Now that you are right in the middle of your preparation for the CAT, and regularly attempting the AIMCATs, you would probably be asking yourself the question, “How do I really improve my performance in the AIMCATs?” or “How can I move from almost clearing all cut-offs to consistently making it into the toppers list?”.
The key to making this possible lies in how much you can extract out of the AIMCATs that you take regularly. The AIMCATs are undoubtedly one of the most valuable tools you have at your disposal to help you fine-tune and hone your performance. But you must note that though the AIMCAT series is as close to the real thing as is possible – in terms of the quality of the paper, the mode of administration, the number and quality of students taking the test every week, the results and the accompanying analysis – you can make it 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 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 achieve top performance in the AIMCATs and subsequently in the CAT itself.
The first aspect that we shall consider is your perspective of 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.
What the AIMCATs are intended to be
Benchmarking Tool: The AIMCATs are primarily intended to be a benchmarking tool, i.e., to help you honestly measure your level of preparedness for the real CAT and discover your strong and weak areas. They are definitely not intended to scare you or discourage you and therefore you should never look upon them with fear or trepidation.
How the AIMCATs can help you
Developing the Right Test-taking Strategy: The AIMCATs are also intended help you develop the right test-taking approach/strategy for the real CAT through a proper analysis of your performance in each AIMCAT.
Learning New Techniques of Problem-Solving: Finally, the AIMCATs are also intended to help you to learn some advanced techniques, i.e., you may sometimes find some new and useful ways of applying the basic concepts.
How you should approach the AIMCATs
Treat each AIMCAT as if it were the actual CAT itself and believe that your performance in the AIMCAT actually matters. Such seriousness is a must if you hope to either perform well in the AIMCATs or to gain any serious benefit from them. However, after each AIMCAT you need to look at it as not just as giving a mock test but as an opportunity to learn and improve your performance. Also, do not miss out on any AIMCAT unless it is absolutely unavoidable. However, do remember to take the AIMCAT results with a pinch of salt, especially when your performance was not upto your expectations. In short, always give your best go at it but never let it get to you!
- Preparation and Practice:
The next aspect that matters is your preparation, which primarily includes practice. It is worth noting that 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 merely resorting to shortcuts, speed, or even critical skills like selecting the right questions.
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.
Time-management: 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 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 optimize the 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 classifying 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 to spare 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 more time left, you may consider attempting a few of the difficult ones too. One important thing to bear in mind throughout is that you should consciously 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 pursue 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 per cent (3%) decrease in the maximum possible score in that section, resulting in a high impact on your percentile per question answered correctly or incorrectly.
Question-selection: 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.
Accuracy: 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 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.
Step-1: Attempt all those questions in that section that you left unattempted during the AIMCAT.
Step-2: Try solving questions that may still be left over. 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 wrongly. You would be able to learn a great deal from this step since you would actually be pushing yourself to think harder and find out where you have made mistakes. Do not look at the solutions until you are finished with this step.
Step-3: You can refer 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. At the end of this stage of your analysis, you should try to categorize the questions into levels of difficulty based on the understanding required and 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 level of a question, a critical input required when trying to choose the right questions to attempt in the AIMCAT or the actual CAT.
Step-4: Carefully look up the extensive analysis – Section-wise, Area-wise, Difficulty Level wise and much more – that is provided to you on the Student Homepage after the results are declared. The AIMCAT results and analysis that are made available on the website are meticulously designed, comprehensive, and personalized analyses that are intended to give you valuable feedback regarding your performance. This feedback will guide you towards a 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 analyze and discuss each AIMCAT as a group, after each member is through with his share of individual analysis. This a very good approach to maximize 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, say, 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, remember the principle of perseverance. Know and remember that the competition is bound to intimidate you on more than one occasion over the coming few weeks and things will not always go the way that you may like them to. You should also be prepared for occasional spells of self-doubt, despair and discouragement – they are all a part and parcel of the game – which you will eventually become accustomed to, overcome and, hopefully, use as stepping stones to reach greater heights in your preparation and performance in the AIMCATs and also your career in the long run.
Just remember 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.” (the full extract can be found on www.lyricscrawler.com/song/3953.html)