CAT 2021: Last minute preparation tips, strategy, insight from expert

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With just a few days left for CAT, the questions that most students have on their minds are “Can I still crack CAT?” and “What should be my preparation strategy henceforth?”

Honestly, it does require some amount of effort and focus from your end. But trust me, cracking CAT is easier than you think it is. With the right kind of preparation and test-taking strategy, writing the CAT can become an extremely enjoyable experience for you. 

The good thing is that CAT is not a knowledge-based exam. It is an aptitude exam. In an aptitude exam, the amount of time you have spent mugging up formulae doesn’t matter. In fact, it is not even required. All that is required is your presence of mind and conceptual clarity.

Let me share a plausible plan that might help you in cracking CAT in the limited amount of time at your disposal. This plan would ensure that you are ready for D-day and can perform at your optimum levels. 

First start by dispelling a few myths about the exam. 

Myth 1: CAT requires advanced conceptual knowledge: 
As already mentioned above, CAT is an aptitude exam and not a knowledge-based exam. Which means you don’t have to memorize a ton of things. In fact, I would say that more knowledge doesn’t mean that you’ll get a higher score in CAT. What one needs to be good at is solving the questions purely on the basis of the most rudimentary concepts. These are usually whatever you have learned in English and Maths till class 10th.

Myth 2: With just 15 days to go, it’s impossible to scale higher percentiles now:

How one goes about in the final few days to CAT 2021 depends a lot on where one is currently in terms of one’s mock scores. For the sake of conveying the strategy in a better way, I will look at four different kinds of aspirants – 

  • the ones who are currently scoring below 70%ile in their mocks,
  • the ones who are scoring anywhere between 70-85%ile in their mocks
  • the ones who are scoring anywhere between 85-95%ile in their mocks, and finally
  • the ones who are scoring upwards of 95%ile

Scoring below 70%ile in CAT Mocks

If you are scoring just about 60-65%ile or lesser than that, you have a realistic chance of scoring an 80%ile in CAT. 

Let me share some data at the very outset so that you don’t feel that what I’m saying is codswallop. In CAT 2020, 60%ile was around 30 marks and 80%ile was at around 48 marks. 

Therefore, to make that 20%ile jump, all you need is about 18 more marks. Now had you correctly answered a question that you got incorrect you would have added 4 marks to your score. 

Thus, 18 marks boils down to about 4-5 questions. Which is basically 1 question/section and then 1 more from your section of strength. Do you think you can get 1-2 additional questions correct in the next 6-7 days? If the answer is yes, then the journey from 60 to 80 percentile isn’t too tumultuous.

Focus on the basics and tell yourself that the game in LRDI and Quant is about accuracy and that in VARC is about attempts.

Scoring between 70%ile and 85%ile in CAT Mocks

Over the years, I have seen numerous students scaling a 90%ile, in CAT, even when their percentiles were as low as 70-75%ile just 1-2 weeks before CAT.

Data suggests that the difference between a 75%ile and 90%ile is about 20-22 marks. Similarly, between 85%ile and 95%ile is also about 20-22 marks. Thus, crossing this hurdle just requires you to have clarity about what should be prepped and what shouldn’t. 

For example, in Quant about 15-16 questions out of 26 (roughly 65%) are from Arithmetic and Algebra. Similarly, in VARC, out of the 18 RC questions roughly 9-10 are factual questions i.e. the answers are directly from the passage. Realizing this would help you identify the perfect 7-day strategy to ace the exam. Spend the next 2-3 days taking a couple of mocks and back to back topic tests from these specific areas. That should help you brush up on these topics. Do so in the same time slot as your CAT exam.

Scoring between 85%ile and 95%ile in CAT Mocks

Students who are in this category have a realistic chance of making it to 97%ile+. Please keep in mind that all Mock tests are written by anywhere between 5k to 20k aspirants, whereas the CAT percentile is based on 2 lakh test takers. Many of the students writing CAT aren’t serious test takers, thus your scores will scale. 

Look at the intangibles. Are you simulating CAT each time you practice? For example, in CAT, the Quant section comes after your brain is drained by a challenging DILR and thought-inducing VARC section. Is it the same when you practice at home? If not, then scoring in topic/section tests at home won’t represent your performance in a mock or the actual exam. Simulate to ace!

Scoring upwards of 95%ile in CAT Mocks

The aspirants who have been scoring above 95%ile already, should aim for getting a 99.5+%ile. A 95%ile in Mocks, for example, is as good as a 97.5%ile in CAT. Thus, the actual growth is from 97.5%ile to 99.5%ile which would be about 25-30 marks.

This, again, requires a mindset change. This means that you need to simulate the actual CAT conditions when you take the mocks. You need to maintain your stamina throughout the paper. For example, if you feel that you lose steam towards the end of the paper, one way to deal with that is to take a 40-minute sectional test right after you complete a mock. This would make it a 2 hours 40 minutes paper instead of 2 hours and therefore will help you build your stamina.

Preparation and Exam Strategy

You should look at revising all the important concepts that there are in various topics in Quantitative Aptitude. This includes revising the squares, cubes, square roots, cube roots, formulae and the important theorems. 

Having revised the Quantitative Aptitude basics, now is the time to put the foot on the pedal and get the ‘match-practice’. As mentioned above, in these last few days, take one mock every day. This mock-taking exercise should be followed up with an in-depth mock analysis on the same day. 

The mock analysis has to be a really detailed exercise where you not only see the questions which you weren’t able to solve, but also have a look at the questions which you were able to solve. 

This will ensure that you are able to find faster ways of solving the questions and, therefore, will be able to maximise your attempts and your score. This falls in line with your objective of getting 2-3 more questions correct in each section.

Further, for Quantitative Aptitude, solve all the previous year actual CAT questions. This means all the CAT questions from the year 1990 till the previous edition of CAT. No matter how much you may be scoring in your mocks currently, this is a non-negotiable. You just cannot walk into an exam without knowing what kind of questions come in the exam.

For VARC, in the mocks that you will be taking, ensure that you attempt all the questions of VARC. That is the eventual goal for you in the CAT exam. To be able to solve all the questions of VARC with around 70% accuracy.

For DILR, the fractions and the basic Vedic maths questions that you would have studied in the first week should help. Mock taking will help you in developing a knack of spotting the easier DI sets. 

Another thing that is important to mention here is that you should take all your mocks in exactly the same time slot as the time slot of your actual CAT exam.

After 3-4 mocks you will be able to solidify a strategy for yourself and it is advisable for you to follow that strategy in CAT.

In the final 2-3 days, do not attempt any new mock. Just take up all the mocks that you had attempted earlier and go through them. Re-solving 2-3 of your worst mocks is a good idea as it will refresh all the mistakes that you made.

Light revision and glancing through some previous mocks could be helpful. Let go of any kind of studies in the last 2 days. Go and enjoy a good comedy movie in these three days. Your mind needs rest before you take the CAT exam.

Milestone Approach to Improving your percentile

Talking about what all will scoring high in CAT 2021 will entail, here is a quick back of the hand calculation.

Overall Score
Percentile Score Net Correct
99.9 135 45
99.5 118 40
99 105 35
98 95 32
 95 76 29
90 63 21

Looking at the sectional percentile milestones, here’s what they were in CAT 2020

Percentile Score Questions Score Questions Score Questions
99 42 14 34 11 44 15
95 33 11 25 8 30  10
90 28 9 20 7 23 8
85 25 8 17 6 19 6
80 22 7 16 5 16 5

In CAT 2020, 60%ile was at around 30 marks, 80%ile at around 48 marks, 90%ile at around 63, 95%ile at around 76 and 99%ile was at around 102.

Let’s see these percentiles as milestones and see what it will entail to go from one milestone to another.

In going from 60%ile to 80%ile you will require additional 18 marks. To go from an 80%ile to 90%mile one needs 15 more marks. In going from 90%ile to 95%ile, additional 13 marks will be required. And finally, to make a jump from 95%ile to 99%ile, 26 more marks are required.

Now, in the exam, one question wrong that you get right is a difference of 4 marks. Thus, each milestone is anywhere between 5-8 questions from the next. When you break it down sectionally it is just about 2 questions per section away from the next milestone. So, the question is can you get 2 questions that you are getting wrong today, right in the next 6-7 days? The answer would be a resounding yes!

(Author Gautam Bawa is Director for MBA Exams Preparation, BYJU’S Exam Prep. Views expressed here are personal)


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