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:
- 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.
- 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:
- Benchmark analysis
- Score Improvement Analysis
Let us understand each of these stages in a detailed manner:
- 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.
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:
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.
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.