How to go from 97-98th percentile to 99.xx percentile?

This is a question that dominates minds in the last few weeks of preparation. Because the top few colleges offer something distinctive, there is a substantial difference between 97-98th percentile and 99.xx. Everyone knows that the final few steps are the toughest to climb. So, what should one do? In my mind, there are two kinds of students who just miss out, and the plan should be different for each.

Type 1: Students for whom a few tweaks should do the trick

Elite sportsmen never tire of saying this mantra that the small things do the trick. So, focus on the small details. A lot. 

A set of ideas for doing this –  

Be extremely harsh on yourself in accuracy

I cannot emphasize this point enough. Getting something ‘just’ wrong is criminal. If the correct answer is 32, and you got 31 because you missed zero, scream at yourself. There is no such thing as 70% accuracy. Anyone who gets 99.5+ percentile will tell you this unequivocally. Being particular about accuracy is a temperamental thing; work on building that temperament. The devil lies in the detail.

Pick a weak area, drill away, convert that into a strength

Very often, we leave some elements of preparation to chance. You go in hoping that there aren’t too many questions from Geometry, or that the sentence rearrangement question turns out easy. If you can pick one component that you are woeful at, forget CAT for a week, just focus on this one weak area for hours together and come out feeling hajaar confident about this topic, that might be the tonic to give you belief. 

The brilliant footballer David Villa had to deal with a broken femur on his right foot when he was just 4. His father spent 2 hours a day throwing balls to Villa to kick with his left foot. By the time his right foot was out of plaster, Villa could properly kick with both feet. He was one of the very few two-footed strikers of the last two decades or so. 

Turn up the intensity

For most students, there will be a 20-minute spell in the exam where you are a touch flat. If you can prevent this, your score can pop and make the last climb to 99.xx percentile. Start brightly and if you sense a ‘fade’, take a couple of deep breaths and start all over again. The guys who hit the 99.9x do this really well. 

Type 2: This is as far as my basics can take me

Imagine you have built a house of 3 floors. Further, let us assume that you had always planned to build a house of 3 floors and had built the foundation meant for this. Now, you want to take it to 5 floors. Much as you would hate to admit it, the best way to go about this is by bringing it down and starting from scratch. Chances are that rebuilding will happen rapidly and you can build it to 5 floors really well, and chances are that this time around you have built the foundation well enough to expand it to 8 floors if needed. And have corrected all the flaws in the first 3 floors that were present as well. 

When preparing for the nth time, a great many students do not have the patience to revisit basics. They fall into the “speed” trap and add gazillion tricks and shortcuts. Remember that revisiting basics never hurts. Learn the proof for angle bisector theorem, read 2 new articles every day, find our what a gerund is. These things pay off. And contrary to popular perception, these things do not take that much time. The change is predominantly attitudinal. I find a great many students who attend classes for the 2nd or 3rd time automatically tuning out when the basic stuff is discussed. These are the students that solve 18 out of 20 questions really quickly, but never manage the last 2 tough ones (the ones that make a difference between 97-98 and 99.xx). If you find attending coaching classes to be boring and not good value for time, then skip this charade and learn on your own online. But do not become a problem junkie who focuses on only the strengths. 

Work with belief, and tell yourself that this is not such a big deal

There will always be geniuses for whom this exam is easy. The key is to remember that certified non-geniuses can crack this as well. Brian Lara could score a double-hundred and appear as if it took no effort at all. It perhaps took him little effort, he has scored 9 of these. Sangakara might look like he is huffing and puffing by the time he reaches 70-odd. Sanga has scored 11 double-centuries, only Bradman has more. 

Keep in mind CAT is one avenue to showcase what you are capable of. There are probably 100 other ways to do this. It is very useful to remember this fact.