How to start preparing for CAT?

Now that there are almost nine months before the next edition of CAT, a lot of you would be probably starting out now on your preparation. Nine months is a lot of time if utilized properly and it should be spent on building the basic skills required to crack an exam of the form of CAT. I believe that a lot of us commit the mistake of prematurely concentrating on the so called “tips, tricks and strategies” for cracking CAT without paying enough attention to the fundamentals. So if you want to go about preparing in a more sensible and steady manner, now is a good time to start. I have given below my section-wise approach to preparation in the first three or four months.

Quantitative ability:

Start by revising your basic Tenth grade mathematics. Make sure you have a fair idea of how the so called ‘shortcut formulas’ mentioned in the umpteen CAT guidebooks, are actually derived. Initially concentrate on the accuracy part. You should aim to solve almost every problem you come across, albeit in an inefficient and time-taking manner occasionally. This is probably easier for students with engineering background as they stay in touch with maths throughout their coursework, but three /four months of sincere and steady preparation ought to bring all students up to this level.

It is highly inadvisable to start memorizing the ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’ at this stage as they are no substitute for good concepts. Almost all CAT problems can be solved quickly enough from basic principles themselves, irrespective of the fact whether you know the relevant tricks and shortcuts or not.

Once you become fairly confident about solving problems you can start working on the speed factor. Even after you have successfully solved a problem critically analyze your solution and see if you can make it any shorter by removing redundant steps or if a totally different approach is possible. This is quite often possible in time and work, speed, probability, permutations and combinations based problems.

Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation:

This is one section where almost every candidate starts preparing from scratch unless he has taken CAT before. At the same time I believe that this is the section where consistent hard work pays off the most. The best way to begin is to set aside a fixed number of hours each day (or every week if you don’t want to be so rigid in your schedule) for attempting DI problems. There are a few things you can pay special attention to while working on this section:

1. Spend ample time on analyzing the solutions. In fact I often spent more time reviewing solutions than I did while solving problems. Pay special attention to how the information is represented in a more readable and analyzable form through tables etc. This is particularly crucial in solving problems where all the information is just written in the form of a simple, continuous piece of text.

2. Learn to identify the problems in a set which could have been solved by using just a couple of lines of information from the whole paragraph. This ability proves very critical in tackling a tough DI set or when you are running out of time

3. Some problems tend to be very calculation intensive. In most cases making rough assumptions and rounding off gives us the correct answers. Herein the knack of simplifying ugly looking fractions, calculating percentages easily, etc comes in handy. I was never too good at calculations so I attempted these problems in the very end, but I have seen some of my friends who bank heavily on these problems and it pays off well. I often tried to round off 3 digit numbers to the nearest five or ten and two digit numbers to nearest multiple of two or four in order to simplify my calculations.

Verbal Ability:

This is usually the section that engineering students struggle most with and it can get awfully tough for students at times. I often hear student complaining that their vocab is not good enough for CAT, which I believe is a very narrow approach. CAT is not about your vocab or your grammar per se; in general it tests your reading experience. So a ‘start from the basics’ approach is absolutely essential in this regard, if you are not an avid reader to begin with.

So the first step is to increase your appetite for reading. Newspapers are an obvious place to start, but if you find them heavy reading then you can start with some light fiction. I know most of my friends picked up reading after their first Harry Potter or Chetan Bhagat. You will find that your speed picks up considerably as you near the end of such books. As you move on, you should gradually increase the amount of stuff you read in newspapers everyday. Their advantage is two fold: they tell us both about contemporary issues and contemporary language.

Being well read on a variety of topics is a huge bonus while attempting RCs in a CAT paper. You will soon realize this once you start giving Mock CATs; you can glide through passages faster if it’s about something you have already read about, and it’s not uncommon to find such passages in your exam paper.

Like in the DI section analyzing solutions to RC passages is a very beneficial exercise. Writing down the new words that you come across every day is very helpful in remembering them. Spending time on memorizing word lists and grammar rules would be futile at this stage as the amount of information would become too overwhelming. Hence all the focus should be on developing the reading habit at this stage. If you are already a keen reader, then you can work on your reading speed and grammar.

To summarize, I would like to say that patience is a key factor here. In the beginning one must patiently work on building the aforementioned basic skills before attempting to augment them with tips, tricks and strategies. Initially progress might be slow and unrewarding, but this steady foundation would assure you of a good CAT score irrespective of how tough the individual sections are in the paper or how different the Test format turns out to be from your expectations.

Now that there are almost nine months before the next edition of CAT, a lot of you would be probably starting out now on your preparation. Nine months is a lot of time if utilized properly and it should be spent on building the basic skills required to crack an exam of the form of CAT. I believe that a lot of us commit the mistake of prematurely concentrating on the so called “tips, tricks and strategies” for cracking CAT without paying enough attention to the fundamentals. So if you want to go about preparing in a more sensible and steady manner, now is a good time to start. I have given below my section-wise approach to preparation in the first three or four months.

Quantitative ability:

Start by revising your basic Tenth grade mathematics. Make sure you have a fair idea of how the so called ‘shortcut formulas’ mentioned in the umpteen CAT guidebooks, are actually derived. Initially concentrate on the accuracy part. You should aim to solve almost every problem you come across, albeit in an inefficient and time-taking manner occasionally. This is probably easier for students with engineering background as they stay in touch with maths throughout their coursework, but three /four months of sincere and steady preparation ought to bring all students up to this level.

It is highly inadvisable to start memorizing the ‘tips’ and ‘tricks’ at this stage as they are no substitute for good concepts. Almost all CAT problems can be solved quickly enough from basic principles themselves, irrespective of the fact whether you know the relevant tricks and shortcuts or not.

Once you become fairly confident about solving problems you can start working on the speed factor. Even after you have successfully solved a problem critically analyze your solution and see if you can make it any shorter by removing redundant steps or if a totally different approach is possible. This is quite often possible in time and work, speed, probability, permutations and combinations based problems.

Logical Reasoning and Data Interpretation:

This is one section where almost every candidate starts preparing from scratch unless he has taken CAT before. At the same time I believe that this is the section where consistent hard work pays off the most. The best way to begin is to set aside a fixed number of hours each day (or every week if you don’t want to be so rigid in your schedule) for attempting DI problems. There are a few things you can pay special attention to while working on this section:

1. Spend ample time on analyzing the solutions. In fact I often spent more time reviewing solutions than I did while solving problems. Pay special attention to how the information is represented in a more readable and analyzable form through tables etc. This is particularly crucial in solving problems where all the information is just written in the form of a simple, continuous piece of text.

2. Learn to identify the problems in a set which could have been solved by using just a couple of lines of information from the whole paragraph. This ability proves very critical in tackling a tough DI set or when you are running out of time

3. Some problems tend to be very calculation intensive. In most cases making rough assumptions and rounding off gives us the correct answers. Herein the knack of simplifying ugly looking fractions, calculating percentages easily, etc comes in handy. I was never too good at calculations so I attempted these problems in the very end, but I have seen some of my friends who bank heavily on these problems and it pays off well. I often tried to round off 3 digit numbers to the nearest five or ten and two digit numbers to nearest multiple of two or four in order to simplify my calculations.

Verbal Ability:

This is usually the section that engineering students struggle most with and it can get awfully tough for students at times. I often hear student complaining that their vocab is not good enough for CAT, which I believe is a very narrow approach. CAT is not about your vocab or your grammar per se; in general it tests your reading experience. So a ‘start from the basics’ approach is absolutely essential in this regard, if you are not an avid reader to begin with.

So the first step is to increase your appetite for reading. Newspapers are an obvious place to start, but if you find them heavy reading then you can start with some light fiction. I know most of my friends picked up reading after their first Harry Potter or Chetan Bhagat. You will find that your speed picks up considerably as you near the end of such books. As you move on, you should gradually increase the amount of stuff you read in newspapers everyday. Their advantage is two fold: they tell us both about contemporary issues and contemporary language.

Being well read on a variety of topics is a huge bonus while attempting RCs in a CAT paper. You will soon realize this once you start giving Mock CATs; you can glide through passages faster if it’s about something you have already read about, and it’s not uncommon to find such passages in your exam paper.

Like in the DI section analyzing solutions to RC passages is a very beneficial exercise. Writing down the new words that you come across every day is very helpful in remembering them. Spending time on memorizing word lists and grammar rules would be futile at this stage as the amount of information would become too overwhelming. Hence all the focus should be on developing the reading habit at this stage. If you are already a keen reader, then you can work on your reading speed and grammar.

To summarize, I would like to say that patience is a key factor here. In the beginning one must patiently work on building the aforementioned basic skills before attempting to augment them with tips, tricks and strategies. Initially progress might be slow and unrewarding, but this steady foundation would assure you of a good CAT score irrespective of how tough the individual sections are in the paper or how different the Test format turns out to be from your expectations.

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