Now that we are entering the final phase of CAT prep, it is important to make sure that we are in our best shape come the d-day. Now, all of us are preparing for the day when everything would go according to plan. But what about those days where you will find it extremely difficult to move ahead? The important thing to understand here is that you should be so prepared that you hit the mandatory 97 percentile in a section irrespective of the contents of the test, your frame of mind and other factors that are beyond your control. Let’s look at the sub-section wise things that you could do to be extremely strong on the defensive front.
With regard to the topic wise split, as would be fairly obvious by now, Arithmetic and basic Algebra would be the main topics that would lead your siege to a 97%ile. Let’s look at the important topics and how to improve them.
The important question types here will be Time, Speed and Distance, Time and Work, Interest and Growth Rates, Ratios, Percentages, Averages and Mixtures. You simply cannot afford to take one or many of the topics lightly. A lot of aspirants we know tell us that they are fairly confident about Arithmetic but somehow end up not performing well at the actual test. This is because there is a sense of Arithmetic being ‘easy’ and not glamorous. This topic is underrated by many an aspirant and so, you might not be aware of the subtle traps that could be present in the questions. As a benchmark, there would be around 13-15 questions from the above mentioned concepts (which are fairly interlinked to be honest) out of which, at least 10 would be doable. Sample this: A scaled score of 45 marks corresponded to a 97%ile in CAT 2016. Considering that there was minimal scaling, you would score 30 marks simply because you had paid attention to Arithmetic. The best sources to practice good Arithmetic questions are past year CAT, XAT, IIFT papers. However easy the sum might seem to be, however pointless you think the compound interest calculation might be, it would make perfect sense to solve these questions well. Also, even if you have solved a particular question, try looking at it from other points of view to figure out the trends and/or other questions that might accompany the said question.
The second most important topic in QA. As a matter of principle, any question that involves variables is compartmentalized as an Algebra question. The important topics here would be: simple linear equations involving 2 or 3 variables, quadratic equations and basic concepts (sum of roots, product of roots, and sum of coefficients), polynomials (coefficient of a particular term), functions, series, progressions, inequalities, modular algebra, sets, logs, surds and basic graphs. Even if you are fluent with linear and quadratic equations you should do fine. Typically, there would be somewhere around 10 questions from Algebra out of which 5-6 could be classified as easy-moderate and hence, doable. Substitution, working backwards from the options, eliminating options would be the best approach in most cases and should work fine. An important factor here would be to understand what exactly has been asked. If you don’t read the question properly, you will end up in big trouble most of the time.
The issue with Geometry is that, everything looks doable and the questions are fairly straightforward. However, most of the scorchers in past year papers have been from Geometry. The sheer number of concepts and formulas you would need to learn to get better at Geometry would demotivate a lot of aspirants. However, it has been observed that there around 4-5 questions that appear from the topic (out of 34 questions) and they are split into 2-3 easy, 1-2 moderate and 1-2 difficult questions. So, choosing the easier ones becomes extremely important in this particular context. Generally, the questions based on lengths and angles are easy, the ones on areas and volumes fairly moderate and the ones having a mixture of concepts (typically volume + time and work or volume + time, speed and distance) are better left alone. The effort:output ratio is pretty skewed here and unless you are good at remembering all the formulas, you may skip at least the difficult ones from this sub section.
A lot of aspirants spend disproportionate amount of time solving questions from this particular topic. Complex division (Euler, Fermat, Wilson, and Chinese Remainder Theorem), unnecessarily complex base system questions and outright stupid questions on LCM and HCF form the bulk of your mocks and practice questions. However, the questions that have appeared over the years have been extremely limited and check your fundamentals when it comes to Number Theory. If you are good with basics of factors, factorials and basic base systems conversion and knowledge, you should be good to solve a question or two from this topic. Typically, there would be 3-4 questions based on core Number Theory.
Probability, Permutations and Combinations
A lot of aspirants skip this topic by default which is not really recommended. A quick glance at past year papers will tell you that the questions are fairly straightforward and candidates miss out on the subtleties simply because they are making assumptions or not being able to fix the starting point properly. I would strongly suggest you to get better at linear arrangements with and without conditions, with and without repetition at the very least. Spending a disproportionate amount of time on complex question types fromdistribution of objects, conditional probability and Bayes’ theorem will not do you any good and so, is better left alone. Typically, you will have around 3-4 questions from PnC and Probability and so, if you can manage a couple of questions, it should be perfectly fine.
How to get better at the section?
A lot of time, you will figure out that you are not able to improve your mock scores and are getting stagnant with regard to knowledge. If you think about it logically though, it will not be the case. Considering that there are around 20 odd mocks by each leading test provider, you will be exposed to around 700 questions from QA over 5 odd months. It is pretty easy to ‘manufacture’ 700 question types without repetition (CAT has been doing it over a few decades now). So, you will not see any immediate improvement in the next mock because the question types won’t repeat. So, even if you feel that you are not getting any better at the subject, understand that you are definitely better in terms of content compared to where you were before the mock.
The other issue that people face is not being able to apply the concepts that have been learnt. As is pretty clear, CAT is more of application than knowledge and so, gaining knowledge is simply one part of the act. To apply it better, you would need to build retention and compartmentalization of concepts. The best way to build this would be to hit the basics again: go through your NCERT textbooks, which would be at a lower level than what you would require and solve the questions without writing down anything. As you keep on doing it regularly, you will be able to crack questions quickly and hence, reduce the time spent on comprehending the question.
Finally, for those of you who are waiting to complete the syllabus before you are at full tilt, it will never happen. And in my honest opinion, knowing a lot of concepts superficially isn’t going to help at all come QA. I would bet on a candidate who knows Arithmetic and Algebra inside out doing better at the tests than someone who has a working knowledge of almost everything. So, even if you are good at 50-60% of the syllabus, you should be scoring okay at the test.
Wish you all the best with your preparation!
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