A2A: How do I plan my preparation to excel the CAT this year?

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

With only a few months to go for CAT, here is a plan that one may follow to ace the CAT in the available time:

Understand the structure of the CAT – Assuming this is your first attempt at CAT, you need to first invest some efforts to know the game before you play it. So, read up on the CAT test structure and also on the Test Analysis of previous years to get a fair understanding of what the CAT is all about.

Phase Zero: Take a mock test or a diagnostic test based on the previous year’s CAT (in all seriousness) and gauge where you stand even before you start your preparation for the test. After the test, solve the entire test again – WITHOUT TIME LIMITS and record your score in this scenario as well. A thorough analysis of your performance in this test (with and without time limits) will give you a fair understanding of which areas are your strengths and which areas need to be improved upon. The test taken without time-limit indicates your knowledge gap, and that taken with time limit is an indicator of both knowledge as well as test-taking skills gap. Do not get worried if you score low in this test – a low score only indicates that higher effort needs to be invested in the next few months to bridge the identified gaps.

Phase 1: Make a list of knowledge areas that you need to work on (for each of the sections) and create a daily/weekly plan to systematically learn & assimilate all the identified concepts & topics. Decide how many hours you will spend on a daily basis – assign these hours to the different sections/areas – most importantly, STICK to the PLAN. As an outcome of this phase, you should have a sound conceptual clarity across most, if not all, areas assessed in the CAT. You should be able to handle most of the conceptual level questions as well as the easier CAT questions. For this phase, use basic reference material of any test prep institute like the IMS Courseware. (Just check that the material you use is relevant to CAT and also exhaustive in terms of the concepts assessed therein). IMS also provides 150+ concept videos with experienced faculty teaching you the basics along with a few practice problems.

Aim to complete this phase by mid-July.

Phase 2: The next phase is to build confidence with respect to solving CAT-level questions. For this, you need to solve as many CAT-level questions as possible – across topics, across areas and across sections. As an outcome of this phase, you should not only familiarize yourself with the various constructs that have appeared in the past CATs but also equip yourself to handle unfamiliar question types(as often encountered in the CAT). Mock tests like SimCATs coupled with section tests/Application builder questions (as we call them in IMS) and books like CAT 500 will give you the much needed practice required in this phase. CAT-holics – a blog by a 10-time CAT 100 percentiler is also a good source to aid your preparation during this phase. Find links below to access questions from a couple of past year CAT papers:

CAT 2018-Slot-1-Questions

CAT 2018_Slot-2_Questions

CAT 2017-Slot-1-Questions

CAT 2017_Slot-2_Questions

Aim to complete this phase by mid-September.

Phase 3: In this phase, you need to start taking mock tests like the SimCAT and more importantly analyse your performance in each of the tests. Take fewer tests during phase 1 and phase 2 of your preparation – remember just taking test after test without sufficiently working on the gaps is futile and may only end up frustrating or demoralizing you. It is therefore recommended that you increase your test frequency only after completing the first 2 phases (or a significant portion of them). For every test that you take, have a target score in mind for each section. You should also know which areas are likely to help you achieve that score and this will in turn drive your test strategy. After every test, do a rigorous analysis of your performance in the test to check what went right and what could have been avoided or done better. Identify areas where you have done well and try to achieve consistent levels of performance in those areas. Mark areas for improvement and keep working on these areas in a systematic manner before subsequent tests. As an outcome of this phase, you should be able to maximize your scoring potential in the CAT. Take mock tests that truly reflect the CAT level of difficulty, use similar test software and have a large enough test-taking population for effective preparation in this phase.

This phase will go on till the actual CAT.

A word of caution:

As you get closer to the CAT, you will not have enough time to work on the three phases linearly – there will need to be a considerable overlap in the execution of the three. One way to achieve this is by preparing module-wise/chapter-wise. So, for example, after you finish phase 1 for “Numbers”, move on to the phase 2 for ” Numbers” while simultaneously working on the phase 1 for “Algebra”. You can achieve this by investing more time for your preparation (4-6 hrs) than you would have if you started your prep earlier(2-3 hrs).

All the best for your CAT preparation!

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