CAT 2016 is upon us – less than six weeks away. For most students planning to take the exam, their days are crammed with various activities preparing for the big day. Acronyms like QA, VRC, DI/LR, and MCQ would pepper the daily conversation. Exercises to increase vocabulary, math skills, logical thinking and so on take up a lot of time along with taking mock tests. Various approaches to ace the test such as which questions to answer first, specific techniques to answer different categories of questions, multi-pass reading along with other tips and techniques often delivered efficiently by various coaching centers further round out the overall preparations.
While preparing for the exam using all of the above, students should also keep in mind that CAT is only one component required to secure admission to your dream MBA program. Typically, most schools also include a group discussion and a personal interview as part of their admission process. Good performance in these is often as important as a good CAT score. Good performance in GD and PI require a different set of skills and strengths as compared CAT. A broad knowledge, a capability to analyze leveraging this knowledge and a capability to articulating that knowledge are much more important than speed and a quick recall. For example, you not only need a good English vocabulary but should also be able to use it effectively in context – a challenge for many Indians since most of us do not think in English. Many of the techniques applied in excelling in CAT exam are not helpful in developing these skills.
So are there any tips and techniques that help in developing these skills and are there any which also help with CAT? At the outset, let me state that there are no algorithmic approaches for this as compared to say attacking the QA section. However there is one technique that I recommend to my students which many have found to be very helpful during their interviews which will also help your CAT preparations especially VRC and to some extent, DI. As always, there is no substitute for hard work and effort!
Select any business journal, strongly recommend The Wall Street Journal or The Economist (many articles on their online editions are for subscribers only but quite a few are available for free). Every day, pick one article that would be of interest to you, based on the headline. Read the article and note down key terms that you understand and the terms that you don’t understand. Discuss the article with your friends or, preferably a knowledgeable elder to understand the terms and also the information contained in the article (if it does not make too much sense to you). If you do this on a daily basis you will notice that over time, the number of terms you recognize/understand will increase along with a steady decrease in the terms that you do not understand. Your knowledge about the business world also expands steadily. Students have seen the following benefits among others:
- Your vocabulary expands – both the journals mentioned employ a broad vocabulary using an array of synonyms, similes, metaphors, etc., as appropriate.
- More importantly, you will learn how to employ these words in the correct context, especially a business context.
- Your general knowledge about the business world also increases significantly.
- A very useful diversion from the regular drills of mugging, solving and mock tests!
This activity should take no more than 30 minutes each day. If you do not understand much of either the language or the content at first not to worry, it will improve over time. Those students more comfortable with the Indian business context can select from business journals like The Economic Times or Forbes India or from the business sections of regular newspapers.
While preparing for an exam like CAT, most approaches stress rigor and depth in the areas concerned (for example, speed of calculations in QA) and one tends to forget development of breadth of knowledge which is more relevant at later stages of the selection process. This technique helps address this gap while also helping with preparation for the CAT exam itself. As always, success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – Good Luck!
Dr. Sudhendar Hanumantha Rao
Professor, MYRA School of Business