This is a big question and so this post will be a bit long. So settle in for a long read.
The biggest change in the new CAT 2014 pattern, as everyone would agree, has been the removal of sectional time-limits. The thing about this change is that for some test-takers it is the best thing that could have happened and for others, especially those who were ‘set’ and have taken the CAT in its previous avatar, it is the worst kind of change. There will be the fence-sitters of course, those who are yet to see if it is a good thing or a bad, well the sooner they embrace the change the better.
In an earlier post we had mentioned that this change will change the skew the test from being a test of competence — the number of QA-DI or VA-LR can you solve in 70 minutes — to a test of strategy — the way you manage 170 minutes, your strengths & your weakness in such a way that you clear both sectional and overall cut-offs.
From our experience, most test-takers have the mental ability to be able to ace the Quant or Verbal questions in isolation but what lets them down is their ability manage time and clear the sectional cut-offs. In a sense through the CAT you have to prove that you have the potential to be manager and not just a worker (problem-solver) before your do your MBA.
What You Need To Manage — Not Just Time But Also Unpredictability
The CAT has been a notoriously unpredictable as a test. Since its inception only two years have passed where it did not spring a surprise on unsuspecting test-takers. So given that they have given the format a major overhaul this year test-takers will do well if they go in prepared for at least a few novelties.
The surprises can primarily come in two forms —
- Changes in question types: no more parajumbles, return of FIJs or data sufficiency, fill in 3 blanks
- Changes in the number of questions from each type: more LR or RC than usual.
Another part of the unpredictability is that we cannot predict how the difficulty-level of each area is going to be on test-day —
- Quant can be much easier than usual (which is a sign that cut-off will be higher and not a reason to rejoice)
- Logical Reasoning can turn out be tougher than usual and you might be required turn to Verbal to clear the VA-LR cut-off.
You should allocate your time in such a way that you have the flexibility to deal with any unpredictability and not let it jeopardise your ability to clear the sectional cut-offs.
Small Is Efficient
We always do well when we have limited resources because we then maximise every penny. And on the CAT, the most important resource is time. So does it make sense to divide it into two big block of 85 minutes each? Absolutely not! It is like having just one pit stop during an entire race.
Dividing it into smaller units based on the proportion of questions you will see from each area is your best bet to manage your time in the most efficient manner. So the idea is to break down this large mass of 170 minutes into small units with specific targets to achieve.
Five Areas Instead Of Two Sections
So the first thing to do will be to move away from the dichotomy of Quant & Verbal and look at the test as comprising five areas : QA, DI, VA, RC & LR . Why five areas? Since doing well on all five is a must to ace the test.
|Area||# Questions||# Attempts|
|QA||30-35||18 – 20|
|DI||15-20||12 – 15|
|VA||15-20||12 – 15|
|RC||15-20||12 – 15|
DI, RC & LR will comprise at least 45-50 questions on the test. Can you afford to ignore any one of them. Also every area will have a certain number of difficult questions. The task is to pick out Easy & Medium questions from each area. The reason most people do not cross a particular threshold is because they choose a favourite area and try to attempt even the tougher sets which are better left alone. One LR Set might be better left alone under test conditions, a few Quant problems are better ignored altogether. Focussing on five areas will ensure that your attempts are higher as well as better chosen.
How To Divide Your 170 Minutes
|QA||45 minutes||14 – 18||12 – 15|
|DI||25 minutes||12 – 15||8 – 10|
|VA||20 minutes||12 – 15||12 – 14|
|RC||25 minutes||12 – 15||8 – 10|
|LR||25 minutes||12 -15||8 – 10|
|Buffer||30 minutes||8 – 10||6 – 8|
What does such a division ensure?
Ensures That You Clear Sectional Cut-Offs: The table below shows that the minimum sectional cut-off is 80 and the maximum is 90.
The time division and attempt-accuracy defined in the previous table will ensure that you will get around a 90 percentile in QA-DI and way above it in VA-LR at the end of 140 minutes. You can use your buffer time at the end to not only clear the sectional cut-off but the overall cut-off but maximise your overall score as well.
Ensures That You Do Not Miss Out On Easy Questions: How many times have you gone back home and analysed a SimCAT only to find that there was an easy set or question that you could have done but did not since you did not really read it. This division ensures that you take a look at all areas and pick out easy questions from them.
Ensures That You Can Gauge the Difficulty Level of Each Area: If you consistently use this strategy in all your SimCATs, come test-day you will be able to gauge the difficulty level of the section-based on the number of attempts at the end of the defined time-limit. This will enable you to define what you need to achieve in the next time-slot. For example, if you attempt fewer than usual in Quant at the end of 45 minutes, then you will know that you need to amp up your performance in the DI time-slot. If you have a really good day on the Quant then may be instead of tackling DI next you can do VA and RC and then come back to DI later.
Ensures Timely & Better Performance Tracking: It is quite common for test-takers to realise towards the end of a test that their performance was below par. This is not because they performed poorly towards the end of the test but because they did not keep track of the deficits that were building up during the course of the test. By measuring yourself over smaller time slots with specific targets, you will be able to clearly know how your test is progressing and formulate your strategy in stages depending on your performance in the previous time-slot.
Why The Buffer
Anything can happen on test-day, for some reason an LR Set you might have otherwise done might pose a stubborn problem. Quant might throw up more questions that usual from your least favourite area, Geometry or P & C. How do you deal with this? Can you allow these minor setbacks to jeopardise your entire test?
The buffer is to help you deal with test-day uncertainty. It is that safety net at the end of 140 minutes that helps you ensure that you deliver to you clear sectional and overall cut-offs despite any setbacks during the 140 minutes.
The division suggested above has shown great results for a few students. One student saw his score shoot up from 134 to 166 (SimCAT 8 to 9) after he implemented this strategy. He felt that it really pushed him to achieve more on each area than usual. But he also added that what really helped was that he kept the time-limits sacrosanct.
You can customise the plan by changing the time-limits here and there by 5-10 minutes but you should not let your buffer time go below 20 minutes. More importantly you should stick to the plan.
We will be coming up with a follow up post on the various things that can go wrong in the 170 minutes and the strategic blunders you should watch out for.
Until then embrace the change and keep an eye on the timer!
Thank you very much for these wonderful insights!
The thing about not missing easy questions in QA: should one read each and every question, or may be leave a particular which is too lengthy to give a read? In hindsight, the lengthier questions turn out to be the easier ones generally! 😀
I have left few questions in Sims – not even read them – and during my analysis, they were easily doable by my humble standards..
Back in the day when we were prepping for the CAT, we too made the same strategic errors during our initial SimCATs, which is why we kinda know what exactly happens during those 170 minutes.
As far as solving questions on the CAT goes, the biggest ability is to judge a question correctly – do now, do later or never. Just like any any other form of discrimination, discriminating against a question based on length, area or just the way it looks and attempting a question because it is from your favourite area is never the right thing to do. To judge one has to first read and only then can should one take a call.
This ability is not something that can be developed immediately. But over 3 to 4 SimCATs if you consciously change your approach and spend time post the SimCAT analysing how you responded to each question during the 170 minutes and how you spent your time overall you will definitely see a jump in your percentiles.
All the best,
Click to access IIMAProfile%20%20Admission%20Procedure_14.pdf
Sir the cutoffs for IIM-A/IIM-C are 85 85 90.
Thanks for pointing this out, they have revised the cut-offs downwards. In a way this is good as it helps those for whom clearing one of the two sectional cut-offs has always been a problem.
But lower minimum overall cut-offs on paper will not make much of a difference as in reality they end up being much higher.
All the best,
Shall we get such kind of a suitable approach/strategy for NMAT? Looking forward to get some insights from you.
Visakh, the underlying logic will not change much; devise your own strategy. In a test with sectional time limits, you have less flexbility, that is all. Other than that the basic principles are the same.
i follow the exact strategy u’ve laid out.
Although here is my variant of the same for Section 2::
i allot 30 minutes for VA… 35 minutes TOPS if the VA is very doable…this being my strongest area..
I allot 20 -25 minutes for RCs…my other strongest area…i usually get 80% correct here.
LR being my weakest area i allot just 10 minutes to..that is for hunting the simplest set and solving it
Although if i see there are other simpler sets..i accomadate them in the buffer.
15 minutes of buffer after these 70 minutes are passed
Mostly i do an extra RC in the buffer..and a couple of “do later VAs” that id identified if the papaer is doable..
in a tough paper i simply revise all my 15-17 attempts to ensure 100% accuracy
is there any change needed in the strategy sir??
That is a question you will have to answer for yourself, Rushil. That is what Sims are for, you know, to test out strategies and find which is viable and appropriate for you. If there was a “one-size-fits-all” strategy we would have mentioned it directly. And everyone would have cleared the CAT if it had been that easy 🙂
Thats 100% correct sir
But i actually couldnt figure out the logic behing alotting JUST 20 minutes to VA.
Isint it too less….or is it that its best not to waste time over a miniute on tougher PJs and ParaCompletions and try and wrap up VA in 20
Also PJs and Paracompletion take around 2-2.5 minutes each(the doable ones..the tougher ones i leave in a minute SHARP or sooner)
So assuming out of 12 PJ PC and CR questions…8 are doable..so ive spent 22 minutes already..and not even read the other 6 VA questions
Although VA being a strong zone i will allocate more time to it…knowing your opinion on WHY such less time u say shud b alotted to VA wud b immensely helpful sir.
You haven’t really read my reply have you? The specific time allocated to any sub-section should be based on *your* strengths/weaknesses as determined from analysing mocks. If you want to allocate more, do so by all means – that is your decision, not mine. The above, by the way, is T’s allocation – I often allocate 15 min or less (last year, in the actual CAT, I initially spent around 10-11 min for the 12 VA questions; my reading speed is very high and in about 9 of those, reading them a second time would add no value. I later returned and spent about 3-4 minutes at the end on the dicey ones). Each of us has a strategy honed through test-taking and analysis. And it is a different strategy for both of us, as it should be for you as well.
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Thank you very much for the post. Though I found the blog a bit late but better late than never. I have a doubt regarding sectional cutoffs. In the above table the maximum sectional cutoff is 90. So, is it the case that if I clear the sectional cutoff i.e 90 now all they will consider is the overall cutoff. For eg. Case 1) QA – 99.5 %ile, VA- 92 %ile, OA – 99.2 %ile. Case 2) QA – 98.5 %ile VA – 96.5 %ile OA – 98.7 ile.
Can it be the case that I have a higher probability of getting the call in case 2 as I have a more balanced score compared to Case 1. Or is it that as I have more than the minimum cut-off %ile (80 or 90 as the case may be acc. to the above table) they will now consider overall score and case 1 is better than case 2.
Thank You very much.
If you’ve cleared the sectional cut-offs, then I guess most colleges would give a higher weightage to a higher total score. However, that is the discretion of the college. After all, all those who have cleared the cutoffs are (theoretically speaking) worthy potential students, so whatever way they choose to select further is fine; any way they will get a good batch!