A take on CAT exam strategy – What questions to attempt first?

An important part of taking the CAT exam (or for that matter most of the other Indian MBA exams) is to go through all the questions. If you do not time yourself well in the exam you might miss out on some sitters at the end – which might just make the difference between a shortlist for interview and a reappearance for the exam the following year.

Going through all the questions will also give you a good idea of the overall difficulty level of the test, how well you are placed at attempting questions across various topics and how do you need to time yourself.

The next step is how to ensure that you go through all the questions. Well this is a tricky part and this is where the exam tests how much you have focused on fine tuning your exam strategy. There are two approaches candidates follow here:

1. Attempt questions from your strong areas first and then go on the weaker areas. The idea here is that attempting questions from your strong areas gives you a lot of positive momentum and confidence which helps you in the further stages of the exams. This also gives you a very good idea of how many more attempts you would need to clear the sectional cut offs. In this case the moment you encounter a difficult question you skip it.

2. Attempt the difficult questions/questions from the weak areas first – If you are attempting questions from your weak areas towards the end when the time is running out, you would be under extra pressure and you would not be able to perform to your potential. Hence in certain candidates’ cases it is advisable to go for the questions from strong conceptual areas later (which you will be able to do even under pressure). This might backfire at times (it did with me once) – so the key is to know the benchmark time you would give to a question. If you cannot solve a question even after giving it a good 1.5 to 2 minutes better move on to the next question.

The other important advise that I often give candidates is that you should not be leaving RCs, DI sets or LR sets for the end. The problem with such questions is that before you can solve even the first question of the set you need to assimilate and organize a large amount of data. Once you have done that then the entire set can be answered within a minute or two.

The point to note is that DI/LR and RC questions are generally not individual questions but they rather come in sets – which puts a “minimum time required” constraint on them. If at the end you have 5-10 minutes, you can attempt a question from Quantitative section (say algebra, number systems etc.) But you would certainly need more than 10 minutes to answer an entire DI/LR set or an RC set.


Deepak Nanwani is the co-founder of MyPrepMate.com, an online adaptive solution for GMAT and CAT preparation. An alumnus of IIT Guwahati and IIM Bangalore, he is a master strategist for all competitive exams. MyPrepMate focuses on performance analysis for faster improvements in test scores.

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