Every year hundreds of thousands of students prepare for the CAT. Every year only a few thousands of students make it to the IIMs and other top B-Schools in India. So, what is
it that separates these few achievers from the rest – is it just a matter of luck, is it all about hard work or is it something else?
Over the years, IMS has trained lakhs of MBA aspirants and believe it or not, hard work alone doesn’t guarantee you good performance in the CAT. In fact, what differentiates the successful MBA Aspirants from the rest is their holistic approach to CAT preparation. Students who eventually crack the CAT are conceptually sound(naturally or otherwise), adept at applying concepts across different questions/question types and know how to maximize their scores in test conditions. These students would have worked systematically on all or some of these aspects during their CAT preparation based on their own needs and therefore end up with a high CAT score. We strongly believe that any student who follows a similar structured approach is more likely to succeed at the CAT than someone who has simply focused on learning concepts or on taking test after test while preparing. So, let us outline and understand the structured approach that one may adapt whilst preparing for the CAT.
The Beginner’s approach
Every year I meet hundreds of students who keep delving through their concept books (BRMs in IMS parlance) right through their preparation – even with a month or a week to go for the CAT. Their usual refrain is “I can solve questions given in BRMs, but when it comes to SimCATs (mock tests), I am simply not able to solve enough questions!”. Basically these students are only focusing on one dimension of the CAT prep – and that is building conceptual clarity. While having conceptual clarity is necessary to ace the CAT, it is unfortunately not sufficient. So all the hard work put in to build the conceptual foundation takes them upto a 75 to 80 percentile at max, but rarely do any of these students ever end up acing the CAT.
The fasTest-to-CAT approach
And then there are those students who keep taking a whole lot of mock tests, (sometimes from a whole lot of test prep players) – believing that more the tests they take, the better they will score in the CAT. They score relatively well in some of the tests, score pathetically in some others. What they don’t realize is that the score fluctuations are more so because of their knowledge gaps – they score higher when the test has a favourable mix of questions from their areas of strength. And when they score lower, it is probably because the test had more questions from their areas of weakness. A lot of these students placate themselves by calling the former ones as being closer to CAT and the latter ones too tough. They do not identify or work on bridging the knowledge gaps, and as a result they never reach the desired levels of performance on a consistent basis. And when they eventually take the CAT, they realize how far they were from the real CAT!
So what is amiss in the above prep strategies?
The missing piece, in our opinion, is [A] their confidence to take on “CAT-level” questions and [B] their confidence to take on the CAT.
Confidence to take on “CAT-level” questions
Students following the Beginner’s Approach generally know how to find an HCF or LCM but they falter when it comes to applying these concepts in unfamiliar situations. The lack of ability to comprehend the question and identify which concepts to apply proves to be the undoing for most of these students. So, how do you bridge this gap? Practice makes a man perfect – and in the case of CAT prep, Practice makes the student “Confident”. One needs to solve sufficient number of CAT-level questions across areas assessed therein – every question should be treated as a test with the same constraints as one would face while taking the CAT. If students practice with a sufficient number of questions in each subject area, they not only get familiar with the usual question patterns/types but also get prepared to take on unfamiliar constructs as they often appear in the CAT. Students who do this part effectively reach a 90 to 95 percentile (and sometimes even more).
Repeat CAT-takers often spend their second attempt practicing with a whole lot of questions (as they have already done their concept learning during their first attempt) – and it is this practice that enables them to score comparatively higher in their second attempt.
Confidence to take on “CAT”
While every aspirant takes mock tests as a part of their prep strategy – only those who analyse their performance in each of these tests and thereafter identify and bridge their skill gaps are the ones who maximize their scoring potential in the CAT. To breach the 99 percentile barrier, it is not just sufficient to know how to solve questions – one should also be able to manage time, identify which questions to solve & more importantly which ones to skip, use options to solve questions faster & maintain a calm and composed mindset through the test.
Instead of taking tests after test expecting scores to improve all by themselves, one should focus on taking an optimum number of mock tests followed by a rigorous feedback and analysis of each test performance. This approach will help build the necessary skill-set to push the score from a 90-95%ile range to a 99+%ile bracket.
Students who do not have a strong conceptual base or haven’t done the requisite practice with CAT-level questions do not have enough questions to choose from while taking the test and therefore find it difficult to gain from the usual suggested test-taking strategies.
The IMS C.A.T. Approach …
We recommend students to prepare for the CAT in 3 distinct phases as given below:
Build Concepts -> Practice Application of concepts -> Fine-tune Test-taking Skills
The IMS C.A.T Approach ensures that you have a holistic preparation for the CAT. The online and offline study material is structured accordingly so that you achieve each of the above 3 objectives in a systematic and structured manner.
The C Module comprises the Basic Reference Material, Classroom Sheets and Online Concept Builder with ~5000 questions that enable you to strengthen your fundamentals across the areas of Quantitative Ability, Data Interpretation, Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension. Learn and assimilate the various concepts, formulae and theory across subject areas with the help of solved examples and concept builder questions that are classified on the basis of their difficulty levels.
The A Module comprises ~3000 questions at a CAT-level – each of the questions are based on questions that have appeared in the CAT before and therefore give you the confidence to take on any type of question in the CAT. Each of these questions/question sets can be taken as a timed test – with comparative analytics on your performance. The questions are a combination of the familiar constructs that you have seen in previous CATs and SimCATs and unfamiliar constructs that you may have never seen before. The more of these questions you practice with, the more you get familiar with the usual question types asked and more you get confident to solve question types you have never encountered before.
The T Module is armed with ~5000 questions across 15 Proctored SimCATs, 25 Take-home SimCATs and 30 Section-tests. Each of these tests will be administered using a test software that closely resembles the actual CAT – so that you feel you are taking the CAT before the CAT. Each of the tests is enabled by a detailed test analytics report that will not only help you identify your knowledge and skill gaps, but also give you pointers on how to improve your performance in the future.
The CAT is a test which sends shivers down the spines of the student community, for the following obvious reasons – the most widely accepted aptitude test for admission to top B-schools in the country, the magnitude of competition, the enormity of the stakes involved and the multiplicity of pressures to handle. All this requires a “well chalked out and meticulously executed strategy”. In fact, the right approach to prepare is what differentiates a CAT cracker from a CAT victim. You need to phase out your preparation, identify the effort required in each phase and customize your approach accordingly – an approach which IMS has labelled as “the C.A.T approach”. So just like the age-old adage “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, your prep plan henceforth would be – the C.A.T for the CAT!