How to prepare for Common Admission Test (CAT): Story of Moves

Let me start with the famous story “Garry Kasparov Vs IBM Deep Blue computer”:

During 1996 – 1997, computer Deep Blue developed by IBM played two series of matches with the then world chess champion Garry Kasparov. While the 1st series of 6 matches played in 1996 were won by Garry Kasparov (Wins – 3, Draw – 2, Loss – 1), disapproving the IBM’s supremacy claim of machine over man, the second series played in May 1997 was won by IBM’s machines. After this loss, Kasparov said that he sometimes saw deep intelligence and creativity in the machine’s moves, suggesting that during the second game, human chess players, in violation of the rules, intervened. As expected IBM vehemently denied that it cheated, saying the only human intervention occurred between games and not during the games. The rules provided for the developers to modify the program between games, an opportunity they said they used to shore up weaknesses in the computer’s playing prowess that were revealed during the course of the match.

Cut to CAT preparation now –

What are the typical responses / reactions we have when we see a question? Some of those most frequently occurring are listed below:


Response / Reaction 1 – I know where to start and how to reach to the final solution. So, its just a matter of few seconds / minutes that i will have the solution.

Response / Reaction 2 -. Solution is somewhat clear – Knowing how to start, but not absolutely sure if it will lead to the end solution.

Response / Reaction 3 -. Not at all having any idea of the solution – How to approach or proceed is not clear?

You may wonder why I started with Kasparov Vs IBM story and how is it linked to CAT preparation and the possible reactions. To answer this, I raise another question – human beings have the thinking capabilities, and so s/he can decide the moves on the basis of the changing situations and so s/he plays chess. How does a computer actually play chess?

If we go through the Kasparov Vs Deep Blue story in flashback, we get to know that there were some chess grandmasters who were the part of IBM Deep Blue manufacturing team and supplying the most crucial information – the database of moves played across thousands of games. So while these moves created a repository of information inside the ‘brain’ of computer, a complex modelling was done to decide which counter move is best for what move – something on the lines of decision tree analysis through probabilistic calculations. And here was the need for faster calculation. So, for ‘X’ move placed by Kasparov, computer used to analyze how many times this move has been put and respective countermoves are having what probability of leading to winning position.

Cut back to CAT preparation –

This might have answered the most universal query of the students – why are we able to solve a particular question and not been able to solve another question? So its just about the moves –solution to every question involves some moves (loosely speaking, steps are having the same connotation as moves). If we have the moves ready with us from the starting to the end of the solution, we have 1st response / reaction. And so on 2nd or 3rd response that how many moves we have.

So, how can a student who has not gone through maths can come at par with a student who is a maths graduate?


And how moves will be generated (the base of this triad) – By going through the concepts, and solving not just quantity of questions, but quality of questions too. Looking upon the pattern of online CAT QA for the past years, one can be reasonably sure that fetching 60% marks in QA (and similar performance in DI) is sufficient to get approximate 96 – 97 percentile. This translates into 12-13 questions in QA. The idea is – if we can have the moves ready for 7-8 questions, for an example, then we would be required to generate moves only for 5-6 questions inside the examination hall, and this saves your considerable time that can be invested in other area.

For example – there was a question in CAT 2008 – What is the number of terms in the expansion of ( a + b + c )20?

I have put almost the same question in my QA book, which was published in 2006, in Miscellaneous chapter – What is the number of terms in the expansion of (a + b + c)10?

I am not saying that our objective should be to match the question – that as a student i should have done exactly the same question appearing in CAT of that year before sitting in CAT. Rather its about thought process – retaining the moves used earlier while solving a question – and ability to use the same in even slightly different situation. And what is true for QA is mostly true for other sections too.

To conclude, I must admit that you should weigh your strengths and weaknesses across and within the sections, and prepare your strategy accordingly. There is no exhaustive list of methods to crack CAT or to get into IIMs. You may have your own combination or strategy to get into your desired B- School.

About the author

Nishit Kumar Sinha is the author of several Pearson textbooks on CAT including the Pearson Complete Guide to CAT, Pearson Data Interpretation: Practice Book for the CAT and The Pearson Guide to Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation for the CAT and other MBA Entrance Examinations. He has been training students for the CAT and other B-school entrance exams for the last seven years. He has presented papers in various seminars, on topics like ‘Raising Intelligence to Qualify the CAT’, ‘Vedic Mathematics’, ‘Number Systems’ and ‘Myths and Realities about the CAT’