22 Oct 2019 17:46 IST

10 mistakes students make while preparing for CAT

Scan through all questions first, focus on score rather than percentile, and start early to maximise score

The CAT is different from the conventional examinations that students are used to writing in school and college. Due to such differences, students are liable to make common mistakes, which end up hurting their chances. Here’s a list of what not to do.

    1. Pre-decided target: Unlike most other examinations, institutes under the CAT are not looking for you to score a certain pre-decided score/percentage of marks. All they look for is a student who can score more than others. If you set a target of a minimum number of marks that you want to score or number of questions that you want to attempt, then you can be under pressure if you fail to reach near that in case of a tougher paper, and be complacent in case of an easier paper.

      2. Know-the-cut-off syndrome: Many people believe that they can guess/decide the cut-off before/while doing the paper and, therefore, know when to stop attempting or when to keep attempting a section. Nothing can be further from the truth. The sectional cut-offs are decided by the institutes after the paper has been conducted and there is little chance that you can guess the same. Working with a misjudged cut-off could be dangerous.

        3. Attempt maximisation: For the last two years, the non-MCQs (multiple choice questions) have formed approximately 25 per cent of the questions and the MCQs are the remaining 75 per cent. This year, non-MCQs will be a part of the exam, but the quantum is unknown so far. Non-MCQs do not have negative marks, while the MCQ ones do. Since a bulk of the exam has negative marks for wrong attempts, too many unnecessary attempts can lead to a huge negative score and undo the good work that you might have done with the correct answers. The belief that 'if I do more, I'll always get more answers right' could be perilous. Have an optimum level of attempts based on the difficulty level which, in turn, depends on how much time it takes to solve a question.

        4. Wasting too much time on non-MCQs: The fact that the non-MCQs don’t have negative marking makes them tempting to people. The result is that students end up wasting too much time for some questions. Set a time for these questions, proportionate to their marks, and stick to that time limit.

        5. Accuracy maximisation: As the exam has negative marking, some students believe that maximising accuracy can help them get more marks. The trouble is that too high a level of accuracy will lead to a significant drop in attempts and reduce your overall score since time is limited. Avoid going for an optimum level of accuracy, typically hovering between 70-85 per cent.

        6. Not scanning a section: Scanning a section will help you identify the easiest questions so you can do them first while leaving the difficult ones for later, or leaving them out altogether. Not scanning the paper makes you dependent on the luck of finding the easiest questions wherever you start the paper. The CAT and the AIMCATs have a button near the top right where you can see the entire section at any time. Use it at the beginning to scan the section and decide the most doable sets/passages/questions.

        7. Attempting all: When attempting sets in DI/LR (data intepretation/ logical reasoning) or RC (reading comprehension) passages, a strong tendency is to attempt all the questions of a particular set/passage, once you have understood the data or the contents of the passage. This can backfire if you get stuck on the difficult questions or spend too much time as you will not be able to do the other questions. This issue with the LR/DI section of CAT 2016, CAT 2017 and CAT 2018 stumped many brilliant students.

        8. Focusing on score instead of percentile: Historically, CAT cut-offs have been on the lower side. Sectional scores of 20 per cent as sectional cut-offs and overall scores of 33 per cent as overall cut-off are not uncommon. So a student getting these marks and evaluating them against conventional standards of school/college marks comes under pressure to get even more marks. Don’t worry about low scores in your mocks or final exams as long as your percentiles are on the higher side.

        9. Believing that CAT is cracked by brilliant minds only: Nothing exemplifies this more than the countless stories of people with the so-called average academic background who crack the CAT every year, proving yet again that CAT is not necessarily cracked by people with extremely strong academic backgrounds, but by people who believe in themselves, their preparation and do their best in the exam. The people who crack it are people with a strong sense of time management, who move ahead and scan all questions, and then do the ones they can and do not worry about the ones that they can’t.

        10. Waiting to prepare till the end: Unlike school and college exams that depend largely on ability to recall information, CAT is an application of various skills. Skill development is a long-term activity, so don’t wait till the end to start studying. The earlier you start, the better off you are.

        (The author is Chief Knowledge Expert, T.I.M.E. Delhi.)