CAT 14 Strat – Which section to do first?

In the last few years this decision, for good or for bad, was not in your hands. This year, however, you have the freedom to choose. But if you don’t choose wisely, this can prove a liability. So then, do you start with your strongest suit? Or should you instead choose to do your weaker section (assuming you have one!) when you are still fresh?

Let’s do a little experiment to inform our strategy: take 4-5 section tests of similar type and level, and write them continuously one after another, sticking to the time limits in each. Note the scores. If the scores are nearly the same across all the tests, then stamina is not much of an issue and you are able to maintain a similar (and hopefully high) level of performance throughout the test. But if, as more often happens, you notice a sharp drop-off in performance as time goes by, then chances are your stamina is not what it should be and that nervous exhaustion is taking a heavy toll (this might also explain some of the instances where people with otherwise good VA skills scored a depressingly low section 2 percentile in the past few CATs).

If you find that you have a good stamina and no appreciable drop in scores over a 3 hour stretch, then it might make sense to do your strong section first, totally annihilate it, and then aim at clearing a cut-off in the other section. An advantage would be that you would most probably have performed well in the first section and therefore there would be a morale boost, a feel-good factor, which would stand you in good stead when attempting the relatively weaker section.

However, if stamina is an issue and you find that your concentration tends to drop sharply over time, a safer strategy might be to get your weaker section out of the way while you are still fresh (so that you can at least ensure the cut-offs), and then do the stronger section. (The assumption being that you can do your strong section in your sleep, so to speak!).

Flexibility should also be part of your arsenal of course. Let me give you an example of an acquaintance of mine: when he was an aspirant, English (and especially RC) was his strong point. Stamina was not a major problem, and his concentration could easily hold for 2 hours (CAT was then a 2 hour test with 3 or 4 sections!). So in practice, he used to attack the verbal section/s first and aim to get almost everything in RC and VA and then clear cut-offs in QA and DI. However, on the day of his test he was recovering from a fever and was consequently quite weak – so he made the spot-decision to do the QA / DI first (as that required more concentration) and then moved to VA and finally RC (as those were relatively straightforward for him – to quote him “I can do those with my eyes closed!”). He scored lower than usual in VA, but a bit higher in QA so it still ended up as a very respectable score.

Whichever approach you take, if your stamina drops off too fast, then whatever you do later is going to suffer. So a valid question at this point is, how can one increase stamina? In the next post I will attempt to throw out some suggestions to tackle this…



CAT 14 Strat – Dealing With Change

In recent years, the CAT has had sectional time limits. Consequently, many candidates – especially repeat takers – tend to see those limits as an integral part of CAT. So when it was announced that CAT ’14 would not have such limits, a lot of people were confused (or upset). The older and more experienced people, who have met the CAT in its various avatars over the years, would take it in their stride though; in CAT, as in real life, the maxim “change is the only constant” has been an abiding truth. So let us look at this change and see how it would affect a test-taker.

Firstly, the longer perspective: in the long run, sectional time limits in the CAT have been the exception rather than the rule. Before 2011, the last time there were such limits was in the last millennium (1997 to be precise). In fact, the lack of such time limits better serves the purposes of a test like the CAT; it also tests skills such as “optimal utilisation of limited resources”. In the words of a colleague, when there is a sectional time limit, the candidate just has to do 2 separate maximisations, rather than an overall optimisation. So it is not particularly surprising that the CAT might choose to do away with it.

Note that such a change is not intrinsically good or bad. Whether the CAT chooses to have 60 questions in 140 minutes or 100 questions in 170 minutes (or, as they once used to, 185 questions in 120 minutes), the competition is still the same. At the end of the day, the number of aspirants has not changed due to this. Neither has the number of seats available. So if someone gets hurt by this change, by the same token someone else will benefit. The more things change, the more they remain the same! What it means is that one should understand the implications of the change, and accordingly devise strategies that make the most of one’s own peculiar strengths and weaknesses under the new paradigm. This brings up some obvious questions, a few of which I shall attempt to address in the next couple of strategy posts:

“Which section to do first?”

 “How do I maintain my stamina for 3 hours?”

 “Do I attempt the sections in series or in parallel?”

 “Should I give equal time to each section, or more weightage to one of them?”