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Cracking the various sections of CAT - Deepak Mehta, CAT 100 percentiler

Deepak Mehta is a man out of time. He wanted to be born a few decades earlier, before the advent of the computer, when times were simpler and people were more content. Unfortunately, he wasn't. So, to compete in today's time, he has equipped himself with 2 degrees - one each from BITS Pilani and IIM Ahmedabad. He cracked CAT with a 100 percentile score. In his spare time, he likes to write on random website on random topics and for random people.

I. Generic prep advice:

Mix and match: While preparing, you should mix topics so that it does not become mundane. Do QA for a day or two followed by some Vocab or RC. Follow it up with some LRDI practice.

Build a tracker / goal-sheet: Detailing all the books + other resources you need to cover. Break it down into chapters, modules, components. Then have a weekly goalsheet of all the modules/chapters/components you need to cover. Try and stick to it.

Assess the relative importance of various topics: All topics are equal; but some are more equal than others.  Invariably, some topics will always have more questions in the exam. Try and gauge the same by going over exam papers of last 3-4 years.For example, recent trends show that numbers, time speed distance, algebra and permutations and combinations are some topics that are frequently tested in the examination. Questions from topics like geometry, time and work and probability vary from set to set. However questions from topics like sets, clocks, piston and cisterns, binomial theorem have hardly been seen in recent years. This is not to discount the importance of these topics but one should always pay emphasis to topics which are in vogue.

Don't follow a linear path: This is in relation to the actual examination. Attempt the questions which seem the easiest or are from topics you are really comfortable with. Then do a second iteration with medium-level difficulty questions. Finally, move on to the toughest ones in the third and final iteration.

II.  Verbal Section - Vocab

The best way to build a vocabulary and a critical mindset which will come handy while attempting the Verbal and RC section of the examination is by reading. Read anything - books, novels, newspapers, magazines, blog posts, other online articles etc. This will also help you to increase your reading speed (anything below 300 wpm will be a deterrent) and also to focus in case the topics in the examination are dry (for example, History, Politics etc)

Set a reading target. Also, have a target list ready.  A good place to begin will be the BBC list of Top 100 Books. A book a week would enable you to finish all 100 in less than 2 years.

Use tools like:

Flash cards: These will help you utilize your time better. Carry them in your pocket/bag. Read them while travelling/waiting/taking a break.

Quick online tests: You are shown a word and accompanying 4 choices and asked to select the meaning/synonym/antonym etc.

Google Dictionary: Install it on your Chrome as an add on. Double click any word on any webpage to highlight it and get the meaning.

Other online resources like:

A Year's Worth of Words: A Popup Lexicon

Find out how strong your vocabulary is and learn new words at Vocabulary.com.

Word of the Day | Definition, Word Origins, and Quotes at Dictionary.com

Play online, learn online and feed the hungry | Freerice.com

Word maps: Helps you develop a better understanding of the origin of words and their inter-linkages.

Reading material:

III. Verbal Section - RC

The prep for the RC section takes a long time.

Read more: You need to start by expanding your knowledge base. The best way to do so is to read material on all sorts of topics - politics, science, religion, social, sports, philosophy etc. Over time you will get familiar with a lot of jargon used in various types of articles. You will also be able to sense the tone and the motive of the article. This will help with questions that ask for the author's intent/message etc.

Increase your reading speed: It is advisable to have a higher than average reading speed so that you can save time on reading the article and focus on answering the questions. Here's a relevant link: How to speed read ?

Practice: Individually and in groups. In a group, if you and a friend zero down to two different answers, you can both present your case and exchange ideas and perspectives. This will help you gradually broaden your horizon while thinking of an answer.

Take succinct notes: Take note of the major points, words, issues in teh article. Better try and visualize them on the paper with inter-linkages and directional flows.

Read the passage first: People normally jump to the questions directly. DON'T. Give the passage one preliminary reading. Then go to the questions. Then read the passage again.

Method of elimination: Narrow down your choices first by eliminating the obviously "not the right answer" options.

Reading material:

Read Competition Success Review magazine

Read the editorial sections of major newspapers

IV. Quant/DI Section

Some essential tools to help with the Quant section are:

Mental calculations: You should be really comfortable with basic tables, square roots, cube roots, fractions and their decimal conversions etc

Tips and tricks: For example, divisibility rules.

Approximations: If you see a .14 in a figure you can covert it to a fraction with 7 as the denominator. Pi^2 ~= 10. This comes in handy especially with questions where the options are vastly different.

Method of substitution: When the calculations are not too lengthy, you can substitute the answer options in the question to see if it is applicable. The drawback being that it will take longer.

Method of elimination: If you can figure out that the answer would be an even number, you can eliminate all odd-number choices.

Know your graphs: Graph reading is also a skill. If you can read a graph properly, you can get a lot of data and insights. Know that the area under the graph is the integral of the graph. The slope is the differential. Maxima. Minima. Local/global maxima/minima. Etc

Cheers!