CAT S19E01: The one with the British English

I hope all my readers have done well in the recent CAT. It has been a long while since I have been able to post here, due to circumstances mostly beyond my control. So, encouraged by my friend Tony, I thought I would post my take on CAT 2019 slot 1. (For his take on slot 2, go here)

Overall Structure: As has become a tradition in recent years, I was in the morning slot. Since the Mock Test uploaded on the CAT website had (erroneously) placed one DI set in the QA section, I was eagerly waiting to see if CAT 2019 would try to keep up with the Kardashians by going 34-28-38 on us. But no, they stayed with the same broad structure as the past 4 years.

VA-RC: This section is probably the one which will make or break people’s score this year. After several years of easy-to-read passages and mostly straightforward questions, the RC this year had a one-two punch of plenty of inferential questions and one really, really unreadable passage – the one on British Folk. The last time I saw a passage of comparable incomprehensibility was in 2013. (This seems to have a deliberate choice, as the afternoon slot too had one really heavy read, coincidentally on British Colonialism). The rest of the passages were more readable but the questions were dense (which of the following would least negate the author’s position…seriously, CAT, did no one ever tell you that double-negatives were a no-no?). The passage on penguins was the only relatively direct one.

Not that the VA offered much respite; the summary questions had close options and the odd-one-out questions were, well, odd. Nothing new there. The parajumbles were probably the saving grace, mercifully 4-sentence paras and not 5-sentence as in 2017, and with at least some obvious links so that one could quickly narrow it down to a couple of options in each case. However, since a number of people tend to have a strategy that precludes attempting parajumbles, I doubt this was of much help.

Purely on the basis of the objective difficulty level, I would expect the 99th percentile score to go down to around 65-70, while around 35-40 ought to get one an 80 percentile, clearing most cut-offs. But if people have panicked (and I know a few who have) then scores could be in freefall and cut-offs could drop dramatically. The afternoon slot, from what I have heard, should have similar numbers, or maybe a mark or two lower.

DI-LR: This section was the pleasant surprise, being the easiest since at least 2015. If you picked judiciously, at least 4 sets could easily have been done. An attempt of 6 or 6.5 sets was within reach for people who consider DILR to be their strength. The set on crimes was perhaps the most time-consuming, and a couple of sets were non-standard. But none was really nasty. Most of them came down to relatively few cases, or just a single case. And in a refreshing change from the past, the questions, too, were relatively straightforward, not throwing extra information into the mix or having “cannot be determined” options floating around to mess with people’s minds. A surprise was the total lack of a Set Theory based set.

Having said which, I have encountered several people who messed this section up, typically for one of two contrasting reasons. One bunch were those who got demoralised by the tougher-than-expected VA and hence effectively gave up on the rest of the paper. The other group were those who had gone in with a fixed mindset of “I will do 3 sets” or “4 sets will be enough”. (Some of this latter group reached their target with 10-15 minutes to spare and chose not to attempt any more, for the life of me I cannot figure out their reasoning).

I would expect the 99th percentile to fall at around 48-50 marks, while 23-25 might suffice for an 80 percentile. The afternoon slot appears to have been tougher, and so I would expect slightly lower numbers there.

QA: This section was slightly easier than that of 2016 or 2018, but significantly tougher than that of 2015 or 2017. As usual, the single largest chunk was Arithmetic, but the composition of the rest changed, with Algebra and Functions in the ascendant at the expense of Geometry. On the whole I felt the level was slightly easier than that of 2018 and significantly tougher than that of 2017.

I would expect the 99th percentile to fall at around 52-56 marks, while the 80 percentile will likely be low, at maybe 22-23. The afternoon slot appears to have been slightly easier, and so I would expect it to go up by a mark or two.

Overall Impressions: I felt that overall it was slightly easier than CAT 2016 or 2018 while being considerably tougher than 2015 or 2017. Thus, I would expect a 99 percentile to fall at around 160-165 marks. Slot 1 should scale down very slightly and slot 2 should correspondingly scale up. Having said which, this doesn’t take into account the potential panic induced by the VA, which could drag down the score.

For the very top scores, as usual I am sure some few people will push 240 or even 250. But who those people will be will depend on the Verbal score more than anything, as many of the well-prepared people would have pulled off fantastic scores in QA and DI.

Please note, the percentile estimates here are just educated guesses, to pre-empt the inevitable questions which would otherwise populate the comments. Don’t make career decisions on the basis of these 🙂 Anyway, until the answer keys are out no one will have any reliable idea of how they fared (in VA at least), given the nature of this paper. So there’s no point obsessing about this result for now. Instead, focus on your next test (be it IIFT or SNAP or XAT or something else). As Anna would say, “when you cannot see the future, do the next right thing”



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!


How Should I Allocate My Time On CAT 2014

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
LR 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

Area Time Attempts Accuracy
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.

Ahmedabad 85 85 90
Bangalore 80 90 90
Calcutta 85 85 90
Lucknow 85 85 90
Indore 85 85 90
Kozhikode 80 80 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!