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!

regards
J

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.

IIM QA-DI VA-LR OVERALL
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!