This is another article from "The Hindu" contributed by the director at 2IIM, Rajesh Balasubramanian. The original article can be read here. Everyone gets nervous before a key exam. I took my 5th CAT last year, 11 years after my first CAT and 9 years after finishing my MBA from IIM Bangalore. And, I was nervous. You are not alone in having that vague anxious feeling. The key to a high-powered performance is to convert this nervous energy into positive adrenaline rather than just something that bogs you down. Plan to fly off the blocks. If you get consumed in the paper in the first 10 minutes, then chances are that you will remain switched-on throughout. Don't think about the overall paper; or even the section for the first 20-25 minutes. Think like Virendra Sehwag. He is the kind of guy who might be beaten three balls in a row and hit the next three for boundaries. Take one question at a time. If you want to imagine someone who appears even cooler under pressure, think Usain Bolt. In the last few weeks prior to an exam, the biggest challenge facing students concerns balancing the several demands placed on them. It is easy to lose focus and feel overwhelmed by it all. One needs to guard against this, while simultaneously working on the many moving parts without. Let us focus on a few key competing demands and realign our priorities.
Now is the right time to give up on some of the vague topics. In the last few weeks, plan to optimize your performance. Do not spend too much time learning new stuff from now on. Picking obscure questions from non-descript websites and obsessing over them should be avoided. How you optimize your performance in the exam is far more important than getting some odd detail right. To give you an analogy - If you are an opening batsman about to represent India in the world cup and realize that your follow through after a cover drive needs correction. What would you do? Enroll yourself for a six-week session with batting guru or forget about it and focus on more immediate things? Now is the time to plant seeds so that your brain can pick standard things much quicker. Don't load it with new information. If you can train your mind to pick standard spelling errors, standard Pythagorean triplets in the actual exam, you will be better off for it than if you studied about the Oxford comma. This is where practice exams come in very handy. They teach you to become exam savvy without agonizing over every detail. Take plenty of practice exams, and fill the gaps in learning based on the feedback you get from these.
A simple thumb-rule to keep in mind - Spend at least as much time reviewing a mock CAT as you spent taking it. And when you are reviewing a test focus on these three things - what are the ones that I skipped that I have attempted, more importantly, what are the questions that I have tried that I should have skipped, and what is the solution to these questions that I have missed? Do not analyze percentiles, rankings, etc. Never take two tests in a day. Do not plan to take more than four tests per week. Your mind is not a machine. It needs time to recover. If you are ready to take a mock CAT within 4 hours of having finished one, the simple truth is that you have not thrown enough into the mock CAT.
You cannot prepare for 12 hours a day for CAT. This is not an exam where low-intensity-warfare type of preparation pays off. This is an exam where how sharp you are when you take an exam matters more than how much you know. There is no point increasing the knowledge base if your brain goes AWOL for 15 minutes during an exam. And you can take CAT for 140 minutes with intensity only if you are well rested.Sleep a lot. Eat well. Drink a lot of fluids.
The day before the exam, find a routine that relaxes you well. Do not get too many inputs from any 'expert'. Put your feet up, watch some sitcom or sports on TV, sleep early and be physically and mentally ready. The odds of learning something in the last 24 hours that will be of use in the exam are very low. On the other hand, a sharp mind might bail you out in three questions, which might make a difference of four percentile points.
Carry the belief that you can crack this into the exam hall. But have the prudence to have a plan B and the maturity to know where you stand. Getting 98th percentile might not get one a call from the IIMs these days, but if you rank in the top two percent in the country that is something to feel happy about. It is important to keep your expectations reasonable.
Another aspect that will keep you relaxed is the belief that everything does not ride on this one day, one exam. Don't burn your bridges at office; do not throw away a job offer because you are anyway going to do an MBA. Do not ignore XAT after CAT gets over. Apply to colleges beyond the IIMs. A great many things that I have mentioned here are easier said than done. As a student, I had forgotten to apply to FMS, had taken up XAT in an overconfident daze, had slept during an exam while doing MBA and have generally committed all the mistakes stated above at some point of time or other. Don't put undue pressure on yourself. If CAT 2012 goes well, great. If it doesn't, keep in mind that a majority of the successful businesses in our country are run by people who did not do their MBA from an IIM. Best wishes for CAT.