How to increase the number of attempts in the CAT

The most important thing which determines the success or failure of a candidate in any exam is the score obtained. This holds good for the CAT as well; as you know, the CAT is the first step towards securing an admission in the esteemed Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs).

Two factors further determine the score obtained – the number of attempts and accuracy. We know that these two are not independent of each other. They behave like arch foes most of the time. If one tries to increase the number of attempts, accuracy gets hurt (pun intended). If the focus is on accuracy, the number of attempts goes down.

Is there a way out for you to turn these two arch foes into  friends? The simple answer is: Yes!

Question selection

If there is any way, it has to be only this. You need to ensure that you attempt and answer all the easy questions in each section within the time allotted for the section, which is 60 minutes (as per the CAT 2016). Once you have solved the easy questions, you can proceed to answering the more difficult ones, if time permits. To be able to do this, one has to attempt questions selectively, judging their difficulty level while reading them. The cardinal rule is not to miss out on any easy question in the test.  How many times did you realise that you have missed out on some easy questions in the test? Forget about not answering them, there could be some easy questions which you did not even look at. This is a gross mistake in the context of the CAT.

So, how do you ensure you do not miss out on easy questions? You have to look at each question and decide immediately, based on the area/topic/concept of the question and your familiarity with it, whether the question could be attempted or dropped. Only those questions that look doable should be attempted. This way you can reach the end of the paper within the stipulated time and hence ensure that no easy question gets missed out. After reaching the end of the paper, a second pass should be made to pick the easier questions out of those that are left. You could make as many passes as necessary to ensure that the easiest of the remaning questions are attempted. Thus, you will ensure that at any point in time, you are working only on the easiest questions in the paper.

Two questions would have popped in your head:

How will I know if a particular question is doable?

Practice and exposure are the main drivers here. The more practice you put in, the more questions and question types you are exposed to and hence better is the chance you will coming across some of them in the exam.

How will I reach the end of the paper in time?

As you will train your mind to refuse to attempt any question that appears difficult, you will attempt only the seemingly easy questions. Let us assume the easy questions to be around 15 in number. You would not need more than 30-45 minutes in a best-worst (two-three minutes per easy question) case scenario to reach the end of the paper. In any case, if the number of easy questions is less than 15, you will reach the end of the paper earlier.

If the number of easy questions is more, you will reach the end of the paper till about 30 such questions in the best case scenario and till about 20 questions in the worst. Regardless, be happy – you don’t have to look that harder now as there are many easy questions.

Please read the paragraph below and then try to internalise it along with that above.

You would have seen many of the AIMCAT scores/percentiles by now. Some of you may also have seen the actual scores of CAT 2015. You would realise that 99 percentile has been hovering in the 55-65 percentage range. That would mean that  one can answer around 75 per cent of the questions and expect to fall in 99 percentile range. This would tell you that if you leave the 25% unattempted questions out, you have one hour per section for about 25-26 questions. This is taking the time available per question up drastically from about 1.7-1.8 minutes (if you count all the questions in a section) to about 2.4 minutes. Hence, a scenario which is between the best and worst cases described above will work best for you and put you in the 99+ percentile range. Pushing it beyond that needs ‘that’ additional bit of hardwork.

So, how will the question selection turn the arch foes into friends?

Let us see. You have answered only the easy questions in the paper at any point in time. By definition an easy question is called so because it takes less time to solve. Hence, naturally the number of attempts go up. Also, because the question is easy, the chances of your getting it wrong also go down, specifically compared to the ‘not-easy’ questions. There we go – we are pushing both the number of atempts and accuracy up at the same time.

A couple of additional pointers on question selection.

The question which you have is – to attempt the questions based on the difficulty level, should we scan the paper first, or answer them on-the-go based on the difficulty level. The answer would depend on the section you are working out. For a section like Verbal Ability, it doesn’t make sense to come back to the questions after scanning them as most of them can either be answered or left out in the first reading.

But for Quantitative Ability section, the constraints are different. The questions can be, in the first reading, left to be solved later when one identifies all the easy questions in the paper. But the disadvantage in doing this will be that there would be duplication of effort in terms of reading the same question(s). This is because by the time the scan is over and one comes back to the first question, the information on the question will not stay in one’s mind and the question has to be read again. To avoid this, you can divide the allotted time for the section into different chunks (for example – divide the 60 minutes into four chunks of 15 minutes each) and in each 15-minute chunk, focus on a set of questions to be scanned for difficulty level and attempted. This way, you can ensure that no question goes unread and also ensure that all the easy-to-medium questions are attempted.

A similar approach can be followed for DILR section, and the advantage is that most questions here would be pre-divided into sets, making your task easier.

All said and done, your state of mind which will play a key role in the exam. Keep a cool head, ignore all the hype and hoopla going around you and focus only on doing well in the CAT.

All the best!

CAT Preparation: The Prep Roadmap

CAT is the entrance exam for more than 160 management institutes across India, including the 20 IIMs. The online CAT exam is conducted every year in the months of late November – early December. The CAT result is usually declared in January every year. The WAT/GD/PI rounds typically takes place from Feb to May. The academic sessions begin in the months of July-Aug.

How to get admission into IIM?

Each IIM independently shortlist candidates for second stage of selection. The process may include Written Ability Test, Group Discussion and Personal Interview. Performance in CAT is an important component of selection process. Hence CAT coaching at T.I.M.E. coaching center can make a huge difference to ones chances of securing admission into the IIMs. IIMs may consider previous academic record, work experience and other similar parameters in their selection process.

One question that often troubles students is when is the right time to enroll for CAT coaching and start preparation for CAT 2017 exam.

The answer to this question would depend on what you are currently doing.

You may look at preparing for CAT is you are in any of the following three categories.

  • Students who are in pre-final year of their graduation.
  • Students who are in their final year of graduation.
  • Those who have finished their graduation and are either currently pursuing a job or looking for a job.

We are excluding those who quit jobs to prepare for CAT from the scope of this discussion, for obvious reasons.

Pre-final year students

The right time to start preparation for next year’s CAT exam is in pre-final year of graduation ( 3rd year of engineering or 2nd year of 3 year graduation course ). These students can join T.I.M.E. coaching center in a super long term CAT classroom batch. This will give them adequate time for preparation. Since they will be preparing for almost one and half years, they will be able to crack CAT exam by preparing for 1-3 hours everyday. The only thing that needs to be ensured is to stay motivated and constantly prepare for the entire duration of the program.

Final year students

Since these students are eligible to take CAT this year itself, they need to start the preparation for CAT examination as soon as possible. They can surely secure good CAT percentile provided they plan their preparation properly. It would be advisable for those in this group to devote around 25-30 hours per week towards preparation for CAT exam. Every year a lot students who join T.I.M.E. coaching center for 3-4 months of CAT classroom program crack CAT exam and secure admission into the IIMs.

Working MBA aspirants

They need to decide whether they would like to take this year’s CAT or next year’s. In case one decides to take CAT this year itself then they need to start the preparation for CAT examination as soon as possible. They can surely secure good CAT percentile provided they plan their preparation properly. It would be advisable to devote around 25-30 hours per week towards preparation for CAT exam. As mentioned above, many students who joined T.I.M.E. for 3-6 months of CAT classroom program have cracked the CAT exam and have secured admission into the IIMs.

All the best!!

What attributes do B-Schools look for in aspirants?

The million-dollar question that is at the top of the minds of all management aspirants is, ‘What do b-schools look for in an MBA aspirant?’ This question is natural given the fierce competition and the heavy odds of securing a seat at the top b-schools. The applicants-to-seat ratio at some of the top b-schools is a whopping 500:1! Given this huge demand for an MBA admission, b-schools have an assorted set of riches to choose from (read aspirants). Over a period of time, the top b-schools have built their own evaluation criteria and methodology to get the best possible batch profile. However, the same is not true for the lower rung b-schools which have a much smaller pool to choose from and therefore cannot be so discerning when it comes to selection.

 Selection Parameters

Almost all b-schools in India use a two-stage selection process – the first stage comprises the Aptitude Test (AT) while the second stage comprises a combination of Group Discussion (GD), Group Exercise (GE), Written Ability Test (WAT), Psychometric Test, and Personal Interview (PI). Almost all b-schools use the Aptitude Test (like the CAT, XAT, SNAP, and NMAT) as a primary filter to eliminate candidates and arrive at a smaller ‘eligible’ pool which is considered for the next stages of the admission process. So, one can say that the AT helps b-schools separate the grain from the chaff and is, therefore, for aspirants, the most important hurdle to cross. The shortlisted candidates are then further evaluated intensively through a combination of GD, WAT, PI, etc.

 What do the b-schools really look for?

B-schools look at getting the best candidates from the available pool and they accomplish this by using a wide variety of selection tools as specified above. They specifically look for candidates with academic ability, passion and
purpose, clarity of thought, communication skills, relevant work experience, and ‘fit for the programme’.

  Academic Ability

The past academic record of the aspirant in Classes X and XII and Graduation scores is a good pointer to the ultimate success in the rigorous b-school curriculum. Aspirants with a strong academic record score well on this parameter and have an advantage.

 Passion & Purpose

Many institutes first look at the integrity and mental soundness of the applicant and then specifically look for a commitment to learning and a passion to achieve. The candidates are also evaluated on the basis of their vision in life. Purpose, or a sense of purpose, has to do with what you want to achieve in the world in a larger sense.

Aspirants accepted by the top b-schools, like the IIMs, XLRI, and SPJIMR, generally have a strong sense of purpose. They are driven to shake up an industry, or help people in need, or work towards a cause that they care deeply about. Typically, they would have already taken small, or even big, steps toward fulfilling their sense of purpose.It is seen that candidates with Passion and Purpose do well not only in the programme but also in their professional career thereby enhancing the standing of the institute.

 Clarity of Thought

An MBA can supply knowledge, skills, relationships, and many new opportunities but it cannot provide clarity of thought. It is seen that aspirants with clarity of thought are those who possess the potential to do great things right from the day that their MBA classes begin. B-schools always look out for aspirants who possess this invaluable quality as they associate this with success in the programme.

 Communication Skills

B-schools consider communication skills to be the key attribute to pursue management education successfully. Group Discussion and Written Ability Test are the tools which b-schools prefer to assess and evaluate students’ verbal communication, analytical thinking pattern, and creative writing skills. Aspirants must be able to present themselves in the best way with appropriate communication skills and confidence.

 Work Experience

The Admissions Committee perceives work experience in positive light. They assess the key skills and knowledge that the candidate has picked up during the course of employment. They also look for progress made by the candidate in the organisation, responsibilities handled and what, if any, impact that was made by the aspirant during the course of employment.

 Leadership Potential

The Leadership quality and ability to align with the team to produce a collective result is another key parameter evaluated by the Admissions Committee. Many b-schools put special emphasis on group discussions only to see how candidates behave, communicate, and exhibit team spirit while aligning the group towards a particular direction. Those b-schools that do not use Group Discussion often evaluate the leadership potential in the Personal Interview.

 Fit for the Programme

Perhaps the most important aspect that is evaluated by the Admissions Committee is the fit an applicant has with the programme. In situations where the admissions committee has to decide between multiple applicants with very similar scores and backgrounds, fit can be the tie-breaker. The Admissions Committee is interested in gathering evidence to determine if the applicant will succeed in the school’s competitive environment and can be an ambassador that represents the programme’s core values. Questions going through the interviewer’s head might include, “would I want this applicant as a class student”, “will this person contribute to the unique culture of my school”, etc.

 Reasons for Non-Selection

The reasons for non-selection (or to put it bluntly, rejection) of a candidate can be varied. However, it is seen that most candidates fail on account of the following:

Inability to clear Stage 1: Most aspirants are unable to successfully negotiate this hurdle and are eliminated on this basis.

Failure to present oneself well: Many candidates fall short in the Essay they write and are unable to present themselves in a strong positive manner. The Admissions Committee find that many aspirants lack clarity on basic aspects like why they would like to do an MBA, their goals in life and how an MBA would help them achieve it; the candidates cut a sorry figure when they do not display an ability to bring clarity and reflect purpose.

Inability to differentiate oneself from other aspirants: Aspirants who have managed to clear Stage 1 and have also performed decently well in Stage 2 also find themselves being rejected. The reason is not too difficult to find – they have been unable to stand out from the others and convince the Admission Committee that their candidature is better than their peers.

Stay focused! Best Wishes!