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:

dont-panic

regards

J

29 thoughts on “CAT 2014 – My Take

  1. I was going through the blog and I saw this gem of a post. Firstly thank you (thank you and thank you a thousand times over) for this blog. It would be really ungrateful of me if I don’t say this because I have been following it religiously since the time I started preparing and without fail this blog has helped smooth out all the hiccups that might have invariably cropped up in my journey.Your blog provides the most intuitive and lucid explanations that an aspirant could hope to come across. I know words are cheap but I hope that my sincerity is visible in this comment anyway. I agree wholeheartedly to your post but society as we know will cease to exist unless people don’t blow everything out of proportion! 😛 Yeah…so thank you. I wish you both all the best. And for the long comment-well, brevity has never been my forte either! 😀

  2. What a wonderful read!made my day.Thanks a lot for such an insightful post.
    you know i’m your biggest fan.you are the best teacher i’ve come across till date.
    one word for ya Mr. J—>RESPECT. 🙂

  3. amidst all the chaos of ‘the easiest cat paper till date’, i (and many more, am sure) really appreciate this very fair assessment of Sunday’s test. it is only when the tunnel vision is gone that one sees things for what they really are. however, years of experience allow (teachers like) you to see through the haze and brouhaha; others would be well advised to read this post and benefit from the wisdom vicariously, instead of blowing their own trumpets on various websites/social media. also, the point about flexibility cannot be stressed enough. here’s one of my own:
    ‘improvise and survive, or else cherish and perish!’ 🙂

  4. BRILLIANT!!!!
    (That WORD is not enough to describe whats summed up so neatly in THIS post)

    People on pagalguy are creating a FRENZY…apparently EVERYONE has a 99.99 %le…
    (when they havet even crossed 90 in a SimCat)
    Stupid positivity bias has literally taken control of people (everyone has 40-45 attempts in section 2 with 90% ACCURACY)..arrey..who d hell can say that..

    These people are surely in for a rude shock on RESULT DAY!!

  5. Very true. I think we should stick to the basic rule. Start clueless before giving cat. Aiming something beforehand and in turn if paper changes its way may lead to panic situation.
    Will consider your points strictly.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Last Sunday while doing a first take on the test here in Chennai, I remember telling my students that all we want to do by checking out all possible questions from CAT-Day on the net is to try to convert it to an engineering or any other grad exam, in other words make it predictable!

    It is great to see that over the course of following this blog some test-takers have truly begun to appreciate what the CAT is all about and develop the right attitude towards it. We are able to influence students directly in class but it is very encouraging to see that it is possible to do that through the net as well.

    Also nice to see some good words used in the comments, glean and vicariously 🙂

    All the best guys, I will be taking it in the second slot on the 22nd next week; got my slot in Bangalore instead of Chennai. Will put up my review some time during next week.

    For now, looking forward to the pleasant, evening Chennai-Bangalore Shatabdi train ride tomorrow with a book in my lap and the landscape outside moving by.

    All the best to the 22nders 🙂

    T.

  7. Im one of those people who are afraid of Maths because well, either you have the aptitude for it or you don’t. And I have never had it for Maths. I have written CAT twice now (don’t ask why ) and I know that a handful of questions are just out of a non-maths student’s capabilities. English, on the other hand is something I rely on. Unfortunately for me though, VALR cutoffs are usually lower than QADI cutoffs which puts me at a double disadvantage. I hope CAT people realise that maybe a person with a manageable knowledge of maths but good verbal skills could be just as good of a manager as the one who has a good hold over his numbers but kind of struggles with English. Anyhoo, this blog has been a great help and if I do good in QA this time, a great deal of it would be because of what I have learnt here.

    Thanks,
    Garima

    P.S- That’s a great poem btw, one that should be bookmarked 🙂

    • Garima, both Maths and English are useful skills. I know plenty of engineers who make the same argument against English being there 🙂 And frankly, if you look carefully, the QA and DI and LR also test your English (the difficult LR sets were not heavily calculative – they were confusingly worded, which is why they assassinated a lot of English-haters!).

      As for “you either have an aptitude or you don’t” – a statement like that almost automatically precludes any chance that you will be able to be good at it. You are effectively giving up without even trying. Give it a shot, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

      You might enjoy this btw http://zenpencils.com/comic/131-c-p-cavafy-ithaka/

      regards
      J

  8. Thanks a lot J, for such a wonderful post.

    I remember in every mock I was pretty sure of all the attempts being correct(the attempts were less anyways), but at the end, to my dismay I would see that I have got at least some questions wrong. I have kept track of this and seen that the best accuracy I have been able to achieve was 80%.

  9. Sir,
    I have been going through a lot of posts but most of them clouded my mind like anything,till I found this blog.Outstandingly candid interpretation Sir,trust me you have assuaged every jingling nerve which came by your blog.Started my preparations about six months ago with a mere 60 percentile in SIMCATs and now just reached the 90’s.Wish me luck Sir,and please do keep enlightening us.
    Regards
    Sounak DasGupta

  10. A good read ! 🙂 It would be really helpful if you could differentiate between the two slots a bit.my slot ( slot 1 ) had tough LR’s as you too have pointed out.But i guess the 2nd slot had relatively easier ones.As far as i have analyzed in mocks,verbal without easy LR is diff to score high.How much will this effect Verbal cut off ?? Tough LR’s for our slot was an advantage or disadvantage in terms of normalization ??
    Thanks 🙂

    • It should not make too much of a difference; that’s what normalisation is for. I know the Prometric era has gioven normalisation a bad name, but that’s partly because they were trying to apply something from a GMAT style exam to a CAT style one – not an apples-to-apples comparison. With just 4 slots, there is a fair chance that you need not worry about cross-slot variation much.

      Besides, despite all the comments on various forums, the second slot also had slightly tougher QA and RC. So it probably balances out!

      regards
      J

    • Having not taken it myself, I can’t comment authoritatively on that slot. From what I can gather, it was again a straightforward slot (indeed, some say it was the easiest of the four, by a small margin, by virtue of not having as nasty LR and DI as the others.) Still, easy on not, one has to go out and get the marks!

      regards
      J

      • true.
        Pity though that none of the stalwarts have given it on my slot. Not a single decent analysis of the slot to be found anywhere on the net.

        Anyway, thanks for replying and really appreciate your work on this blog.

  11. Hi Sir,

    This blog is best thing that happened to me this year.Posts on this page provide us with phenomenal concepts which assimilate easily.On personal level I feel this page has increased my QQ(Quant quotient) manifolds and taken it to whole new level.I took my test on 16th Nov 1st slot and made an honest attempt of 68 questions (32 QA-DI/36 VA-LR).I was very happy with my performance and had no doubts that I will make the cut this time around but that happiness was short lived when I went through posts of different people on different forums and social networking sites where along with attempts they used their psychic powers to guess their accuracies as well,it was really demotivating for me to know that I stand no where in this era of super human test takers but after going through this article of yours I am all rejuvenated and ready to face future battles of XAT/SNAP/TISS along with pinning high hopes on my CAT 2014 result.I would request you to please share a writeup on how to approach XAT as I feel it requires a completely different approach and words of wisdom from your side will greatly help in cracking this prestigious exam.
    Best Regards,
    Shashank Srivastava

    • Again, not having taken XAT myself I will not be able to give a detailed post. However, expect it to be daunting. Like IIFT, which was refreshingly tough from the little I saw, XAT too is likely to have non-trivial QA and DI (with stuff like probability raising its head, and calculative DIs). VA too will be moderate to difficult (though it varies). And GK….well, what can one say about GK?

      The distinct wrinkle is the Decision making section (which frankly I find confusing). Like certain types of VA, practice helps – it is not so much about getting the correct answer as the answer which the examiner wants – which means you need to understand how the examiner thinks.

      And remember that you have to clear each section separately 🙂 Of course, in a tougher tests scores (and cut-offs) will go lower. Nevertheless, you need to put in a serious effort. It isn’t over till it’s over.

      regards
      J

  12. Sir articles on Probability & circles just like the one’s on p&c & triangle would really help in xat preparation.If you get time please pen it down before xat exam.Thanks once again for all the help 🙂

  13. Sir, attempted 27 in QA(no guesswork and absolutely confident about accuracy),however my verbal was dismal as i spent a lot of time in the PJ’s and one of the 2 LR sets i attempted,I attempted just 16 in VA(but I am hopeful of a good accuracy here as well)..what can be my percentile???i wrote cat on 22nov second slot….

  14. It RESULT day here….
    Any tips on handling anxiety….considering iv left my job and prepared fr the CAT fr 3 months..my nervousness cant b measured on a SEISOMETER!!! 😛

    PS: Honetly..im tired of the prep..CAT…NMAT..SNAP…
    Now with XAT here i have no energy left…I kno this is not a counciling site but i really hav no other place to go 😦

    Any tip wud b appreciated.

    • None really…but do remember it is not a matter of life and death. It is only an exam. Don’t give it more value than it is worth. There are far worse things in life; there are places in the world where even life cannot be taken for granted.

      I remember reading J K Rowling’s words on this, about her work with amnesty international: “Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.”

      http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/06/text-of-j-k-rowling-speech/

      All the best, and remember – even if the result is not what you wish today, it isn’t the end of the world.

      regards
      J

      • It really is an eye opener Sir!!!
        Thank you for sharing.
        My favourite line::
        What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

        This is sumtin i always have believed in…just that with this kind of cazy pressure..intelligence sort of..DISAPPEARS..
        Wont let that happen again 🙂
        Thanks again.
        Really appreciate it.

  15. Hey, am an alumnus of MDI Ggn who had taken CAT after 8 yrs for fun this time :). I had found ur post to be quite logical and predictable and the same about predicted analysis of people like Arks Srinivas. However with the results out, I am dumbfounded. Have posted on Pagalguy. Cutoff for just 90 perc was a score of 133 odd and cutoff for 99 perc was a score of 192 odd. Assuming 1.9 lakh who took the test, 1900 scored 192+. Which is really a large number! Seems like people have really belled the CAT this time, and IIMS have taken the coaching institutes for a joyride. One needed at least an attempt of 75 questions with very high accuracy in this paper, to score a 99 perc.

    Do let us know your views / feelings on such results.

    • Ashish, I agree. The scores caught us all unaware!

      I have always told my students “don’t aim for cutoffs, aim to kill the test”, having seen the example of CAT 2006 scores going high. But still I thought “high” would be maybe 55% or 60% of total. This paper was a dream for those who went in with no preconceived notions.

      However, I suspect the scores given are a fair bit higher than the actual raw scores achieved, so the gap is not as dramatic as one would think. My gut feeling is that, after normalisation, the highest score achieved in each section has been stretched to a 150 and the other have been scaled up proportionately. While this would not make that much of difference in QA (where the highest score would certainly be 140+), in VA it could make a sharp difference. Suppose the highest score in VA+LR were around 125-130 (a reasonably optimistic assumption – the highest in 2008, the last time we know scores, was 125 out of 160 in VA), then most of the top scores would be scaled up by 15-20 marks. For example I got a 142, but I doubt I got only 2 wrong, my accuracy in VA is a lot lower than that typically.

      regards
      J

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