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?
an advantage to be gained by solving tougher questions?
These questions are answered in this video here –
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.