Strategies for the D-day CAT

Having a clear-cut strategy and a well-defined plan for the D-day is very crucial. In

this article, we are going to focus on 3 specific questions –

1.How much time to

spend on each question?

2.How to identify questions that I should skip?

3.Is there

an advantage to be gained by solving tougher questions?

These questions are answered in this video here –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOkqcHcNHAE

2-2.5 minutes per question is a good benchmark to go with.

Let us start with two simple premises – 1) There will be some freebies in this exam;

there usually are and 2) If you attempt 35 questions per section, you are looking at

99th percentile-ish or better. 35 questions in 85 minutes puts us in the ballpark of

2.5 minutes per question. There will usually be time lost in questions that you skip,

in going from section 1 to 2, etc. So, shooting for the 2-minute mark is usually

good. If you can get a question right in 2-2.5 minutes, you should definitely go for it.

Note that this strategy is predicated on two crucial assumptions. 1) You must get

almost everything correct. This whole around 70% correct business is humbug.

You should not pretend to be a serious candidate if you do not have an accuracy in

the 90% range. 2) You do not get sucked into too many ‘wrong’ questions. This is

vital and takes us to the next idea


The question selection risks are asymmetrical

As a version of the old saying goes, you can take an MBA grad out of the banking

sector, you cannot take the banking sector out of the MBA grad. The term

“asymmetric risk” is one of those hi-funda sounding terms that I used to spout in

my previous avatar. What I mean here is very simple – Attempting a question that

you should have skipped can kill your score; skipping an easy question is harmless

in comparison. When you get drawn into a tough question, it has several ripple

effects – you tend to spend that little bit extra time trying to salvage something, the

odds of taking a chance and punting on some choice shoot up, and the pressure

follows you for subsequent questions. When you skip an “easy” question without

giving it much thought, you usually do not know that it was an easy question that

you have skipped. You probably think it is a toughie. This helps. 


Have pre-set rules for skipping questions, do not have them for selecting

Follow a simple rule “When in doubt, leave”. Based on this simple mantra, you

can actually go into the exam with a set of rules for leaving questions. For instance

you can say 1) Long question, leave. 2) Question from probability, leave. 3) word

problem in DI, leave. But do not go in saying “I will solve anything and everything

from Number Systems. Because leaving out Fermat and Euler, there is no greater

number genius than me”. The idea is not to prove that you are a genius in number

systems, but to exhibit enough common sense to crack this exam. Shed the ego

about your own phenomenal strengths and do not let this cloud your judgement.


Do not game the “Normalization Process” and chase tough questions

This is a favourite idea of this group of people who I would like to classify as

“Math junkies”. This brigade likes to hanker after tougher and tougher problems in

Math and likes to prepare for a level much higher than required (You can find a

bunch of us lurking around the PG forum trying to earn our stripes). I have the

highest regard for this group and as a math junkie myself, I would steadfastly

defend the idea that there are few better ways to spend time than solving

intelligently-set math questions. 

Having said that, inside the exam hall, it is better to be a pragmatist. If there is one

thing that we know for sure about the normalization process followed by CAT, it is

that we do not know much about it at all. So, there is no credible way of knowing

how questions are classified as tough/easy, how they are marked and how this

affects the overall percentile. As it is there are plenty of moving parts in this exam, having one more variable to worry about is crazy. Completely ignore the idea of

chasing tough questions in order to have an edge in the exam. 


Trying out lot of tough questions for practice also has its downside

If you are junking out on good Math questions and having fun, continue to do that.

But be careful enough to not call this as CAT preparation. Specifically, doing

tougher-than-CAT-level questions has two downsides -1) If you do not have a

sense of how tough this exam can be, you can go in expecting this dramatic tough

exam and can be totally thrown off by a series of sitters. Believe me, this happens

every year. I have heard gazillion versions of “I could never attempt more than 20 questions in Quant in any mock. Here, I had completed 25 questions in just 50

minutes. I did not know what was happening and I practically did not do anything in the next 20 minutes. 2) You end up spending so much time on questions way tougher than CAT and

leave out low-hanging fruit in DI, LR and verbal.

If you are gearing up for a 100-meter dash, no point training for 10k every day. Our Country unfortunately holds

this belief that tougher questions are better. That is why our study material, our

preparation books and our mock CATs are pegged at levels far higher than CAT.

But going down this route and perennially preparing for tough questions can be a

huge waste of time. Keep in mind that this is an entrance exam for doing MBA,

and not an Olympiad exam by another name.

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