when the water level fell. Like that, the rise or fall of a human is based on his behavior and thoughts.

Many an youngster is daunted by the fact that the CAT is written by 200,000+ students every year. Out of these, only 2,000 students make it to one IIM or the other. Only 15,000 students make it to a Tier - 1 b-school. The youngster conveniently concludes "I do not have a halo behind my head. I do not belong to those 2,000 students. Heck, I doubt if i even belong to those 15,000 students".

Think about it for a moment. Did those 17,000 (2,000 + 15,000) students make it to those b-schools because of a halo behind their heads? Were they differently built? Did they study in schools that the other 180,000 youngsters did not go to? Were the opportunities available to them as kids vastly different from the ones available to the other 180,000? Definitely not.

I think the ONLY difference was that the 17,000 students believed in themselves and believed in their ability to work hard while it was not the case with the other 180,000. Rather than write pages and pages of gyan, let us look at an real life example.

Year 2001: Our protagonist, X, is in his final year of college. As is the tradition amongst his batchmates, he also decides to write CAT. He does not prepare for it. Performs poorly. Arrives at the convenient conclusion that he is not 'CAT material' (whatever that means)

Year 2005: All along, X had not even given CAT a second thought - even though he always wanted to do an MBA. His colleague at the same office, Y, mentions that he had taken the cat in 2004 and is attending interviews at the IIMs for his admission.

That is when it dawns on X how naive he had been. He had let go 4 valuable years without even trying to figure out what it takes to crack the CAT. Y mentions that he had been preparing for a year for his CAT and it was not all THAT difficult. That is when it occurs to X that ALL it takes is preparation and a belief in self and anybody would be able to crack the CAT.

X starts preparing for the CAT exam in the same year. Keeps at it. Does not let go of his target. Cracks the CAT and goes on to study at an IIM in the city whose name starts with an A.

To this day, X is thankful to Y for having changed his mindset; for having opened his mind to the untapped opportunities; for helping him realize his dreams.

Rajesh: This is the real life story of one of our students. Last we heard about this guy, he helps CAT aspirants reach their goal. There is an X in each of the 180,000 students who did not make it to a tier - 1 b-school of their choice. The X in this story was lucky to have bumped into Y. Are you one of those 180,000 X's? Do you still have to wait for the CAT to happen to your friend for you to start believing in yourself?

Our firm belief: It is not a matter of ability. It is a matter of self belief.
All the best ! God Speed !

With CAT results just gone by, I think this is an excellent time to read an article like this. The article is by none other than X.

GET, SET, GO - FROM "THE HINDU"

This is an article from "The Hindu" contributed by the director at 2IIM, Rajesh Balasubramanian. The original article can be read at this link.

CAT 2012 will be conducted from October 11 to November 6 this year. A number of candidates will be fine-tuning their preparation right now, while others will be looking to somehow kicking the inertia out of the system and starting their preparations in right earnest. We provide a plan of action for the latter group.

Do not tell yourself it is too late to start now. Do not listen to anyone who says that there isn't enough time for preparation. Till about 10 years ago, students used to start their CAT preparation only in August (very reluctantly, I must add). The basic syllabus for this exam roughly corresponds to Maths and English taught in class VI- IX. So, if the fundamentals are reasonably strong, a student should require only 200-300 hours of preparation for this exam.

What should be the plan of action? With the Olympic spirit in mind, let us think of this preparation as a parallel to an athlete preparing for the Olympics. Divide your preparation into three phases.

DO THE GRIND

In phase I, cover the basics for all the topics in quant. Solve as many questions as possible. This is the phase where one builds on first principles and gets the mind ready for the tougher battles ahead. For the verbal section, set aside two hours every day to reading. Read lots of stuff and with as much variety as possible.

The topic, style, subject and size do not matter (Fiction, non-fiction, sports, politics, economics, science, anything goes). Just build the reading habit and get the mind ready to receive written content. This phase is similar to an Olympic wrestler/badminton player spending hours in the gym. This phase should go on for about six weeks.

BUILD INTENSITY

Start building intensity. Take section-wise tests, set yourself targets for sets of 15, 20 or 30 minutes. Start practicing for Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning. Increase the intensity steadily by mixing up topics and setting varying time targets. This is the phase where you should select one DI bunch, one LR puzzle, two passages in RC, eight questions in Number Theory and set yourself 50 minutes of high intensity preparation. This is akin to an athlete training muscle by muscle and play-by-play. This is probably the part of CAT preparation that is heavily underestimated. People who are used to spending 10 hours in office or eight hours in college think that writing a 2 hour 20 minute-exam cannot be that taxing. Taking a test for 140 minutes without concentration "drops" is challenging and will not come without getting the mind ready for it. The better you do this the less tired you will get handling regular questions in CAT and more energy you will have for handling tougher ones. This should go on for about four weeks.

FINE TUNE YOUR PREPARATION

Phase III is simple. Take mock exams. Analyze them vigorously. Plug whatever gaps you find by revisiting phase I or phase II. And when you analyze a paper, you should focus on what kind of questions you have gotten wrong, which ones you should have attempted but have skipped, which ones took time without giving you much in return, which questions should you have skipped straightaway, etc. Do not waste time on studying percentile patterns and such. Most mock CAT percentile scores are nothing more than a distraction. This should ideally go on for about five weeks. This is the phase where the athlete simulates match conditions, studies opponents, figures out the draw, etc.

Phase I, II and III could overlap. If you plan well and are willing to throw in lots of time toward preparation, this can be done in 10 weeks. The students with intense shorter-term preparation have seen better results than those who enroll into long-term courses but do not do justice to them.

For those who have been preparing for a while, the strategy is simple. Skip Phase I. Kick start your preparation now and focus on building intensity. Best wishes for CAT.

The author, a B-school trainer, is one of the CAT toppers last year with 100 percentile. He takes CAT every year to understand the pattern and help his students better.

GET CAT SAVVY - FROM "THE HINDU"

This is another article from "The Hindu" contributed by the director at 2IIM, Rajesh Balasubramanian. The original article can be read here.

Everyone gets nervous before a key exam. I took my 5th CAT last year, 11 years after my first CAT and 9 years after finishing my MBA from IIM Bangalore. And, I was nervous. You are not alone in having that vague anxious feeling. The key to a high-powered performance is to convert this nervous energy into positive adrenaline rather than just something that bogs you down. Plan to fly off the blocks.

If you get consumed in the paper in the first 10 minutes, then chances are that you will remain switched-on throughout. Don't think about the overall paper; or even the section for the first 20-25 minutes. Think like Virendra Sehwag. He is the kind of guy who might be beaten three balls in a row and hit the next three for boundaries.

Take one question at a time. If you want to imagine someone who appears even cooler under pressure, think Usain Bolt.

In the last few weeks prior to an exam, the biggest challenge facing students concerns balancing the several demands placed on them. It is easy to lose focus and feel overwhelmed by it all. One needs to guard against this, while simultaneously working on the many moving parts without. Let us focus on a few key competing demands and realign our priorities.

LEARNING AND CONSOLIDATION

Now is the right time to give up on some of the vague topics. In the last few weeks, plan to optimize your performance. Do not spend too much time learning new stuff from now on. Picking obscure questions from non-descript websites and obsessing over them should be avoided. How you optimize your performance in the exam is far more important than getting some odd detail right. To give you an analogy - If you are an opening batsman about to represent India in the world cup and realize that your follow through after a cover drive needs correction. What would you do? Enroll yourself for a six-week session with batting guru or forget about it and focus on more immediate things?

Now is the time to plant seeds so that your brain can pick standard things much quicker. Don't load it with new information. If you can train your mind to pick standard spelling errors, standard Pythagorean triplets in the actual exam, you will be better off for it than if you studied about the Oxford comma.

This is where practice exams come in very handy. They teach you to become exam savvy without agonizing over every detail. Take plenty of practice exams, and fill the gaps in learning based on the feedback you get from these.

TAKING TESTS

A simple thumb-rule to keep in mind - Spend at least as much time reviewing a mock CAT as you spent taking it. And when you are reviewing a test focus on these three things - what are the ones that I skipped that I have attempted, more importantly, what are the questions that I have tried that I should have skipped, and what is the solution to these questions that I have missed? Do not analyze percentiles, rankings, etc.

Never take two tests in a day. Do not plan to take more than four tests per week. Your mind is not a machine. It needs time to recover. If you are ready to take a mock CAT within 4 hours of having finished one, the simple truth is that you have not thrown enough into the mock CAT.

INTENSE LEARNING VS. TAKING REST

You cannot prepare for 12 hours a day for CAT. This is not an exam where low-intensity-warfare type of preparation pays off. This is an exam where how sharp you are when you take an exam matters more than how much you know. There is no point increasing the knowledge base if your brain goes AWOL for 15 minutes during an exam. And you can take CAT for 140 minutes with intensity only if you are well rested.Sleep a lot. Eat well. Drink a lot of fluids.

THE DAY BEFORE THE EXAM

The day before the exam, find a routine that relaxes you well. Do not get too many inputs from any 'expert'. Put your feet up, watch some sitcom or sports on TV, sleep early and be physically and mentally ready.

The odds of learning something in the last 24 hours that will be of use in the exam are very low. On the other hand, a sharp mind might bail you out in three questions, which might make a difference of four percentile points.

OPTIMISM VS. PRAGMATISM

Carry the belief that you can crack this into the exam hall. But have the prudence to have a plan B and the maturity to know where you stand. Getting 98th percentile might not get one a call from the IIMs these days, but if you rank in the top two percent in the country that is something to feel happy about. It is important to keep your expectations reasonable.

OTHER OPTIONS

Another aspect that will keep you relaxed is the belief that everything does not ride on this one day, one exam. Don't burn your bridges at office; do not throw away a job offer because you are anyway going to do an MBA. Do not ignore XAT after CAT gets over.

Apply to colleges beyond the IIMs.

A great many things that I have mentioned here are easier said than done. As a student, I had forgotten to apply to FMS, had taken up XAT in an overconfident daze, had slept during an exam while doing MBA and have generally committed all the mistakes stated above at some point of time or other. Don't put undue pressure on yourself. If CAT attempt goes well, great. If it doesn't, keep in mind that a majority of the successful businesses in our country are run by people who did not do their MBA from an IIM.

Best wishes for CAT.

IS IT OK TO START PREPARATION IN JUNE?

The short answer is Yes.

The syllabus covered for CAT is very straightforward. Maths syllabus is equivalent to what is seen from the 6th to the 10th standard text books, and basic reading comprehension and sentence structures in English. The exam is tough because the questions are very application-intensive and because there are ~2 lakh people fighting for ~6000-12000 good seats

An aspirant can start by June, comfortably finish all the portions by August, or latest early September, take 20 mock CATs and be ready for CAT by November. This exam is as much about momentum and intensity as it is about knowledge or application. The intensity with which one prepares in the last lap will be a bigger determinant than how long you have been poring over basic formulae.

So, why do people start 12-months before CAT?

This trend of starting 12 or 15-months before CAT started recently. When I took my CAT, we guys used to start preparing in August (reluctantly). Now, I took my CAT in 2000 and back then the CAT exam was in December. But even adjusting for that, we guys used to prepare for barely 3-3.5 months. But we threw in a lot in that final lap. Many of my friends hit 30 mock CATs before the exam. Back then 70% of preparation used to be about taking practice exams. (Most of us would have been shocked if someone had asked us to prepare for percentages for 5 weeks)

The most important driver for this change has been the development (over-development) of the test-preparation industry. It really helps the industry if college-goers start enrolling themselves for courses 12 or 18 months before the exam. Less than 5% of this brigade takes the exam seriously. Any trainer will tell you that the longer term batches are the worst preparing. Students start missing classes and delude themselves into believing that they are geared merely because they started very early. 12 months into the course, the average attendance levels are less than 10% and when the time is perfect for starting preparation, these long-term and uber-long term batches lose all momentum.

I am starting preparation now, what should be the plan?

To start with, do not tell yourself you dont have a chance because you are starting late. Cover topic by topic for maths for the next ~8 weeks. Read something for at least an hour each day. Spend 2-4 hours each week on DI and/or LR. Run this schedule for ~ 8weeks during which time you should have also taken 2-3 mock CATs. In this first phase, do not worry about time pressure, speed, overall percentiles, etc.

By middle of August, you would have seen most question types, and covered most topics in quant. From here on, take one mock CAT every week and fill whatever gap areas you have. Identify gap areas based on your own gut feel and from what the mock CATs tell you. Have this as the plan for the next 6 weeks. During this phase, you should start building intensity. Plan part tests and exercises in short bursts. Mix up topics and ensure that you avoid concentration lapses. You should create a package like 10 questions in Number Theory, 3 selected passages from Economist, TIME and NYtimes, one DI grid and one LR puzzle from the web in 45 minutes and test yourself at breakneck speed. This phase is like strengthening muscle by muscle before a tournament.

Final few weeks, take mock CAT, review mock CAT aggressively. Repeat. Fill gaps if they still crop up and be as relaxed as possible.

I started preparation last November, what should I do now?

This is quiet simple. Restart now. Create a plan to aggressively ramp up intensity.