By now, you would have appeared for a few All India Mock CATs (AIMCATs) – and probably got results which are less than what you would hope for. If that’s the case, then you would most probably be asking yourself a simple question: “How do I really improve my performance in the AIMCATs?” or “How can I move from almost clearing the cut-offs to consistently making it to the toppers list?”
The key to making this possible lies in how much you can extract from the AIMCATs that you are taking. The AIMCATs are undoubtedly one of the most valuable tools you have to help fine-tune your performance. It is most widely acknowledged that the AIMCAT series is as close to the real thing as is possible – in terms of the quality of the paper, the crowd taking the test, the results and the accompanying analysis. However, you can make all of that work for you only if you are really prepared to put in what it takes to extract the maximum out of each AIMCAT.
This article is intended to help you in doing exactly that, i.e., in getting the most out of each and every AIMCAT that you take, so that you can move ahead in your endeavor to score high in the AIMCATs and subsequently in the CAT itself.
The first aspect that we shall consider is your perspective on the AIMCATs. In order to gain the most out of the AIMCATs you need to have the right perspective about what they are intended to be and how they can help you.
Firstly, the AIMCATs are intended to be a benchmarking tool, i.e., to help you measure the level of your preparedness for the actual CAT and discover your strong and weak areas. They are definitely not intended to scare or discourage you and therefore you should never treat them with fear.
Secondly, the AIMCATs are also designed to help you develop the right test-taking approach/strategy for the real CAT through a proper analysis of your performance in each AIMCAT. In short, practice makes for perfection.
Finally, the AIMCATs are also intended to help you actually learn some advanced techniques, i.e., you may sometimes find new and better ways of applying basic concepts.
Before and during each AIMCAT, you should consider it as if it were the actual CAT itself and believe that your performance
in the AIMCAT actually matters. Without such seriousness you cannot hope to either perform well in the AIMCATs or to gain any serious benefit from them.
However, it is very important that every time you take an AIMCAT, you need to look at the overall test-taking experience not just as giving a mock-CAT but as an opportunity to learn and improve your performance.
Also, do not miss out on any AIMCAT unless it is absolutely unavoidable. And finally, though you take each AIMCAT seriously – as if it were the actual CAT itself – remember to take the results with a pinch of salt, especially on those occasions when they are not up to your expectations! In short, always give your best shot at it but never let it get to you.
Preparation and Practice
The next aspect that matters is your preparation, which primarily includes practice. Remember that, over the past few years, with increasing amount of time available per question in each section, the CAT has been placing increasingly greater emphasis on conceptual clarity and the sheer ability to tackle a question and solve it, when compared to resorting to shortcuts, speed, selection of questions, etc.
Therefore, for each AIMCAT, you need to be completely up-to date with the basics of the topics, which you would have already covered in class till then.
If your preparation is lagging or is below par currently, then you should immediately plan for a complete round-up of the syllabus within a set timeframe so that you have at least a couple of months to go before the CAT for fine-tuning your performance.
The Online Sectional Tests (OSTs), available on the Student Home Page on www.time4education.com, should be used to top-up your preparation through extensive and high-quality practice.
The third aspect you need to understand is your performance in the AIMCATs. The three most important things to look out for here are time management, selection of questions, and accuracy. Firstly, time management is all about planning your available time so that you can display your proficiency to the fullest, while maximizing your score, making the best use of the time available, without being forced to leave any question unread. The issue of time management, generally speaking, involves two levels: across sections and within a section.
In fact, with the sectional time limits in place, the issue of time management across sections is automatically resolved and, thankfully, you need to focus on only the issue of managing your time within each section. Time management within a section mainly calls for self-discipline in ensuring that you never spend an inordinate amount of time on any question and judiciously move away from questions that turn out to be more time-consuming than expected. With 32-34 questions and about 60 minutes per section, the time available per question is comfortably adequate. This makes the selection of questions to be attempted definitely easier but not any less important.
Also, you would have noted that in any AIMCAT the order in which the sections appear is fixed, i.e., VARC first, DILR second and then QA. This is since the order in which the sections appear is the same as in the CAT. Therefore the order in which you can attempt the sections is fixed and you cannot navigate to any section of your choice. This means that you must, through practice and careful planning, get accustomed to the given order of attempting the sections irrespective of your strong/weak sections.
A tried and tested approach to optimum utilisation of your time in any section is to first invest about 5– 6 minutes in rapidly scanning through all the questions in the section and classfying the questions as easy, moderate and difficult, based on your judgment of if and when you should attempt them during the time spent in the section. The ‘easy’ questions should be attempted first, ensuring a decent amount of time still left in the section. After this, you should move on to the ‘moderate’ ones and attempt as many of them as time permits. Later, if you actually have some time left, you may consider the difficult ones too. One important thing to bear in mind throughout is that you should consciouly avoid spending undue amount of time on any single question, which most often involves resisting the urge – especially if you consider yourself to be very good at any subject – to puruse any challenging question till you crack it.
It would help to plan for a buffer time of 5 to 10 minutes in each section, to review or attempt some of the unattempted questions, and also tackle any unexpected issues, like mismanagement of time, that may crop up while attempting the section.Spending time on the ‘wrong’ or a more difficult question than is required can, in fact, prove to be a costly mistake, since even one opportunity lost at answering another easier question correctly would mean about a three percent (3%) decrease in the maximum possible score in that section, resulting in a high impact on your percentile per question answered correctly or incorrectly.
The art of selecting the right questions to attempt comes from a combination of a solid grounding in the basics and an ability to quickly see through the situation given in the question and also visualise the broad steps involved in the solution. This inevitably requires considerable amount of practice, both during mock tests and individual study.
Finally, the accuracy of your attempts in the AIMCAT needs to be taken care of. For the same reasons as explained above, any sort of compromise on accuracy, can lead to a drastic reduction in your percentile score. Hence, an accuracy of 85 per cent or more is strongly recommended.
Performance and Analysis
The fourth aspect that needs to be considered is the analysis of your performance in the AIMCAT (i.e., after you have attempted it). After each AIMCAT, spend at least two to three hours in analysing each section of the paper. This is undoubtedly the most enriching experience that you can extract out of the AIMCATs.
You should first try to work out each and every question in as many different ways as you can think of and only then look up the solutions. It is in this phase of your preparation that you can expect to significantly improve your understanding of the basics and more importantly, your ability to apply them in an exam scenario. This analysis should be done in different steps.
In step one, attempt all those questions in that section that you had left unattempted during the AIMCAT, by giving yourself a limited amount of time, which can be decided on a pro-rata basis, depending on your speed in the actual test and the number of questions left unattempted.
After this step, try to solve questions that may still be left over. Here, you would most probably need considerable amount of time since the questions are bound to be the more difficult ones. Only after giving all the questions a good try, check the answer key to find out which questions you could answer correctly and re-attempt all those questions that you answered incorrectly. You would be able to learn a great deal through this approach since you would actually be pushing yourself to think harder and find out where you have made mistakes. Do not refer to the solutions until you are finished with this step.
After this, you can refer to the solutions and compare your approach with that given in the solutions. You should keenly observe and learn anything new that you may find in the solutions. Also, ensure that you approach your faculty for clarifying any doubts that you may still have regarding the solutions or the questions themselves. At the end of this stage of your analysis, you should try to categorise the questions into levels of difficulty based on the amount of time that you would take to solve each of them in an exam situation. This is a very important step that will help you in identifying the difficulty level of a question in an AIMCAT, and eventually in the actual CAT – a critical input required when trying to choose the right questions to attempt during a test.
Another important part of your post AIMCAT analysis, is to carefully look up the extensive analysis – Section-wise, Area-wise, Difficulty Level-wise and much more – that is provided on the Student Home Page along with the results of each AIMCAT.
The AIMCAT results and analysis, available on www.time4education.com, are meticulously designed, comprehensive, and personalised analyses that are intended to give you valuable feedback on your performance. This feedback will guide you toward better, more focused and effective preparation and can set you on a path of continuous improvement.
Another practical way to boost your learning is to sometimes study, if possible, with your peers in small groups of not more than three to four members. You can analyse and discuss each AIMCAT as a group, after each member is through with their part of individual analysis. This is a very good approach to maximise your learning. The group should ideally be formed with members with strengths in different areas so that there is scope for everyone to gain from the joint effort.
One critical aspect that often gets neglected is keeping track of one’s progress in the AIMCATs. You should continually keep checking your performance parameters.
The key performance parameters are your sectional and overall percentile scores. Remember that absolute scores do not necessarily reflect your performance since it is a competitive exam, where only relative performance matters.
You should actively keep track of how often you cross the sectional cutoffs and also the times that you make it to the toppers list or how often you cross a certain overall percentile figure that you may be aiming for.
Observe any trends, like a steady improvement or stagnation in any one section, and try to remedy any issues that may need attention. Failing to keep track of and continually adjust your performance and preparation can seriously undermine your preparation.
Also, setting short term and long term goals for your sectional and overall percentiles, and other parameters, like identifying and attempting all the easy questions in a section, is strongly suggested since such short-term targets will keep you focused and motivated.
On a final note, never forget the principle of perseverance. Know and remember that the competition is bound to intimidate you on more than one occasion over the coming months and things will not always go the way you want. Also, be prepared for occasional spells of self-doubt, despair and discouragement – they are all part and parcel of the game – which you will eventually become accustomed to, overcome and, hopefully, use as stepping stones to scale up your preparation and performance in the AIMCATs and also your career in the long run.
Let me conclude with the famous lines of the song ‘Sunscreen’ by Baz Luhrmann: “Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”