What should be different in your next CAT?

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What should you make right this CAT vis-a-vis your last CAT?

Category I:
I am a rockstar in one of the two sections but have no idea whatsoever about the other.
Kudos! You have identified your strength. Now, play to your strength. If your strong area is, say, Section I i.e., Quant and DI, never even shoot to attempt (and get right) less than 42 questions. Make this a habit right from your first mock. Remember, this means you don't have the freedom of either focusing less on DI because you don't like calculations (Hi five! I am one among them) or focusing less on a particular chapter, like say Work and Time, because you don't deem it important/don't like it. Doing this would ensure a 99.6x+ percentile in this section. Believe me, the gap between a 99.6 and a 98.5 percentile is wider than you think because the gap in the CAT score out of 450 could be much higher than the percentile difference suggests. Since the interview call is based on the CAT score out of 450, the percentile number could be slightly misleading.

Fine. Got it. But, what do I do about the other section?

If you are a rock-star in Section I, then it is almost impossible that you don't understand anything of LR in Section II. Well then, that's your strength in Section II. I know of candidates who attempted just the 9 or 10 LR questions in Section II (in the previous CAT Pattern), ended up scoring an 80.xx percentile but maxed Section I by scoring a 99.9x and landed a seat with a top IIM. That's a smart strategy. But be cautious about the cut-offs for general/OBC/SC/ST categories. Of course, not many people would want to do this and you don't have to either. Anyone who is a rock-star in one section and has no idea about the other has just not tried enough.

A person's skill sets for these two sections are not so poorly correlated, after all.

Reading Comprehension is, by far, the best sub-section in Verbal that one can focus on. You know you would get 16 of RC and any candidate with a decent understanding of English (if you can max out Section I, you got to be decent in English) can attempt and get right six or seven questions. While you are practicing RCs, do not focus on building speed. Focus on understanding what you read. Not being able to attempt enough questions is primarily a function of being unable to correctly answer a question in the first attempt; this happens because you can't understand the question.

With this, you might be able to increase the count of RC questions to seven or eight. So, nine or ten LR questions plus seven or eight RC questions and you already have 22 to 24 correct attempts in your kitty. With a good understanding of passages, you will begin to get most of the answers in Sentence Rearrangement and Paragraph Completion/Elimination questions right. That's three or four questions more for each type. A total of 35 to 36 correct attempts in your weaker section is brilliant. Again, this is something you should practice right from your early mocks.

Category II:
I am not a rock-star in either of the two sections but I almost always manage to get a balanced score
Well, this is tricky. I know it is because I am one of your kinds. You always have this feeling that you are almost there, yet far. I have come to realize that being able to get a balanced score is actually not that bad. If you also know that you would always score in the range of 94.xx to 98.xx percentile in both sections with an overall of 97.xx to 98.xx, you should focus on accuracy in attempts. Only accuracy can take you from 98.xx to 99.7x and is important for any candidate (especially in the open category and with not-so-decent academics) to secure an interview call from at least a few IIMs. You know you are going to be capped at 35 to 39 question attempts in each of the sections and you cannot afford to get even a single one wrong. And for that level of accuracy, besides the fact that you should read every question properly and not fall for common traps, you should not get anxious in the examination hall. Calm down your nerves before you hit Start.

Calm down my nerves!?! That's easier said than done.

True. There's no one way to do this. Even the most careless of all test-takers will have a moment of anxiety while entering the exam hall. However, there's one thing you might consider doing. I did this but I can't say for sure if it worked or not. Do not write only the CAT and be hell bent on joining only the top IIMs. Broaden your options. There are so many other good B-schools in India, including FMS, XLRI, MDI, IIFT and the likes. If you are prepared for the CAT, you are prepared for pretty much any other exam. So write XAT and IIFT, for sure. You might want to add NMAT and SNAP too. Also, apply well in advance to B-schools that accept CAT/XAT scores such as SP Jain, MDI and FMS. Two reasons why this might help: One, if some of these exams were to happen before CAT, that's good exam-day practice. Two, by applying to so many B-schools, you end up knowing a lot of information about them, thereby realizing that you do have a larger basket of 'good' options to choose from. For all you know, you might end up with a BCG offer from FMS/XLRI than if you had been to IIM-A/B/C!

The author of the above piece is Shivaram, a graduate from College of Engineering at Guindy in Chennai, Class of 2010. He worked with 2IIM for a year before joining IIM-A in 2012.