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!

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