CAT 2014 – My Take

Here’s my take on the CAT as I perceived it (16th morning slot). Note that the opinions expressed are entirely my own 🙂 Also it is slightly long…not that that will surprise anybody!

Overall Structure: There were 4 sets of 4 questions each of DI, LR and RC. 34 singleton questions in QA and 18 in VA rounded things off.

QA: As many people have noted already, the QA was pretty easy. However, it was not the cakewalk some have made it out to be; there was the typical emphasis on testing the basics with deceptively simple but very precisely worded questions (and as always there were a few elegant traps in the finest tradition of CAT). The topics covered all the usual suspects (Geometry, Algebra, Arithmetic, Numbers, Modern maths all had significant representation) and no really unusual ones (no, after 40 years CAT has still not seen fit to ask a questions requiring Pick’s theorem or Fermat’s Little Theorem. Much to the sorrow of those who have been studying such stuff faithfully). It would seem CAT still rewards those who stick to the basics, but do those really thoroughly.

DI: While not exactly difficult, most of the sets would have troubled those who had only learned to handle standard data presentation forms; they required quick analysis and structuring of significantly non-standard data formats. Time-consuming, for sure, but a pleasure to attempt if you like that sort of thing.

VA: Much to my chagrin, direct Vocab-based questions remained elusive for the second year in a row. Instead, Grammar, Parajumbles, Critical Reasoning (Inferential), Incorrect Sentence in the Para, and Summary questions made up the numbers. I felt that a little over a third of them were pretty straightforward (a pleasant surprise after last year’s VA where nearly every question gave me a headache).

RC: The RC section was surprisingly pleasant, passages of a very reasonable length and on topics which did not put on to sleep (philosophy, I’m looking at you here!). The questions, too, were not as ambiguous as they have typically been in recent years – in many cases I could arrive at an answer without doubt or hesitation, which is unusual, at least for me! Those people who neglected the RC section in this one out of habit are probably going to live to regret it – this could have been a good scoring area even for someone who is not an English maven. Given the level of LR, the CAT RCs were catharsis, you might say.

LR: Even more so than in DI, the LR sets were non-standard. Only one of the 4 sets could be described as straightforward – unfortunately that was also the longest and had the most conditionalities and hence a good number of people ignored it totally. Two of the sets were quite impressively tricky to grasp. I found them refreshing and challenging, and unusually, even after solving them I was not confident of my answers (which rarely happens to me in LR). Certainly the most daunting area in this slot.

Overall, the DI and LR together called to mind the heyday of CAT’s DI and LR (during 2002-2008) in terms of the precision of wording, the skill-sets and the quick thinking required, while at the same time being entirely new in the specifics (which obviously I cannot talk about here!). The closest comparison I can draw is CAT 2006, where the Pathways set and the Erdos number set, while relatively quite easy, confounded most test-takers by being totally unlike anything they’d seen before.

In the QA and DI section, my personal take is that a score of between 65 to 75 would probably be an acceptable performance. (This would probably require 30+ attempts with a pretty decent accuracy, quite achievable under the circumstances). In the VA section, a score of 60-65 should prove sufficient; possibly as low as 50, since a lot of people who were relying on LR underperformed horrendously.

Now to address some of the interesting statements I’ve been encountering, the FAQs you could say:

FAQ 1: The paper was so easy, 98%ile cutoffs will go to 200, I have heard

No. Really, people, no. Easy or not, 150 would be a fair score and 175 an awesome one in any paper. 98%ile means close to 4000 people; even in the easiest of the Sims after all, you rarely saw a 200 – the idea that 4000, or even 400 people would be able to hit that level seems very improbable, to be frank.

FAQ 2: But so many people are posting scores like “84 attempts with 90% accuracy”…

Yes, they are. So are they more foolish for posting those, or are you more foolish for being gullible enough to swallow those estimates? People are notoriously bad at estimating how well they have done – and over three-fourths of people tend to overestimate (in public, at least). Ask yourself these questions:

  • Whenever you have written SimCATs in the past, after you submitted, but before the score appeared, you must have made some kind of estimate of what you expected. How often was this accurate (or even in the same ball-park, really?)
  • How many people do you know who can actually manage a 90% accuracy reliably? (I can’t. And I have been doing this stuff for over a decade and a half). In QA, perhaps. But given the subjective nature of VA, even 80% there requires some luck.
  • Assuming that your friend is speaking the truth and actually is sure that his 84 attempts have 90% accuracy. He must therefore have known that 8 questions were wrong. Why did he mark them then, I wonder?

If you are still not convinced, try a little experiment. Chances are that some of you who are taking the test on Saturday will be taking a last practice test today or tomorrow. If so, do me a favour – after the time is up but before you submit, write down on a piece of paper your attempts and your estimate of how many you got correct and wrong in each section and overall. Then submit and see how accurate you were.

FAQ 3: So then what about those people who are getting 99.99 in percentile predictors?

Percentile predictors, even if accurate, (and that’s another kettle of fish) depend on the accuracy of the input you give them. Garbage in, garbage out. And as pointed out above, most people’s estimates of their accuracy are greatly exaggerated.

And while some percentile predictors at least try to give an honest opinion, most are like fortune-tellers; they tell you what you want to hear. They rely on the human tendency to be flattered; if one tells you that you are going to get 88 and the other says 97, and you actually get an 89, you will still remember the latter one more fondly despite it being wildly inaccurate. As a result, you have loads of people who are joyfully shouting from the rooftops that it has been predicted that they will get a 99.99 or similar (never mind that they haven’t actually crossed 90 in a single practice test so far).

However, stop a moment and think – if 2 lakh people take the exam, only 30 people or less will actually achieve a 99.99 or more.

FAQ 4: But isn’t 150 too low? QA cutoffs will go to a 100, surely?

You would think so, but it probably won’t even come close. What most of us seem to forget is that the majority of people are scared of maths. Even easy maths. They come in with an aim of “20 good attempts” and even faced with an easy paper, they rarely go beyond 30, if that. The textbook example which is the closest comparison would be of CAT 2006, which had a tricky DI/LR section, but featured a QA section which was at least as straightforward as Sunday’s (and what’s more, 2 minutes per question, on a paper-based test; more than what we have here). Yet the QA cut-off for a 95%ile score was under 40 out of 100. Assuming that people haven’t miraculously gotten smarter in the decade since (a safe assumption) I don’t see a comparable cut-off crossing 70 this time.

FAQ 5: I’m writing the paper on 22nd? Will the level and breakup of questions be the same?

Short answer: we don’t know J

To the best of our knowledge, the level and breakup varied slightly between the two slots on Sunday – the LR was noticeably easier and the QA was almost certainly a bit tougher, for example. And a sub-area which featured 3 questions in the morning had none in the afternoon. So for all we know, the papers on 22nd might feature vocab or DS (or maybe even Pick’s theorem, though I’m betting against that). You try to predict the CAT at your peril!

My gut feeling is that the overall level of the paper will not change too much. However, the “difficulty distribution” might well undergo a drastic revision – for all you know the LR might be easy-peasy arrangements while the RCs might feature Spinoza, Kant and Freud. Or even good old Derrida. My only advice on this (and that hasn’t changed in its broad essence over the past ten years) is “don’t carry any pre-conceived notions with you”. As C. P. Cavafy says in his lovely poem “Ithaka”
      Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

      wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them

      unless you bring them along inside your soul,

      unless your soul sets them up in front of you.”

If you go there expecting easy QA, and it turns out tough, then you might panic and end up missing the easy LRs that accompany it. Or the easy RCs. As happened on 16th, with those poor souls who had pre-decided “I will do all the LRs and not look at the RC” and who, even now, are probably regretting their rigidity. Have a plan by all means, but be prepared to change it at a moment’s notice if necessary. Flexibility might be crucial to survival. As I am fond of quoting “no battle plan survives the moment of first contact with the enemy”

And of course, don’t forget that most invaluable piece of advice from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:




CAT 2014 Experience

I wasn’t actually planning to put a “CAT Experience” post, but since many people have requested one, here goes. As many people have said, the CAT was not that tough this year, a sight for sore eyes…

Soft kitty

I’ll divide this into two posts, this one detailing the overall test-taking experience and another one with my take on the test level and what it might entail for future slots. This will also give me an opportunity to address many rumours and fears which seem to be proliferating in the aftermath of Sunday’s slots.

Some of you might directly wish to jump to the other one 🙂

Pre-test procedure:

I wrote CAT ’14 in the morning slot on Sunday. My friend and I arrived at 7:15. We were let in at around 7:45 or a little after, with a first round of basic checks i.e. admit card + id proof. (I believe people were allowed in till a little past 8:15 at my centre. However, don’t take risks on this – there were reports from some centres of latecomers being summarily ousted. That extra twenty minutes of sleep could cost you a year. Unlike in previous years, there was a board outside with a list of names and the allotted labs/computers. There were two labs at my centre, with nearly a hundred students.

Things were pretty well organised at the centre (Aruna Manharlal Shah institute, Ghatkopar, in case you’re wondering) – they had even opened the cafeteria so that once we got in, we could refresh ourselves with some basic breakfast (dosa and chai, in my case). After a jolly half an hour there laughing at the people doing frantic last-minute mugging, we went up to the second floor where the labs were. There was a registration room for the final formalities, and waiting rooms to await our turn (these rooms were where we were required to deposit our worldly goods, such as they were; no tokens were provided but as far as I know everyone got their stuff back without incident)

When leaving the waiting room, you were allowed to carry only the admit card (on the topic of admit cards, please make sure the print is decent; black and white is fine, but the photo should resemble you and the signature should be reasonably clear, and you need to stick one recent colour photo on the card) and an ID proof. A quick webcam mugshot and Left Thumb Impression later, we were directed to our hot seats.

The system provided was unexceptionable with a large and clear screen and a responsive mouse. The space between rows was cramped, though, and the icing on that cake was that the on/off switches for the computer were located on the floor directly beneath the monitor. Right where I would normally put my feet. Which means I spent the entire test with my legs carefully cramped as far back as they would go. Non-ergonomic, to say the least!

Having got in, another short wait ensued – during which we were handed a single sheet of A4 paper (don’t worry, you can ask for more if you like, they keep count and you have to submit them all at the end) and a single ballpen. We were asked to enter our passwords and then wait till the server reckoned it was 9:30 and told us to start. (The keyboard, although present, is not meant to be touched – one enters one’s password via the mouse using an onscreen keyboard. We were assured that touching the keyboard would stop your test and put your session in jeopardy; not surprisingly, none of us tried the experiment)

During the Test:

The interface was smooth, no significant glitches. A few points worth noting:

  1. Scoring: the test clearly and unambiguously stated: +3 for a correct, -1 for a wrong and no penalty for unattempted questions.
  2. When a question was answered and marked for review, it was not listed in the “answered” count obtained by hovering over the section name. However, we are assured that those questions (indicated on the right by a violet dot with green tick) will also be evaluated.
  3. Highlighting feature was absent in the RCs (I don’t use it myself, but those who rely overmuch on it should probably beware)
  4. In some RCs, a curious thing happened – three questions were asked, then an LR set came up, and then the same RC popped up again with a 4th We don’t know yet whether this was intentional or fortuitous, whether it was a feature or a bug.
  5. There were colourful graphs in the DI section. I don’t know about other folks, but I was quite cheered by them!
  6. There were frequent interruptions – a couple of attendance sheets were passed around, the invigilators came to collect the admit cards mid-test (you have to sign in their presence and hand over the card), and a few times the invigilators’ phones made weird noises. So be prepared to keep a firm grasp on your concentration.
  7. When the 170 minutes were up, the test automatically stopped (making the submit button possibly the most redundant piece of coding I have seen in years) and the screen showed a summary of attempts in each section and overall. Then we all trooped down to hand in our rough paper and pens, and walked free into the wide open spaces. (Note: please don’t forget to take along your id proof while leaving – as you would probably have pushed it into some corner of the desk, out of your way, it is surprisingly easy to forget