A2A: How should I analyse my performance in Mock CATs?

In this series, A2A (Asked to Answer), get answers to the most often asked questions by CAT and other MBA entrance exam aspirants. 

Most CAT-aspirants would agree that taking Mock tests (SimCATs in IMS parlance) is a very crucial aspect of preparing for the CAT, however everyone has a different approach towards taking mock tests during their CAT preparation. While there is obviously a difference between the approach of successful candidates and those who do not perform well at the CAT, you would be surprised to find that even successful test-takers would have different stories to tell about their test-taking approach and strategy while preparing for the CAT. So, what is the winning strategy? How many mock tests should one ideally take before the CAT? What is the ideal frequency of taking the mocks? How should one analyse their mock test performance? I will try to answer these questions in this blogpost.

Mock tests: Is more the merrier?

I know of 100 percentilers who achieved the feat without taking more than 6 to 8 mock tests and also those who would attribute their success to religiously solving 30 to 40 mock tests before the CAT. At the same time, I know of candidates who could not do well in the CAT irrespective of whether they solved 100 tests or none. In short, the number of mock tests taken by the aspirants is not exactly correlated to the chances of their success in the CAT. So, how many mock tests should one take to ensure one cracks the CAT? To answer this question, let us first define the objective of taking SimCATs.

A simulated test helps a CAT-taker to get an understanding of the test structure, the test software format, the areas assessed and the question types. A proctored simulated test additionally gives the test-taker a first-hand experience of taking the test in closely simulated conditions. But you don’t really need more than 2 or 3 mock tests to achieve these objectives!  There are 2 other important reasons for taking a mock test:

  1. To gauge how far or close you are from your ultimate goal of cracking the CAT and getting an admission into one of the top Indian B-Schools.
  2. To identify your areas of strength and weaknesses so that you can accordingly plan and fine-tune your test-taking strategy as well as preparation strategy

A whole lot of students fail to perform well in the CAT despite taking a plethora of mock tests. These are mostly students who take a test, check their scores, are dejected or frustrated by what they achieve in a test, mull over the scores for some time and then proceed to take the next test. In the next test their scores go up or down based on the test content and structure – they score well if they have more questions from their areas of strength and lesser otherwise. They then wonder why their scores are not improving consistently, blame the difficulty level of the tests , curse their luck and worse still, conclude that CAT is not their cup of tea. What they do not realize is that it’s not sufficient to just keep taking tests – you also need to identify areas of improvement, work on them and progress systematically from test to test. Every mock test should therefore be taken only after you have put in sufficient efforts to improve and to thereby reflect your progress from the previous test. To summarise, it is better to take a fewer tests followed by a thorough analysis and corrective action for improvement rather than take plenty of them without any work in between.

How to analyse a test?

The analysis of a SimCAT or any mock test can be divided into 2 stages:

  1. Benchmark analysis
  2. Score Improvement Analysis

Let us understand each of these stages in a detailed manner:

  1. Benchmark analysis

Let us first define the measurement parameters that will be used to measure your distance from your goal of getting an admission to a top B-School:

To get an admission, you first need to get shortlisted for the second stage of the selection process, i.e WAT-GD-PI from these B-Schools. To get shortlisted, you need to achieve a certain percentile in the CAT – depending upon the college and also depending upon your profile. Most students therefore look at percentiles as the key indicator of their performance in a test and just get satisfied by looking at their sectional and overall percentiles after every test. But it is important to understand that the percentile is only a factor of the score that you achieve in the test and the score, in turn, is a factor of your attempts and accuracy at sectional and overall levels. So, to achieve your goal you need to simply work on meeting set attempts and accuracy targets – as this will, by itself, take care of what score and percentile you end up with. Your attempts and accuracy at an overall level, sectional level and further down at an area-wise or topic-wise level can therefore be used to measure your progress after every test.

So, for example, to achieve a 99+ percentile in the CAT you may look at attempting around 60% of the questions with an 80 to 85% accuracy. To achieve an 85 percentile, the targets will be around 40% attempts with an 80 to 85% accuracy. Once you set the targets, track your progress against these benchmarks after you have taken a mock test.

For areas where you achieve the set benchmarks aim to perform consistently in future tests as well. For areas where you are short, pick a couple of areas of improvement, work on them and aim to achieve the benchmark for those areas in the next test you take.

Each mock test that you take will provide you with a measurement of these parameters – and as you move from one mock to another you need to set targets at an overall, sectional and area-level and then strive to meet the same in a systematic manner. You may create a detailed excel sheet with your performance on the above measurement parameters and track your progress towards the set goals.

Mock test 1

2.  Score Improvement Analysis

The objective of this analysis is to evaluate as to whether and how you could score higher in the test based on your current level of competency. For this, you need to first identify those questions that were attempted correctly by a majority of the top 10 percentilers in the test – these are the must-attempt questions or the potential score enhancers that you should have solved while taking the test in order to score higher. Classify the identified questions based on how many of these questions you got right, how many did you skip and how many did you go wrong. Now solve or re-solve each of these identified questions with an objective of finding:

  • Questions that you did not attempt
    • As you did not even get around to reading them
    • Due to lack of conceptual clarity
    • As you could not understand the question while taking the test
  • Questions that you got incorrect
    • Due to silly mistakes or carelessness
    • Due to incorrect understanding of the question
    • Due to conceptual gap
  • Questions that you got right,
    • But could have solved them faster?
    • But should have ideally avoided or kept for later?
    • By wild guessing (this is as good as not attempting the question!)

Once you have finished solving the above questions repeat the exercise for the other questions in the test. You may find that some of these questions would be in the “Well-left” category while a few others could have been solved if you had sufficient time while taking the test.  For every test that you take, you will now be able to classify the questions in the following grid:

Mock test 2

As you progress from test to test, you will observe that you will get more and more questions under the must-attempt and potential score enhancers to be correctly solved by you while taking the test. A thorough question-wise analysis will ensure that you not only attempt similar questions when they appear in future mock tests or the CAT, but also bridge your knowledge and test-skills gap in a structured manner.

In conclusion..

Mock tests are an important tool that serve as a mirror to show you where you stand, where you need to be consistent and where you need to improve while preparing for the CAT. Just like looking at the mirror again and again without putting in sufficient effort between mirror visits to improve will not yield positive results, taking too many mock tests without through analysis and follow-up action would also be a useless exercise. Every mock test should be followed by directed efforts in improving in identified areas and the next mock test should be used to measure the progress in those areas.

The IMS SimCATs have begun – make most of them and I am sure SUCCESS will follow. To know more about the IMS SimCATs click here.


23 thoughts on “A2A: How should I analyse my performance in Mock CATs?

  1. Sir,
    I am a Student @IMS Pune Deccan,I have given 4 Sim Cats and my percentile has remained range-bound between 82 to 88.I desperately want to get 99+ percentile.Please suggest a strategy to improve scores in DILR and QA
    Thank you


  2. Sir ,I am taking simcats .I have few questions
    1) Should i enroll in any other test series for variety of mock tests ?Or should i continue with proctored & unproctored simcats only ?
    2) I am taking Mocks at home .Only in November I will take 2/3 simcats in proctored environment . How proctored environment affect test taking ?


    • 1) Not required in my opinion- unless you want the satisfaction of doing well across tests of different providers.
      2) At home is completely fine – as long as you take the tests in a disciplined manner. A proctored environment only helps you with the feel of taking it alongside fellow competitors (with added pressure;-))


  3. Hello
    sir m preparing for cat 2017 but i will give cat 2016 with self prepration and continued giving bulls eye(bull cats). In start i used to score 40-55% but now i eassily score 80% with average of 85-90%.

    so my question is how much overall score do i need in order to secure call from AT LEAST 1 iim or iit so that i can have exposure of iim interview, my academic details are below

    10th -88.8
    12th – 73
    btech – 65.5
    electronics engineer
    2 months work ex from sep16 – nov 16


    • Hi Ashwani – the mantra is to maximise your score. Do not have an upper limit – continue to push the envelop as much as you can. This approach will ensure that you get calls from B-Schools you deserve.


    • Every institute has its own cutoffs – sectional or overall or both. A candidate needs to at least secure that many marks to be eligible for a GD-WAT-PI call from that particular institute. Cut-offs vary significantly from institute to institute and sometimes also for different profiles (Engg-Non-Engg; Male-Female; Gen/SC/ST) within the same institute.


    • Hi Pavan, Cut-off is the minimum marks or percentile that is required to secure a WAT-GD-PI call from a particular institute. Every institute specifies its own cut-offs – sectional or overall or both. The cutoffs vary because of the weightage given to other parameters like cork exp, academics, gender, academic diversity etc. It also varies based on the number of seats available and the quality of applicants.


  4. Sir I am a IMS student and I have already given 20 sim-CATs & got percentile between 45 to 97.But there is no consistency & it fluctuates between 60 to 150 score.Besides I always miss a good score in VARC section by giving 4-5 questions wrong.And at the end in QA section my brain almost gets jammed that I unable to get desired score which I can get easily as QA is my strongest section.How to overcome through this hurdles.


    • Such a huge variation in percentile can possibly be explained by the fact that you are not working on your conceptual gaps between 2 SimCATs. So, you score higher when there are more questions from your area of comfort and lower otherwise. You need to systematically work on your areas of weakness to achieve consistency in your performance. Another probable reason could be that you indulge in a lot of guessing – this has no cure except that you should only make intelligent guess and not wild guesses while taking the test as the negative marking can result in a sharp fall in percentiles.
      With regards to test stamina – you need to practice sitting for 3 hours without your mind getting tired. So, from now on, sit for 3 to 4 hours at a stretch whenever you prepare for the CAT – and not just while taking the test.


  5. Hello Sir. Im from IMS thane. I enrolledhis year for CAT 2016 but i focused more on improving my Btech GPA and in the process i realized my CAT prep hasnt been upto the mark- i havent done much of it. im in a dilemma as to what to ddo since hardly a month is left and there is so much to do. I started preparing 2 weeks back but am not able to plan what to do. If you could guide me with some suggestions it would be great as i want to score very well but have to be realistic also considering when i started preparing. Please help. thanks


    • Let us agree that there is no time to first do concepts and then move to CAT level questions – we now need to have a reverse approach. I suggest that you should plan to take 6 to 8 SimCATs at fixed intervals – set increasing targets for yourself as you move from 1 SimCAT to another. Between 2 SimCATs, work on 1 area each from Math and English. For example, in the first interval solve 200+ CAT-level questions each based on Arithmetic and Critical Reasoning respectively. As you solve these questions, you will be able to fill your conceptual gaps, you will get familiarised with the regular question types and you will get the confidence to solve questions from this area in the next SimCAT. A detailed feedback and analysis of each SimCAT combined with focussed efforts on select areas in between 2 SimCATs should help you increase your scores.


  6. Hello Sir, I’m a student from CAT 2014 Classroom batch (Thane). Due to Engineering exams and then my job, i couldn’t give a serious attempt before. However, I’m giving a serious attempt this year. I started my preparation in July, finished off with the BRM’s (2014 ones) by October, solving every exercise religiously. Last month i finished off the CAT 500 (2014). Now, I’ve subscribed to Take home SimCats and done with SimCat 101 and 102. My SimCat score roughly hovers around 100 (75 percentile). My VA percentile is always 90+, Quant percentile is around 75, DI&LR percentile is quite poor around 50. When i’m practicing i normally crack the questions, but when i give the mocks (and actual CAT) i go blank and tend to skip a lot of questions. This is mainly due to the clock ticking away my confidence. Any tips from you to kill this nervousness would be really helpful!


  7. Hi Sir,
    After solving all BRMs also my quant score didn’t improved, I am unable to attempt more than 10 question that too with 60% accuracy kindly suggest me what should be my approach in last 15 days to Improve my score. I am scoring 70-80 marks now in SIMCATs now I want to score at least 100 in CAT


  8. Sir. I am a bsc biotech student. I am willing tu pursue my mba from one of the best iims. i wanted to know will a management college prefer a bsc grad over other students? Also i am putting all my efforts in the simcats. Do IIMA entertain bsc grads.? If they have a good CAT score, good grad marks and a decent profile (average extracurriculars). I really wanted to know do i have a chance?

    Liked by 1 person

    • A management college does not prefer one stream over another, at the same time being in a particular stream does not place you in any disadvantage. Do not think too much about the selection criteria of IIMs – they may change from year to year. You simply need to focus on scoring as high as possible in the CAT.


  9. What would be a good study plan to give the CAT 2017 if i start preparing from August? I’ve taken two mocks already but my performance in them was not very good. I’ve been attending classes on the weekends at IMS since June but I see no improvement in my math. I am planning to start quant from scratch. Can you recommend any books or materials to do basics first?


    • Hi Malaika, apologies for the late reply. To answer your question, you do not need anything more than the BRMs for your Math basics. If you need additional practice solve the concept builder module in your online account. That should be more than sufficient. Gather your doubts and ask for a doubt-solving session with your instructor at your centre.


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