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…