Myths about CAT Prep


You can go easy with the Quantitative Ability section if you are an engineer. To be honest, it would not matter whether you are an engineer or not. If you take the Common Admission Test (CAT) papers from say 5 years ago, the Quantitative Ability section used to be quite tough grilling you on the application of multiple concepts in a single question – something that the engineers found easier to crack as compared to their counterparts from the non-engineering backgrounds. But now things have changed.
In the current scheme of things where the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have shifted focus to increasing the diversity in their incoming batches, the focus on a tough quantitative ability section has reduced significantly so that a level playing field is created for test-takers across educational backgrounds. So even if you are an engineer you better start running because there are other people who might be as good as you.
Candidates who are fluent in English will always do well. This is another myth. Do not rest on your laurels if you have been into public speaking/debating etc. since long. This is because CAT has more to it than a command over the Queen’s language. The importance of test-taking strategy and practice cannot be emphasised enough. I have seen enough number of candidates who have a good command over the language but falter in the test because they cannot manage their time.
You have to be equally good at both the sections, Quantitative as well as Verbal Ability because in the end what matters is the overall percentile. Yes there is an individual cut-off percentile for both the sections but then if you carefully see, that sectional cut-off percentile is more often than not significantly lower than the overall percentile. Logically this means that nearly all candidates are better at one section than they are at the other and hence you too can have one of the sections as your core strength. So when you start preparing, focus on your stronger section as a means to boost your overall percentile while the in the not-so-strong section focus on consistently clearing the cut-off first.
People with no work experience stand a better chance at clearing the CAT and getting an admit in their dream b-school. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Freshers (people with 0 work ex) are more likely to perform better in the exam simply because they are already in touch with academics when they give the exam for the first time. Also when you prepare for CAT while you are still in college you have a whole bunch of people around you who are also preparing for CAT. This acts as a great motivator for candidates to give it their best shot, score higher and perform better. But beyond that everybody is at the same level playing field.
People with high work-ex have a higher chance of clearing the CAT and getting an admit in their dream b-school. This again is a widely popular myth that we come across a lot many times on various forums. People with high work-ex definitely have an overall advantage in their profile – the work-ex helps boost their overall chances of selection. But before that they have to clear the cut-off (both sectional and overall) for the CAT exam. And this is where the problem arises. You see, preparing alongside your job is far tougher as compared to preparing alongside your regular undergraduate college studies. When you are working your professional responsibilities take up a lot of your time and hence it becomes difficult to balance your preparation with your job. As you spend more time working, your job responsibilities will only grow.
The earlier you start your CAT prep the better. This is again a myth that has been fuelled purely by commercialisation of test preparation and the increasing competitive nature of the CAT exam. The reality is that CAT tests the application of basic quantitative and verbal ability concepts that one usually learns in high school. What you need is a good amount of practice to refresh these concepts as well as learn their application in complex problems. But then at the same time it is important that you do not over do things. In these cases you get bored. If you start too early and if you are reasonably good with your basics you would inadvertently peak too early and then your performance in the actual exam will be suboptimal.
The more you practice the better you perform. The old adage of ‘practice makes a man perfect’ is not directly applicable in this scenario simply because of the pressure and rigour involved here. CAT prep is like a pressure cooker situation – beyond a point you would buckle no matter what. So over practicing only makes the pressure cooker period more unbearable and hence you might start buckling way before the actual exam.
Someone who has taken the CAT multiple times has a better chance at clearing it. This is again a myth. The very fact that he/she has taken it multiple times is an indication that the prediction has not gone absolutely right! In fact no one can predict what kind of an exam CAT will be this year – this unpredictability is what makes the exam tough. Predictions about the exam only build preconceived notions which would in their own subtle way hamper your performance.
The more shortcuts I know the better I perform. Shortcuts are a good way to cut down on ‘time spent per question’. But over the past few years the CAT exam has become more concept-focused and less speed-focused. This has a twin impact. One, the number of questions in the test has reduced significantly, and you would not get additional points for finishing the exam early, so speed is thrown out of the equation to a great extent. Secondly, using shortcuts in these conceptual questions increases the risk of errors. Hence old school methods coupled with crystal clear concepts will hold you in good stead. If you want to go faster improve your calculation speed – that would definitely help.
The more full length tests the better. Full-length tests come into the picture only at a later stage of preparation. In the early stages of preparation one should focus on the right kind of and the right amount of practice. Practising full length tests also takes up a lot of time and you might not get a lot of time to work on your weaker areas. Hence even at later stages of your prep, you should focus more on taking fewer full length tests, analyse them completely to understand your strengths and weaknesses and then work on those areas to get a better score.
A high IQ will guarantee you success in the exam. You might think that knowing the heavy words like lugubrious, sanguinary or highfalutin will allow you relax and act like one. Nor does knowing the roots of quadratic and structures of logarithms by heart much help. Such kind of knowledge is definitely a start, and that is where it ends – nothing more nothing less. The CAT exam is more about the test taking strategy, a constant will to prepare better and challenge your standards of performance.
CAT is intelligence based testing and hence only the crème de la crème crack it – You could not have been more wrong. The reality is that some of the questions on the CAT are easy enough for a school child to solve, if they just apply themselves properly. In any B-school you would be managing multiple tasks at the same time and working under tremendous pressure. This is what the CAT tests – ability to perform under pressure and not your conventional academic knowledge. There are a lot of people who do not crack it. It does not mean they are not smart enough – it’s just that they could not perform on the D-day.
Practice, practice, practice. This point was mentioned above and I repeat it again, albeit in a different context: practice alone will not help you crack CAT, targeted practice will. What this essentially means is that the number of tests you have taken does not impact your final performance. What matters is whether you have analysed those test results and have understood your strengths and weaknesses and then worked to improve on them. Post -test analysis of your performance is very important so that you can eliminate repeated mistakes.
Good reading habits are important only at the beginning your preparation. Sentence comprehension is ‘the key skill’ to cracking CAT. Hence reading is very important – not only will it help you with fine tuning your grammar, but also help you with para-jumbles, verbal reasoning as well as quantitative problems to an extent (especially ones that require comprehension of a large amount of data).
Practicing tough questions will help you more than practicing easier questions. Whether you find a particular question easy or difficult is dependent on your conceptual clarity. At the same time, questions that use multiple concepts are considered tough by the candidates. Over the years the number of such questions in CAT has come down drastically (speaking purely based on the experiences of test takers) and thus the number of super difficult questions you might have practiced does not matter a lot.
Skimming RC passages helps you save time. The RC passages in CAT have become shorter over the years and yet they require more analysis and interpretation to understand what the author implies. This is the reason where skimming fails. With more than 2 minutes to answer every question in CAT these days it is important that you spend sufficient time to read the passage (verbal aptitude questions do not take much time anyway), otherwise you would have to read the passage again to find the correct answer. This would make you anxious and more prone to committing errors.
All questions need to be answered to fare better. No matter how short the CAT test has become these days there will always be some questions/topics/concepts that you would not be comfortable with. It is better to leave those questions rather than to take it on your ego to solve every question that comes your way. The less number of questions does make the exam more competitive but the focus should first be on accuracy and then on maximizing the number of attempts.
I need to attempt all questions to counter ‘normalisation.’ This is one word that is thrown around a lot during discussions by candidates. Honestly, nobody actually knows what normalisation is and what is the process for the same simply because this information is not available in the public domain. Therefore instead of fretting over what normalisation is and how it might impact your scores, let prudence prevail and attempt the test as you would have normally done otherwise.

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  • COBBLED - Repair or mend
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