Belling the CAT – Everything you wanted to know about the entrance exam

CATComing October of the second year of college and every other person is talking about CAT preparatory classes. Spending 2-3 years of your life just preparing for an entrance exam in itself makes it so scary and mammoth. This is the reason why at times CAT is misunderstood as one of the toughest exams to crack. It is a misnomer.

It isn’t about being tough, it is about the competition one has in these exams that demand so much of hard work and effort behind it to ensure good score. After all this is the exam which will open the gates to the much coveted degree of MBA! The moment you think MBA the next thing that comes to your mind is CAT, also known as the Common Admission test this exam has been specially designed to gain admission into premier management institutes. Your scores in this exam determine the institutes you are eligible for admission.

Like any other masters course this one also needs the basic fulfillment of a bachelor’s degree in any discipline with minimum 50% or corresponding CGPA.

It is a simple computer based examination where various things like your quantitative ability, data interpretation, verbal ability and logical reasoning are tested in duration of 170 minutes. The examination is usually held in October – November for the next academic year and the enrollments for the same begin sometime in the first week of August. The scores are valid only for the next academic year and cannot be carried forward to be reconsidered again.

CAT has no predefined syllabus and there is no way one can comprehend the same looking at past question papers unlike the school days. However keeping in mind the past trends in the examinations the basic frame of possible questions can be categorized as below:

  • Maths/Quant Ability: Number systems, geometry, trigonometry, probability, permutation combination, algebra, mensuration, time and work, averages, percentages, profit and loss, quadratic and linear equations, etc.
  • Data Interpretation: Interpretation and analysis of data based on text, tables, graphs (line, area), charts (column, bar, pie), Venn diagram, etc.
  • English/Verbal Ability: Reading comprehension, verbal reasoning, syllogisms, analogies, antonyms and synonyms, fill in the blanks, sentence correction, idioms, etc.
  • Logical Reasoning: Clocks, calendars, binary logic, seating arrangement, blood relations, logical sequence, assumption, premise, conclusion, linear and matrix arrangement, etc.

The Quantitative Aptitude section consists of mathematics usually based on 10th and 12th standard mathematics. It covers various problems from topics like Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Business Mathematics. This section deals with your ability to solve real time problems applying your calculative skills. The Data Interpretation problems test the candidate’s understanding of the data and the ability to solve problems accurately while the Logical Reasoning questions check the candidate’s ability to ratiocinate and evaluate problems.
The Verbal Ability section consists of comprehension and the correct use of English grammar. Verbal Logic questions test the candidate’s knowledge of arranging paragraphs in a logical order, determining the type of statements, completing the paragraphs in an appropriate way.

The multiple options available for each question make it seem like a child’s play but make no mistake it is much more than what meets the eye. Based on the examination scores you qualify for the next rounds also known as the GDPI (Group Discussion and Personal Interview) which is your last chance to make it or break it. So in a way a lot of things depend on your scores in this examination.

Amidst the plethora of questions that surround you the first and the foremost one is of the scoring methodology adapted in the exams. Contrary to the popular belief every wrong answer by a candidate does attract negative marking up to almost 1 mark while every right answer can fetch you four marks each. Under such circumstances the best way to score is to leave the unsure answers un-attempted, that ways you will save yourself from the negative marking.

There are a lot of rumours surrounding this one as well like any other entrance exam. Rumours about the markings, the topics that can be asked, the paper setting style, checking… The list is endless. But the most important thing someone needs to remember is the knack of dealing with the question paper in a timely manner that can lead to proper marks.

Attempt all that you know and skip all that you don’t know at the first attempt itself that will help you save a lot of time. Post which try attempting the ones you don’t or are a bit unsure of incase you have time left with you on hand. This trick is useful in saving lot of time during the examination. For otherwise if you go sequentially trying to answer each and every question it is possible that you might not be able to attempt the whole paper within the stipulated timelines which also includes the questions you might know the answers too. This could lead to a lot of loss in marks especially for chapters you had prepared well for.

It is always better if you bifurcate the paper basis your strengths and begin answering depending on the same. This will help you aim at scoring better and ensuring less negative marking due to wrong answers. This strategy always helps in scoring higher marks as it not only saves your time it also gives you enough time in writing all that you know in a way paving way for better marks.

What otherwise students fail to understand is that attempting wrong answers is not advisable solely for the negative marking they carry. So for example if you know an answer right and two answers wrong you are actually still on zero with your marks for wrong answers nullifying the effect of the marks of the right answers. Such is the irony of this exam which at times goes unnoticed by the students resulting into poor scores.

The other aspect which goes unnoticed is the English Ability section where students get confused in between the English that is used in day to day language while conversing and one that is right as per the text book according to the rules of grammar. A trick that can help you in that is trying to form sentences out of those words and see if they fit in well enough for you to work according to the question around it. More often not it leads to right answers!

Candidates must secure a minimum mark in each section to qualify for that section and eventually for the CAT. The minimum marks required to qualify varies upon the relative difficulty level of that section compared to other sections of the test. Sectional cut-offs varies mostly on the basis of the performance who appear for the exam in that year. A candidate must also secure a minimum total cut off for the entire paper to earn GD/PI calls from institutes.

Having said all of the above, it is also mandatory to note that the CAT score is used separately by each institute along with other parameters i.e. academic performance, work experience, group discussion, written assessment and interview performance etc to select candidates. The weight age assigned to CAT score varies from institute to institute.

There is no easy short cut to cracking this exam except hard work and a disciplined regime; if you observe the habits and practices of the previous CAT rankers you will notice the same trend. Dedicate time to preparation and timely revision of each and every topic to ensure accuracy at the time of exam with quick reflexes to make the most of the available time.

It is very important for you to know your strength and weaknesses before commencing on the planning to understand what are the areas you need to work hard and the ones where you can make do with mere revisions without much time put in behind it. This strategy helps you a lot as it helps your strengthen your strong points and work more on your weaknesses so that if you face a question you are unsure of you can skip it and devote time where you feel confident to score better rather than mulling over it trying to get it right and lose important time in that process. In this exam time is the essence. As someone has rightly said, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”

The only key to success ever written in history is practice, for that is the only thing that can turn the tables for you when it comes to scoring. Practicing not only the chapters but also some previous papers by taking dummy CAT tests online will help you gauge your capabilities by a very large manner. Remember that what matters at the end of the day is the amount of hard work and not the number of hours put in. It is not important to study long as long as you study hard. One of the most important points, never compare your preparations with anyone else for that matter as you don’t know what you real capabilities are. As long as you know you are giving your best you should be bothered only about the output of the exams and nothing else.


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