In this series, A2A (Asked to Answer), get answers to the most often asked questions by CAT and other MBA entrance exam aspirants.
I generally get asked this question – “How do I solve a CAT question fast, really fast?”, and sometimes more specifically “How do I solve a CAT questions in 60 seconds or lesser?”
Do you really need to solve every CAT question in 60 seconds? This is akin to asking how does India score a 250+ score in every T20 match that it plays. Just like the possibility of scoring 250+ depends upon the pitch/ground conditions, the quality of your batsmen, the quality of your opponents and also, luck to some extent – the minimum time to solve any CAT question depends upon the nature of the question, options therein, familiarity with the construct, ability to think/calculate/analyse fast and also luck to some extent. This minimum time may range from 15 seconds (for vocabulary-based questions, for example) to 3 minutes (for a really tough Quant question) – if a question takes more than 3 minutes you may consider to skip it or keep it for the end. So, the objective is to solve a question in the minimum possible time that it deserves and not a standard 60 s or 108s.
How to solve a question in the minimum possible time?
Before I answer this question, let me clear a few myths that cloud a CAT-taker’s mind while preparing for the CAT.
Myth 1: Master all Short-cuts & you will do well at the CAT. Do all questions have short-cuts? The answer is NO. Short-cuts can be useful only for standard question formats. And the CAT is notorious for mostly having questions that do not resemble any standard format. Take any past CAT paper and you will find very few questions in each paper where questions are in a standard format and you can apply the corresponding short-cuts and save on some time. So, while knowing a few relevant short-cuts will always come handy and help you save time for a handful of questions – for most of the questions you do not have any standard short-cuts. In short, learn short-cuts but do not depend on them to do well in the CAT.
Myth 2: Learn Vedic Maths and you will crack the CAT Quant & DI sections. Will Vedic Maths solve all your Quant & DI related problems? The answer is NO again. While a few techniques of Vedic Maths may come handy for some of the calculations in Data Interpretation – investing too much time learning Vedic Maths in its entirety will not be a very fruitful exercise from the perspective of CAT. However, you can do it for self-enhancement or if you have a genuine love for Mathematics;-).
Myth 3: Read very fast if you want to do well in the Reading Comprehension section. True, but NOT WHOLLY. While it is important to read fast, it is equally or rather more important that you comprehend correctly. If you read so fast that you do not comprehend the passage effectively in your first attempt and need to go back to reading the passage again (and again) – you will only end up spending more time on reading the same. So, the mantra is to read with as much pace as it allows you to successfully comprehend what you are reading in the first read itself.
Having cleared these myths, let’s now have a look at what you should be typically doing to solve a CAT question in the minimum possible time:
- you should be able to read and correctly understand the passage/set/questions asked – and as fast as possible. As I have already explained, effective reading is a pre-requisite not only for the Reading Comprehension Questions – but also for Quant, DI, LR and Verbal Ability Questions. For example, correctly understanding a 4-5 line Math question in the first read can help you save time while solving that particular question. Also, reading effectively “between the lines” will sometimes help you answer the question fast without having to really solve the question.
- you should be familiar with the construct/concept/question type assessed. To develop familiarity with constructs, you need to have a sound conceptual clarity – you should know all the formulae, the rules, the exceptions, the standard approaches to solving standard question types/questions and the short-cuts or quicker approaches wherever (and if at all) applicable.. And, this should be backed with a whole lot of purposeful practice with CAT LEVEL questions.
- you should be able to sieve/eliminate options – wherever possible. While solving questions, you need to keep an eye on options – learn to eliminate, know when to stop calculating, make intelligent guesses whenever required. So, for example, if you know that the answer has to be a multiple of 11 and there is only one option that satisfies this condition then there is no need to solve the question completely – mark the option accordingly and save time.
- you should minimize use of pen & paper (and now the calculator) for basic calculations. To minimize use of pen and paper, practice basic mental calculations like adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, factorizing, finding HCF/LCM, squares & cubes, working with fractions etc. With the advent of the on-screen calculator, you may be tempted to use it for every calculation that comes your way – but remember that use of the calculator without discretion will only mean you take more time than if you were to do certain calculations mentally.
- And most importantly, you should have 100% focus and concentration while solving the question. Learn to stay focused while solving a question – you should be mentally alert, not get distracted & keep calm in order to ensure that you do not waste time in re-reading the question, misinterpreting the question, making careless mistakes thereby needing to recalculate etc.
I am sure that if you work on each of the above aspects, you will be solving CAT questions as fast as you can – and maybe faster that most other CAT-takers. Do not worry too much about learning short-cuts or mastering Vedic Maths. Focus on improving your conceptual clarity, practice with a whole lot of CAT-level questions and work on your test-taking skills – in short, use the C.A.T. Approach – and Speed will Follow🙂
Recommended Read: Once you have mastered the various Quant concepts, you may read the following blogs written by my colleague (and a 10-times CAT 100 percentiler) on how one could solve certain Quant questions really fast – if you can read between the lines, have a good hold over the concepts and know how to use the options to your advantage.
- Writer’s Block CAT Scan 1
- Writer’s Block CAT Scan 2
- Writer’s Block CAT Scan 3
- Writer’s Block CAT Scan 4