02 Nov 2021 17:05 IST

CAT 2021: How to make the most of last-minute prep

Exam deadlines are looming. Use these tips to avoid common errors and maximise your scores.

With many entrance tests lined up (CAT, NMAT, IIFT, SNAP, XAT, TISSNET, IRMA), it is natural for aspirants to feel overwhelmed. Here are a few pointers that will stand you in good stead and make a big difference in your preparation.

One of the biggest mistakes students commit is preparing only for select topics in the syllabus based on previous years’ question papers. CAT and other Online Management Entrance Tests (OMET) such as XAT and IIFT have a reputation for being unpredictable. There is a good probability that topics that did not have much weightage in recent years make a comeback and catch the unprepared ones by surprise. Therefore, it is ideal to prepare for all topics.

Regular mock tests with analysis

Most students believe the best way to prepare is to take as many mock tests as possible. This is not the right way to go about it as repeatedly taking mocks highlights the same weaknesses, and if students are not analysing their mistakes and rectifying them, then there will not be any major improvement in their performance. However, do not go to the other extreme on this. The “advanced” sectional tests are also to be done — one section per area every week.

Stay away from speculation

As specified earlier, CAT and other popular OMETs are known to assess and ask questions from a wide assortment of subject areas. There is no point speculating what might happen this year. This year, the IIMs have not disclosed the number of questions per section for CAT, but they have announced that the number of questions will come down. One should be prepared to tackle the exam regardless and the mocks should help you on this front.

CAT and all OMETs have negative markings. The negative marking is to deter students from attempting an extravagant number of questions even without solving them. Blind guessing almost always leads to a negative/low score and is to be avoided. However, if you are able to eliminate two or three choices (out of the four or five) in a systematic way, then you may consider making an “educated guess”, based on what your instinct tells you. Keep in mind that your “instinct” will be able to guide you only if you have fed it well, — if you have prepared well enough.

Maximising score is key

Targeting a pre-set number of questions to clear the cut-offs is not a great strategy as the cut-offs are a function of the difficulty level of the section and the paper.If the sections are individually timed, as they are in CAT, you anyway have only 60 minutes to do what you can with the section. So, the task at hand is clear. For exams that have all the sections available throughout the test, the number of attempts per section should be decided during the test, based on the difficulty of the paper, and not before.

Have a measurable prep plan

Have a focused and measurable plan for the coming months. For instance, in the verbal ability area, one could target completing a pre-decided number of exercises in each area every day. Or, a day each for the different question types on paragraphs (para-jumbles, para-completion, and para-summary), followed by three days of intensive grammar prep covering all the standard models of questions. You may include a few novels in your plan. You can take a call on vocabulary, based on the level you are at currently. A targeted plan like this will help you track your progress on a real-time basis.

If you think your performance in one of the areas is trailing compared to others, then you could begin by working on the weak area to bring it at par. It is important to devise a plan for each topic/question type within each subject and define targets. Similarly, if you look at the QA area, you should apportion your time according to arithmetic, numbers, geometry and mensuration, and pure maths. Do a realistic analysis of your comfort level with each of these areas. For a strong area, you could simply revise difficult or advanced problems. For a weak area, you should solve from the basics upwards.

What if I think that I am not going to crack it?

If you have just about started serious preparation, or you think you may not make it into the top-percentile range, hedge your risks. You can do so by looking at the patterns of a few exams other than CAT (CMAT, TISS, SNAP). You will find that the difficulty level of the questions in these tests is not as high as others. Also, most of these exams are held post-CAT. So, even if you are just about to start your preparation, you have time. The sectoral programmes of various institutes tend to attract a lesser number of applications than the regular exams. Moreover, the selection processes tend to be easier than the flagship programmes. Identify a few such programs or B-schools that offer a good return on investment instead. All the best.