CAT 2016: A good but flawed test

In my previous post, I mentioned that the shoddy infrastructure and unprofessional management of the test was extremely disappointing. The actual test itself, though, was mostly refreshing; it felt like CAT one might say (which has not always been the case in the online papers). With two difficult sections, even the well-prepared knew they had been in a fight this time.  

The overall structure was close enough to the mock they had uploaded. The first section stayed easy, as has been the case for the past couple of years. Again, 24 RC questions and 10 para-based VA questions, in my opinion a structure which leaves a lot to be desired. Again, all the 10 VA questions were TITA, but only in parajumbles did that actually matter, as the “odd sentence out” and “summary” types were really just MCQs where you had to type instead of clicking (with the added bonus of no negative marks!). Again, as has been the case for the past two years, the passages and paragraphs were all very readable, covering a wide range of interesting stuff. In other words, no surprises for the well-prepared and so a good attempt in this section should have been well over 20 (and of course any unsolved TITAs should have been attempted on principle as there was nothing to lose). I felt VARC-2016 to be between 2014 and 2015 in level, just slightly tougher than last year. Cut-offs for this should be somewhere in the 50s I would feel, with 75 being an excellent score.

The DILR section had 8 sets of 4 questions each, with more DI than LR. This was a deceptive section; while it seemed easier than last year’s, I felt it was as tough. Sure, the sets were easier to understand, but they were also way more time-consuming, with the later questions of practically every set containing additional information and requiring rework. Also, a lot of people tend to prefer LR to DI, so they were frustrated by the shortage of LR. If you aimed at attempting 3 or 4 sets, it was easier than last year; if you planned to attempt all 8, it was tougher. Cut-offs might be low again this year, even 14-15 good attempts and a raw score in the low 30s might prove enough, provided accuracy does not let you down.

The QA section caught a lot of people off guard, given the very easy QA in 2014 and 2015. While not as nasty as the toughest paper-based tests (such as 2007), the paper was not all sitters either. As in 2012 and 2013 (which, however, were 20 question sections), there were mostly medium level questions, with a leavening of sitters and a sprinkling of really nasty questions in between. One could make a hearty meal of this section if one managed to avoid breaking one’s teeth on those 5-6 speed-breakers. I found it a very well-balanced section, which forced one to think. No questions requiring abstruse knowledge, but plenty requiring basics and care. As has been the recent trend, Arithmetic was the single biggest chunk in the paper. Numbers was more prominent than it was last year, at the expense of Algebra, which almost vanished. Geometry was marked by some unusually tough questions.

Unfortunately, the square root – pi fiasco, which affected 3-4 questions in either section, marred the otherwise high standard of the paper. Additionally, there was reportedly one wrong question in the morning slot (unacceptable, in a test like this, but no one in charge seems to care!). Had it not been for these glitches, it could have been one of the better QA papers in several years. As it is, I suspect the cut-offs will be noticeably lower than they were last year; a score in the early 30s might prove acceptable from a cut-off point of view, though the Quant wizards might still get 75 or more.

Overall, given two difficult sections out of three, I expect raw scores to drop from last year (and the magnitude of scaling to consequently be larger). I suspect a 170 would prove to be a very good score and even a 125-135 might prove sufficient for a few good calls*.  The top raw scores should still be close to 240 I would guess (and scale to nearly 280) but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in my personal opinion, a raw score of less than 140 might be enough for a 99 percentile (though it will scale up to around 170). Don’t get your hopes up too much though, nearly every expert opinion I have seen pegs it much higher than that.


*(Statutory warning copied from my last year’s blog: (a) I am talking of raw scores, not scaled and (b) these are just guesses, and I have no particular statistical evidence of how accurate they might be. However if I don’t put in some estimate here, the comment sections is going to be flooded with variants of “I score xyz, how much percentile will I get?” I might as well say straightaway that I will not answer any such queries. Your guess is as good as mine).

CAT 2016 – Game of Stools

I wasn’t planning to write an analysis this year, but several people have asked me for one and I figured it would be simpler to type it out once rather than again and again. As in the past, I’ll divide this into two posts, this one detailing the overall test-taking experience (which could be of use to next year’s candidates, I suppose) and another short one with my take on the test structure and level.  Some of you might directly wish to jump to the other one 🙂

Pre-test procedure:

I wrote CAT ’16 in the afternoon slot, at ARMIET Shahapur (ARMIET being Alamuri Ratnamala, um,  something something…this college has a name a South Indian could envy). Shahapur being a little beyond Asangaon – the local train frequency to which is abysmal – I had to leave by 10:30 and reach by 12:15. The whole train was full of CAT-takers as the next train was scheduled an hour and a half later. We were milling around outside till 1:15 (in extremely hot and dry weather), resulting in headaches and grumpy faces galore. In the meantime, some people got calls and messages from those in the first slot and got some inkling of the now-infamous pi-root confusion. Also, there were rumours that the DI section was easy, which seemed to make people happy.

Officially, we were allowed to carry only the admit card (to repeat what I said last year 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. The security check was surprisingly lax with no proper frisking and people with bags wandering all over the place trying to figure out where to go for the photo/thumb impression procedure (at least two people in my lab had carried their own pens and one his wallet). Also the labs were embarrassingly ordinary, with no AC and with three-legged backless stools instead of chairs. The first computer I was given did not start up. After half an hour of increasingly irritated hints and reminders to the invigilators I was finally allotted another (which turned out to have a mouse issue – more on that later). As in the past couple of years, everyone was handed a sheet of A4 paper and a pen . One could ask for more paper if one so desired, but I stuck to my policy of environment-friendliness and managed with just the 1 sheet.

During the Test:

I will talk about my own experience further down, but first a few general points worth noting:

  1. Scoring: the test instructions stated: for MCQs: +3 for a correct, -1 for a wrong and no penalty for unattempted questions. For TITA: +3 for correct, no marks deducted for wrong. However the individual questions mentioned +1 / -0.33 and +1 / 0 respectively. It should make no difference, either way the marks will be scaled to 300 I suppose.  However, this rattled quite a few people apparently.
  2. The sections were not further subdivided – last year VA had two sub-tabs for RC and VA and one could freely move between those during the available 1 hour. Similarly the DILR section had separate tabs for DI and for LR. This year each section was all in a single lot.
  3. The question palette was adjustable: it could be shrunk to the side on a click, and brought out again on another click. In theory, this was a nice idea, but in practice I think the implementation fell a bit short. As a result, every time one clicked an answer, the entire palette took a second to refresh. Consequently, the interface was not as smooth as in the past.
  4. The Calculator was a fairly basic one, unlike the (useless) scientific one of last year.
  5. As in the mock, there were more DI and fewer LR questions, much to the dismay of the majority who prefer LR. Also, once more there were 24 RC questions and reading skills were at a premium in the Verbal section. 
  6. The number of TITA questions reduced from last year.

For me, personally, the act of actually taking the test turned out to be easily the most irritating testing experience I have had over the past few years. It started off smoothly enough as the VARC section seemed easy. However, a few questions into the section I realised that something was seriously wrong as many questions I had answered were showing unmarked. After a few minutes of frantic experimentation I found the problem – the mouse was double clicking most of the time. So when I marked an option, it got marked and unmarked again in the same click. This led to a frustrating experience for the rest of the test, wherein I would click, check to see if it registered, try again…. In some cases it required as many as 5-6 attempts to get a question answered. And of course, it meant it was impossible to use the calculator, because typing a number like 1569 gave a result like 155669. Also, at the end the mouse seems to have unmarked one question in VA as the final tally showed me 33 and not 34 attempted.

On the whole, other than raising my blood pressure, this did not affect me much in the QA and VA sections since I usually have time left over in these (though I could not check my answers at the end as I normally do). In DILR, though, I rarely have spare time (less than 2 minutes, last year) and additionally had to calculate everything manually. As a result I ended up leaving 5 questions there, 1 set and 1 extra question. Still, the set I ended up leaving was arguably the nastiest of the lot (most people I have heard from seem to have left that even after trying it) so I suspect no great loss there. Overall I ended with 94 attempts, the first time since the CAT went online when I was unable to attempt everything. The questions I left were anyway the ones which seemed the nastiest, so it might not have much adverse effect on my score. However, that is kind of beside the point.

Had I been a serious aspirant, such an experience would certainly have severely hurt my performance. The frustration alone would have been traumatic. Add to it the lax security, the terrible seats, the announcements on the PA during the test – on the whole it left a lot to be desired, a disappointment given the much better experience of the past two years with TCS. In fact, my worst experience since the 2009 debacle. And my disenchantment was not over yet….

After the test:

Again, a long journey back (I got home at 8:30 pm eventually). Eventful, too, as the saga of the Facebook posts during the test was all over social media by then. I wish it could be brushed aside as a one-off aberration, but having seen the casual nature of security in my centre and heard what happened in other places….

I think the IIMs need to take a long hard look at these problems for next year, even if they choose not to publicly admit that anything went wrong. Anyone can say “concluded successfully” and “detected and dealt with” and brush it off. But it needs to be true as well. The trust of people in the sanctity of the test can be pushed only so far; and it is in the IIMs’ own long-term interests to maintain a certain standard. It is easier to maintain a reputation than to rebuild it.

I will shortly put up another post with my take on the paper. For a couple of other points of view, check out T’s post at CAT 2016  and V’s post) at CAT 2016


CAT 2015 – do or DI again

My take on this years’s paper:
Overall Structure: closely resembled the mock they had uploaded (which is not always the case!). My bad, I totally failed to call this one; I didn’t think it made sense to have a paper with 24 RCs and 10 paragraph-based TITAs as it tests too narrow a range of skills (for the record, I still don’t think it makes sense; perhaps IIMA is finding that not enough students are able to handle the case-based methodolgy and is trying to ensure that future generations are well-equipped?). The first two sections were further subdivided and had sub-tabs; one could switch freely between those sub-tabs in the sectional time limit.

VA had two sub-tabs for RC (24 questions) and VA (10 questions) and one could freely move between those during the available 1 hour. All the 10 VA questions were TITA, but only in parajumbles did that actually matter, as the “odd sentence out” and “syummary” types were really just MCQs where you had to type instead of clicking (with the added bonus of no negative marks!). As was the case last year, the RCs were refreshingly readable with no dense and incomprehensible subject matter. Most of the questions were unambiguous and so a good attempt in this section should have been well over 20 (and of course any unsolved TITAs should have been attempted on principle as there was nothing to lose). Cutoffs for this could range from early 40s to late 50s.

The DILR section, similarly, had separate tabs for DI and for LR. Each contained 4 sets of 4 questions each, and one set in each sub-tab was TITA. Again, harking back to last year, the sets were good and tough and would reward solid thinking, judgement and most crucially calmness. Very reminescent of the questions we used to see in CAT a decade or so back. Shot selection was absolutely crucial; getting into a nasty set first up was a recipe for panic. (I glanced through them, selected one DI and 2 LRs to start with, got them done in about 25 minutes, and by then I knew I had done fairly well already and so could attempt the rest with no pressure). From what I have heard from other test-takers, even 13-15 solid attempts in this section might be a very good performance; cut-offs could drop to 30 or lower.

QA: Almost as easy as the previous year, and well spread out ranging from 10-12 extremely easy questions to half a dozen which would require some intricate thought. 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). This time Arithmetic was dominant with over a third of the questions coming from that area; Geometry and Algebra filled up most of the rest (and yes, still no Pick’s theorem or Fermat’s Little Theorem). A lot of people performed underwhelmingly in this section as they were still in shock from the aftermath of the previous section (or should I say, the afterdilr). Still, cutoffs will likely go beyond 40, there’s an outside chance they could push 50-55.

Overall, I suspect a 175 or 180 would prove to be a very good score and a 140-150 might prove sufficient for a few good calls. (Note that (a) I am talking of raw scores, not scaled and (b) these are just guesses, and I have no particular statistical evidence of how accurate they might be. However if I don’t put in some estimate here, the comment sections isgoing to be flooded with variants of “I score xyz, how much percentile will I get?” I might as well say straightaway that I will not answer any such queries – I would be shooting in the dark and there are plenty or other gyaanis out there who I am sure will be happy to give you an inflated prediction and massage your ego). I expect that the top raw scores will cross 250, but not by too much.

That’s it from me for CAT 2015!


A brief history of CAT 2015

As I did last year, I’ll divide this into two posts, this one detailing the overall test-taking experience (which could be of use to next year’s candidates, I suppose) and another short one with my take on the test structure and level.  Some of you might directly wish to jump to the other one  🙂

Pre-test procedure:

I wrote CAT ’15 in the morning slot, at Mira Road (Shree L. R. Tiwary College of Engineering). Since this involved a train journey of close to 2 hours, this meant a 4:30 wake-up. As it turned out, I slept at 2 am, so I was not in the most cheerful of moods when I awoke. Some extremely strong coffee helped (a little) and I managed to push myself out of the house. I reached the venue at the dot of 7:30, and within 5 minutes the gate opened, letting us in with the standard basic checks. I believe people were allowed in (in my centre at least) till 8:15 or later, but I don’t know for sure. Also, an interesting development this year was that there appear to have been separate centres for male and female candidates. My centre had some 6 labs with well over a hundred candidates in all, I would estimate. I met a few friends there and we passed the time chatting while waiting to be let in.

The registration process was pretty smooth as usual – a quick webcam mugshot and Left Thumb Impression – and then we were directed to our seats and had about 45 min to kill while waiting for the test to start. As always, you cannot carry anything personal inside (people were not allowed even jewellery, apparently). Bags and other worldly possessions were to be left just outside the lab (no shelves etc) but as far as I am aware there were no issues with that. Strangely, this time we were also asked to leave our shoes outside (I suspect, though, that this was a requirement of the specific centre and not the CAT). We were allowed to carry only the admit card (to repeat what I said last year 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.

The system provided was good, the seating space was quite comfortable even for a portly gentleman like myself and the mouse worked just fine. This year, unlike last time, they got the “signature in presence of invigilator” stuff done during the last 15 minutes of this time rather than after the test had started (I found that very irritating last year!). Everyone was handed a sheet of A4 paper and a pen (looks like this is going to be the standard for the TCS regime – those who were habituated to pencil and eraser solving would probably have been a bit miffed). One could ask for more paper if one so desired, but I stuck to my policy of environment-friendliness and managed with 1 sheet.

During the Test:

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

  1. Scoring: the test clearly and unambiguously stated: for MCQs: +3 for a correct, -1 for a wrong and no penalty for unattempted questions. For TITA: +3 for correct, no marks deducted for wrong
  2. The initial instructions (probably copypasted from last year) said that RCs would have 4 questions each and DI/LR sets could have 2 or 4 questions. However, the actual test proved to have RCs with 3 or 6 questions and LR/DI with 4 questions as promised in the Mock Test uploaded on the CAT site.
  3. The first two sections were further subdivided – VA had two sub-tabs for RC and VA and one could freely move between those during the available 1 hour. Similarly the DILR section had separate tabs for DI and for LR.
  4. As in the mock, there were 24 RC questions. I did not expect them to actually go ahead with such a pattern; this was a development I did not foresee. I like RC so I was quite happy with it, but those who hate reading must have had a miserable time (especially since the rest of the VA questions too were paragraph based)
  5. There were as many as 33 TITA questions – 10 in VA, 8 (2 complete sets) in DILR and a whopping 15 in QA. This made things more time consuming on average as uncertainty crept in (especially in the Parajumbles, which had 5 sentences each).
  6. 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.
  7. When the 60 minutes were up, the test automatically skipped to the next section.

Once it was over, we all trooped down to hand in our rough paper and pens, and dispersed – in most cases, it seems, muttering rude things about the LR-DI section. (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)

I will shortly put up another post with my take on the paper. For a couple of other points of view, check out T’s post at “CAT 2015 analysis same wine in three bottles” and V’s post (added bonus – advice for the path ahead now that CAT is done) at “dilrwale cat15 le jayenge”

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:




10 Things You Need To Do On CAT-Day


Now that you are done with doing everything you can prepping for the CAT what matters most is how and what you execute in the 170 minutes on D-Day.

What are the things you should do?

What are the pitfalls both strategic and psychological that you must avoid?

Here is a list of the 10 Things You Should Do On CAT-Day.

1. Beat The Waiting-Time Blues
The first thing you need to tackle on test-day is the long wait before you get to start the test, at least a good 45 minutes will be spent twiddling your thumbs. There is a very strong chance that your brain will go off into sleep mode during this period. So you need to ensure that the system stays sharp during this period.

One way to do this is to keep yourself mentally occupied with the any of the following things — mentally go through the solutions of good problems you have encountered in your prep (old CAT problems, alternate solutions to problems etc) , go through the tables or values of fractions and decimals or remind yourself of the other 9 things mentioned in this list :-).

Do this at a slow and relaxed pace. Imagine sportsmen practicing their warm ups – cricketers facing tennis-ball throw downs or footballers stretching.

2. Be Quick Off the Blocks, Do Not Get Stuck Anywhere In The First Ten Questions
Given the baggage of engineering exams that we carry we tend to start slow — the I-will-do-every-question-properly-attitude — and finish in a hurry.

We do this because we are greedy to get marks under our belt, but if you have time under your belt you will have more marks at the end of the test. I would rather have gone through 10 questions in 5 minutes and not attempting anything rather than spending 20 minutes, to get 3 right and 2 wrong.

Tell yourself that you are going to choose your questions decisively. Be quick off the blocks and do not get stuck anywhere in the first ten questions.

3. No Question Is Worth More Than 4 Minutes
Do not throw good money after bad money. Do not restart solving a questions after you have already spent 4 minutes on it. You might think you can get 3 marks if you spend another 3 minutes but there are always plenty more fish in the sea, especially easier fish. Remember all those SimCAT questions you discovered you could easily solve only after you went home. No question, not even ones from your favourite areas, are worth it.

4. Strategically Leave 30-35 Questions
It is always better to leave a question/set than to play and miss. From our previous post on scores and percentiles you will see that you can leave more than 30-35 questions and still get a 99 percentile. You should not spend more than 15 minutes in leaving these questions. This will leave you with enough time to correctly solve the questions you select.

5. Time-Limits Are Sacrosanct, Do Not Exceed Them
The most precious thing on an aptitude test is time. So if you have set some basic time-limits for yourself then you should stick to them. Even an extra 5 minutes here and there can jeopardise your sectional cut-offs and hamper your chances of getting a call.

IIMs take sectional cut-offs very seriously, right down to the decimal. Remember it is a computer that will generate the list of candidates to be  sent a first call based on the input parameters and not people sitting and evaluating your application qualitatively. So a 79.9 instead of 80 on a section will mean that you will not get a first call.

So if you feel you need to give 10 minutes more to a section, do that later not immediately. We had discussed a timing strategy here.

6. Skip questions within a set in DI and LR
Within a particular DI or LR set (more DI than LR), there will be one question which might end-up being time-consuming. This can be the first one or the second one. So first estimate the number of steps involved in solving a question or the precision of calculation required (close options), if both are high then quickly move on to the next question. In many cases it does turn out that solving two questions of a set in 4 minutes is a much better option than getting stuck for 10-15 minutes with 3-4 questions.

7. Do Not Let Your Favourite Area Jeopardise Your Test
Very often test-takers go in to the test thinking that they have to score heavily from a particular area be it LR or Quant. Sure you have to, but only if the questions permit you to!
For example, I would rather do two/three solvable LR Sets in 15-20 minutes and leave the seemingly tougher ones after trying for 3-5 minutes rather than spend 35-40 mins trying to solve all the LRs. Always exit when your prescribed time-limit for an area is done.

You should also be prepared for your favourite area to be less rewarding than usual. When I solved SimCAT 12, I spent very little time solving LR, despite LR being my strong suit because I realised they would sink my time. How do you realize this? By taking your blinkers off! If after 5 minutes you have got no hang of a set unlike on easy sets, then that is your biggest signal!

VA and RC might not be your strength but there might be easy questions lurking there, finish them first and then come back later to try your hand at the tougher LRs.

8. Remember, unfamiliar does not mean unsolvable!
How many times have you left a DI Set just because it is unfamiliar looking only to discover later that it was actually quite simple? I am sure quite often.

We are wired to be wary of the unfamiliar, it helps us survive. But on aptitude tests this can be your undoing. Very often DI Sets where the representation is not a regular one or LR sets that do not seem to be the standard arrangement types might not be difficult to solve once you invest 3-4 minutes trying to understand what they mean.

In fact the converse is also true, familiar looking sets can lull you into investing time to solve them, only to realise much later that they should have been left alone. The LR Sets in SimCAT 12 are a case in point , the tough sets were very standards arrangement type of sets.

9. Do Not Carry Baggage From The Previous Section, Think About The Question In Front Of You 
Your ability to crack a question depends on your level of engagement with the question. It happens quite often that based on the number of questions they are able to attempt in a section, test-takers’ performance on the second section is affected. Test-takers go in to the test having a fixed number in mind and if the do not hit that number on that section, they attempt the second section with nervousness, lower confidence and concentration levels. Please remember that on test-day your ability will not drastically fall or rise. So if you were able to attempt fewer it just means that the section was tougher as a whole. Do not carry baggage from one question into another section!

Also, often when you are doing questions from areas that you are not really fond of, you are thinking about questions from areas your are fond of. Does this really help? Think only about the question in front of you.

10. Take Only Your Brains To The Test, Leave Your Feelings Outside The Lab Along With Your Other Belongings
Most things are won or lost as much by aptitude as by attitude. When Roger Federer plays Nadal you know that somewhere (despite Nadal relentlessly pounding heaving topspin forehands to demolish Federer’s single-handed backhand) Federer lacks the belief that he can beat Nadal. When Djokovic beat Nadal in a final last year, after losing a few matches to him previously, the newspapers said that he displayed a monk-like focus. Both of these examples indicate that half the battle is won or lost in the mind.

Your performance on aptitude tests is dependent on how well your brain processes the information in front of you. So if you let all the myriad things around the test — if I do not get it this time I can’t imagine myself continuing in this job, if I do not get it this time my parents will get me married off and so on and so forth — affect your ability to process the information in the question and execute your timing strategies, it will result in you not performing to the best of your abilities.

I know this might seem to be easier said that done but people truly have bigger problems — not knowing where their next meal is going to come from, not having money to pay their child’s fees, being there with a loved one fighting cancer and worse — none of your problems are really bigger than these.

So do not let your emotions get the better of your abilities. Take only your mind to the test, leave your feelings along with your other belongings outside the lab.

And the most important thing that that cannot be part of a numbered list: DO NOT GIVE UP AT ANY STAGE OF THE TEST. 

This is perhaps the most important thing that will be demanded of you. Fight till the very end, despite the fact that your favourite area did not go well, despite the fact that you find the paper tough, because every mark counts. This will ensure that even if you do not make it to your dream college you might make it to a college that you have applied to and will give you the career break you are looking for. Giving up at some stage of the test can cost you an entire year!

That was may be one of the longest posts I have written but I know that if you can do these 10 things and do not give up, you will have performed to the best of your abilities.

So here is wishing all the readers of this blog all the very best for your CAT! Go forth and maximize your score!


How To Set A Target Score For CAT 2014

The CAT is a week away and one question we keep getting asked is what score should I target. While percentiles are all that matter, the question is not entirely invalid in terms of its relevance to setting score-based milestones to evaluate your performance during the 170 minutes come test-day. The best way to go about it though is by looking at what the numbers from this year’s SimCATs tell us. We will be looking at data from SimCAT 8 onwards from when the new pattern fully took effect.

What is the SCORE RANGE that a 99 percentile can take?

Crossing the 99the percentile overall is a pre-requisite for general category students aiming for a call from the old IIMs. So what is the range of scores translated into a 99th percentile on SimCATs 8 to 13?

A range of close to 74 marks! Even if we discount SimCAT 8 since the pattern had just changed and test-takers were yet to find their feet, the range is still 50 marks. On SimCAT 12,which was the toughest of the lot, it was was low as 127. The average score for a 99 it turns out is a 150.

Lets us look at the range at other percentile levels (excluding SimCAT 8).

Percentile Score Range Average
99 127-177 150
97 115-163 136
95 105-150 126
90 91-133 112
85 83-120 102
80 77-108 93

Sectional Scores and Percentiles

What do things look like at a sectional level at the various percentile ranges.

Percentile QA – DI

Score Range




Score Range



99 78-111 90 62-86 75
95 63-90 74 53-73 63
90 55-77 64 45-64 55
85 49-68 58 40-58 49
80 44-61 52 32-54 45

How Do You Set Targets For Yourself?

As you can see the score required for a particular percentile depends on the paper you get. One of the benchmarks you can use is the average scores at various percentiles as per the
data above. From the scores you can calculate the number of attempts you would need to achieve your desired percentile.

How Not To Use Target Scores

While the average for a 99 in QA-DI is a score of 90, it does not mean that on test-day, if at the end of your QA-DI section you you estimate your score to be less than 90, you panic.

Quite often test-takers go in with a number in mind and when it does not happen they panic and they end up either allotting additional time to the section thereby jeopardising the other section or go into the other section with a negative mindset and perform poorly. Once the results are out that they realize that they had in fact performed well on the section they attempted first and a good performance on the second one would have meant a 99 plus percentile instead of a 98. More importantly they might miss out on a potential FMS convert and we don’t need to tell you how much that would cost!

So use the data above only as a reference, like the average score on a particular pitch. It does not mean that if you reach the average score in the 45th over you are going to take singles in the last five overs! Nor does it mean that you give up trying to save every single and bowl yourself to victory if you end up with a score slightly less than the average score.

I know it is the last week and most of you might be neck deep in prep but go watch Interstellar some time before your test-day, just to take the weight off your shoulders and shoot off into space.

All the best!